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

 

An Infographic Reminds Me of Stability

My teaching stats

Someone in the Slice of Life community had shared out this simple tool to create an infographic of “teacher stats” — you provide it with some data and it spits out a small infographic. Nothing too fancy, but that’s OK.

What I realized as I was doing mine is how stable my teaching career has been over the 15 years I have been in the classroom (after a 10-year career in journalism and a few years as stay-at-home daddy). I know I am lucky in this regard, particularly given the budget situation in my school district (we are among the lowest per-pupil expenditure communities in the entire state of Massachusetts).

And I am grateful for the stability, for it affords me to keep digging deeper into my teaching practice, and so far, I have not hit the boredom button. That’s one of the magical elements of teaching: every day offers something new and every student is a challenge and a celebration.

I am grateful for my first principal — the one who took a chance in late August on me, an inexperienced teacher, and supported me along the first year to become a confident (as much as possible) sixth grade educator, which is where I still am, every single day.

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

Make Panoramic Virtual Reality in Cardboard

Cardboard VR

Thanks to Richard Byrne, over at Free Tech for Teachers, I began exploring Google Cardboard again, but this time, I used the Google Cardboard Camera app to make my own virtual reality. The free app allows you to create a 360 degree panorama, and you can even add audio narration, and then share it out with people. (I did it with my Droid phone but I believe you can do the same with any iOS device.)

I did a trial run in my backyard and then used it when I did a hike up to a fire tower known as Goat’s Peak, which gives you a nice view of the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts from top Mount Tom.

If you have Google Cardboard (or some VR goggles .. I bought my set from Amazon for about 10 bucks) and the Google Cardboard viewer app, the links should open up for you in that app. You can see what I saw and hear me explaining it a bit.

See my backyard

See Pioneer Valley from Goat’s Peak

Here is Richard’s very helpful video tutorial on making and sharing Google Cardboard VR.

It would be pretty cool to have students use the Google Cardboard Camera app to make their own virtual reality shows of special places.

Peace (it’s reality),
Kevin

Checking out SLAM School


Slam flickr photo by delete08 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

SLAM School?

Well, it’s an “assembly” of the National Council of Teachers of English, and SLAM means the ‘Studies in Literacies and Multimedia.’ The “school” (wow, lots of quotes here already) is a series of periodic hangout videos in which folks in education and technology investigate the intersections of writing, multimedia, political action and more.

Check out this sample.

You can follow the SLAM School at the blog and also on YouTube, and the videos are about 30 minutes long, and lots of guests are sharing knowledge about video, social media, advocacy and more.

Peace (slammin’),
Kevin

Visual Literacies and the Emergence of “Picting”


visualliteracy flickr photo by alisonkeller shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The term “picting” is new to me but it makes sense. In a recent piece at The Journal by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway entitled Picting, Not Wriing, is the Literacy of Today’s Youth, the question of whether the visual nature of literacy in the (literal) hands of youth — mostly via cameras on mobile devices — has overtaken the written literacies.

Maybe. I don’t know.

I look at my own teenage sons, and my own adolescent students, and I pay attention to the ways they use Snapchat and YouTube and who knows what other apps to document their world, but are they telling stories? It’s more like the visual elements of their mobile lives are connector points, or documentation hubs of their identity (or projected identities), than telling whatever we want to call a story. Read the comments at the article, and you’ll see a discussion about “story” unfolding along this query.

The authors cite research that does back up, however, how young people are more apt to “compose” with images  – and use writing only as secondary literacy points — than the other way around. Unless they are in school. Then, the equation flip flops. In school, writing is the key literacy skill and visuals are often add-ons.

I think that is generally true (that we value textual writing over visual composition), and while more of a balance would make sense, I still think the teaching of writing and of composition and of “composing” with media is a key anchor of learning in our schools. Whether young people are taking and sharing images with intentional design and composition strategies can probably be debated.

I believe that young people still need to learn and to use those more traditional skills (ie, writing with text) to inform the way they interact and write into the world, whether that writing be visual or not. Note the image I used at the top of the post. The elements of design are becoming more and more important for all of us, so teaching and learning visual literacy makes sense.

I was reminded of the work that Nick Sousanis is doing around the visual narrative. You can read his piece from Digital Writing Month, in which he explores elements of visual narrative with a unique insight.

from Nick Sousanis: Spin Weave and Cut

 

And I was reminded, too, of the way my friend Kim Douillard, a writing project colleague, sees the world through her camera, and shares out visual themes for others to try across many social media streams, every single week. Kim views what she sees through her camera as narrative points, and understands how a picture can be composed. I try to learn from her.

Image by Kim Douillard

 

Not everything we write is story, although a common definition of ‘story’ is often debated in writing and teaching circles. Still, the idea that narrative does run beneath all that writers do is an interesting concept, for sure. See Minds Made for Stories by Thomas Newkirk for more on this.

I wrote this as a comment response at The Journal’s piece:

Writing with text is important. So is visual literacy. Also, add in the ability to speak and listen. Explaining something with video? Yep. That, too. The best approach for us educators is always to find ways to fuse these elements together when working with young “composers” of media. We should teach students how each (writing, visual, audio) on its own transforms a message (if not tells a story) and how each can work in tandem with the other to make a more powerful statement on the world. It is intriguing how visual the world of young people has become and there are many ways to tap into that (graphic novels, comics, infographics, etc). I still maintain, along with others, that the art of writing is still at the center of all these literacies.

