It’s a Student Haiku Celebration

Haiku Poetry Collection

My sixth grade students have just finished up the writing of a series of haiku poems, and using Google Slides to create visual representations of their poems. Each student then “donates” a poem to this collection. There are some wonderful poems in here.

Peace (in three lines),
Kevin

The Fortnite Phenomenon (Where Social Gaming and Kid Culture Collide)

So, this was weird.

We had just finished the last round of our state testing (we, meaning them) and we had some time in the classroom as we waited for the other three sixth grade classes to also finish (and then we would get outside for fresh air).

They ate snacks, and started games of Uno and Scrabble, and then I watched the boys (this was only the boys, and every boy in the classroom) gather together and start to act like their arms were pickaxes and they were cutting down trees (some acted like trees that others were cutting down.) When we finally got outside, the boys ran to bushes and trees, and began acting like they were chopping wood again.

Ok. What? Minecraft? Maybe?

I soon realized that the boys were “playing” Fortnite, the multi-player video game phenomenon that I know has been part of many of the students’ gaming lives for weeks now. But to see it being acted out — the axes being used to clear bushes and trees to make hiding spaces in the game world — just looked … odd. (The girls kept glancing over at the boys, with a look like … they are such strange creatures.)

At one point, one of my students came over to me, and with a smile and a laugh, asked: Mr. H, do you Floss?

I knew better than to respond right away, and I quickly realized that The Floss is a dance that players do inside Fortnite (and also outside of the game, as I recognized the movement immediately). Along with (thanks to later research)  the Floss, there is also the Fresh, the Squat Kick and the Wiggle.

So, what to make of Fortnite? It’s a survival game, in which collaboration is key. It’s social. It’s global. Millions of people are playing it. I hear my students planning Fortnite sessions for the evening. Fortnite is everywhere right now. Is it just a fad? Maybe, but even fads have reverberations in culture, and the language and dancing and other elements of Fortnite are creeping into pop culture, for sure.

Just ask your kids.

A day later, I was reading a piece in The New Yorker about Fortnite by writer Nick Paumgarten (the article was inspired by him watching his adolescent son and son’s friends play the game). He immediately noticed the social aspects (including friends gathering to watch other friends play) as well as some of the positive pieces of the game. He also noticed how the design of the game draws players in for extended periods of time.

While a magazine headline writer used this warning in the magazine as the subhead on the featured image — The craze has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and eating Tide Pods — Paumgarten ultimately notes that Fortnite is ” … a kind of mass social gathering, open to a much wider array of people than the games that came before it. Its relative lack of wickedness — its seems to be mostly free of the misogyny and racism that afflict many other games and gaming communities — makes it more palatable to a broader audience …

My son, age 13, tried to download Fortnite to my iPad, but it didn’t work because of the age of the iPad (sorry, Kid). So he went into another game that is sort of a clone of Fortnite that he plays with friends. They keep an open communication channel and my wife and I can hear him chatting and planning and laughing and shouting, and socializing, with friends as they play together. This element of player connection, mostly positive for now, makes the game environment different, I think, and I wonder where that element will take the next tier of video games.

Peace (in the worlds),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Fleet-Footed Kid and The Bad Track Parent

(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.)

My wife and I joke that we are bad high school track parents. My son, a senior, is a captain of the spring track team, and is an amazingly fast runner in the 200m and 400m and the relay teams.

I grew up playing baseball and lacrosse. I didn’t know much about track when he started. I’ve learned as much as I can and follow the events with a muted interest. When he switched to track two years ago, we wholeheartedly supported him, but the track meets I have gone to have given me a few seconds of thrills and excitement — that burst of speed and athleticism —  and lots and lots of waiting-around time for something to happen.

I never complain to him, yet he tells us again and again that he does not expect us to watch him at every meet. We’re not sure to be grateful that he doesn’t expect us there all the time or sad that he doesn’t expect us there all the time. It’s complicated.

Last night, as I was at my younger son’s baseball game (they won), the high school running man was apparently ripping up a track event with high speeds, and helped bring his team to a season title yesterday. I know this because I opened up the website of our local paper and there is video of him barreling down the track, and an article focused mostly on him and his endeavors, and an interview with him as he celebrates his teammates.

