Summer Camp Design: Student Explorations of Past, Present, Future

Minds Made for Stories Summer Camp Mission StatementI am in the second year of facilitating a free summer camp for inner city middle school students at our local National Historic Site — the Springfield Armory. This project is funded through Mass Humanities foundation, with support from the National Park Service and the National Writing Project.

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, of which I am a member, is the lead organization, but there are all sorts of interesting partnerships that have emerged from this adventure. Our partner school — Duggan Middle Academy — is a social justice-themed expeditionary magnet school in Springfield, Massachusetts.

This weekend, I worked with the other teachers to complete the design of our free summer camp, which takes place at the Armory itself. Our theme this year is the World War Two Homefront, and we will be tackling issues of women in the workforce and segregation of the military (Double V) and innovation and technology at the Armory.

We’ve worked on a mission statement to guide our design, and I think it does a nice job of capturing what we are planning, which is an immersive, hands-on experience with history, told through the stories that will emerge from the vast archives of primary sources available at the Springfield Armory. This statement guides our planning work.

I took our statement and tinkered with Lumen5 to create this:

Peace (and perspectives),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Overstory

The entire first section of The Overstory by Richard Powers was pure magic. I was enthralled by the writing, as Powers sets up the “roots” of this story in character sketches of complicated people with complicated lives, all connected to the concept of trees and seeds and plants. I could not stop reading.

The middle and ending of the novel are strong, but not quite as strong as the beginning. Still, Powers does an amazing job of weaving the science of trees into the narratives of human lives, and the places where all things eventually connect together. You come away from this novel with a new appreciation for the trees in your yard, or the forests where you walk, or the invisible architecture of what’s below the soil, keeping us all alive. There’s more than meets the eye, Powers tells us.

I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending, but I don’t know what I would have done different (not that I am second-guessing a talented writer like Powers). I anticipated more of a reckoning of some sort, of how people and trees are connected to this Earth, and how we share a common cellular ancestry. But maybe that was not his point. Maybe it was the illumination of all living things, and the notion that trees contain more than we can ever think to know.

Which is probably true.

Peace (in all the stories),
Kevin

NCTE Journal Review: What’s Next with Digital Tools and Social Media

The May 2018 edition of the NCTE journal – Voices from the Middle — arrived in the mail and immediately caught my attention. It’s part of a series of “What’s Next” themed editions of the journal (an edition about what’s next in reading was intriguing), and this one is entitled “What’s Next? Digital Tools and Social Media” and, if you know me at all, you know that is something I am interested in as a teacher and a writer (and a parent).

I was not surprised to Troy Hicks writing an introduction of sorts, as he framed the way technology is shaping our writing practices, and how our writing practices is shaping our use of technology. Yes, it goes both ways, and Troy has been writing and sharing and teaching us strategies about digital writing for many years now. (And Troy, thanks for the shout-out in your piece.) I was interested in the way Troy ended each section with an insight about digital writing, and what it means as we look ahead to teaching and writing.

In other articles in the journal, I appreciated the exploration of digital imagery as a connection to understanding and uncovering the inner lives of our students, the strategies for battling the fake news phenomenon, how infographics might extend writing practices and the use of argument, and the way technology might open more doors for students of color to have a voice in the world. There are solid classroom examples, and lots of resources, to explore in these pieces.

Overall, the theme from this wide range of writers and teachers is to remember that technology is a tool, not the thing. Students need to remain at the center of the learning and the writing, and educators — from the veteran teachers (like Chris Lehman’s piece about the imperative of pre-service teachers getting experience with digital literacies and Linda Rief’s piece about long-time teachers relying on students to teach us) — and the key to the work we all do to adapt to the changing world is, as the Cathy Fleischer notes, is “making this work sustainable” by connecting and sharing with other educators.

You can access a few of the pieces for free at the NCTE site, but many of the pieces are in the journal that comes with being a NCTE member. Since Troy’s piece is open and free, how about joining me in using Hypothesis to annotate his column?

