DigiDetox Comics 2: The Social Network Fix-It Man

Social Network FixIt ManKevin’s Note: I signed up for a month-long Digital Detox project out of Middlebury College and have enjoyed the email updates that get us thinking about our digital lives, and offer small steps and actions to take. I’ve also been making comics about the concepts as a way to read deeper and think a little more critically about the ways digital devices and platforms are part of our lives.

Peace (fixing it up to make it work),
Kevin

DigiDetox Comics Part 1: The Attention Economy

Attention Economy

Kevin’s Note: I signed up for a month-long Digital Detox project out of Middlebury College and have enjoyed the email updates that get us thinking about our digital lives, and offer small steps and actions to take. I’ve also been making comics about the concepts as a way to read deeper and think a little more critically about the ways digital devices and platforms are part of our lives.

Peace (pull it back to pause),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Hand Dancing

(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.)

The ripple effect of Tik Tok in my classroom continues. Not just with synchronized dance moves — which seem to break out randomly during any down times — but also, hand dancing.

This elaborate, scripted dance of hands is pretty cool to watch, as each partner has a role and the timing of movement and contact is key to the magic. Think of a unique handshake, but add layers of complexity and you have an idea of what I see happening every single day as we wait for the busses to be called.

Many of these are either inspired or lifted from the popular (but sketchy) app that my sixth graders use and the hand dancers are mostly girls (although boys will sometimes try to get in the action for a laugh or do a variation of friend handshake, which is like a simple cousin to the hand dance.) When the dance is done with no flaws, it is sort of like watching something smooth and flowing unfold in the air before you.

When I asked one particular adept students how long it took to learn a certain complicated move that involved the hands going in and out and under, and then fluttering to chest and back to partner, they roll their eyes and say, “hours and hours,” and I have this vision of them, hanging out together, teaching each other how to do the latest hand dance moves and gestures, and laughing at the mistakes.

“Again,” is the word I hear a lot as they play the dance. “Do it again.”

It’s all about perseverance and muscle memory, and connecting with friends with no devices (at this point), and that’s something worth celebrating.

Dancing Hand by antopoke on DeviantArt

Peace (in handshake),
Kevin

‘Don’t Call It a Rebellion’ and Other Insights from an Uprising

Shays Seminar Notes and Wonderings

I wrote the other day about facilitating a professional development for teachers, and how we were piggybacking on a seminar about Shays Rebellion at a technical college on the grounds of one of the main events of the uprising. The Springfield Armory, which was known as the Arsenal back then in the late 1800s, is a National Park Historic Site, and part of a partnership with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in hosting youth and teacher programs. I am a teacher-consultant with WMWP.

The seminar (held on the anniversary of one of the most pivotal events of the Shays uprising) was well-attended, and the six speakers all touched on different but interlocking topics — from the causes of the uprising (mostly, taxes and ineffective government) to the results (the making of the Constitution and Bill or Rights) as well as how language frames what we often refer to now as Shays Rebellion.

One of the speakers —  author Dan Bullen — bristled at the use of the term “rebellion” and urged us to call it Shays Resistance instead. He explained how the government, alarmed at the farmers rising up with arms to shut down courthouses and storm the Springfield Arsenal, labeled it as “mobs” and “anarchy” and more. Instead, as the research shows, the men who who joined Daniel Shays and other leaders were mostly peaceful, but pushed the edge of limits by a government that was beholden to the business class, and where debtors prisons were the norm. (Dan Bullen is going to come to our next PD session as a guest and resource)

Even a federal designation of Shays Rebellion Day in the 1980s by the federal government through executive order by President Ronald Reagan, and its chief sponsor — US Rep. Silvio Conte — shows how modern politicians seek to twist language to their own message. One of the speakers focused on this executive order to show how historical events become a prism for messaging.

We’ll be grappling with some of this use of loaded language for political gain in our upcoming smaller PD sessions (there are more than a dozen local teachers involved in our work) and how the echoes of civic action from the time of the post-Revolutionary War still resonate today — from eerie parallels to the most recent Housing Crisis/Recession (common people lost their homes to speculative traders as banks got bailed out and regular homeowners were penalized for the shady dealings) to the rise of youth over issues of importance, such as climate change and gun control. (Many of the followers of the Shays Resistance were also young men, in their late teens or early twenties).