What a kid!

Boys Track

from The Daily Hampshire Gazette

He got home late, so I didn’t even have a chance to ask him, How did it go? I think he would have downplayed it but now I know. I’ll be congratulating him this morning. Still, not being there to see him run and compete live and to not have been yelling support from the stands?

Yeah, I’m a bad track parent.

Peace (goes fast so catch it while you can),
Kevin

The Puzzle of the Unworkable Photos


fail flickr photo by surrender+ shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Yesterday, I opened up iMovie for the first time in some time in order to create a small video project for an open learning summer venture I am helping to facilitate (more on that in the days ahead). I had shot video and images on my new Pixel phone and wanted to use iMovie to pull them together.

This is something I have done many times. I figured it would take me about 15 minutes, tops.

The video imported fine. The images? Not.

While it seemed like the images (which I had downloaded from my Google Image application, as photos taken on the Pixel phone automatically upload into that shared multi-device folder) were in iMovie (thumbnails showed just fine in the media section), the photos were clearly not available (all I got was black blank space if I tried to preview the image or tried to drag them into my movie timeline.)

Huh.

I decided to do a Google Search on the problem, but found little help. One person, working on a related problem from an earlier version of iMovie, suggested converting jpg images into png images. I did that. I imported.

Nothing. Blank space.

Huh.

I thought maybe it was iMovie itself, or some update that happened since the last time I used it and upgraded my ios on the Mac, so I found an old image from another project and imported it in. It worked fine.

Huh.

So, I thought now in my detective brain, it has to do with Google Images and iMovie, but not with the format of the photo. I used another browser to do another search (I like Duck Duck Go but its search function is not nearly as powerful as Google, alas). Sure enough, I finally found a discussion thread on this issue. I had to read down far, but saw that the person fixed the problem by … resizing the images.

Huh.

Apparently, Google Images from my phone by default are pretty big, for resolution sake (one of the selling points of the Pixel phone and its powerful camera) and iMovie can’t handle the resolution. So, the fix is to pull each image up into Preview (or whatever photo app you use) and resize the image downward to acceptable size.

I tried it. It worked. Problem solved. Frustration fixed. (Sort of … now I need to go into each individual photo and resize it for the video project. That stinks.)

I share this story here so that I remember (my blog is often the place I come back to when I try to remember things like this) and for you or anyone else who might come up against it.

Peace (problems, solved),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Creative Quest by Questlove

I am intrigued the curious spirit of Questlove, the drummer and one of the leaders of The Roots. He seems to have his fingers and mind into many things, all with what appears a desire to collaborate and make stuff (like music but not just music) and to reflect on and share out his experiences in hopes of inspiring others.

His latest book — Creative Quest — is an exploration (with co-writer Ben Greenman) of his ideas on how to be and how to stay creative in the world.

While the book itself is rather uneven (and could have used a better editor to tighten the text), Questlove’s voice comes through the mix as he talks about expanding the definitions and ideas of what an artist is, how the influx of technology can both help and hinder the creative spirit, how moving out of your comfort zone is as important as mining the treasures of that same space, how collaborating with others will give you new paths to follow even if they at first make your uncomfortable, and how remix and appreciative appropriation of others’ work can build into something new.

Questlove mentions that he enjoys the segments on The Tonight Show (his band is the house band for Jimmy Fallon) when they play with artists outside of their typical genre, and notes that when they do off-kilter music segments with toy instruments or other pieces, it forces them as a musicians to work in a different way. All good.

It’s nothing new but Questlove’s advice to follow your instincts and be open to the unknown ring true with me as someone who tries to do creative work each day, as a poet, as a songwriter, as someone who dabbles in media (thank you, DS106).

I do wish that the book had brought the reader deeper into the songwriting process of The Roots. He does share some stories of being in the studio with artists like D’Angelo and Tariq, his main partner in The Roots.  But mostly those stories are about finding a sound, as opposed to discovering through creative experimentation the song that needs to be written and sung.

Ah. Well. Maybe next time.

