WriteOut: Poems All Over the Map

Writing Marathon BINGO

Since early summer, I have been spending time, wandering as a poet through the handful of virtual Writing Marathons that sites in the National Writing Project had hosted. Each site had created interesting maps, with pins and links that led to historical moments or natural landmarks or buildings with fascinating stories.

I had only joined one single marathon in person, myself, when they were on Zoom (I participated in the Hudson Valley Writing Project event, which centered on the amazing Storm King Museum). But I knew I wanted to explore what the other sites had done, too.

So I took my time. I ambled. Wandered. I wrote over many weeks.

With the third year of Write Out now officially underway, I also decided to adapt a HyperDoc project into a Bingo activity for visiting the NWP Writing Marathons. You can access it here and wander about a bit yourself, and maybe find some inspiration to write. Write Out has resources and activities around creating and hosting Writing Marathons. Check it out.

Looking back on the poems I wrote, here are a few that I think are worth sharing. I chose one poem from each location that I think might have some resonance.


Inspired by New York

Oracle of Lacuna

only half
a house
buried in dirt
becomes
the bricks
a writer
might use
to build
a few words
into only
half a home
for a poem


Inspired by Mississippi

All around this small house
you’ll find cubbies and
alcoves, small nooks
for fingers and dreams,
large enough to hold
the historical legacy
of one, Miss McCarty,
the woman of the wash
who worked her days
planning for another’s
opportunities


Inspired by Arizona

Chiricahua

Rock fists
raised
in protest;
these stone gods
with faces
and bodies hidden
stand strong
against the winds
of every day
turmoil;
change arrives,
incremental


Inspired by Kentucky

Some still dig deep
into this earth,
the past condensed
into their skin
like pressed stones,
mottled with dust
and dirt
and stories
and home


Inspired by North Dakota

Standing still
in the exact
center of this
country, one senses
nearly simultaneously
how solid
and yet how fragile
it all is, these fault
lines cracking, and how
tired is this turtle
of foreverness,
its carapace
not quite designed
for something like this


Inspired by Minnesota

Home
is the place
of all sixteen words
spoken in Dakota,
every doorway
another entry
for the lost
becoming welcomed


Inspired by New Hampshire

Brick dust and bones
and kicked stones
and walls torn apart;
the end is where
this starts


Inspired by Louisiana

Remembering Ellis

The radio show played
the entire concert
of the father, Marsalis,
leading his sons, the family
riffing off each other in front
of an audience, with us
listening in, too, but it was
the son’s voice on the passing
of the father that hung so quiet
in the air, like a complex harmony
of shared jazz improvisation


And then, knowing my writing journey was over for now after visiting all of the places, I wrote this final poem, to celebrate the journey and the hope that what begins in one place continues in another.

All Ends Are Merely Beginnings

What at first
might seem like
merely pins on
the map become
stories of a place
when you dig deeper
in – wrapping fingers
into dirt, resting ear
against wood, scratching
words into stone; so sit
with it for awhile and
let the land tell you
its tale of where it’s been
and where we’re going

Peace (in poems and place),
Kevin

Write Out Takes You Outside and Beyond

Coming Soon to a hashtag near you: #writeout

Starting Oct 11 and running for two weeks, the National Writing Project and the National Park Service will once again host Write Out (#writeout), a free online celebration of writing and the simple pleasures of being outside—all gathered by a hashtag! This year’s Write Out features ideas for connecting classroom learning and the out-of-doors under the National Park Service theme of “Stories Around the Campfire,” including online writing prompt “visits” by Park Rangers, storytelling events for a range of age levels, resources for how to run a classroom-based writing marathon, and more. Keep in mind that Write Out also bookends the National Day of Writing on October 20th. Sign up today for the resource-packed newsletter to get updates and curricular resources to bring Write Out to your classroom, park, community, or school yard.

Sign Up →

— from the National Writing Project Newsletter

Come and play with us!

Peace (outside and in),
Kevin

Facing Diversity and Race in National Park Spaces

Delaware River Gap: PEC

I took part this week in a retreat this week for a project called Parks In Every Classroom, that is run by the National Park Service in the Northeast region to connect educational opportunities with National Park and Historic spaces.