One of the more intriguing presentations was an archeological dig of a remote mountain location in Vermont, where Shays and his followers escaped to after being hunted by the Massachusetts militia, and they set up a large settlement there on Egg Mountain which had long been forgotten and grown over. The presenter has spent a few years, including working with students over summers, to slowly uncover the network of homes and buildings of where Shays ended up for a number of years, as an outlaw or hero, depending on the perspective. Connecting archeology to local history is always a cool inquiry, and his was a pretty fascinating story.

Peace (rising up),
Kevin

PS — Here is Dan Bullen on our local radio station, talking about his interest and his book project centered on Shays

Drawing a Line from Shays Rebellion to Civic Engagement

This morning, as part of an ever-expanding partnership connection between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, I am helping to facilitate a gathering of more than a dozen educators for the first of three sessions that centers on Shays Rebellion as a historical event, with resonance into the modern day of civic engagement, leading into student service-learning projects.

For this first session, our group is merely attending an all-day historical seminar at a Springfield college, with authors and historians exploring the impact of the post-Revolutionary War event here in Western Massachusetts in which a group of farmers and former solders rose up in arms against the ineptitude of the government, and demanded action to improve their lives.

This curated piece by the Massachusetts Historical Society — This Convulsed Commonwealth — is a good primer for Shays Rebellion, giving the reasons behind it, the ripples of fear it sent through the new US government, and the aftermath.

This Professional Development project is funded through generous support of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. The armory site was the scene of one of the most intense clashes of the rebellion, as the so-called rebels (they would have called themselves patriots) marched to the national armory, in hopes of breaking in and stealing arms and munitions to help their cause. They lost that battle.

Here is a look at what we can expect today:

The Final Fight at Sheffield – Tim Abbott, Regional Conservation Director, Housatonic Valley Association. Master’s Degree Clark University

Shays Kerfuffle: A Peoples Perspective – Daniel Bullen, Author. Ph.D. New York University

Archeology of the Shays Settlement – Stephen Butz. Author. Master’s Degree Cornell University

Three Men in Debt – Tom Goldscheider Farrier. Master’s Degree University of Massachusetts

More than a Little Rebellion – Barbara Mathews Director of Academic Programs Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. Ph.D. Brown University

The Contested Meanings of “Shays Rebellion Day” 1986 – Adam Tomasi Student Northeastern University. BA Wake Forest University.

Our aim with the PD is use the stories of Shay’s Rebellion with teachers to think about Civic Engagement (the buzz word in our state and elsewhere) in the classroom, and to help formulate plans for student service learning projects in their own communities. Not to foment a new rebellion, perhaps, but certainly, we will be talking about the movement for gun control and for the environment as examples of national and global student-led movements. We have guest speakers lined up as well as activities around writing and deeper learning.

In the week leading up to today’s Shays Seminar event, we have asked participants to do a little research on the people who involved in Shays Rebellion, and to narrow the focus on their stories. In a shared document, participants’ insights into the motivations and impact of actions of these people — some famous, but most of the figures chosen are common people, caught up in the movement on either side — have humanized a historical event.

I chose Jonathan Judd, who hailed from the town where I teach. Judd changed his position about the Rebellion, ending up supporting the suppression of the revolt. As I note, I’ve had some of his descendants as students, so I was curious to learn more about him.

I have had some students who are descendants of Jonathan Judd, of Southampton (where I teach and where the Judds are still prominent), so I was curious about this man. It’s interesting how he seemed to lean back towards the idea of the Monarch for at least lending stability to governance, in contrast to what he saw as mob rule with Shays. This led him to go to Springfield to protect the Supreme Court from the mob. I wonder if he ever changed his mind about the actions of the rebels?

Peace (past and present),
Kevin

PS — my fellow PD facilitators and I have grappled with how to spell Shay’s Rebellion, or Shays’ Rebellion, or Shays Rebellion. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes the difficulty in a common grammar.

