After a week or so of asking (cajoling, sometimes) folks to record lines and stanzas from the collaborative Where We’re From poem (with lines submitted by more than 100 people during the first part of the Write Out project), the last track was delivered, put into place, and the collaboration … is complete.
There were 25 people who submitted voices (well, technically more, since Kim D. had her entire class of young students reading) and recording tracks to this collaborative poem, which runs nearly 13 minutes long. That’s a bit to listen to, but the effect is what we had hoped for — a quilted collage of many voices reading a poem written by many people, about place and home and family and more.
When we talk about connected learning ideas and collaboration, we hope that this kind of project is something that can inspire us to create together, to make together, to publish together. Sure, there are problems — some of the audio files sound different because of the myriad of apps and microphones. We did our best to level things out, but there’s plenty of rough spots.
That gives the audio poem charm, though. People are different, and our voices are different, and the audio collage reflects that in meaningful ways. If you participated in any aspect of this — from writing lines, which were dispersed and gathered in themes of stanzas and sections to recording assigned parts — thank you.
The two-week place-based story-centered Write Out project came to a close this weekend with one final newsletter. We used the metaphor of “planting seeds” as to avoid “this all comes to an end right here.” In other words, we hope the ideas from this whirlwind of two weeks will provide ideas for the future.
This oversized picture book — National Parks of the USA by Kate Siber and art by Chris Turnham — is quite lovely, with regional looks at some of the National Parks and then closer examinations of the flora and fauna of some specific sites, complete with interesting descriptions.
I read it with an eye toward activities that could be connected to Write Out, even if you are not close to any parks or historic sites. While Write Out is co-sponsored by the National Park Service and the National Writing Project, the focus is not just on our national network of public spaces, but on all public spaces — urban, rural, state, local, federal, etc. We just ended our second year of activities, but these ideas might keep things moving forward.
As I have been reading, and learning such interesting tidbits of information from this picture book, I’ve been bookmarking some ideas that have surfaced. Some of those possibilities of explorations are focused on the ideas of stories — how to uncover the stories of public spaces — and others are more nature, in general. (But again, Write Out has also been focused on historic and urban spaces, not just the wide open, massive parks that come to mind when we think of the NPS).
My hope here is that this list might be useful to educators in classrooms without easy access to going places beyond the school — to venture into places like parks and public spaces and historic sites — but they would still like to have students learning more through research and thinking … maybe these can help.
There’s mention of a plant in the Smoky Mountains called Jack-In-The-Pulpit. The roots are toxic, the book tells us, but Native American tribes knew how to cook and dry them before eating. What else can we learn from the Native American tribes who knew how to live in close relationship to the lands and its plants and animals? Just about every region in our country has some history before settlement.
Also, related to the Smoky Mountains, there are references to the cemeteries (more than 150 in the Smoky Mountains alone) that could tell rich stories of settlement and life from the 1800s, from a distinct view of Euro-American settlers. Stone rubbings and family research projects might bring forth a new understanding of the hard life of these peoples.
In a page about Isle Royale in Michigan, there’s a reference to shipwrecks in Lake Superior, and how divers wander through the old sunken boats, and it had me thinking of those 40-odd boats at the bottom of the lake, and the stories they tell.
In the Wind Cave, South Dakota, the rush of air — created by abrupt changes in pressure, is enough to blow the hat off your head. The science behind the cave’s air flow is fascinating, but there are also audio and video, too, to give a sense of how strong the gusts come.
Cave systems — from Mammoth Cave (Kentucky) to Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico) and beyond — are part of the world beneath our feet. Many National Parks feature cave systems, some of which are mapped and some of which are not mapped. What stories about the world are told in the places beneath our feet?
The Tamarisk plant is an invasive species in the Grand Canyon that stifles native plants, and people brought it in (for erosion control). This opens up an entire way of looking at invasive species in public spaces, and how society often does something worse by thinking it is doing something good.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Scientists had long wondered about “moving rocks” in Death Valley desert, where rocks with long trails would appear out of nowhere. A study discovered the culprit to be water freezing, causing a layer of ice, and the winds blowing the rocks, leaving paths behind.
The modern problem of light pollution comes to the surface in the texts about Bryce Canyon, in Utah, which has some of the clearest skies in the country. A study of local light pollution effects, and an investigation in the night sky — maybe even constellation stories — would engage students on the larger world.
Discoveries of tools — such as the mano (grinding stone) and the metate (grinding surface) for creating corn flour in Mesa Verde in Colorado — bring to the surface the stories of survival and daily living. Archeologists continue to make new discovers of tools and inventions that provide us further insights into the people who were here long before us.
Did you know that a “midden” is a trash heap? Now seen as valuable treasure for understanding cultures such as the Pueblo people of Mesa Verde, these middens — broken pots, tools, scraps, etc. — hint at the culture lost by time.