I’ve been working as a teacher and consultant with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, in my role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project site, for the past five years or so, helping to run summer camps at the Armory for urban students and facilitating professional development for teachers. This work with PEC is not directly related to my role in the Write Out open learning initiative (coming again in October) with the National Writing Project but there are overlaps in colleagues and the shared goal of Place-Based Learning for students.

This my second Parks In Every Classroom retreat (last year, we went to the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area; this year, we were home, zooming) and I continue to be impressed by how well-run the days are, how thoughtful and rich the conversations are, and how the participants (about 40 of us) grapple with tough questions.

This year’s theme was all about diversity, equity and race, and we dove deep into systematic racism, looking at schools and also looking at our National Parks, and how we might design educational opportunities to address why people of color don’t seem to use public spaces in large numbers. This forces sites to look at its own demographic make-up, how a park space is marketed to the public, what kinds of community connections are being made (or not) with what groups, etc.

We’ve had articles to read, videos to watch (including one with Robin DiAngelo, of White Fragility fame), and discussion groups. I’ve explored issues of ‘red lining’ (approval of bank loans for homes based on race and location, creating areas of poverty), and it’s impact on the school-prison pipeline; the way standardized testing’s history, originated in the terrible ideas of Eugenics and race, still has resonate today in who is considered intelligent and who has access to college, all via tests that are often rooted in white culture stories and passages; and an analysis of children’s picture books on why only white characters seem to be shown exploring nature spaces and National Parks, and what that message sends to other readers about who owns those spaces and who is not welcomed.

We worked on site-based action plans and having deep, and sometimes uncomfortable, discussions about race and access, and White Privilege, of noticing the different experiences of people based on race. Like many gatherings of teachers, this PEC group is primarily white and female, but outside consultants have joined in to help ups find ways for us to identify problems in our own systems and begin to play for action to address it.

As a teacher who is technically outside of the National Park Service, I applaud the courage of the PEC organizers to take on this issue of systematic racism, particularly knowing our work might be at political odds with the White House, the ultimate boss of federal agencies. That there are National Park Service folks, like those in PEC, willing to move ahead on race issues and White Privilege even in this rhetorical landscape of this particular time is admirable, and gives hope that our institutions can survive this moment we are in.

Peace (working on it),
Kevin

‘Don’t Call It a Rebellion’ and Other Insights from an Uprising

Shays Seminar Notes and Wonderings

I wrote the other day about facilitating a professional development for teachers, and how we were piggybacking on a seminar about Shays Rebellion at a technical college on the grounds of one of the main events of the uprising. The Springfield Armory, which was known as the Arsenal back then in the late 1800s, is a National Park Historic Site, and part of a partnership with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in hosting youth and teacher programs. I am a teacher-consultant with WMWP.

The seminar (held on the anniversary of one of the most pivotal events of the Shays uprising) was well-attended, and the six speakers all touched on different but interlocking topics — from the causes of the uprising (mostly, taxes and ineffective government) to the results (the making of the Constitution and Bill or Rights) as well as how language frames what we often refer to now as Shays Rebellion.

One of the speakers —  author Dan Bullen — bristled at the use of the term “rebellion” and urged us to call it Shays Resistance instead. He explained how the government, alarmed at the farmers rising up with arms to shut down courthouses and storm the Springfield Arsenal, labeled it as “mobs” and “anarchy” and more. Instead, as the research shows, the men who who joined Daniel Shays and other leaders were mostly peaceful, but pushed the edge of limits by a government that was beholden to the business class, and where debtors prisons were the norm. (Dan Bullen is going to come to our next PD session as a guest and resource)

Even a federal designation of Shays Rebellion Day in the 1980s by the federal government through executive order by President Ronald Reagan, and its chief sponsor — US Rep. Silvio Conte — shows how modern politicians seek to twist language to their own message. One of the speakers focused on this executive order to show how historical events become a prism for messaging.

We’ll be grappling with some of this use of loaded language for political gain in our upcoming smaller PD sessions (there are more than a dozen local teachers involved in our work) and how the echoes of civic action from the time of the post-Revolutionary War still resonate today — from eerie parallels to the most recent Housing Crisis/Recession (common people lost their homes to speculative traders as banks got bailed out and regular homeowners were penalized for the shady dealings) to the rise of youth over issues of importance, such as climate change and gun control. (Many of the followers of the Shays Resistance were also young men, in their late teens or early twenties).