The historical folks note:

Grammarians seem to be as divided over how to spell the possessive form of Daniel Shays’/Shays’s name as historians have been over the causes and consequences of “his” rebellion. The Chicago Manual of Style would make it “Shays’s,” but notes, “feelings on these matters sometimes run high.” The Massachusetts Historical Society library conforms to the spelling of Library of Congress subject headings, so has it, “Shays’ Rebellion,” but authors who have written about this topic are almost equally divided. An early history of Pelham, Massachusetts by Charles O. Parmenter gives us an alternative by referring to it as “The Shays Rebellion.”

Grapple Session: An Inquiry into AI and Ethics

Grapple Session One poemLast night, I joined an online gathering of folks in The Grapple Series, hosted by the National Writing Project’s Western Pennsylvania Writing Project and a group out of Carnegie Mellon called the CREATE Lab. This was the first of four scheduled sessions on AI and Ethics, and it was a fascinating start to the conversation and inquiry.

One of the guiding inquiry questions revolves around the dual wonder of whether we humans are making our machines more human or whether machines are humanizing us. Or some variation of that question. Essentially, it has us critically looking at the rise of AI in our society, and in education and writing. We were a mix of technology doubters and evangelists, I think, which made the discussion all the more richer.

If ever there was a time to pause and look more closely at Artificial Intelligence and humanity, now is the time. And for us teachers, this kind of inquiry is critical, not just for our profession (where Big Tech is pushing AI as the solution for problems of accountability and teaching time) but also for our students, and the social world they are inhabiting now and beyond.

I didn’t have this inquiry question formulated last night but it is starting to come together for me …

How do we teach students about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on our lives with the urgency of NOW, the present, as opposed to some futuristic notion of the Rise of Machines of science fiction?

We did a fun game of Bot or Not, that had us looking at poetry and trying to decide if it was created by human hand/mind/soul or a machine. I did a fair job, mostly through luck and instinct and not through any real insights I have in knowing what’s a bot or not with a piece of writing. (My morning poem, above, was inspired by further thinking this morning of last night’s session)

The hosts — Michelle King, Laura Roop, and Beatrice Dias — were fantastic, guiding the discussion and opening the Zoom space for conversations (which is difficult when you have a lot of people in the space). I’m looking forward to the next session, when the conversation will turn on Algorithms and Ethical Design (I think that was the title, but I could be wrong …)

Peace (in a human world),
Kevin

Six Years Later: Still Resonating with Rhizomagic

(Note: this art is created by using a Gephi visualization of early Rhizo posts on Facebook, according to Sarah, that I put into motion with an app called Pixaloop and then layered it on top of another image and filtered with another app called Fused. As Daniel notes, the constellation effect is a reminder that every dot in the image is a person or interaction. One one hand, circling a center seems against the Rhizome grain. On the other hand, the gathering effect seems metaphorical for the sense of shared community.)

Sarah Honeychurch shared the insight the other day that it was six year ago that a bunch of us joined Dave Cormier in a course-not-a-course called Rhizomatic Learning.

What participants called it was Rhizo14 (followed by 15 and 16 the next two years, if I remember correctly). Dave’s intent, in my interpretation of his intent (which may not be what he was actually intending — this aside is becoming its own textural rabbit hole … which, now that I think of it, seems appropriate to the context of Rhizomatic Learning … eh … ) was to look at learning and community from a different angle – not top down but bottom up; not centered, but dispersed — and the “course”  he offered was constructed on provocations on his part to get us thinking about educational practices and systems, including how a course might run without anyone running the course.

Dave, in the intro on the course site, wrote:

Rhizomatic Learning posits, among other things, that the community is the curriculum. That being able to participate with and among those people who are resident in a particular field is a primary goal of learning. In each of my classes the curriculum is, of course, filled with the ideas and connections that pre-exist in the field but the paths that are taken by the students are as individual as they are, and the path taken by the class is made up of the collected paths chosen by all the students, shaped by my influence as an instructor and the impact of those external nodes they manage to contact.

Cheating, Uncertainty, Community as Curriculum, Lurking as Agency, and more all forced us to consider our preconceived notions about the world we were living, teaching, writing, creating in. There was a hint of intentional anarchy in the whole thing, which freed us to follow our trains of thoughts where they would take us.

