Slice of Life: The Unexpected Poem

(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 not believe me on this but it’s true. I was at our local library, and I often kill time there by looking at the rack of “recently returned” books to see what other people are reading. Sort of a like a literary voyuer. I was scanning the far side of the rack when I saw a small book of poetry and art about the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, which is where I live.

I sat down, flipped through the pages, perusing some of the writing and enjoying the art of where I live when I landed on page 82. And I saw my own name and one of my poems. And that’s when I remembered — in one of those odd “oh yeah” moments — submitting a poem to a local anthology about ten years ago. Publication took time, and I guess I sort of forgot all about it. This book was published nearly four years ago, I see.

Ghost Train poem in Anthology

But there I was, a poet in the collection. Of course, I checked out the book from the library, and showed my family the poem with a mysterious ‘turn to page 82.’ (My middle son then flipped to the bios, and saw his own name referenced, which gave him some excitement). The piece is all about the train tracks that have been transformed into bike and hiking trails in our neighborhood, and the ghosts of the past that ride with the present.

Interesting, right? Serendipity. Or something.

Peace (you never know),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Maps in the Mailbox

(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.)

In the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) this month, we’re centering on the theme of maps, in all sorts of ways. Geographical maps. Game maps. Learning maps. Systems maps. Imaginary maps. It’s all connected to the idea of #Mapvember, and the way we can visualize the known and unknown worlds.

As part of our monthly CLMOOC postcard project (where about 70 of us have signed up to send postcards to each other from time to time, either one postcard a month or season or year, or more, if you are so inspired), the theme is also mapping. I found these very cool postcards called Map of the Heavens, which are elaborate celestial maps from a museum collection that are just fascinating to look at.

Map Postcards for Mapvember

Yesterday, I popped a dozen postcards into the mailbox, sending my maps (and my text on the postcard was a compass map of my writing life) to places in the United States and way beyond (Scotland, Australia, Canada, etc.)

I love this way of connecting throughout the year, beyond the traditional CLMOOC Summers.

Peace (find your way),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Rattling The Bones

(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 title for this post is sort of click-bait. This is not about Halloween and funny bones. It’s about the final lesson in my Digital Lives unit with my sixth graders, where I talk about bullying in online spaces. While I often try to balance out my Digital Lives unit with lots of positive messages — for all the many ways that technology allows them to compose and connect and learn — this lesson is a bit of hard reality for them.

It’s the only time I will intentionally mention how two students in our area of Western Massachusetts were harassed so much in online spaces that they took their own lives, and how those tragic events triggered the ways we talk about bullying in our state and our schools.

The room gets completely silent and thoughtful, as I see that reality registering in their minds. I see looks around the room when I talk about how police now keep files on students who have engaged in any bully behavior in the school system. I see the seriousness in their eyes, and it feels as if they are too young for all this.

But, of course, they are not too young. They are at the right age for this discussion. Social media is already in their lives, as I know from the survey I did with them and from our discussions.

These sixth graders are heading off to the regional middle/high school next year, where all sorts of new social dynamics kick in, and many of them are already in multiple online social spaces with their smart phones.

I always end with the message of hope and love. Of places where they can turn if they find themselves the victim of online bullying. Of the importance of friends and family. Of us, as teachers, caring deeply for them and being here for them. That they should look out for each other, too, and stand up when needed. To be strong. That despair and loneliness in the face of social media can be countered and dealt with.

Of all the things I said yesterday to my sixth graders, I hope that message is the message they remember the most.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

Visual Slice of Life: Avatars on the Window

(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.)

Sticky Note Avatars on Window

We’re in the midst of our unit on Digital Life, and we were talking about online identity and the many ways people represent/misrepresent themselves in online spaces for all sorts of reasons: privacy, acceptance, gender, etc.

Before launching into an online activity around building avatars with different sites (and considering using what they made for their school Google Accounts), I had my sixth graders create Sticky Note Avatars and put them on the window as a sort of public display of representations.

They looked pretty neat, all there on the glass.