What do you think?

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

 

Transliteracies: Reading and Writing Across Mediums

This post has been sitting in my blog draft bin for some time. I remember thinking, this is a useful slideshow presentation from Bobbie Newman for considering the ways we write and read across various media and mediums. I guess I never brought it out during Digital Writing Month. The show’s a few years old now, but it is still relevant on its focus on storytelling across a wide range of concepts, including the way humans interact with narrative.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

 

Literacy Collaboration: The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon

Here’s a neat project just finishing up, in which Juan Felipe Herrera (United States Poet Laureate) and artist Juana Medina were “slow writing” a picture book story, with input from second and third grade classrooms around the country. I say “slow writing” because the story had been unfolding one chapter at a time, over months, and the book apparently has just been completed.

There are five chapters, and an epilogue, and the prompt for one of the chapters gives you a nice taste of the story and the characters: How does Catalina use the poetry book to unleash her neon powers and save her familia?”

Herrera and Medina used input from elementary students who responded to the prompt (via a teacher submitting ideas with an online form) as the spine of the next part of the story. Then, they give credit to the schools where the ideas were submitted from.

Cool, right? You bet it is. I hope they do it again.

Check out The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.

Peace (writing it forever),
Kevin

Digitally Interpreting Wendell Berry and Billy Collins

Thanks to posts at the always wonderfully illuminating Brain Pickings the other day, I read and enjoyed (again) a poem by Billy Collins about the art of writing and then discovered a Wendell Berry poem about writing poetry. (I then donated a small amount to support Brain Pickings, because if Maria inspires me, as she does, I should support her, right?)

I decided to close read the poems with the new Lumen5 tool,  which creates interesting digital pieces from found text on the web, choosing poetic lines from the larger poem (neither of my versions is the entire poem) and revamping them as a sort of digital story. I like the way each piece came out, and how I had to adapt the imagery of the poem to the imagery of the, well, images I chose to go with phrases of the poem.

Was I writing? Is this writing? Did the ants follow me home?

Peace (and advice),
Kevin

Create Bravely with Storytelling

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

We had a visitor to our school yesterday with a clear and inspiring message. Paul Reynolds, author and president of Fablevision media company (and twin brother of Peter Reynolds, author of the The Dot and Ish and now out on tour to support his new book, Beautiful Dreamer) presented a message of nurturing creativity and perseverance to our students in an author visit.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Paul’s overall theme — plastered on the front of this shirt — was “create bravely” in a world that sometimes doesn’t recognize creativity for what it is. (One of my students, during Q/A time, asked: “Where can I get your t-shirt. I really want it.” Paul laughed, and said he might need to talk to Peter about making the shirt available. I know I want one, too. You?)

Paul told the story of how and he and his twin brother, Peter, founded their own company to sell books after Peter’s first book got rejected by multiple publishers, and then how Fablevision moved into video game design, websites, software, and videos.

The platforms, Paul explained, are not as important as the underlying core: Storytelling. Telling stories. The narratives are the key to any project, regardless of platform, Paul explained. And he returned to the theme of underlying story over and over again. I was quite thankful for that, but not surprised, knowing the work of the Reynolds and Fablevision.

He also noted the four “c’s” of learning (from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills): creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking — and then how Fablevision embraces the fifth “c” —  compassion. Again and again, Paul reminded students to make an impact — a dot — upon the world, and that art has a role in changing the world for the better.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

I deeply appreciated that after the big session with all of our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds), Paul and Andrea Calvin (of Fablevision) came into one of my classrooms and talked and worked and brainstormed and troubleshot for an hour with my students as they were using a beta version of a publishing site from Fablevision called Get Published. They are creating a memory picture book online that will later get published into a hardcover, bound book.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Peace (brave and creative),
Kevin

 

Making (Digital to Bound) Picture Books

Making Picture Books

We’re in our second year of a partnership of sorts with Boston-based Fablevision, a media and publishing company run by author/illustrator Peter Reynolds (of The Dot fame) and his twin brother, Paul Reynolds. Last year, we beta-tested their publishing site that allows you to make picture books, with a Reynolds-artistic-feel, in an online space that connects to a publishing space. You create in digital; and end in bound books. This year, we are beta-testing a second version of what is now called Get Published (which is a whole lot better and a whole lot less buggier than the first version.)

Making Picture Books

And today, Paul Reynolds and some folks from Fablevision are coming to our school to talk with our sixth graders and perhaps get a look at what they have been up to with their original picture books (the theme: looking back at their elementary school years, with a touch of satire and humor). Peter is on tour with his new book, called Happy Dreamer. We had talked about asking him to Skype in to join Paul but I am not sure if that is going to work.

Paul, along with writing and illustrating with Peter (see Going Places, with its cool Maker Space theme), runs Fablevision, which does a lot of interesting work around digital media and educational software, as well as publishing. The Reynolds also own their own bookstore in Eastern Massachusetts called The Blue Bunny.

It’ll be a fun day!

Making Picture Books

For our project, the parent group for our sixth graders have offered to pick up the cost of publishing the books, which we hope to have in their hands before our last day of school. We also will have our sixth graders read and share their books with second graders, for an authentic audience experience.

Peace (making it happen),
Kevin