To Friends in Many Spaces: Thankful, Appreciative, Optimistic

Book Turkey(My wife brought home this book turkey she made with an old textbook and I love the way a book was remixed into art.)

Dear friends in many spaces,

Thank you. Thank you for, first, for even being here at my blog at all. I know fewer and fewer people read blogs, preferring sound bite analysis and catchy headlines on social media. I do that, too, at times. As such, I am always appreciative when anyone takes the time to jump from a tweet or a shared link or maybe even RSS reader to come and spend a few minutes with my writing or my songs, and maybe even write a comment. Thank you for your conversations in the comment bin, when you have time and inclination to do so.

I am also deeply appreciative of the fact that while I read about and know about the thorny, messy elements of the Web — the way trolls play out on Twitter, the way algorithmic bots target us on Facebook (well, not me, but maybe you), the way we are the product for marketing, the way dark corners of the Net are home to anger and conspiracy and such — I have mostly avoided those elements.  I know others have not been so lucky, targeted because they speak out and have strong views.

I think my positive bubble — which is not the kind of bubble that walls me off from the world and not the kind that stops me from expressing my own strong opinions nor engaging in debates — has been mostly due to you.

You have helped me stay positive and engaged in thinking forward. I ask you questions, and you answer. I remix your resources, and honor your work. You do the same, with mine. I write in your margins, to better understand. I write my way forward. Sometimes, I read what you share and let it sink in, letting time follow me until I realize that what you shared with me is now the thing I need right now. You knew that all along.

This is not, alas, unbridled optimism without worry, of course, worries about the many obstacles still there when it comes to learning and teaching and writing and sharing and connecting, and the myriad of troubles that come with this digital world. For sure, there are unsettling problems, made worse by our digital connections with the world. I find myself agreeing with the analysis by many that the promise of the Web, as we know it today, is not what we thought it might be.

Still, it might yet still become something else altogether, something better.

We collectively push forward by pushing forward, we do by doing, we make by making, and we can do this together. No one person can be on this journey alone. We make this path, together.

Whenever I think, this is a perfect opportunity for a collaboration and let’s get an invite out into the networks, that impulse to work with others in technology and writing and making is based on hope in the possible. It’s why I remain part of CLMOOC, and why offshoots of connected communities intrigue me. It’s why others in the National Writing Project seem like friends, even when we only just meet. It’s why I found a new-ish home on Mastodon, settling into small stories and small poems and small sharing. This is why regular activities like Slice of Life remain a draw for me. It’s why I don’t worry too much about leaving one place to go to another, to meet new people, to learn from others. I dip my toes, for a reason. There are more people out there who want the same than we realize. It’s sometimes just a matter of finding us.

I am thankful there are such opportunities. Thank you.

Peace (a few words and such),
Kevin

 

What Words Surfaced When Talking Augmented and Virtual Realities

VR AR Words Surfaced

I spent the weekend in New York City with a gathering of National Writing Project colleagues, talking and sharing about experiences around augmented and virtual reality, in connection to learning opportunities. The word cloud comes from my messy notepad, where I was trying to pay attention to key words that were surfacing across a day of project sharing.

Notice how the technical aspects — of how things work — is less visible than the “why we might do this” aspect, as well as the literacy components. This is not to say we didn’t talk technical at times, but mostly it was a rich discussion about how such virtual and augmented experiences might extend our definitions of literacy and composition, and how keeping an eye on the human interaction nature of technical innovation systems is a key component.

Peace (in real time),
Kevin

 

 

Celebrating the National Day on Writing

Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, now in its tenth year (I believe), through the support of the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations, like the National Writing Project. But tomorrow is a Saturday.

Today is when I will do some activities with my sixth graders. I had hoped to try to do a Zine project, but I dropped the ball on my planning and worries about time necessary to do a quality job. So, I am pushing the Zine idea out further into the year. (I connected with our city library, which runs a Zine project for teens, and they have some examples and resources I can borrow.)