Read and react to The Next Decade of Digital Writing by Troy Hicks

See you in the margins.

Peace (exploring what’s ahead),
Kevin

 

 

What Pew Found: Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018

We were just having a conversation about YouTube and television use in my sixth grade class two days ago. They are writing arguments about whether schools should allow cell phones or not, and we were reading a magazine piece about kids and technology that clearly has some outdated statistics about television use and Youtube … in fact, we agreed that the numbers should be flip-flopped, as my students admit to watching almost no television and many hours of YouTube on a regular basis.

If you pay attention to kids, the latest survey of youth about technology from the Pew Research Center will hardly be surprising. Still, it makes visible what many of us teachers know through anecdotal discussions: more and more of our students are highly connected, often through expensive smart phones, and they mostly shun Facebook and instead, lean towards Snapchat and Instagram, and they use YouTube for just about everything: entertainment, music, learning, etc.

All social networks face a natural decline over time, although Facebook has held on longer than I would have suspected, perhaps because the loss of young users has been balanced out by the addition of older users. Still, when a space is losing huge amounts of young people, trouble is surely ahead (see:MySpace, Friendster, etc.). I am not suggesting that is a bad thing, by the way.

It’s been clear for the last few years, in surveys I do with my sixth graders during our Digital Life unit, that Facebook holds almost no appeal to young technology users. Some of that is that the network is now mostly adults, and what kid wants to hang out there? Another is the design of the site. And of course, privacy issues have become front and center.

It’s worth noting how the use of technology has become an obsessive component for many young people, and whether that is good or bad is not yet clear. We don’t know if this connectedness will open up new ways of thinking and spark innovation, or if it is just doing strange stuff to their brains via screens. As a father and as a teacher, it is worrisome, this amount of screen time, even as I teach how to use technology for meaningful projects and learning.

I think the chart about the positive and negative elements of using technology is intriguing.

We educators should use this information from Pew and others to think about how to build on the positive while finding ways to help our young people battle the negative. Clearly, our young people are insightful and seeking positive venues, and they are having experiences that are shaping how they interact with each other and the world through technology.

Let’s harness that possibility.

Peace (in tech),
Kevin

 

Connected Learning: Gaming and Writing

I was doing some searching for something else entirely when I came across this piece by Mimi Ito about the connections between gaming and writing. Ito shares a case study profile of a girl whose interests in Minecraft expanded her sense of self as a writer.

Read From Writing to Gaming to Writing

I appreciate this section, where Ito talks about how the student followed her interest in gaming by writing scripts that take place in Minecraft, and how the teacher was open enough to understand that the students was following a passion.

Tal got the idea to write scripts for her and her friends to film as animated plays in the game from a post on a Minecraft online forum. She got support for doing so from her social studies teacher, who had noticed Tal’s interest in creative writing. While the teacher wasn’t a Minecraft player herself, she did recognize that the game created a socially rich and creatively driven context for nurturing Tal’s writing interests.  — from Writing to Gaming to Writing by Mimi Ito

I’ve written quite a bit here about how to connect writing to game design, and still find it a powerful connector point. This chart comes from my Game Design Unit in the writing classroom.

Writing Activities in Video Game Design unit (update 2017)

There are more interesting articles profiling students and teachers under the umbrella of Connected Learning, if you are interested.

Peace (game it for success!),
Kevin

 

 

Insights from a Comic Creator

Comic Artist

I support comic artists Stuart McMillen via Patreon because I find his work to be so insightful. And since I learn from him, I want to help him with crowdsource funding, so he can keep doing what he is passionate about doing.

The quote above comes from the video down below, and I found it interesting, this observation of how he makes sense of the world.

Check out his “I Used to Be Racist” as one example of the kind of work he is doing. Or “Defending Dumbphones.” All of his pieces will make you think. He also shares insights from time to time about his art.

The short video down below for his Patreon site shows him talking about a typical day in his life, as a working comic creator making sense of the world through the visual medium. That behind-scenes stuff always fascinates me.