One of the more intriguing presentations was an archeological dig of a remote mountain location in Vermont, where Shays and his followers escaped to after being hunted by the Massachusetts militia, and they set up a large settlement there on Egg Mountain which had long been forgotten and grown over. The presenter has spent a few years, including working with students over summers, to slowly uncover the network of homes and buildings of where Shays ended up for a number of years, as an outlaw or hero, depending on the perspective. Connecting archeology to local history is always a cool inquiry, and his was a pretty fascinating story.

Peace (rising up),
Kevin

PS — Here is Dan Bullen on our local radio station, talking about his interest and his book project centered on Shays

Drawing a Line from Shays Rebellion to Civic Engagement

This morning, as part of an ever-expanding partnership connection between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, I am helping to facilitate a gathering of more than a dozen educators for the first of three sessions that centers on Shays Rebellion as a historical event, with resonance into the modern day of civic engagement, leading into student service-learning projects.

For this first session, our group is merely attending an all-day historical seminar at a Springfield college, with authors and historians exploring the impact of the post-Revolutionary War event here in Western Massachusetts in which a group of farmers and former solders rose up in arms against the ineptitude of the government, and demanded action to improve their lives.

This curated piece by the Massachusetts Historical Society — This Convulsed Commonwealth — is a good primer for Shays Rebellion, giving the reasons behind it, the ripples of fear it sent through the new US government, and the aftermath.

This Professional Development project is funded through generous support of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. The armory site was the scene of one of the most intense clashes of the rebellion, as the so-called rebels (they would have called themselves patriots) marched to the national armory, in hopes of breaking in and stealing arms and munitions to help their cause. They lost that battle.

Here is a look at what we can expect today:

The Final Fight at Sheffield – Tim Abbott, Regional Conservation Director, Housatonic Valley Association. Master’s Degree Clark University

Shays Kerfuffle: A Peoples Perspective – Daniel Bullen, Author. Ph.D. New York University

Archeology of the Shays Settlement – Stephen Butz. Author. Master’s Degree Cornell University

Three Men in Debt – Tom Goldscheider Farrier. Master’s Degree University of Massachusetts

More than a Little Rebellion – Barbara Mathews Director of Academic Programs Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. Ph.D. Brown University

The Contested Meanings of “Shays Rebellion Day” 1986 – Adam Tomasi Student Northeastern University. BA Wake Forest University.

Our aim with the PD is use the stories of Shay’s Rebellion with teachers to think about Civic Engagement (the buzz word in our state and elsewhere) in the classroom, and to help formulate plans for student service learning projects in their own communities. Not to foment a new rebellion, perhaps, but certainly, we will be talking about the movement for gun control and for the environment as examples of national and global student-led movements. We have guest speakers lined up as well as activities around writing and deeper learning.

In the week leading up to today’s Shays Seminar event, we have asked participants to do a little research on the people who involved in Shays Rebellion, and to narrow the focus on their stories. In a shared document, participants’ insights into the motivations and impact of actions of these people — some famous, but most of the figures chosen are common people, caught up in the movement on either side — have humanized a historical event.

I chose Jonathan Judd, who hailed from the town where I teach. Judd changed his position about the Rebellion, ending up supporting the suppression of the revolt. As I note, I’ve had some of his descendants as students, so I was curious to learn more about him.

I have had some students who are descendants of Jonathan Judd, of Southampton (where I teach and where the Judds are still prominent), so I was curious about this man. It’s interesting how he seemed to lean back towards the idea of the Monarch for at least lending stability to governance, in contrast to what he saw as mob rule with Shays. This led him to go to Springfield to protect the Supreme Court from the mob. I wonder if he ever changed his mind about the actions of the rebels?

Peace (past and present),
Kevin

PS — my fellow PD facilitators and I have grappled with how to spell Shay’s Rebellion, or Shays’ Rebellion, or Shays Rebellion. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes the difficulty in a common grammar.

