#WriteOut Picture Book Review: If I Were a Park Ranger by Catherine Stier

Kevin’s NOTE: Author Catherine Stier, who wrote this picture book, is going to be a featured guest on the Write Out video chat on Tuesday night, Oct. 15,  from 7-8 p.m. EST. More information about the chat and how you can join us in Zoom, if you want, is available at the Write Out website (look under Scheduled Events category).

I’ve had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time in the past few years with National Park Service rangers through collaborative projects (including running youth summer camps at the Springfield Armory Historic Site) and let me tell you, they are some of the nicest, most curious, adventuresome folks I have mingled with.

One of my ranger friends from Connecticut’s Weir Farm National Historic Site recommended If I Were a Park Ranger by Catherine Stier for our work with the Write Out Project (which launched yesterday, and runs in conjunction with the National Day on Writing next Sunday), and I really appreciated this picture book, and I find it a perfect fit for most elementary classrooms.

Stier captures the work of those folks who greet visitors and who sustain the National Park system, itself a wonder of both open spaces and urban history. In this picture book, readers learn about the many ways one might come to work for the National Park Service, and what a typical day might be if you were a ranger. With lively and inviting artwork from Patrick Corrigan, If I Were a Park Ranger will inform, educate and invite you to explore the many spaces around you (and not just park service spaces, either, but city blocks and suburban fields and woods).

The picture book aptly represents all of the many facets of historical artifacts connected to spaces, ecological and environmental awareness, public ownership of public lands, and the ways in which visitors and those working for the National Park Service are partners in preservation of lands and stories.

These topics, and more, are all central to the Write Out project now underway this October, connecting writing and history to place-based learning and connected opportunities for students and teachers. Learn more about Write Out (it’s free!) and sign up for information and news about the project at the website.

Peace (exploring it),
Kevin

 

#WriteOut: Giving Kids A Camera In Order to Capture The Wild

As the Write Out project kicks off today (and goes for the next two weeks, with the National Day on Writing right in the middle of it all), I wanted to share out a project I have had underway for a few weeks now, in which my sixth grade students have been going about their small suburban town “capturing the wild” with photographs. We aim to use the photos as part of a connection with another school, and for some writing this week.

You can view my podcast video here (via SoundSlides)

Peace (thinking it through),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Real Friends and Best Friends

Friendship is surely one of the trickiest areas that sixth graders navigate through, as they begin to leave elementary school behind and step into the middle school world (even at my school, where our sixth graders are still physically in an elementary building).

Writer Shannon Hale, with illustrator LeUyen Pham, dive into this world of young girls with compassion, humor and confusion in their two graphic novels — Real Friends and Best Friends (which just recently came out).

Both books are based on Hale’s own life as a young girl with significant anxiety issues that made her entry into friendship circles trickier than most, fraught as they are with shifting allegiances, cultural connections and more. In these two graphic novels, we come to understand how the world is viewed by young girls, and as a male teacher of sixth graders who often has to untangle friendship issues between girls (and boys), I found these books highly entertaining and highly informative.

The first book — Real Friends — is set in elementary school and the second in sixth grade, the start of the middle school years. Shannon is the main character and narrator, and many of the characters from the first book come back in the second book — Best Friends — and there are plenty of unresolved issues among the characters, which Shannon (author, and character) reminds us is natural — sometimes, friendships don’t survive because people who think they are good friends, real friends, are not made for each other, and it all falls apart. That may be true for school friendships more than anything.

I was attuned to the way the young Shannon, particularly in Best Friends, is driven by a need to be in the loop with pop culture, from the music that her peers are listening to, to the television shows they watch at night. Today, it would be the apps that people use and the YouTube channels they watch. The technology changes, but the desire to fit in remains as strong as ever for many adolescents.

An author’s note at the end of Best Friends was beautiful, as Shannon Hale writes of where her story came from, how one teacher helped her see herself as a writer when others did not, and how anxiety still lingers for her, today, and that understanding it and having strategies for it was the thing that has helped her cope with the crazy world unfolding around her. All good lessons, bound up in two entertaining graphic novels.

National Public Radio did a nice piece on Hale and Pham (who are close friends) that I found informative.

