Book Review: The Memory Bank

Such a sweet book. The Memory Bank is a delightful story that begins with a hint of Roald Dahl (terrible parents, neglected kids) and veers into more Roald Dahl (a factory of dreams and memories, an innocent child will lead the way to understanding) and none of those echoes of Dahl is a bad thing, in my book (if I were to write it).

The story revolves around the wonderfully named Hope Scroggins, whose little sister has been left behind by their parents. Hope has been told to forget her sister, Honey, but she can’t, and thus begins an adventure into the factory where dreams and memories are held and documented, even as a band of outlaws is trying to upset the whole enterprise with juvenile shenanigans (like jamming one of the machines with lollipops).

There’s a gentle flow to The Memory Bank and it is jam-packed with wonderful illustrations, including whole sections (reminiscent of Brian Selznick’s work) where the narrative is told entirely in wordless images, one flowing after another until a new chapter of writing begins. It’s very effective.

The Memory Bank will remind you about what’s important in life, with a little adventure thrown in for good measure.

Peace (in the memories),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Laughs and Memes

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I don’t know what you make of the strange stuff I post sometimes (but thank you for reading anyway). Today’s slice is a sort of counterweight to the other day’s heavy one. Yesterday afternoon, I just started blasting out some Slice of Life memes, injecting some humor (I hope) into the challenge.

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Sol meme

And that’s what I have for today. Strange humor as my Slice of Life.
Peace (from the awkward angle),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

As we finish up our critical reading of Three Cups of Tea, I led my sixth graders through a discussion of the United Nation’s document, The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children, yesterday (We used a child-friendly version). This UN declaration is referenced in the book and was also mentioned as we spent a day last week learning about Malala and her story of one girl seeking to change the world through advocating for education of girls.

 

Of course, before we could discuss the document, we had to discuss the United Nations. Most students were only vaguely aware of the name and only a handful in my four classes had any sense at all what the UN was and what it does in the world (or even that it is located in New York City). The declaration for children, while very general in nature, gave them an insight into their own lives, and how lucky they are to in a safe and supportive place in the world. Reflecting on why such a document would even need to be created and ratified by world leaders is an eye-opener in itself. And questions about who enforces the rights of children? Another lesson on the real world politics of the global stage.

As part of a writing assignment, they had to choose one of the articles of the declaration and write briefly about the importance of that article. Here are a few examples:

I thought Article Seven is most important to children because it talks about education and earning to be responsible and useful. Children will have to know this if they wish to be successful later in life. Also, the article states that children can play and have an equal chance to develop themselves. I think that is important. — Emily

 

I think Article Four (protection) is important because if we didn’t have any of those rights, then America wouldn’t be like it is today. Most children probably wouldn’t receive protection, special care, good food, and medical services. If none of this was available, then children’s lives would be in a worse way, not getting any of the proper essentials to survive. That’s why I think Article Four is the most important one. – Jackson

 

I think Article Six – “You have the right to love and understanding …” is the most important one because without love, I feel life would be awful. It’s like having a parent take care of you because they have to and not out of love and understanding. If people don’t understand you, then you feel alone, like you’re the only one in the world who feels they are going through the tough time or problem. Even if you’re rich, if you have no love, you have nothing. I feel wealth comes from the heart and not the ATM. – Jacob

 

I think that the right of a child that is most important is that “you have a right to a name and to be a member of a country.” I think this is important because a name is essential so that you can be called something other than “child,” “girl,” or “boy.” The right to be a member of a country is important too, because if you don’t have that right, you’d typically be homeless and you might not be welcomed anywhere in the world. – Victoria

Empathy begins with understanding, and action in the world begins with young people understanding the world through the experiences of others. Yes, this UN document probably has no teeth — children still get lost from the view of the world leaders. My sixth graders at least had a chance to appreciate not just the hardships endured by other children in the world, but also the promise of good lives.

Peace (in the peace),
Kevin

Writing in Reverse

The Daily Create yesterday was a video create, telling a story backwards. Pressed for time, I used writing as my means for digital editing play. I had this idea of filming the writing of a sentence that could read forward and reverse, and then reversing the video so that it read reverse and forward. Or something like that. It didn’t come out exactly as I envisioned it but it’s pretty cool anyway.
And short. It’s wicked short.

Peace (in the vid),
Kevin

Slice of Life: With a Heavy Heart

 

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I didn’t even know she was there, in the audience. It was only later, after she tweeted out some pictures of my band playing at the regional fair one hot summer day that I understood that she had, indeed, made the drive, paid the admission for the fair, watched us perform, and then left before I could come out and say hello.