You can find more about him at his Patreon site. Or at his comic site.

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Shadows and Dogs

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I have a sweet, older dog. Sometimes, like yesterday, on our first walks of the day, in the early mornings, the shadows startle him. He gets a bit jumpy, which can then startle me, even though the shadows are not usually something to worry about. Usually, the shadow is just a stick, or a kid’s toy on a neighbor’s yard. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be there today because it wasn’t there yesterday. I guess the apparitions of the world startle all of us, now and then.

Peace (Where light meets dark),
Kevin

Final Reflections: Networked Narratives from Out Here in the Wild Open

Netnarr Daily Alchemy Playlist

The second iteration of Networked Narratives has been over for at least a few weeks now, and I’ve had a version of this reflection sort of sitting here in my blog draft bin.

I’ve watched Alan Levine, one of the instructors, post his reflection yesterday from a teacher perspective (which was insightful to peruse). I’ve read through and enjoyed Wendy Taleo‘s reflection and presentation she gave about a project in Networked Narratives that we launched. I’ve skimmed through some of the final posts by the university students who took NetNarr for credit at their university.

What I continue to find intriguing is the open invitation by Alan and Mia Zamora for anyone to follow NetNarr and participate, and so I and some others (like Wendy and Sarah Honeychurch) have done so. We’ve come and gone, as we pleased. Added to conversations. Commented on blogs. Disappeared from time to time. Re-appeared suddenly. Engaged. Created. Made. Remixed.

Being out here in the Wild Open, as I often refer to it, has its advantages (we can engage where our curiosity is piqued and ignore the rest) and disadvantages (we aren’t always part of the larger conversation that comes from being in the class at the university, and seem to be invisible at times).

Here, in this NetNarr reflection, I want to share out a few projects that I took on that formed my framework of interaction, or at least, the hope for interaction. One of the three was more successful in this than the other two, but the other two were meaningful to me anyway.

First, when Mia and Alan announced this second round of Networked Narratives with the theme of Digital Life, I was interested. I had had fun with the first round of NetNarr a year ago, and figured, I’ll just see what they’re up to this time. I decided to bring a comic strip character out of hiding, and wanted to weave a story about Arganee –the fictional world of the first NetNarr — and digital alchemy, a theme of inquiry for NetNarr.

So, I wrote a story about Horse, the companion to The Internet Kid, and left the Kid at home. I remember being obsessed with telling this story in comics, and working very diligently on the storyline. I released the comic story, one comic at time, into the NetNarr hashtag, and then bundled the entire thing up into a graphic story adventure.

Made with Padlet

I really enjoyed this Horse with No Name comic project, but I got almost no response from the NetNarr students or participants (Wendy and I did a little exchange now and then), and I wonder if those students even knew that the Horse story was always part of NetNarr. Or if they just thought some weirdo was releasing comics into their midst.

That would be me.

Second, I also tried to do the Daily Arganee prompts, every single day. My aim was to come at each prompt from a slant, and to be as poetic as I could. I used the app called Legend for its animated text and visual image feature, but its text limits forced me to edit and narrow the poems to their core. Some were more successful than others. This YouTube Playlist gathers up six small collections I made throughout the three months of NetNarr.

Again, there was very little reaction to any of the poems, although I did them mostly for myself, and the challenge of writing small pieces on an angle from a prompt.

Third, there is the Digital Alchemy Lab project, an adventure that began with a desire to weave the concept of transmedia storytelling (which didn’t really take root the way I envisioned, mainly because I could not envision how it would take root), collaboration with other Wild Open participants (and university students), and the theme of “every object tells a story.”

Alchemy Lab unofficial object tally

Over the course of weeks, a group of us planned out how to invite collaborators to use media to tell stories of assigned objects, which were then woven into the Alchemy Lab — an immersive 360 degree art project using ThingLink. This project took the most time and coordination, and the result is something magical — a collaborative art piece that weaves story and media together in a fun way, showcasing how people can come together to create and make and learn. I wrote three long reflective pieces just about the Alchemy Lab endeavor.