Sticky Note Avatars on Window

Peace (imagine it),
Kevin

 

Peace (falling),
Kevin

Slice of Life: I eye i

(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 spent a good part of the long weekend reading and assessing short stories, the first large writing project that my sixth graders have done this school year. There were a lot of fun and interesting stories, but one thing kept sticking out for me.

i

i

i

You may know that I am all in support of the ways that technology and digital writing techniques and possibilities have opened up many writing opportunities for young people. Embedded media, hyperlink associations, etc. Composition is changing, and I’m fine with that. And young people are writing all the time. Writing is at the heart of most of the texting, video creating, commenting, Instagramming, status updating, etc. that they do.

Yet …

I still get frustrated by the use of “i” instead of “I” when it comes to more formal writing. It feels like one of those non-negotiables when it comes to formal writing, right?

I do mini-lessons around techniques of proofreading and of writing, and of how different formalities of writing call for different things. Lower case “i” is fine for texting with friends, I tell them, but not for formal school writing, and I show them, and explain it to them.

Still, the i persists.

It’s likely a combination of them seeing the lower case so much in other places and spaces that their eye doesn’t immediately notice it, as mine does. Immediately. When using their Google Docs accounts, the “i” is not always deemed a spell-check issue, I’ve observed. So no red squiggles appear on the screen. I don’t know why not. I also know they should not need to rely on the red squiggles for something as simple as “i” becoming “I”. Finally, we all know that proofreading is always a struggle for young writers.

Sigh.

Maybe there are a few ee cummings in the mix …

Peace (i mean it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Out On the Wire

(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 may have written a bit about this last year, too. Our team-building outdoor adventure field trip happens this time of year, and yesterday, we took our sixth graders to an all-day outdoor space, with the highlight for many being the high ropes course.

High Ropes

Watching from the ground, with the deep blue sky above, is always an interesting perspective.

High Ropes

What you can’t hear are is the soundtrack of all the students not on the wires, shouting out encouragement and advice. That’s as wonderful as watching kids counter their fears of the course by completing it.

High Ropes

Peace (in the skyline),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Not Yet Grounded

(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.)

So much of the start of the year is about finding out more about who our students are as learners, as writers. I’m still figuring that out, particularly now that I have a short story project underway that involves multiple steps (planning, drafting, etc.) and involves more critical thinking and effort that anything we have yet done this year. One of my four classes has quite a mix of struggling writers and behavior issues that stems from the grouping of students, and some of these students already seem disinterested in what we are doing (five weeks into the school year).

I lost my patience in class a bit with one of the students yesterday who was being disruptive, even after some warnings and moving to another part of the room. I knew in the very moment it was happening that calling them out was the wrong approach. This student clearly needs a more personal approach, and other ways to engage, and I am going to make time to today for a one-on-one chat, to both apologize for my approach and to try to brainstorm ways to deal with that behavior if it comes again. That doesn’t mean the disruption is acceptable. But I could have figured out a better way to address it.

Much of the behavior issue stems from a resistance to writing (so, it is going to be a long year, since writing is a key feature of everything we do) and struggles with learning. The behavior is clearly a way to divert attention, to provide a front for peers. I get it. I’m going to have to work through all that cloud to get to the real kid in there and help them make gains with their writing.

It’s on me, as much as on them.

I wish every class were this well-oiled machine, where everything flows perfectly. It’s not. Almost never is. And that’s one of the most challenging elements of being an educator — the unpredictability of kids and their lives, and how what happens in expected moments of the classroom changes the dynamics of the space  — and one of the things that makes being a teacher so rewarding when breakthroughs happen.

Peace (finding my ground),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Walk Around the Block

(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 took our dog, Duke, for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood yesterday. It was a warm end-of-summer day.