What role do forest fires play in our upkeep of public lands? Think about the creation and history of Smoky the Bear, and how that message of “no fire, ever” has begun to shift to understanding how some fires — either ones caused naturally, through lightning strikes, or ones purposefully contained by fire officials — in forests are part of the natural process of growth, decay and regrowth, and Yellowstone is one place where fires are important to the health of the space.
Mount Rainier is a volcano as tall as ten Empire State Buildings, and in the same region of the Pacific Northwest, the forests of the Sequoia (the largest trees on earth) and the Redwoods also rein, reminding us of the power of trees over time and space. How do trees help us connect to the stories of settlements? What obligation do we have to protect such trees as the Redwoods and Sequoia?
A Sea Stack is an amazing site, a piece of natural sculpture off the coast of Olympic National Park in Washington, created from decades of battering by the seas. What’s left behind are huge monoliths, or sea stacks, that jut out of the ocean like mountains. What other natural sculptures are there in public spaces? What stories do people tell of these strange phenomenon?
The Quaking Aspens of the Denali Park in Alaska is one of the more amazing discoveries of the tree world. What seems to be a grove of trees are actually one single tree, all connected underground, and each trunk is a clone of the other. Explore the way trees like the aspens connect and communicate, and how our perceptions of the natural world are often wrong.
Hawaii is known for its volcanoes, of course, but even volcanoes are full of surprises. Lava Tubes, for example, are beautiful works of art, formed just after lava cuts through rock. And do you know about Lava Crickets? These strange insects live only on the ceilings of Lava Tubes, feeding off the roots of plants. What else exists in tandem with such destructive forces?
And more and more and more … Maybe ideas will spark ideas … Go on, and write, and help your students to find interest in the larger world, too.
My students and I continue to doodle and draw daily with place-based themes that connect to both CLMOOC and Write Out (I’ve also been writing small poems each morning to the theme of the day, too). I am loving how the calendar itself becomes a work of art as each box gets doodled in.
For Write Out, we’re inviting you to add a haiku or any other small poem to a collaborative slideshow now underway. It’s simple — just grab a slide from the Google Slides, write a small poem, and add an image to go with your poems. The more, the merrier.
When we asked if people might contribute to a poem based on George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From and inspired by Kwame Alexander’s crowd-sourced version for National Public Radio, we didn’t know if anyone would answer the call. Well, they sure did. We had more than 100 contributors to a collective, collaborative poem that spans more than 8 pages of writing.
We are now in the process of getting more than 30 volunteers to read stanzas from the poem, which we intend/hope to weave together to create an audio mosaic of voice for the poem itself.
Here’s a book about paying attention. The authors noted that an edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed about 40 words related to nature. Words like Fern, Kingfisher, Wren and Bluebell. This book —The Lost Words: A Spell Book— is a response, and what a response it is.
The Lost Words is one of the more beautiful books I have discovered in some time — it is oversized, requiring two hands to hold it, and it has gorgeous artwork and some amazing poems all connected, page by page, to the words that were decided to be taken out by the dictionary folks.
Each page here is a treasure, and a reminder that our words help us to understand our world. When we lose our words, we start to lose a sense of the spirit of nature. Writer Robert MacFarlane and Illustrator Jackie Morris seek to recover and rediscover those ideas, and give rise to seeing the world through fresh eyes, with poems (which they call spells) and pictures.
(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 helped organize and facilitate a writing marathon for the National Day on Writing and Write Out on Sunday at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and like the 18 educators who signed up to take part in the event, I wrote my way throughout the afternoon, inspired by the museum and its archives. We had themed inspiration stations set up around the Armory to help spark ideas.
You can sense in my writing some the tension behind being inside a historical place that made the weapons that helped the US win wars through guns and arms. This is a tension I always feel when running programs for teachers and summer camps for middle school students at the Springfield Armory. I once wrote about this idea and titled it What To Do When Your Classroom is Filled with Guns.
Here are snippets and rough pieces of mine from each of the writing areas.
Special Photo Exhibit
flames and fire —
the welder molds
iron and steel
into arms —
the camera rebels
the bright heat light
shrouded by aura,
and those of us who watch
from time and distance
only notice the moment,
Industry Display: Worker Group Photo
Dear Women of the Armory,
Thank you. I’m sure stepping into a national arms manufacturing plant — with the world at war and no end in sight — could not have been an easy choice. Maybe even you had your doubts — about war, about guns, about your own skills. I am sure Society’s story of you until now, as a woman, was at home, not here, but events forced Society’s hand. And you answered the call. You learned a complicated, intricate job. You were part of a team. You made a difference. Who knows what price you paid. Did you leave children each day or night at home to come here? Did you have a husband at war, always on your mind? Did you worry about the outcome of the battles abroad? