Student Video Game Reviews (with design focus)

Many of my students are finishing up their video game reviews, an activity in persuasive writing in which they used a design focus to explore the pros and cons of a chosen video game.

They don’t mind this writing at all. In fact, my students who struggle the most with writing but who enjoy gaming find intense focus on this assignment, as they are tapping into their own knowledge and expertise and interest. We do this reviewing with a focus on design: playability, graphics, music, controls, etc.

Here are a few:

Along with looking at the writing, and noting to them that this kind of persuasive writing will soon shift into argumentative writing, I am always curious about which games are most popular in a given year. Last year and the year before, Minecraft had everyone beat.

Video Game Review Roblox

Not this year, so much. This year, I am finding a lot of kids reviewing, and playing, ROBLOX, which I had not heard much about until my own son came home from his Minecraft Club saying everyone had moved over to ROBLOX for the afternoon. Apparently, in ROBLOX (which I have yet to explore), you play games that others in the community build, and you build games that other people play (sort of like our work with Gamestar Mechanic, which is designed more to teach basic game design principles and is a closed system).

Peace (design it better),
Kevin

School-wide Engineering Challenge: Building Towers

As part our week-long Spirit Week this week (hosted by our new Student Council, which I am advising and helping), we are hosting a school-wide challenge for a designated “Engineering Design Day” today.

My sixth grade science colleague, Lisa Rice, suggested this Marshmallow Tower Challenge as a way for our entire school to come together as designers. I love that! We hope all teachers take part, but there is no requirement. Lisa is collecting school-wide data, though, in hopes of sharing out a huge experiment across the building, and getting kids and teachers excited about engineering design.

Look who does the best in this TED presentation? The kindergarteners!

And notice the talk about “high stakes” (adding money reward to the challenge) and how the high stakes negatively impacted the creative design of the towers … I guess we could easily draw some parallels to the current educational climate of high-stakes testing, right?

Peace (in collaboration),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Inauguration or Not?

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Eight years ago, we showed the first inauguration of Barack Obama to our sixth graders, live, and we got an angry call the day of the event from a father, who demanded we pull his child from the viewing. There were less-than-subtle racist overtones to the request.

I am trying to spark a conversation with my colleagues and administration over the question: do we show the inauguration ceremonies of Donald Trump next month to our sixth graders?

I even asked teachers on Twitter. Granted, the pool of contributors was small, but indicative. Or maybe it is more indicative of my “echo chamber” of friends in social media. But, I lean towards the “yes” — it’s an event related to a presidency race that we followed and wrote about all fall, and I teach in a town that voted nearly 50/50 Trump/Clinton in November.

I can put aside my own personal feelings (mostly) and view it as a learning experience (somewhat) and let my young students see how the transfer of power happens. I would be cringing the entire time, to be frank. But I could pull it off. I am a professional.

Then my wife, who is an administrator at a high school, noted that her school is also in similar discussions, but their fear over showing the event live to all students is that something disruptive or violent will happen during the live event, and there will be no way to filter the experience.

I hadn’t thought of that. I didn’t want to think of that. I don’t want to think of that. But I guess I have to. Sad, right? For now, I am leaving the decision in the hands of the administration, and seeing what their take on the matter will be.

One option is to let students “opt in” to watch the ceremonies and provide an alternative to those who don’t want to see it (but then we will be dividing up our student population by politics, I fear). Another is to show an edited version on the following Monday (the ceremony is on a Friday), which might be the more restrained approach.

What are you going to do? Why?

Peace (is always needed),
Kevin

Planning to Write: Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review Planners

One of our writing components in our Video Game Design unit, now underway and nearing competition, is a persuasive piece of writing, in which my students analyze through a design lens and then review a video game. This kind of writing will also set the stage for our shift into Argumentative Writing down the road.

Video Game Review Planners

I love how invested so many of my students, particularly my struggling writers, feel with this particular assignment because they are writing an opinionated piece about something they know very well. They are sharing their gaming knowledge. Of course, like all of our writing assignments, it begins with planning out their ideas, and these graphic organizers show some of the thinking behind the writing of the reviews.