So, I am going to do a version of what I have done other years, which is to have my sixth graders write about why they write (the theme of NDOW is Why I Write), and then share their ideas in the classroom. From there, students will volunteer to do an audio podcast (when I mentioned this the other day, they were excited about it), and then we’re going to use Make Beliefs Comix site, turning the writing piece into a comic.

Here’s mine:

Why I Write 2018 Comic

I hope to have a Wall of Comics about Writing in my classroom by the end of the day and to have student voices released into the #whyiwrite world, too.

These are voices from last year:

And a few years ago, I asked my colleagues at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, why do you write? This is what we said.

What about you? What will you do? Why do you write?

Peace (writing it down),
Kevin

 

At WMWP: Instruments in a Common Band

WMWP Best Practices Overview

The small group planning the two main conferences for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project this year have decided to have an overarching theme of the entire year. Which I think is a fantastic idea — the theme is the thread to connect our work.

Even better is the theme they chose: Instruments in a Common Band. The tagline is: Voice, Identity and Respectful Dialogue. Perfect, right?

Not just metaphorically, which works for me as a musician, but also with the intent of encouraging the consideration of different voices and identity and discussion in the field of teaching and writing. Our first weekend conference is coming up, and the sessions and the keynote address reflect this theme rather nicely.

The “common band” phrasing has stuck with me, too. How we are all making music together, metaphorically — sometimes in harmony; sometimes, with cacophony; sometimes in rhythm; sometimes, not. Our obligation is not just to make noise but to make music. Not just as teachers, but as learners. As citizens.

And the theme certainly dovetails nicely with our WMWP Mission Statement.

Peace (sung from the band of the Common),
Kevin

PS — if you are in Western Massachusetts, there is still time to register for our Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing on Saturday, October 13.

#Writeout: The End is Just the Beginning

Where Write Out Goes

We’re wrapping up the summer portion of Write Out, after two full weeks of activity and sharing an open learning network. You can read the last newsletter — which has suggestions for video reflections via Flipgrid and a LRNG Playlist to continue the work of making connections into the school year — and the hope is that teachers find park rangers, and park rangers find teachers.

And that these partnerships help students find places beyond their schools and classrooms to become inspired to write about the world.

As the band, Semisonic, reminds us: Every new beginning starts from some other beginning’s end.

Peace (start at the end),
Kevin

 

 

An Invitation to Write Out and Explore the Terrain

I want to invite you to join in for the upcoming Write Out project, an open learning adventure sponsored by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service and built off the concepts of the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) experiences of the past few years. I am one of the facilitators of this new experience.

Write Out is being designed to connect educators to open and public spaces, such as the National Parks network (but not limited to those places), and we will be working on mapping as a central theme this summer. We aim to have teachers and park rangers and other explorers in the mix.

The Write Out website

Write Out officially begins on July 15 and will run for two weeks. There will be invitations for making maps and making connections, for making media and writing stories, and more.

If you have five to ten minutes, we’ll have some suggestions. An hour? We’ll have suggestions. A day or two? We’ve got you covered. As with CLMOOC, you engage where it interests you, with no pressure other than a sense of connection and community.

Our aim is to open more doors for teachers, and their students, to the outside world. If you go to the Write Out site, you can sign up for newsletters and information.

Take a listen to the overview via NWP Radio from some of the facilitators:

I hope to see you in the mix this summer.

The Write Out website

Peace (inside and outside),
Kevin

PS — By the way, CLMOOC is still happening, too, in a sort of parallel and connected path as Write Out, with CLMOOC-inspired daily doodle prompts on map and open space themes, and art swap sharing activities happening. See more at the CLMOOC website.

Armory Summer Camp: The Double V Campaign for Social Justice

Lee Hines: Double V Compaign

At our summer camp at the Springfield Armory, where our themes all week have centered on social justice issues, middle school campers explored the notions of the Double V Campaign — when returning WW2 African American veterans searched for racial equality and respect, and the end to segregation, at the home-front after serving as heroes in the war.

Our visitor — Lee Hines — is part of the Veterans Education Project, and he has done extensive research on the Double V. Hines is also a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. He flew airplanes and helicopters over Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. In his talk with the camp, Hines notes the ways the African American soldiers of WW2 paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement, and how the Double V Campaign sparked dissent in our country and caused government officials like FBI Director Edgar Hoover to move to squelch it.

Earlier, we had watched a powerful digital film created for National History Day by other middle school students on the topic of the Tuskegee Airmen, whose heroism is now celebrated but whose existence at the time was the cause for much argument around segregation, military service and more. Our campers come from a social justice middle school, so these topics resonated with them.

Following Hines’ talk, we had students create their own versions of a Double V Campaign poster, in hopes of getting them think about all of those brave men, and women, who fought against evil in the war and then came home, and fought against injustice in their own communities.

Double V Campaign PostersThis is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (always ready),
Kevin

 

Using Material Culture to Understand the Past

Using Material Culture to Understanding History

We had some guest visitors to our summer camp at the Springfield Armory historic site yesterday. Reba Jean and her daughter, Piper, are both historians, who conduct immersive workshops with students as a way to teach them about the past. She calls this “material culture,” as in the objects from the past can bring to the surface the stories of the people who lived in a certain time.

A little research on this term, which was new to me, showed me that this is a common historical concept.

Material culture is the physical aspect of culture in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in. The term is commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, specifically focusing on the material evidence that can be attributed to culture in the past or present.

Material culture studies is an interdisciplinary field that tells of the relationships between people and their things: the making, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects. It draws on both theory and practice from the social sciences and humanities such as art history, archaeology, anthropology, history, historic preservation, folklore, literary criticism and museum studies, among others. Anything from buildings and architectural elements to books, jewelry, or toothbrushes can be considered material culture. — via Wikipedia

Since we are exploring World War 2 and women at the home-front (when men went to war, the women of Springfield were recruited in neighborhoods to work in the Armory, disrupting families and forever altering the social fabric of the city), Reba Jean and Piper presented our young writers with objects and stories of the time period. It was fascinating to watch our middle school campers come to learn about rations, and gender expectations, and the sacrifices of children.

They held a jar of recycled aluminum foil balls that would be donated to the war effort, fingered old sugar and food cloth sacks that were used to repair socks when other materials were not available, smelled the old rubber tire used for soles of shoes, read comic books with superheroes fighting for the Allies, and more.

The most powerful stories came from the objects of her own father-in-law, who had inscribed into his tin water cup the many places he fought in the trenches in WW2 but never talked about at home. She also had a recovered bayonet from Germany that her father-in-law brought home, not as a souvenir of war but as a reminder of childhood. Inside the bayonet casing, you can smell the mix of oil and materials that evoked the smell of crayons, and she said her father-in-law and other soldiers would smell that smell when they were scared or lonely or homesick. All of us in the room took a sniff, experiencing what he also smelled as the war raged around him.

Our Own Rosie

Finally, a student volunteer was “dressed” to resemble the famous Rosie the Riveter image of WW2 home-front, with the student nearly falling over with all of the “stuff” Rosie had to carry to stay strong at home.

Overall, our campers learned so much, through the touching and exploring of the “material objects” which brought the stories of the past to the surface in tangible and important ways.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (from the past),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Inquisitive Kids at Writing Camp

(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.)

You may know this feeling if you have ever imagined and then brought to reality a writing camp in the summer. In the hour before camp starts, you wonder: will anyone actually come? They signed up. But will they get out of bed and get here? And then, they do arrive, and you realize, this was a great idea!

That was me, and my colleagues, yesterday, as middle school kids arrived at the Springfield Armory Historical Site for our week-long free summer writing camp. It was a relief that they showed up.

And then we had a fantastic day of looking through and writing about primary source images from the Armory’s history, touring the historic buildings on the grounds of the site, learning about innovation exhibits on the museum floor, and pretending to be innovators in the manufacturing of a “lock plate.”

What great campers! What a great day!

And today, we get to write and to explore once again.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (from the past to the future),
Kevin