Duke, cartooned

Here’s what Duke and I saw:

  • Two puppies and one elder dog, and Wally the cat. Wally, a female, loves dogs, and loves Duke, so she rolled on the pavement as Duke investigated, touching noses before moving on.
  • A dead squirrel. Duke wanted to get closer. I did not want Duke to get closer. I won that tug of war.
  • Three young sisters on some sort of electric scooter/bike that their handyman dad cobbled together. They zoomed past us, huddled together on the contraption, giggling, “Hi Duke.”
  • A hummingbird at the flower patch by the mailbox. Duke didn’t seem to notice or pay attention but I did. I never get tired of seeing hummingbirds and their ability to seemingly float in midair.
  • Three people who mentioned my New York Giants shirt (we live in New England Patriots country), with a mix of humor and friendly derision. I still had some hope for my team last night. Wasn’t enough.
  • A neighbor out raking, the first leaf raker I have seen this season. She stopped, leaning on her rake, and we chatted, and when she said, “I can’t believe I am doing this already,” I playfully suggested she “leap into the huge pile of leaves” she had raked. She declined. I kept walking.
  • Five possums in a possum parade, crossing the street from a small dingle to a small drainage culvert. One saw Duke and leaped back to hide. The other four hustled across the street. They are funny-looking things, sort of creepy with wobbly bodies and short legs.
  • The next-door house that has seemed too empty in recent days. One of our elderly neighbors was taken to the hospital a few days by ambulance, and we think he’s still there, and his wife is no doubt spending time there. Duke looked to the house. He always had treats in his pocket for Duke.

Peace (through the days),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Ethical Questions of Ease (Who Pays the Price?)

(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’ve been a Google Apps for Education (or whatever they call it now) classroom for a few years now, using Google Docs and Slides and more on a regular basis with our sixth graders, but I haven’t dipped into the Google Classroom space until this year.

One reason I was holding off is an ongoing concern that everything we do is becoming more and more Google, a company that just loves to bring more young people into its data fold and nurture future Google Search users. Because the business model is pretty transparent: more searches means more money for Google.

So while I recognize and utilize the power of Google Apps with my students for peer editing, collaboration, use of media and words, publishing and more, I am always a bit reluctant to keep telling my students to crawl into the Google hole. (Maybe it’s just me but there’s something odd about the whole Google Superstar Teaching retreats that go on … I can’t quite explain it but it makes me feel icky to think that Google sponsors Professional Development and then has those educators self-identify as Google teachers … It’s also a brilliant marketing move.)

Another reason I haven’t ventured into Google Classroom is that I wasn’t quite ready to try something new. I was learning the management of Docs and Slides and how my curriculum might best use those features. I wanted to get a handle on what we were doing, and why we were doing it, before diving into new terrain.

This summer, I devoured an ebook by Alice Keeler who shared out 50+ ways to use Google Classroom (very helpful, but the Foreward in Keeler’s book by Google Product Management Executive Jonathan Rochelle made me cringe) and I have scanned through some of her videos, also helpful.

I learned enough about Google Classroom to know that I really needed to try out its features this year, if only to make my own life as a teacher tracking 75 students with Google accounts a bit easier and more manageable.

And it does. It really does, from allowing me to assign activities across multiple classes, to tracking who has finished and who has not, to a shared virtual classroom space, to scheduling assignments, to automatically creating student versions of my templates and putting them into a new Google Drive folder … there’s a lot that Google Classroom gets right.

Dang it. I’m sipping the tasty Google juice, and sharing it with my students.

But … I am also regularly talking about tech company’s intentions for gathering data and information about us, as means for making money from advertising and more. I hope that all balances out, and that in my attempt to make my life easier as a teacher I am not putting my students in the crosshairs of a technology behemoth.

Peace (go a little deeper),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Moon Over My Shoulder

(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 spent Labor Day night in Boston, bringing my middle son and his friend to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park (we gave him tickets for a birthday present way back in winter). It was a beautiful night in Boston, and at one point, after many of us in the seats noticed the moon being shown on the small television monitors, we all turned our heads to look behind us.

The moon was dangling in the air, a beautiful orb of light.

Later, I grabbed a selfie with the moon.

Boston Moon

Peace (shine on),
Kevin