 

Yesterday, I learned that my friend, Jenn Cook, the director of the Rhode Island Writing Project, had been killed in a terrible accident on Friday. It’s difficult to express the sadness, even though we only met in person a few times. Our online interactions over music and writing and technology and just plain humorous anecdotes made Jenn a person I looked for in my online spaces.
jenn

The loss hang heavy over me.

Yesterday, I went to her Twitter feed, as a way to move backwards in her timeline. You might think it sort of odd to do that but I found it comforting to be reading her lines and seeing her images, and feeling her presence. Her last posts were about taking care of her ailing father, but there were pictures of dogs and snow and making digital compositions, and teaching pre-service teachers. Not long ago, Jenn and I were fellow guests on a NWP Radio program about the Making Learning Connected MOOC, where Jenn was a participant who used the ethos of CLMOOC to transform her writing project’s work. As always, she was articulate and passionate and excited about learning.

How does one keep the presence of an online friend alive after they have gone? I don’t know. I’ve set up a Team in my Kiva site, to start funneling donations to needy projects in Jenn’s name. I invite you to join me with the ForJenn team, but I will be happy even if it a team of one (me), for each time donations go out, I will be reminded of Jenn. I will be looking for education and youth projects to support, and if there is a musical element, even better. She would have liked that.

And a prose poem, too. How else to deal with loss than with some words in verse?

forJenn
forJenn by Dogtrax
Peace (in the mourning),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Odds and Ends of This and That

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I’m feeling a bit of the Monday morning quarterback, with a lot of loose threads. So this Slice of Life is a mix of small parts of various things from yesterday.

First of all, my plan to assess a pile of student work at the mall while my son was watching 300 with his friends went south when I was told I needed to be in the movie theater with him and his friends due to the R rating. I understand but I was frustrated. I had my “teacher vision” on, only to be disrupted by a movie that I had no interest in seeing. I mean, no interest at all.

My six word review of 300:Rise of an Empire

Too much violence. Not enough story.

In the early morning hours, I often check out the Daily Create, which is a daily prompt by the DS106 folks that can really push your creative boundaries. (For example, this morning, the task is to create a video that flows backwards in time). Yesterday, the prompt was to create a weather map with something that would not be on a weather map. I have no idea where I came up with this but my ideas was The Great Pet Migration of 2014. Instead of a gold rush, it was a kibble rush from east to west, and west to east.

If you see a herd of cats or a herd of dogs outside your window, now you know. You saw it on the map. Maps don’t lie, right?

Map of Migrating Pets

And finally, I was playing around with a music app yesterday morning. I am trying to come up with some theme music for poems that I might write in April, and I am intrigued by an app I have called Musyc, that .. well .. it’s hard to explain. You create music by manipulating objects.

What this music looks like

It turns out you can also make a video of a musical piece, so I gave that a try. The first one I did was too large, and the app crashed, so I tried a second time, with a smaller piece, and it worked. Later, I realized that this piece looks like a face, and then I started thinking … that’s an idea for another time. A face of music. Stay tuned.


(The volume seems low to me.)

Oh, I did find time in the evening to get to my students’ writing, and am going to finish up as soon as I hit …. publish.

Peace (in the disconnected slices),
Kevin

PS — One more thing – it was NCAA Selection Sunday and both of my local men’s colleage teams — UMass and UConn — are in the mix. We were surprised that UMass got a higher seed than UConn, but we’re happy in our house to see UMass back in March Madness. Now, can they win? We’ll see …

From A to B and Back Again: Flowchart Poetry

I found myself diving down one of those writing rabbit holes yesterday morning as I began exploring some of the “add-ons” that are now available in Google Drive. One of the free programs — WebSequenceDiagrams — creates flowcharts, with a little sequential coding.

I wondered if there was a way to write a poem in a flowchart format? Could the ideas of the poem be represented visually and with connections back and forth? So, I gave it a go.

From A to B and Back Again: A Flowchart of a Poem

This verse emerged
as I went in reverse …

flowchart poem code

from ideas
to words
to poems
to publishing
to comments
to collaboration
to poems
to words
to ideas

Flowchart Poem

all the way back to where I first started,
opening the door here
for you.

Interesting, eh? But does it work as a poem? I’m not sure the diagram flows exactly as I had it in mind, and that might be limited by the free version of the add-on, as much as my own lack of understanding flow charts. Still … intriguing possibilities.

Peace (in the visual),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Tackling Student Work

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I brought home two huge piles of student work to assess over the weekend. It’s more than usual for a weekend and more than I would have liked but our trimester closes soon and I hate having student work hanging on my desk for a long stretch of time — it’s not right for my writers and it’s not good for my own stress to see it there, a reminder of what I need to do.

You know what I mean?