Video Game Review Planners

We also read and watched a few mentor texts (printed reviews and a video review), talked about how to express a strong opinion with a critical lens, and how to identify the design components — graphics, sound, playability, controls, etc. — that are the “language” of video game reviewers. I am hoping to get a podcasting station set up this week, and allow them to podcast their reviews, too. We’ll see if time runs out on us …

Video Game Review Planners

Peace (in the plan),
Kevin

On the Mystery of Memes

We had to deal with is likely a “sign of the times” as our youngest son moves from adolescence into teenager (we still have six months!), and he learns more about the reach of media. I won’t share the whole story but it has to do with him sending an email blast to a bunch of friend and teachers with an image he thought was cute and funny.

It wasn’t.

It was an image of Pepe the frog. Which, if you followed the election and the emergence of the so-called Alt-Right, you will know that the image of Pepe has been, let’s say, taken over by the extreme right wing for racist insults. A frog is not just a frog on the Interwebz anymore. Pepe is a cartoon from the days of MySpace comic, and artist Matt Furie is trying to reclaim his image. Good luck with that.

To be fair, my son only shared an image of Pepe and not any of the nasty, dangerous memes. He was clueless about the back story of Pepe until I saw what he had done and sat down, and we had a conversation about the hidden meanings of many memes. Many times, the harsh meaning of memes is disguised behind a cute image. I had printed out an article about how the Anti-Defamation League had declared Pepe a “hate symbol” after the election, and showed him a blurb in Time Magazine about it.

This, from the ADL:

Images of the frog, variously portrayed with a Hitler-like moustache, wearing a yarmulke or a Klan hood, have proliferated in recent weeks in hateful messages aimed at Jewish and other users on Twitter.

“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “These anti-Semites have no shame. They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media.”

My son was taken aback, as he should have been, and then proceeded to write out apology notes for two of his teachers that he shared it with over email (we also had a longer talk about careful and considerate use of email and sharing  media with people), explaining his ignorance of the hidden meaning and stating that he is not a racist or right-wing fanatic.

Of course, they know that, but it was the act of apology that made the action right to do (and it turns out, one of his teachers was completely ignorant of Pepe, too.)

One resource that is valuable for us, as adults, and perhaps for kids, too, is Know Your Meme — a vast database of information about the histories of memes and the current usage of them. We all might want to spend some more time and thought on what we are sending before we send them out into the world.

Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Book Review: But What If We’re Wrong?

This latest book by the always-interesting Chuck Klosterman has the subtitle “Thinking About the Present As if It Were the Past,” and that just about sums up Klosterman’s expansive dive into his ongoing question of wonder: Will the things we think of as important in the present really live up to the scrutiny of the future?

Probably not.

Klosterman is all over the place in But What If We’re Wrong, and I like that. From looking at the prospects of pop music now and into the future (and wondering if the Butthole Surfers might resonate more than The Beatles but ultimately decides that Chuck Berry would likely be the icon of the rock and roll era), to which films and television shows might stand the test of time (not for their art but for the way they reflect, perhaps inaccurately, on the present time), to whether American football will survive (even as numbers of drop, but he suggests it will become a narrow sport field, like boxing, with perhaps even more violence in the future than the present to appease its dedicated hard-core fans).

What Klosterman is doing here, again and again, is calling into question what the “present” thinks of the “past” and the strange lens that comes to bear on events, centuries after the fact. It’s hard to know what will last when you are in the midst of it. This is what historians do, too. But Klosterman thinks they go about it all wrong, too, trying to make sense of a distant time by artifacts that probably don’t accurately reflect the actual time period, and so .. we probably get a lot it wrong.

Klosterman (who used to write The Ethicist column for the New York Times) writes with wit and humor, and admits often to the reader that he is stretching to the deep end of thinking. He even offers up an apology in the end credits for a hedgehog story. (Yep — you’ll have to read about it). He does what we want writers to do, by pushing the way we think about the world in new ways, and you could do worse that cozy up to Klosterman on a wintry day.

But, of course, I may be wrong about that. Just ask Chuck.

Peace (into tomorrow as well as today),
Kevin

Book Review: Photos Framed

This is a quick read, but one that might require a few reads, if that makes any sense at all. Not because it is confusing. It is so interesting. I am one of those people who has come to photography late, thanks to the emergence of mobile devices for visually capturing the world (and double-thanks to the work of my friend, Kim Douillard, whose photography and image prompts always get me thinking at odd angles).

