RobotWriter App: A Story of Updates

RobotWriter image

I worked on this story idea over at Yap.Net, where I unfolded it one box at a time from June through September. My aim was to try to use the idea of App Updates to tell a story, and to weave some funny ideas into the mix. I had noticed that some App Updates have personality, like you can notice the writer behind them having some fun. (I wonder if anyone else ever reads the text of the updates?).

There’s a small space to write, and it has to be informational. Adding a storyline and humor was tricky but fun to do. I guess I like to amuse myself with writing. Go figure.

You can read the story, here, too, if the embed doesn’t quite work for you.

Peace (updated regularly),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Doodle Your Way into the Days

(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.)

This morning, all of my students are going to get a huge, oversized calendar labeled October: Doodles of Place. And each day, when they arrive, part of their routine will be to look at the board, find the day’s theme, and doodle into the box for the day.

This is all part of CLMOOC’s October Doodle Month — a way to inspire art among the affinity network — and for the upcoming Write Out Project, the free online collaborative place-based project which launches in two weeks (October 13) and encompasses the National Day on Writing on October 20.

The daily doodle themes, which were gathered by crowdsourcing the list, are all about place — from rural places to urban spaces and areas in-between. Each morning, at The Daily Connect, a daily theme/idea will be released.

You can join in, too. (Today’s theme is Mountains). The Daily Connect site is here, and you can sign up for email notices (see the sidebar of The Daily Connect) or just keep an eye on the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter.

I’m curious about what my students make on their Doodle calendars, and I’m even more curious because we are starting up a connected project with some classrooms in California, and they are going to be doodling, too, and we hope to have kids share their doodle art via Flipgrid later in the month.

Why doodle? Well, first of all, making art is a great way to start the morning, and I know I have plenty of artists and comic book creators and more in my classroom. Second, it provides a connection point with another school on the other side of the country. Third, it will give us points to talk about how place informs stories, and how stories inform place.

And it’s fun.

I’ll be doodling at school on my calendar, but also, I am aiming to write small daily poems on the theme each day, too, here at home, as part of my own daily writing routine.

Here was the first poem, inspired by the theme of Mountain:

Handholds
and crevasse marks;
the scale of it nearly
overwhelms the senses
— you can’t look up
from below to understand
the scale of this place —
you need to gaze out
from above

Peace (doodling it everywhere),
Kevin

The TikTok Kids and the Social Media Dance

There’s a fascinating deep dive into the world of TikTok in The New Yorker magazine (technology issue) this week. If you don’t know what TikTok is, other than hearing the alliterative name on the lips of every adolescent and teen you come across, it’s a good place to start.

Read How TikTok Holds Our Attention by Jia Tolentino (one of my favorite writers!!)

Tolentino notes how the quick edited, and remixed, videos made in the Chinese-company-owned app cross language and culture (although not without some significant bumps in government regulatory filters at times); is music-based, for the most part; involves elaborate edits for laughs and humor; reminds some users of the now-dead Vine app; uses AI algorithms to feed your homepage with what it thinks you want to see; has the usual strands of racism, sexism and other negative elements that invade many social media spaces; is built on the backbone of Music.ly, which I do remember; and is perfectly geared to the short-attention population.

(Aside: if you wonder why I wrote ‘Chinese-company-owned app’, it’s because I do pay attention, as much as I can, to where companies originate from, as some countries and companies work more closely than others to gather data from users of technology. China is certainly one of those. Tolentino doesn’t dive into that particularly issue, so there’s no clear line from TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to the Chinese government, but she does bring forward the tension between the engineering division of the app that works in the US and the home offices in China, with one observer noting that the front office runs the show, despite any stated ‘independence’ of the US operations. So, always be wary of who has your data. You know that, right? Do our kids know that?)

And of course, there’s Lil Nas X and the hit song, Old Town Road, which was built and engineered purposefully on and for the TikTok community — short, funny, catchy — in hopes the viral nature would filter over into the larger music world. It worked.

I still know I need to learn more. (see TikTok trending videos)

Each afternoon, the students in my sixth grade classroom line up in groups, and some “do TikTok” as they say, and what they mean is that they act out the elaborate quick-edits of some popular TikToks, sort of like social media coordinating swimming but on concrete. I can only watch.

It’s strange, and funny, and weirdly elaborate, with foot moves and arm movements, and hand gestures, and short vocal phrasing. Given as I am not immersed in TikTok world, I have no anchor to know what it is they are even trying to emulate.

So imagine my surprise when a group of students informs me that we — they and me — will be making a TikTok at the end of the school year. This was not a question. It was a fact. I give a quizzical look and they all smile.

“Um. Ok. Maybe.”

In my head, three ideas rattle around:

  • Learn more about TikTok
  • Maybe TikTok will no longer be “the thing” in seven months
  • Time to brush up on my dance moves

Peace (sustaining your attention),
Kevin

When Trolls Come Calling for Kids: Is This The Path Forward?

