Slice of Life: Goals for the New Year

(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.)

With my students back in the building in our Hybrid/Cohort model, we spent some time yesterday morning after the Winter Break charting out some goals and aspirations we have for the new year.

Sharing our writing was a way to connect after a few weeks on vacation and a few weeks in Remote Learning, and as always, I shared out my own goals with the kids, too.

Mr H Goals for 2021

For many of us, the Pandemic was a common theme (mostly, to be done with it in some way or another). I guess that would be a common theme everywhere these days.

Peace (aspiring towards it),

Slice of Life: Snow Day Play Day

(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 other day, we had our first Snow Day of the school year. Leading up to it, there had been plenty of discussions among administrators and chatter among students about whether we would have a “no school” day when the storm arrived, because we had just gone full remote, working from home, due to a sharp rise in virus infections. Many other school districts (like my son’s) were already full remote and any snow day would still be a school day, from home, because it would not matter the condition of the roadways.

Our superintendent, for various reasons (including the sheer size and rural nature of some parts of our district), however, went the way of traditional Snow Day, and so we had the day off.  The next morning was the most animated morning of stories from my students that I have witnessed on Zoom in quite some time. I couldn’t hold them back. I didn’t.

There were tales of sledding, of building jumps on hills, of crashes, of trying to construct snow forts, of shoveling, of snow fights, of jumping off back decks into piles of snow, of pets in the first big snow of the year. Their faces were lit up with the memory of going outside to play (safely, I kept hoping).

I shared about our puppy’s first energetic forays into the snow that morning of the storm, and how she leaped and ran and tunneled through the snow with pure rush and abandon.

Silent Sunday

This first Snow Day was a mental and emotional break, one that perhaps all of us needed, as we grapple with the demands and limitations of teaching and learning through Zoom and Google Classroom and other platforms that engage us, but keep us removed from the world each school day, too.

We need more opportunities for them to be kids.

Peace (and play),

Slice of Life: Maybe You Were Un-Googled, Too

(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.)

At first, I thought I was alone. Then I realized, nope, it’s not just me. It’s everyone.

Google had crashed down and with an hour until students, I sat there, at table, on our first day back into a Remote Learning status, wondering how I could reach kids if they didn’t have access to Gmail and Google Classroom. We still had Zoom, I figured, but kids follow the links and codes they keep in email and in Classroom.

Huh. I was stumped.

Luckily, we start our day a bit later in the mornings than other schools as we are an elementary building and so by the time we were getting near the start of the day, Google had been kicked back to life by some engineers somewhere. There were a few glitches (an activity I had planned using Google’s Jamboard got funky on us at one point and we had to abandon it).

I’ve written many times of our reliance (all of us) on single platforms, and how precarious that can be, and yesterday’s outage at Google showcased just how roped in we are into its many educational applications, and how school can come to a screeching halt if it falls apart (a number of high schools in our area went to a two-hour remote delay because of the Google problem).

I don’t have any solutions, and when we talked about it at our staff meeting, it seemed as if no one else did either, other than to shrug it off as another technology hurdle that Google seemed to fix quickly enough. Maybe so. But I’m not so sure, although I have been impressed that Zoom and Google and other educational platforms have remained mostly standing and stable with all of the push to online learning across the country and world.

Yesterday, though, it felt like a reminder of how delicate the tower is, and how one pin, pulled, might make the entire system collapse on us. And then what?

Peace (pushing the reboot button),

Video Game Design: More Adventures in Storyboarding

Light Thief Game Storyboard

I wrote last week about my sixth graders making a final push into Gamestar Mechanic before it closes up (due to Flash), and how two of my three classes were designing games based on environmental themes after reading the novel, Flush. My third class read The Lightning Thief, and so they are starting up a video game project of a Hero’s Quest, using Percy’s adventures as their story-frame concept.

As with the other two classes, I have been working on my own video game, too, to show them my process and to share my design thinking, staying about one day ahead of where they are. So, I will be sharing my storyboard for Rescue Quest game in class today, and then finishing my game tonight.

Peace (finding the adventure),

And We’re Back … to Remote

Remote Control, Television - TV-controller“Remote Control, Television – TV-controller” by espensorvik is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I started the year with my sixth graders, in remote setting, and then we were in a Hybrid Mode (half and half) since early October, but with numbers spiking in our region and in the small town where I teach (and in our school), we shift back to remote again next week. A message from the administration came through late last night — we will be in today, to gather things up and get ready for more isolation times.

As always, flexibility is the key to teaching this year, but the mindset for preparing for remote vs hybrid is like rusty gear that needs some oil, and the prospect of hours on the screen again is NOT something I am looking forward to.

Ah well. Staying safe and healthy is what’s first and foremost on my mind. We’ll make our way through.

Peace (humming it),

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),


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.


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.


Peace (singing it),

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),

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),

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),