The historical folks note:

Grammarians seem to be as divided over how to spell the possessive form of Daniel Shays’/Shays’s name as historians have been over the causes and consequences of “his” rebellion. The Chicago Manual of Style would make it “Shays’s,” but notes, “feelings on these matters sometimes run high.” The Massachusetts Historical Society library conforms to the spelling of Library of Congress subject headings, so has it, “Shays’ Rebellion,” but authors who have written about this topic are almost equally divided. An early history of Pelham, Massachusetts by Charles O. Parmenter gives us an alternative by referring to it as “The Shays Rebellion.”

Write Out Twitter Analysis (Part Four): Tweets, Retweets and Mentions

WriteOut Sorting of Tweets, Retweets, Mentions

I’m trying to take a closer look at what happened on Twitter with the Write Out project in October through network analysis. I’ve shared out the nodes and clusters and edges of the two-week project and then dove into cross-hashtag analysis and the timeline of user activity

The graph above sorts out all overall tweets during Write Out into the categories of original tweets (something new that a user added to the hashtag of #writeout); retweets (a tweet from someone else that a user tagged and forwarded back into the stream); and mentions (where a user not just shares someone else’s tweet, but adds some of their own commentary or text).

This network analysis look is valuable from a post-project perspective because it indicates how much original material was flowing into the project, and also, whether people were active (tweets, mentions) or non-quite-active-but-not-quite-passive-either (retweets). Part of this flows from how easy it is to retweet, and there’s no real way to know from this kind of analysis whether a person retweeted and then did something else as well (such as created something original as a result of the retweet). It’s also difficult to know if the retweets were fly-by users — someone not really involved in the Write Out project, but who saw something interesting worth amplifying.

It’s heartening to see that the main clusters (yellow and blue here) are mostly original content — either tweets or mentions — which indicates a level of involvement that we hoped to see when designing invitations and activities. Ideally, in a Connected Learning project like Write Out, the overall sense of activity involves original media being shared out and noticed, so some retweeting makes sense.

It’s the green/Mention element that most interests me most, and I wonder if I can dive back into the Tableau software (used for this network analysis) to get a closer look at what people were doing, and who. When a user takes the time to notice, and do something more than just hit the retweet button, it shows a much higher level of engagement. A Mention tweet indicates not just recognition, but also response, and in that responding, the possibility of interaction and sharing.

For us, as facilitators of Write Out, these are the golden moments, for it could be that one person is inspiring another to react or remix or make note of something important. It could be that someone is taking the spark of Write Out and through a Mention, sharing it with a secondary network (sort of like the cross-hashtag analysis from an earlier post). A Mention also tells the maker of the original tweet that there is an audience that is interested, and noticing, and that kind of spark of responsive activity is a powerful element of learning, making, exploring, connecting.

Peace (making sense of it),
Kevin

Write Out Twitter Analysis (Part Three): Where The Hashtags Meet

WriteOut CrossHashTags ALLI’m trying to take a closer look at what happened on Twitter with the Write Out project in October through network analysis. I’ve shared out the nodes and clusters and edges of the two-week project and then dove into the timeline of user activity. Today, I want to look at how the #writeout hashtag connected with other hashtags.

This is important because of the cross-pollination effect. What I mean is that when a user with affiliation to different affinity networks makes connections through hashtag combining, it potentially expands the various networks. So when a participant in #writeout includes the #nwp or #findyourpark hashtag, now all people who follow the #nwp and #findyourpark hashtags see the content of #writeout.

Purposeful cross-pollination of content across hashtags in a single tweet is a powerful megaphone. So what do we notice with this kind of analysis, done with the Tableau software?

WriteOut CrossHashTags Top10 (2)

First, the obvious. The Write Out project is supported and hosted by the National Writing Project (and the National Park Service) so the #nwp tag makes sense, as does the #clmooc tag. CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) was an earlier initiative of NWP, and folks in CLMOOC (like me) step easily into projects like Write Out, which is built on similar foundation of connected learning principles.

Second, there are plenty of hashtag connections to the National Day on Writing, which makes sense, since we planned Write Out with the NDOW timing in mind, and made many explicit invitations to NDOW folks to think about place for their writing.