For now, I enjoyed Questlove’s journey into creativity with Creative Quest, and I hope his message of how nurturing and exploring a creative life can enhance all of our worlds is something that resonates. Find art. Make art.

Peace (sing it),
Kevin

Nerdwriter Scores Again: The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers

One of the best Patreon accounts I support is The Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak), who makes an amazing collection of videos based on things he is interested in, and then I get interested, too. I am happy to pitch in a little bit of cash to support his wanderings.

Puschak writes about why he left the digital media business to form Nerdwriter:

I’d get bored sticking to one thing. I believe life is moral, psychological, artistic, scientific, and that what is worth knowing is worth entwining into a web, or a worldview. If I’ve made a video about something, it’s because I wanted to learn more about it.

Check out his latest: The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers

Peace (on display),
Kevin

Teaching Design Elements: Problems of Text, Color, Image, Conflict

This is not the first lesson around design that I have done with my students, but our Haiku project has brought to the surface the need to remind and re-teach some basic Design Principles when it comes to merging text (in this case, poems) and images, via Google Slides.

This presentation is what I shared yesterday in class and used as a talking point as students got down to work. I tried to integrate three hints for them to use to make their project more design-friendly. Too many of my young digital poets find busy images to use or bury their text into the slide or don’t consider color combinations.

I want them to see the work as art, as much as writing. Design comes into play with that lens.

Peace (in the mess),
Kevin

 

 

Mentor Text Haiku: Notes from Japan

We’re still in our poetry unit (because who cares about April?) and my students are working on a series of haiku poems, and then using Google Slides to layer image with text. We’ll be pulling together one poem from each student to create a Sixth Grade Digital Haiku Book in the coming days.

I shared some of my haiku poems with them, as mentor texts, and explained that I wrote my poems while on a trip to Japan with my family, using haiku as my journal entries to capture memories from a likely once-in-a-lifetime trip to Asia.

Peace (in 5, in 7, in 5),
Kevin

Annotation Invitation: Writing Our Civic Futures

The last round of this year’s Writing Our Civic Futures from Educator Innovator and Marginal Syllabus is a chance to engage with the first part of writer/educator Steve Zemelman’s new book From Inquiry to Action: Civic Engagement with Project-Based Learning in All Content Areas. 

I know Steve through the National Writing Project and I interviewed him for my Middleweb column recently.

You can access the chapter via Hypothesis (free and powerful open source annotation platform) and Steve is right in the mix, too, interacting with readers in the margins of the text.  In his book, Steve lays out the rationale for student engagement that moves into social and political and community action. His emphasis is on impact in the local communities.

Come read and annotate and discuss the book. You can also read more about the Writing Our Civic Futures project here.

See you in the mix.

Peace (in and out of the margins),
Kevin

 

 

 

Slice of Life: Smoke, Fire, Vape

(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 guess it was only a matter of time before we would have to address this alarming health issue with our sixth graders. Although my students are still in an elementary school and not as exposed to older kids on a daily basis as many other districts, the larger cultural and social elements — good and bad — eventually trickle down to us. It’s often just a matter of when.

So, vaping.

In the past two weeks, we’ve had some informal information on the social grapevine of some of our students perhaps trying out vaping (or e-cigarettes), or experimenting with it, or whatever. I can’t say if any of it is true, and our school administration is working to get solid information so they can intervene if necessary.

When I asked my own son, who goes a 6-8 middle school in another district than the one I teach in, if students are vaping there, he didn’t even hesitate to say yes. By the lockers. On the bus. In the bathrooms. It was rather alarming how quick his response was.

I didn’t press too much except to remind him of dangerous vaping can be and how its potential for addiction for young people is incredible high. He later told me that a group of health officials from the schools came into every classroom at his school, to talk about the dangers of vaping.

At our school, our health staff is working on a response to the possibility of vaping, including a letter home and probably a forum with all sixth, and fifth, graders.

“I was hoping we had some time,” a nurse told me, when we chatted about vaping, explaining she is attending a session a few weeks where vaping response will come up. “But I guess not.”

Nope, and not with summer and free time for kids coming up around the corner.

Peace (keep it safe),
Kevin