In between moments of family time yesterday (including taking my son and a friend to see the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie, and watching them trying to figure out time vortex paradoxes even as they were giggling at the story), I dove into our Parts of Speech projects, which we wrapped up last week. I’ve written about this particularly project in the past (during a Slice of Life, as it often falls in March) but essentially, students show mastery of Parts of Speech by color-coding their own writing.

I’m not a huge fan of Parts of Speech, as I don’t think it helps them particularly as emerging writers, so we try to make it lively (lots of activities in the classroom) and as authentic (their own writing) as possible. I like the visual look of the color-coded work, too. But after 80 Parts of Speech projects, my brain was swimming in nouns, verbs, etc, and particularly … adverbs. Those darn adverbs are the trickiest of the bunch.

Parts of Speech

So, that project is done. Now, it’s on to a pile of open response writing for our Three Cups of Tea book, where students wrote along the theme of “challenge” in a few ways. I’ll be doing that reading/assessing today, in the mall, as I bring my oldest son and his friends to watch the new 300 movie. Wish we well.

Peace (in the assessment),
Kevin

eBook Review: Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom

Let me disclose a few things:

  • I know a lot of these editors and writers through my connections in the National Writing Project;
  • I hung out with the editors in Seattle as they were working on their drafts (and I was working on some resources for the Making Learning Connected MOOC). I knew they were up to something cool, even as they worked in other rooms;
  • Last spring, I had only a vague idea of what Connected Learning was (other than I like having connections and I am a big fan of learning … thus, Connected Learning sounded like something I should know about);
  • And, finally, I stole a paper copy of this ebook from the table at the Digital Media and Learning Conference when NWP friend Christina Cantrill turned her back. (I am sure she didn’t mind).

All that said, I highly recommend a read of this important collection around teaching and learning.

Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom is in many ways a classic National Writing Project production through and through: Teachers sharing their classroom experiences (successes and trials) through the lens of inquiry and writing, all viewed through the overarching frame of Connected Learning principles. What are those principles? These ideas emerged from extensive research done by Mimi Ito and others on the ways that young people are learning in this digital age, and center on a few main concepts (better seen in this infographic).

Connected learning is:

  • interest-powered
  • peer-supported
  • academically-orientated
  • production-centered
  • openly-networked
  • shared purpose

Watch this video:

Which is all good  and everything but what does that mean for the classroom teacher (like me)? Editor Antero Garcia and the fabulous writers and curators here try to answer that question by focusing the lens on classrooms with stories from teachers grouped around those themes, with curation editors framing those specific stories in the light of inquiry.

“I believe connected learning principles can provide a vocabulary for teachers to reclaim agency over what and how we best meet the individual needs of students in our classroom,” Garcia writes in the introduction. “With learners as the focus, teachers can rely on connected learning as a way to pull back the curtain on how learning happens in schools and agitate the possibilities of classrooms today.”

And so as educator Christopher Working shares how his third graders took blogging to new levels, and how their writing flourished as a result, other teachers (such as Chuck Jurich, Gail Desler, and Danielle Filipiak) explore the dynamics of multimedia production and global audiences and collaboration for student work that goes above and beyond expectation.

“… I was able to see firsthand how centering production afforded opportunities for students to construct affirming identities, make authentic connections to classroom texts, and develop new and specialized technical skill sets,” writes Filipiak, of  projects undertaken by her students that merged media and culture together for a social justice message.

Still others are pushing boundaries, even if they are still grounded in literacy. Jason Sellers has his elementary students creating interactive fiction games and stories, mixing in the overarching lessons of programming with the lessons of writing stories. “The unforgiving nature of programming languages was a frustrating but valuable experience for some students, ” Sellars admits. “Small mistakes in a line of code often would render their games unplayable” and yet, lead to revision and iterative design.

One of the more fascinating projects here is the Interactive ‘Zine project, and Christian McKay’s insights into the merging writing, publication and fabrication/maker techniques to create bound collection of writing that has electronic elements built right into the design (with Makey Makey circuit boards and Scratch programming systems). “The Interactive ‘Zine provides opportunities for learners to consciously engage in the creation of their artifact for a public audience, ” writes McKay. “The public entity is developed through the written word that the students share — at a minimum, within the classroom, and more broadly, through public sharing of their Scratch projects at the Scratch website.”

There’s more, much more, that I could share here, but I think you’d be best to get your own copy. And you won’t need to pilfer it from the table off an unsuspecting friend, as I did. Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom is a free PDF and a relatively cheap ebook for Kindle right now.  It is published through the Digital Media and Learning Hub.

Oh, did I mention that just about every article here has a link to a media resource at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site? That alone is worth the free price of admission. Links are embedded right into the ebook itself, allowing you to see student samples and teacher resources and more, so what are you waiting for? Get connecting.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin