#Writeout: When Students Explore History Through Writing

This is a bit of time-warp sharing, I guess. Although the two-week Write Out project formally is coming to a close this weekend, this writing camp project at our local National Park Service site — the Springfield Armory — happened just before Write Out started. But I finally got a video together to share out as we sorted out media permissions of students. Write Out is a partnership from National Writing Project and the National Park Service to connect educators to park spaces for place-based writing activities.

Our free summer camp — Minds Made for Stories —  was aimed at middle school students from a social justice middle school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Funding for the camp came from Mass Humanities. Coordination of the camp involves the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Armory, the school system and the Veterans Education Project.

A component of this project is a series of Professional Development sessions that I facilitated with the Springfield teachers, who then helped run the camp. We are planning more PD at the Armory for the Fall as well, thanks to a grant from the National Writing Project.

We had nearly 20 students for a full week, at the Springfield Armory itself, exploring primary source material, using the museum itself as our “text,” welcoming visitors to the program to talk about women’s roles during WW2 and the Double V campaign for civil rights as well as a soldier’s life in the Civil War, and lots of different kinds of writing.

What kinds of writing?  Some of the activities …

  • Every day, they wrote into the day in notebooks, reflecting on different topics that then framed the learning and exploration of the day
  • They conducted some research on issues related to the role of the Armory in history as a source of innovation and technology and chose from different genres to share their learning
  • They designed museums of their interest as architectural drawings, imagining themselves as architects and presented their plans to the group
  • They created an advertising campaign aimed at women during World War II after learning about propaganda and the ways words and image can come together
  • They wrote about our visitors — one women helped them understand rationing during the war as well as the role of the mythical Rosie the Riveter, another was a Vietnam War vet who talked about being a black American in the armed forces and the role of the Double V Campaign to spark the Civil Rights movement, and a third was a Civil War Re-Enactor who marched our campers through the fields
  • They reflected on their learning as they wrote out of the day in their notebooks

The video captures some of the student explorations, and one of our final “publishing” events for the camp was the creation of a public display of student work that is now on the floor of the Springfield Armory museum, giving Armory visitors a look into some of the writing that students did this summer.

All this to say, while a lot of Write Out work took place outside, and in beautiful forests and mountains and streams, there are also plenty of urban landscapes and history-rich buildings to explore, too.

Peace (in time),
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

 

The Start of a National Parks Historic Site Summer Camp

Welcome to Springfield Armory Camp.001

We have the snacks.

Armory Camp Snacks

We have the notebooks, pencils and writing materials.

Armory Camp Supplies

And now, we’re off to start the first day of our Minds Made for Stories summer camp at the Springfield Armory, a National Parks Historic Site, where we will explore stories, and primary sources, and social justice issues.

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 (digging into the past),
Kevin

 

Chalk Talk: Learning Beyond the Curriculum

Chalk Talk June 2018

I wrote a piece that was published this past week in the local newspaper about some activities for our sixth graders at our school that seem to fall outside of our traditional curriculum, but which still have a huge impact on the learning for our students.

This column, which honors the work of colleagues at my school, is part of a regular feature our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has in partnership with our local regional newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Each month, WMWP teachers are featured as columnists.

Read Of Archers, Actors and Artists

and read the Chalk Talk archives for other pieces from WMWP teachers

Peace (is how we learn),
Kevin

Summer Camp Design: Student Explorations of Past, Present, Future

Minds Made for Stories Summer Camp Mission StatementI am in the second year of facilitating a free summer camp for inner city middle school students at our local National Historic Site — the Springfield Armory. This project is funded through Mass Humanities foundation, with support from the National Park Service and the National Writing Project.

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, of which I am a member, is the lead organization, but there are all sorts of interesting partnerships that have emerged from this adventure. Our partner school — Duggan Middle Academy — is a social justice-themed expeditionary magnet school in Springfield, Massachusetts.

This weekend, I worked with the other teachers to complete the design of our free summer camp, which takes place at the Armory itself. Our theme this year is the World War Two Homefront, and we will be tackling issues of women in the workforce and segregation of the military (Double V) and innovation and technology at the Armory.

We’ve worked on a mission statement to guide our design, and I think it does a nice job of capturing what we are planning, which is an immersive, hands-on experience with history, told through the stories that will emerge from the vast archives of primary sources available at the Springfield Armory. This statement guides our planning work.

I took our statement and tinkered with Lumen5 to create this:

Peace (and perspectives),
Kevin

 

At Middleweb: Raising Teacher Voices

My latest column for Middleweb is all about a publishing project we do at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, in which we partner with the local newspaper to feature a teacher columnist every month.

The result is some amazing writing and sharing, a chance to raise teacher voices into the public sphere, and a raising of the profile of WMWP. We encourage our teacher-writers to bring a lens into learning and teaching, and to consider how the mission statement of WMWP might be a guide for this writing.

So, it’s all good.

I coordinate the program, so I am often chatting with teachers about their writing, and making sure the connection with the newspaper stays strong. And I get inspired by what my colleagues are exploring in their pieces.

All of the columns get posted at our WMWP website, as archived voices and stories.

Read Raising Teacher Voices in our Community Media

Peace (out loud),
Kevin

Making Music in Colleagues’ Google Classrooms

Cell Music Analogy Project

We’re more than half-way through a professional development session on learning how to best use Google Classroom. The session is being run by my colleague, Tom Fanning, from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I’ve been using Google Classroom since the start of the year, but I asked our district to consider PD for other teachers, since I was getting a lot of inquiry from colleagues about how it works and why use it.

The session has nearly 20 teachers from our entire school district, and Tom has us making pilot Google Classroom spaces, inviting each other in as small groups of “students” to play the role of learner.

John Coltrane Jazz Project

My group has three other elementary teachers, and as I was working on their assignments — a cell analogy project, a state history project and a notable African American biography (and mine is a Parts of Speech project) — I decided to keep to a common theme of music across my work.

Taj Mahal BluesMan Project

My cell analogy project used a musical score as the point of comparison. I chose Taj Mahal as the Massachusetts history project, since he is the state Blues Artist. And I researched John Coltrane’s musical legacy for the biography project.

Look. Google Classroom is a fantastic work management tool that my students enjoy using and which has certainly made my work as a teacher a whole lot easier. It’s also clearly another finger reaching out to grab more Google users. We talked about this in our PD session and I talk about it with my students. Google wants to nurture young eyeballs for later in life, when it can target them for advertising, and make money. To think otherwise is to delude ourselves.

For now, I see more positives on our end than negatives with our dive into Google Classroom, but it’s always important to keep the larger perspectives in focus, on what we give up when we use free technology with our students. I’m glad we addressed and debated Google’s mission and motives in our PD. We can all move forward, knowing to some degree what we and our students are getting into.

Peace (in the rooms of music),
Kevin