Silent Sunday Climate Rally

… the rise of a new climate movement means there’s now a much more visible — and especially vulnerable — target: kids. — Zahra Hirji, Buzzfeed

In my classroom, one of the things I hope I am encouraging is not just dialogue among young students with different views but also support if their passions are moving them towards action, small or large. At age 11, they’re just starting to view the world from beyond their fairly supportive, and mostly protective, sphere of the small suburban town where they live.

Look to the global stage, and you will see that it is mostly the kids, and mostly led by girls — Greta Thunberg and others — who are leading the efforts around Climate Change. At a Climate Change gathering in our small city last week, the crowd listening and protesting and rallying was decidedly young, and some middle school students were featured speakers on the stage set up on the steps of City Hall.

And yet, news of the president, and his Fox friends, tweeting out disparaging, sarcastic remarks about Thunberg following her speech at the UN was soon followed by articles like this one in Buzzfeed with the headline Teenage Girls are Leading the Climate Movement — And Getting Attacked for it that have me concerned about any future activists in my classroom.

Whether following passions from the Right (and we do have students and families who are strong supporters of this president) or the Left (many students are passionate about the environment and Climate Change), what I hope for is a safe place for this to unfold for them. None of my students are remotely on the same level as Thunberg, but who knows? Maybe someday they may be.

… it’s not just Greta. Other young girls in the movement are facing a flood of online abuse. It’s less clear where those attacks are coming from, but they involve a mix of regular accounts, trolls, and bots. While the youngest activists are often shielded from this, due to constant monitoring of their social media by their parents, there’s no filter for many of the teens. — Zahra Hirji, Buzzfeed

Does my teaching to advocate for yourself and for your positions in the world make them vulnerable to the terrible side of the online world? Does helping them have a voice in the world expose them to the terrible tactics of trolls?

These are the questions that give me pause.

It also reminds me that the explicit teaching of the other side of this equation — here is how you protect yourself in online spaces — is as important as the support to find and follow your passions. We can give them places to work out their ideas — like collaborations with other schools and online spaces like Youth Voices and Young Writers Project in Vermont, for example. It just makes me sad and frustrated to think that an entire generation has to keep an eye on the shadows, to triple-think every online move, to worry over the nuance of parsed words or past posts, to fear the attack by trolls.

And, just as important, whose voice will never be heard because that possibility of what might happen if they do so has already silenced them before they even began to talk, to lead, to engage? (This could be said for all of us, I suppose)

We don’t live in a perfect world. Of course, I know that. Maybe technology has made it both better and worse. It sure seems that way at times. Still, things sure could be better. And when kids are in the crosshairs, it’s something we all need to be concerned about, and vigilant against.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Peace (across platforms),
Kevin

Stories as Circles and Circles as Dots and Dots as Stories

dot day circle stories 2019

Once again, we celebrated International Dot Day (inspired by the book, The Dot) in the classroom this week by having students write very short stories, with a circular theme (object, motion, etc) and then use the Visual Poetry site to “paint” the objects with the words of their stories. And once again, the creativity of some students just amazed me. We shared them out at our Padlet wall of circle stories.

night dots

clock dots

Peace (in dots as marks of creativity),
Kevin

 

In A Zoom Room: Talking #WriteOut with NWP Network Friends

WriteOut Breakout NWP

The other night, I was able to join some facilitators and friends interested in next month’s Write Out project (learn more) in a National Writing Project Network gathering on Zoom. Everyone began in one huge room and then headed off into Zoom-room breakout sessions.

In our room, we shared an overview of the place-based Write Out (October 13 -27, with Oct. 20 National Day on Writing as a centerpiece) and then spent some time exploring resources and elements of place-based learning, before coming back together to chat again and reflect. The video is an edited version of that gathering in Zoom.

Here are some notes from our collaborative explorations:

BreakOutWriteOutNotes

There is also an audio version of the Zoom room:

Peace (in the out),
Kevin

Stories and Place: WriteOut/WMWP/Springfield Armory

WMWP Writing Marathon Flier

Next month, the second year of Write Out will be taking place. From October 13 through October 27, with the National Day on Writing right in the center on October 20, we hope to engage teachers and students and park rangers and other public space stewards into looking at how stories inform our sense of place.

Here in Western Massachusetts, on the National Day on Writing, we are hosting a Writing Marathon on the grounds of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, with hopes of teachers exploring the museum, its history and primary sources as inspiration for writing, and to bring that sense of curiosity back to students.

If you live and teach in Western Massachusetts, we hope you will consider joining us for this writing celebration. We may even have a Button-Making-Activity! The Armory is even offering small stipends for registered teachers.

More information and registration link is available at the WMWP website

Peace (in the past),
Kevin

PS — you can sign up for news and information about Write Out at the site