You may notice the variations of the NDOW hashtags, such as #whyiwrite and #ndow, though, as no one single hashtag ever surfaced. There are also hashtags affiliated with NWP sites, who were sharing within their own smaller network while also drawing lines to the larger initiatives.

The one hashtag, and the activity seems substantial, that surprises me is the #savedbythepbl one. I don’t remember seeing it in the #writeout stream all that often during our two weeks in October, although project-based-learning (I think that is the PBL referenced) and place-based-learning (another PBL) have many overlaps, and perhaps the folks who use that hashtag were exploring and creating in sync with Write Out in a way that wasn’t visible at the time. As a Write Out facilitator, though, I am making notes about remembering that hashtag for next year. Those folks were doing something.

Other smaller hashtag clusters like #dance and #grafitti and #onthisday are ones I am not sure about, in regards to connection analysis. It may be that some daily prompt or activity caught someone’s attention. Or it may be that there was overlapping sharing going on, invitations within affinity networks that went beyond what we were seeing. That’s what we hope is always happening. This kind of deeper look makes some, but not all, of that more visible.

Peace (pollination),
Kevin

Twitter Analysis (part two): Write Out Over Time

Write Out Tweets Over Time

As I mentioned the other day, I have been trying to look at the Twitter activity for the October Write Out project, as much to “see” what happened and maybe to think about how we might expand the reach of the place-based partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service in the future.

I learned to use a few tools in an online course that can help us to analysis data via Twitter, and the chart above is generated from Tableau, a software program that provides different ways to look at gathered Twitter activity around hashtags. The timeline above shows activity bursts over the days of the project — which ran officially for just two weeks  but still has some tweets coming now and then.

The graph supports what already knew — much of the activity of sharing and connecting happened in conjunction with the National Day on Writing on October 20. There was a decision to shift Write Out from the summer (the first year) to October (this year) in order to support and tag on to the work that would happen with the National Day on Writing. You can see how activity led up to the Day on Writing — we had many live Write Out events that were being promoted — and on and just after October 20. Smaller spikes are somewhat aligned to our Twitter Chats, but it would have been nice to see even more on those two Thursdays (something to ponder for the future, I suppose).

The three colors of the chart represent original tweets, tweets that mention someone else, and retweets. While we know it is easy to retweet — click, and you’re done, and maybe moving on — the fair number of original tweets and mentions indicates a nice scale of activity by engaged participants.

I find it interesting the right side of the chart, where people were/are still sharing some odds and ends — mostly images of spaces and small poems, some from students in classrooms of teachers connected to Write Out. Even this week, there were a few tweets with the #writeout hashtag.

Peace (charted out),
Kevin

Twitter Analysis: Digging Deeper into Write Out (part one)

Collage of WriteOut via GephiThanks to my friend, Sarah H, I took part in a three week online course around social media data analysis, and also with huge thanks to Sarah, she had been collecting Twitter information from the start of October’s Write Out project (connecting educators and students to place-based writing, and to the National Day on Writing), and she shared her files with me to use in the course.

I’ll share more some other time about the in-depth observations that I made, but the course itself revolved around three main tools for data analysis — TAGS, which can gather tweets into a spreadsheet; Tableau, which digs down into that data for more in-depth analysis of who was doing what, when, and with whom, etc; and Gephi, which can visualize nodes, clusters, connections and more. (The image above is a collage of some of the views I created with Gephi, to observe the interactions off the main hub of activity).

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by exploring some of these tools, but the course — called Social Media Analytics, offered through FutureLearn — was very helpful, in the ways they had us looking at the larger picture of social media landscapes (mostly Twitter, since others — like Facebook — are closed off from most analysis tools) before learning, systematically and step-by-step, how to set up and use Tableau and Gephi.

Personally, I found Tableau to be more useful than Gephi for the inquiry I was doing — which was based around my own questions of making visible the interactions that took place during Write Out and reflecting on ways to expand the reach of Write Out next year.

A handful of us, who already knew each other from other projects and connections, also created a private back-channel in the CLMOOC Slack, where we could share and ask questions of each other. I found that helpful for the beginning of the course, in particular.

I’ll write and share more later …

Peace (in the data stream),
Kevin