Peace (among friends),
Kevin

 

Art Inspirations: The Place-Based Daily Doodle Project

clmooc writeout doodle calendar oct

Join the folks in Write Out and CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC, an early open learning project created by the National Writing Project) for daily inspirations to draw, doodle, take pictures or write poems, stories or reflections.

Each day in October, there is a daily theme, and even if you are just seeing this now, mid-October, as Write Out launches, that’s OK. All the themes are place-based ideas.

The calendar above gives each day’s themes, and you can also see daily posts at The Daily Connect or in the #writeout and #clmooc hashtags on Twitter. Do as many or as few as you want; participate every day or whatever days inspire you; and of course, share your art in whatever place meets your needs.

Classroom Place-Based Doodles update

Here’s an example of how you might use in the classroom: Each morning, my sixth grade students get the day’s theme and doodle in a box on a blank October calendar, filling in the days of the month with small bits of art. We will be sharing them with another class of sixth graders (another Write Out connection) as part of being creative and thinking of places.

Peace (drawing it),
Kevin

 

 

ReWriting the Script: GBL, POS and a Game of Tomes

Last Saturday, at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall conference, which had the theme of “Rewriting the Script,” I sat in on some interesting workshop sessions. I’ll be doing some sharing out from the conference in the days ahead.

I appreciated that the presenter in this workshop entitled, with pun fun, A Game of Tomes admitted that he was still tweaking the lesson/unit plan and that he wanted us to experiment with the ideas, and give him feedback.

He explained how his inquiry project, which he started in our WMWP Summer Leadership Institute, has been looking at game-based learning, and how he hopes to liven up his classroom work around the always-tricky Parts of Speech by adopting and adapting elements of Role-Playing Games into review activities for his middle schoolers.

What he has done is created the idea of a Fantasy World, in which students first explore character attributes to determine a character for play, and then they shift into a series of activities (all connected to Parts of Speech review) that provide “experience points” which, ideally, move the player through a story of adventure. Some of the activities include a mystery story (where removing different Parts of Speech should reveal a clue to something else); map-making and direct giving; story, journal and sentence writing; and more.

I was intrigued by the plan but it still felt as if it weren’t cohesive enough in my mind. For example, it wasn’t clear even as we were playing in the conference workshop in a pilot version how we would leverage experience points for advancement in the game.

There was a fuzzy clear story arc set into motion (a narrative frame that we as a tribe lived underground and an untrustworthy character was about to lead an expedition above ground for resources, and would we join them in that journey) that we, as characters we invented, were part of. And some of the activities — like the mystery story — didn’t reveal anything; it just gave us Parts of Speech practice. You’d lose my students quickly if they did that work, only to find there was no reward to it.

Still, I can see elements that might work for my students, too, for engaging them in an adventure that embeds curriculum design for play. Of course, the dilemma is always the balance — how to make it fun without ruining the game with too much focus on “learning in school.”

The presenter was appreciative of our feedback and is continuing to work on elements of his game. I’m looking forward to seeing where his game idea ends up (and how I can steal and remix it for my own classroom).

Peace (roll the dice),
Kevin

ReWriting the Script: Exploring Research with Tech Tools

On Saturday, at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall conference, which had the theme of “Rewriting the Script,” I sat in on some interesting workshop sessions. I’ll be doing some sharing out from the conference in the days ahead.

One of the sessions I went into was all about doing research and presentation with various tools connected to Google Apps for Education. As it turns out, I had just attended an after-school Professional Development session about Read & Write for Google a few days prior, as we are moving to implement some of those interesting possibilities with students this year. Read & Write has features such as word prediction, voice to text, text to voice, a vocabulary generator (with image connections), and others.

Notes about Trane (simulated research)

In the WMWP session, we dove into the Read & Write tool that allows for highlighting of online text, which then gathers and sorts those highlights based on one of four colors. By designating each color a certain idea, a student can gather research by categories. In this presentation, that’s what we did, working on a biography of a famous person (I chose John Coltrane). This will be quite handy for students, who struggles to keep notes while doing online research and reading.

We then took those highlighted notes and put them into a grid, which then became part of the narration of a screencast of a slideshow we built, using a template that the presenters provided us via a Google Classroom space. The notes were used to put narration into our own words. As we moved from one app to the other, I could see the flow of work, but I also know, this will take time to show my students how to use the tools effectively.

Coltrane Report with Google tools

Our final project was a video, with us narrating the main points of the biography over a video slideshow format, shared with other participants within the Google Classroom space. We could have all used more time, but the workshop provided a lot of possibilities and resources.

Peace (beyond Google),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Rhythm of Autumn

(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 was walking on the campus of UMass Amherst — traveling between lunch and a workshop session for the annual fall conference of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project — when one of my walking companions told a story of moving to the Northeast and being asked by a friend from elsewhere how to know when the Fall Foliage has reached its peak.

We agreed that, if you have lived in the Northeast long enough, you start to get an internalized rhythm of the season, the flow of change, the shift in the forests. To answer the question “when it is peak,” you have to trust your instincts.

It was a beautifully sunny afternoon as we walked and talked about it, and we agreed that we were still in the days “before” the real change from summer to Autumn. There were certainly leaves of red and orange, but still plenty of green, too.

Now, three days later, with a few days of breeze and rainfall and chilling nights, I sense the shift is now underway. Maybe another week to ten days, with some sunny days, and the trees will soon be barren, readying for winter. I can see many browning leaves on the ground now, and some of the early harbinger trees — those wonderful isolated trees that reliably begin their movement early — are becoming all limbs, with fewer and fewer leaves.

If you live in a place long enough, you do sense the rhythm of things, the way the years and even the days progress, and you become attuned to the possibilities of the world in motion. In this, we become sensory scientists, gathering data about the changing world. You only notice, though, when you pay attention.

It’s nearly peak.

Peace (arriving in splendor),
Kevin

ReWriting the Script with WMWP: Turning Fact Into Fiction

On Saturday, at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall conference, which had the theme of “Rewriting the Script,” I sat in on some interesting workshop sessions. I’ll be doing some sharing out from the conference in the days ahead.

The first workshop session I attended was all about being a teacher/writer. It connected nicely with the ethos of “teacher as writer” that those in the writing project believe in. In this session, led by WMWP colleague and writing consultant erin feldman, we worked first on the idea of a “Do Over” — or a moment in our life when we might have made a different decision or choice, and altered the trajectory of the event itself.

This was the true piece of writing — something real to reflect upon.

Then, we moved into a brainstorming session in which we created characters and personality traits and setting ideas (not related to our Do Over piece). Finally, we merged those ideas together, writing a piece in any fictional genre that explored the truth of the non-fiction piece through the lens of the fiction piece.

I found the process interesting, and ended up with a short story told in Second Person Narrative Point of View, which only hinted at what I had written about earlier (I see all of the connections, of course) and I can see how the fiction gave some distance to take chances to process the real event.

Here is a rough little blurb from what I wrote:

       You’ll remember the decision you made in the tomorrow of this very same picture, when your step-father will take your brother on the day trip to the ocean, and you will decline, hoping to hide with your books for the day. You’ll remember the sound of your mother’s voice, the tilted echo of cries, the car with a shattered fender and the empty seat where your brother had been, but was no longer. You’ll remember your step-father’s broken arm. His broken eyes.

And you’ll remember, again, the balloon and the way you and your brother struggled so much over the string, in the minutes after this picture was taken, when the balloon broke free, and began its lopsided ascent into the sky above the pier. Both of you were so unusually quiet in that moment, and he even took your hand, as you both looked up and he was the one who wondered out loud about where it is that things go when they disappear from view.

Peace (it’s real),
Kevin

Come Write Out This Month

The Write Out 2019 adventure starts up on October 13 and you are invited. It’s a free, connected learning adventure that focuses on place-based learning and the stories of places — urban, rural and in-between. If you sign up, you’ll receive our newsletters that start and end the two-week cycles. Also, the National Day on Writing is right in the middle, on October 20th.

We’ll be sharing a wide range of possible activities for park rangers, classroom teachers, students and others. There will be video chats and Twitter chats, and collaborations. We are developing some interesting resources around primary sources and surfacing stories of place.

I hope you can join us on another wide open learning journey.

Go to Write Out and Sign Up

Peace (in place),
Kevin