This project continues, in a way, as we share out individual pieces each, with an invite into the lab. Yes, you are invited, too. Come on in. The narrative is networked.

Finally, I want to share a project that had on the surface seemingly nothing to do with Networked Narratives, and yet … it did, in my mind at least. It is a music collaboration project called A Whale’s Lantern, in which online music collaborators from all over the world work on writing and producing a song, which then becomes part of a larger “album” of music.

The reason I include this here in the NetNarr reflection is that I saw/see A Whale’s Lantern project as part of the larger aims of Networked Narratives — of finding ways to connect people from around the world with media creation (in this case, music) as connector points for collaboration, using the Internet as a way to publish and interact in a meaningful, authentic way. It didn’t matter that this took place off Mastodon as opposed to Twitter, or that I was the only one making the NetNarr connections (although Wendy may have seen that connection, too, as she dipped her toes into the music collaboration).

The point is that the very things that we all looked at in NetNarr around the positive elements of our Digital Lives — of following your passions and engaging in virtual strangers with similar passions to create something unique, together, with technology and media — played out beautifully here, overlapping at the same time I was engaged in NetNarr.

We weave the threads.

And, to make the connection even clearer, the lyrics I wrote for my collaboration with my partner, Luka, was inspired by Networked Narratives itself and the idea of digital alchemy. The song is called Alchemist Dream, and you can find the lyrics here. How’s that for synergy?

Thank you, Mia and Alan, for at least trying to find way to fuse classroom experiences at the university level with the open learning networks beyond the classroom walls. I still wish there were more ways to interact among the two groups — the Wild Open and the classroom — but realize the logistics would be difficult to navigate and the demands of running a university course are different from facilitating an open learning adventure.

Still … imagine the possibilities.

Peace (reflects wel),
Kevin

Get Ready To ‘Write Out’ This Summer

Write Out Comic

I’ll be sharing more about a project called Write Out as the summer progresses, but I am a co-facilitator for an open learning adventure this summer that connects the National Writing Project and the National Park Service together, helping teachers make connections with park sites and historic sites, and vice versa.

It’s going to be fun.

Read a quick blurb at Educator Innovator

Then, listen to some of my fellow colleagues chat about the summer project at NWP Radio.

Finally, the Write Out website is up, but still being developed. You can take a peek, if you want.

The Write Out project will take place in mid-July.

Peace (outside and inside),
Kevin

 

 

 

A DS106 Thing: GifMeme Creative Workflow

via GIPHY

I haven’t often written about my daily creative wanderings for the #DS106 Daily Creates (or at least, not in some time) but this morning’s call to make a meme out of a music video got me thinking, I should at least explain my process.

First, check out the Daily Create prompt.

This had me sipping my coffee, thinking of music videos. The thing is, I don’t watch as many music videos as I used to, you know? I thought about Peter Gabriel (Sledgehammer, anyone?), but then wondered if that would be too obvious for strangeness. Then, I remembered The Cars video for You Might Think, and although the peeping tom element is a bit unsettling, I remembered a clock face.

In my Chrome browser, I have an add-on called Gif It, which is integrated into YouTube, and this makes grabbing gifs from videos a breeze. It’s so simple to do. Just feed in the time of sequence and you get a gif in seconds.

But the prompt was for a meme, not just a gif.

I took that gif from the video and moved it into Giphy (along with a link attribution back to the original video), where I could then play around with its gif meme maker (where you can add text and stickers and drawings). Giphy allows you to download and also to embed in sites (like here).

Then, I shared that music video gif meme out to the DS106 hashtag on Twitter, and wrote the post you are now reading.

I also tried the process out with Genesis’ I Can’t Dance.

via GIPHY

Not to be stuck in the DinoRock Era, I also dug into some Courtney Barnett songs from her recent album, and found this neat image of her rocking out while standing on a planet for her song Need a Little Time.

via GIPHY

Peace (in the flow),
Kevin