Some of us are using this opportunity in 2020 to think back on that gathering together — which led to all sorts of creative and analytical projects, and some of the folks are using that period of time to inform PHD programs and such. I know I met a handful of people through the Rhizo years who remain vitally important friends of my current networking adventures.

I remember diving into the Rhizo course without knowing much about what the concept of rhizomes really meant or how the concept might help me to learn, and help me to think about my own teaching practices. (To be frank, I’m still a bit befuddled by the term, particularly when discussion veers into the philosophical underpinnings —  via work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari).

I can say that I immediately appreciated the sort of open wonderment of it all — that while there were guiding questions, we were encouraged to take charge of our own learning, our own collaborations, and that this freed me to do poetry remix, explore different ways to write, riff off the work of others.

Going back to some of the old blog posts and bookmarked filed, it’s interesting to note how many platforms are now dead and gone from that time — some of the work, now long since disappeared, swallowed up by the death of platforms — but the learning itself remains, if not always solid in digital or paper format, at least it remains accessible in memories (and blog posts here, for me, where I often use blogging as curation).

The context of Rhizo is important — it was the time when universities and others were getting into MOOCs and codifying what was originally more open learning into modules and boxes, and those who first envisioned MOOCs (like Dave) were disappointed by this, I believe. The Rhizo years were a push-back on the commercialization of MOOCs.  Or that’s how I remember it.

There are many things from my participation in Rhizo that still resonate with me today, six years later, and that have certainly helped inform my participation and facilitation of such open projects as CLMOOC, Networked Narratives, Write Out, and more, where the concept of “community is the curriculum” is visible through intentional design to follow participants’ interests. I am also thinking of a project that I did in Rhizo called Steal This Poem, in which I wrote a poem about remix and encouraged others to remix the poem (and they did!). This kind of remix/collaboration/invite continues to this day on platforms like Mastodon, Yap.Net and more.

It wasn’t only Rhizo that planted the seeds. The Rhizo gatherings were an important part of my process to understand the possibilities, within constraints. That remains as relevant today as it was then.

Peace (seeds and roots),
Kevin

Reading Student Stories by Playing Student Video Games

Video Game Projects 2020This is the time of year when I buckle down and spend time playing the original video game projects that my students have created for our Hero’s Quest project.

Their projects are built around story narrative that integrates a story frame in the design, building and publishing of a video game. Or, you could think of it as how a video game is really telling a story.

I have about 50 video game projects to wander through in Gamestar Mechanic, as I think about how well they did with game design, story development, writing mechanics and more.

Peace (clicking play),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Rain Reign

How can you not love Rose Howard, the protagonist of Ann Martin’s beautiful novel, Rain Reign? How can you not wonder at her voice, at how she sees the world through the lens of a young person with Asperger’s? How can you not obsess along with her on her quest to find homonyms as a way to make sense of language — her list is ever-growing and her discoveries are scenes of celebration — and the chaotic world? How can you not love her dog, Rain, and worry when Rain runs away in the hurricane raging outside?

You can’t, and you won’t.

Rose is such a unique character that her passions and her sense of justice and injustice guides the story forward, even as her father slowly comes apart, and Rose’s whole world spins out of control, the very last thing that we need to happen to Rose.

If you are a teacher, as I am, you know Rose. You know the single-minded sense of the world that some students bring to the classroom, and you know the struggles to help students like Rose grow and flourish, even when the unpredictability of the world comes crashing in on them.

Losing your dog is traumatic. Losing your dog in a storm, even more so. Losing your dog, knowing your own father might be the one responsible for the loss, is something Rose grapples with, confronts her exasperated and overwhelmed father with, never quite makes peace with, even when she does find her dog, Rain, and must make a moral decision about Rain.

There’s a lot left unsaid in this novel, about Rose’s mother (gone but not how Rose thought) and her father, a man not emotionally equipped to deal with a child with Asperger’s. There were moments when I was genuinely worried about Rose in the presence of her father. There were times when I wanted to give Rose a hug for all the baggage she carries with her and to bring her kind uncle to the scene to rescue her if I could not. Rose felt real in my mind and my heart, and what more can you say about a book, right?

Peace (rains and reigns),
Kevin