Level Map: Environmental Video Game Project

Video Game Level Map

I mentioned the other day that some of my students are working on an environmentally-themed video game project in Gamestar Mechanic, in connection to the book we just read (Flush). I am staying one step ahead of them, designing a game and I had just finished it yesterday before class to share with them.

The image above is a Level Map of the first level, as I show students what I was doing in the design stage. Plus, it’s neat to see the design that way.

Here are levels 2 and 3

Level Maps (two and three)

You can play the game, if you want, but you will probably be asked to allow Flash to play on your browser.

Play: Clean the Waters

Peace (gaming it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Rat Invades the Classroom (via Tik Tok)

(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 had just been reading a piece about how a crowd-sourced movement on Tik Tok was collaboratively producing a musical version of the animated movie Ratatouille (about the rat cooking in the kitchen) and thinking of the creative marvel of connections, of using small videos to sketch together something larger.

The New York Times writes:

The result is a virtual show unlike any on Broadway. There is no director, no choreographer, no stage crew. It has come together organically on TikTok, where users have only a minute to catch people’s attention.

The next day, Ratatouille was in my classroom.

I noticed it first during our Morning Meeting, where a student volunteered to lead our greeting, and the greeting had a rat/cheese theme along the lines of: Pass the Cheese, Rat.

Hmmm, I thought.

Then later, when another student was testing out Quicktime for video, a group of students immediately and rather spontaneously sprung into action, doing a little dance and singing the melody of a song from the movie for the video.

Huh.

I made a comment about the Tik Tok collaborative adventure, and one of the students, who had been watching friends dancing and singing (but wasn’t sure what they were doing), looked at me and said: “I can’t believe my teacher knows more about what’s happening on Tik Tok than I do!”

For a daily create for DS1o6 yesterday (a site for daily creative activities), the prompt was to use a Bart Simpson chalkboard, so I referenced, tongue in cheek, the moment of the kids all dancing and singing.

tiktokbart

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Video Game Design Storyboarding: Environmental Theme

Environmental Video Game Storyboard

Two of my classes are going to start working on a video game project connected to the novel, Flush, and as usual, what I assign them, I do myself, too. I spent the other day working on a storyboard for my game, which involves battling pollution and saving the turtles (two themes of the novel).

I’m starting to build my game, and my sixth graders are going to begin storyboarding today. We have a few weeks left of Gamestar Mechanic, so I want to get a small project in before the end of the site (and the end of Flash).

Peace (building it out),
Kevin

The Closing Up of Gamestar Mechanic (with the End of Flash)

Gamestar Mechanic Lobby/WorkshopI’ve been rushing to get my current class of sixth graders in, and moving along, in Gamestar Mechanic because E-Line Media (parent of Gamestar) has announced that when the end of the site comes for Flash Player (end of the month), that’s the end of Gamestar Mechanic (at least, in the current version).

One group is working on a hero story (connected to reading The Lightning Thief) and the other is working on an environmental-themed game project (connected to read Flush).

Even knowing the end of was coming, I’m still sad about it. For (not sure how many years but more than I can remember), I have been using Gamestar every year to teach game design and alternative story-telling to my students, as well as bringing them into a game space where kids all around the world play and publish video games. I was introduced to Gamestar at a National Writing Project event, and I immediately saw all sorts of possibility, and once I got started, I never looked back.

I want to say, the people at ELine Media and Gamestar have been amazing to work with and communicate with over the years. I’ve had my students write letters to the developers about features they hoped to see, and we’ve had Gamestar Mechanic folks respond to my class in video visits. They have been responsive when I have reached out as a teacher. It’s been a pretty terrific experience.

We’ll squeeze in the one last small game design project (our Hybrid Learning Model makes this unit of instruction even more difficult) and I’ll keep an eye out for possible new developments on the Gamestar Mechanic front (they sent some news of a stand-alone browser-based app being developed, so I am going to keep my eyes on that news. It won’t be for Chromebooks, it seems. We use Macs.)

I completely understand why Gamestar could not invest in the move away from Flash to something else (like HTML5), for it is funded mostly by grants (I believe) and small subscriptions and probably has long been running on a shoe-string budget. I’ll write up my own final thoughts about Gamestar some other day.

For now, we’re just going to keep on designing, making, publishing and playing until the screen goes dark.

Peace (game on),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Here Come the Rains, Again

(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.)

We looked out the window of the classroom. It was dark and getting darker and it was only just before lunch. The rain was pouring down in sheets, obscuring the world but giving us an interesting soundtrack with our windows slightly ajar.

I looked at my sixth graders. Most shook their heads, no, in frustration of the inclement weather. A few gave me a hopeful look, so I opened the metal green door and invited anyone who wanted, to run outside, gulp some fresh air on a rainy mask break, and come back inside, ready to write.

Perhaps this separated the adventurous among them, I thought, or maybe, the desperate, the ones for whom wearing a mask an entire day (except for snack and lunch) is wearing thin. I stood there, in the middle of the doorway, raindrops rolling down my neck. On a few faces, I saw the childhood joy of just standing in the rain, and then the quick jolt to get back inside the dry classroom.

Later, at home, thinking of this, I had my Trombone Shorty station on Pandora and a cover of the Eurythmics came on and it just seemed like perfect timing. I can’t find that Shorty cover at YouTube but here is an unplugged Eurythmics version.

Peace (raining upon us),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Waiting On The Line Of Idling Cars

(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.)