Photos Framed, by Ruth Thomson, is a collection of very famous photographs. What Thomson brings to the table is the curation and reflection on the composition of these famous photographs. In tight text alongside the images, she explores the back stories of the images and photographers. She also pulls out small moments (literally … cropped shots sit alongside the full image) from within the larger visual frame, asking questions about lighting, perspective, colors, textures and more.

Sure, I’ve seen the famous images of Migrant Mother (Dorethea Lange), The Horse in Motion (Eadweard Mybridge), The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville (Robert Doisneau), Afghan Girl (Steve McCurry), The Cottingly Fairies (Elsie Wright), and Tank Man (Jeff Widener). Thomson showed me aspects of these famous images I never saw or considered before.

She reminds us that images are story, with contexts. To ‘read an image’ is to dive through the lens at many levels. That doesn’t mean these photos don’t stand on their own. They do. What it means is that each one can draw you in further, if you choose to go on that journey. Photos Framed is a nice tour guide.

Peace (well-lit and standing still),
Kevin

Another One (about to) Bite(s) the Dust

Bye Bye TitanPad

I’ve written this kind of post before — the feeling of loss when a favorite technology site announces it is closing up shop. I guess I should be grateful the announcements even happen.

The latest is TitanPad — a powerful collaborative document tool that I have used with many other people over the years, mostly for collaborative poetry. TitanPad was built out of a wave of other collaborative document makers from the roots of Etherpad and Google’s acquisition of a key element of open collaborative document makers, but I liked it for the simplicity and for the way it archived every keystroke, turning the static document into something you could watch unfold like a movie.

Here is a collaborative poem from this past summer’s Connected Learning MOOC:

I know there are add-ons in Google Docs and a host of other sites that do much of what TitanPad has done and I appreciate that the programmers (who reasonably cite changes in web browsers, underlying code and issues of privacy as rationale for pulling the plug) are doing a “graceful shutdown” so that people can make decisions about their work. No more new pads after May and then by the end of 2017, the site will be gone.

I’ve always thought of the collaboration we have unfolding in TitanPad to be mostly temporary writing, sometimes captured beyond the pad in other ways (such as with video and audio), so I don’t even have many links to past work I have done with others to save, even if I wanted to.

The programmers helpfully point to a resource that has “sites similar to” TitanPad, which might be useful. I’ve bookmarked that resource, and hope that my bookmarking tool doesn’t fade away on me, too. (I’ve had that happen …)

Peace (shared),
Kevin

 

What in the World Have I Been Writing About?

Yesterday, I noticed I had pushed the number of tweets in my account to 54,000 tweets. Holy smokes! What the heck have I been writing about? (Just a bit of math on the writing blog: That means, given the 140 character limit, that I posted 7.6 million characters on Twitter.  Ahem. I won’t vouch for the character of those characters … some are good, some are bad, some are meh. A scant few might have been gems.)

Well, I write about teaching, about writing, about collaboration, about Connected Learning, about comics, about digital literacies, and, yes, a lot of other stuff that often seems ancillary to my identity as an educator. Twitter is one of my go-to platforms to engage with others. Despite all of the reasons why people may not like Twitter (some of which are very valid), I still find it valuable for discovering new ideas and reflecting with others on the journey forward.

Still, 54,000 small bits of writing? That sure seems like a lot.

I wondered what my 54,000th tweet actually was. I think it was this one:

tweet number 54,000

Shoot. I can live with adding more debris of words to the world if it means being part of something like the #HaikuForHealing project that Mary Lee Hahn and others have been engaged in for the past month or so, as a way to grapple with the fallout from the election and the emerging chaos of the Trump years to come. Some days, it feels as if words are all we have. And Twitter is made for Haiku.

Interestingly, Twitter also has a tool that allows you to go back in time to find your very first tweet. Here’s mine.

first tweet feb2008

That was nearly nine years ago. That was before Obama even took office? Time sure flies. Gotta run. I have another haiku to write. See you on Twitter.

Peace (writing it over and over),
Kevin

Musical Slice of Life: Sing for the Trees

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

It snowed. And from a small window in our studio area, I was watching this one tree get snowed upon, its branches grabbing the heavy wet snow like a blanket. Then, as the day grew warmer with sunshine, I watched the snow drop off, almost in slow motion, as if the tree branches were reluctant to let go.

During the first Snow Day of the year, I started to write this song, with that tree in mind. It’s a musical Slice of Life today, constructed from loops and imagination.

Peace (hearing it everywhere),
Kevin