There’s no one to blame, really. What with the lower grade classrooms now “full in” (everyone back) and a decision by the School Committee in the summer to limit who has access to school busing by setting a distance requirement and families wary of sending kids on the buses for safety reasons, to begin with, the result at our school is an endless line of idling cars each morning and afternoon.

Yesterday, three of my students told me they were waiting in their parents’ car for nearly 20 minutes just to get dropped off at the door to enter the school. In the afternoons, the six-foot distance rule means the gym is full of students, and the hallways are now spill-over zones. It means when our work day ends, there is no way to leave the parking lot on time because the cars keep coming (not for much longer, but still).

The waiting cars snake from our back parking lot, to the main thoroughfare, past the Post Office, and nearly to the intersection with our local state highway. All those cars, idling. And with the cold weather approaching, even more so.

I’m afraid to tell my wife, whose pet peeve has long been car idlers, and the impact those idling engines have on the air and climate. She’s written letters to newspapers about it. She’s pressed our kids’ principals at our own neighborhood school to take action against parents sitting in running cars at the end of school days.

And I’m with her on this — all those cars, engines running, can’t be good for the planet.

(The School Committee is tinkering with its policy on who can ride the bus to help alleviate this a bit, but I suspect most families are in the pick-up line because of concerns about Covid19 and buses, even with the protocols and safety measures in place).

Peace (sitting here, thinking).
Kevin

One Of Those Days (Wrong Shoes Blues)

wrong shoes blues

You ever have one of those days?

I drove to school the other day and I was getting the classroom all ready for the morning — the scramble to make sure everything is just right — when I looked down, only to realize that I had two different shoes on my feet.

Somehow, in the rush to get out the door to get to school and with my mind crowded with lesson plans and the day ahead and everything else on my plate, I had inadvertently put one shoe on one foot and then grabbed an entirely different shoe for the other foot, and never even realized it until that moment of pause (and giggle) in the empty classroom.

Weird.

Those are the kinds of days that just make you stop and laugh and shake your head  … Crazy times.

Peace (walking it forward),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Drumroll, Please

Newspaper Announcement

Last week, for Slice of Life, I mentioned how I had been told I was a finalist in a short story contest here, sponsored by our local newspaper. Well, I didn’t win it all but I did come in what they are calling First Runner-Up (sort of Second Place, I guess) and this morning, my story was published in its entirety in the newspaper (in wicked small font!).

Newspaper Story

I’m pretty excited about it and I will bring the newspaper into the classroom today, too. You can listen to the interview I did with the local radio station and hear me reading the story out loud, over the phone, if you are interested.

Now, for my next story …

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Giving Ourselves the Gift of Forgiveness

forgive“forgive” by timlewisnm is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We’ve been in the midst of our parent-teacher conference week. Forging strong connections with families is always important, and it is even more so during these Pandemic times of hybrid and remote learning. All of our conferences are taking place on Zoom, which at times began to take on the role of a video confessional booth, although I didn’t mind when it veered into that direction.

Before we even ventured into the topics about academics or student progress, I consistently started out with the question: How are you (the family doing)? That question caused a pause, and then often a sigh, and then it sometimes opened a floodgate of response, and it was soon very clear — most families are just barely balancing the demands of their own work and lives with the school lives of their kids, and their collective nerves are frayed.

Some parents leaned in to apologize for not doing enough to help support their child’s learning during the Independent/Remote Days (in our Hybrid, we see students two days a week in the building, and then they are home for three days, doing independent work). Some families, primarily those with more than one child at school, admitted they just can’t keep up with the emails and notifications from different teachers, and have stopped looking.

More than one parent started to tear up. Many asked for more advice on how they can best support their child at home. Most said something along the lines of, “We’re doing what we can, but it doesn’t feel like it’s nearly enough.” They have not given up, but most seem resigned to the reality of the situation.

More than a few asked pointed questions about whether we are seeing gaps in academic performance due to the Spring shut-down and current Hybrid model, and if so, what would those gaps mean? I spoke reassuringly about what we are seeing, what we are doing, and the direction we are heading as a school. Parents seemed relieved by information and anecdotes.

All expressed heartfelt thanks for the teachers and the work we are doing, which I appreciate (particularly given some contentious decision-making by our local School Committee over fully re-opening the school and eliminating the six-foot-distancing rule, which families pushed back against, hard, leading to a reversal of that decision for the upper grades).

I found myself, often, urging parents to find forgiveness for themselves, to remember that we are still in a Pandemic and, unfortunately, the Pandemic is getting worse right now with winter coming, not better. I reminded them that all we can ever do, is the best we can do, and that taking care of our families is priority number one. For some, that means working from home. For others, it means trusting children to be productive in their independence.

Be kind to yourself, I told one single parent, who was distraught as our conversation unfolded. Family first. We will work together to address any school issues, I told them. You are not alone in this. Forgive yourself, for you are doing what you can in this moment of uncertainty, I reminded them. That is what our children need — love and support and stability — more than anything else.

Maybe I was reminding myself, too, as much as giving them a gift of forgiveness to give themselves.

Peace (to you),
Kevin

Video: Letters to Veterans

Most years, our elementary school hosts an amazing breakfast and all-school ceremony to celebrate our military veterans in the community. We live near two National Air Guard bases, so many of our families have military people in them. We often have dozens of veterans attend from all different services and from all different experiences, and introduce themselves to the student community, and students sing songs of appreciation. I’m a veteran, too, and I always appreciated the celebration.

This year, we can’t do that kind of event, due to the Pandemic, so I asked my sixth graders to write letters to our community veterans and then gathered them together into a video format. It’s not the same, but it’s something.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin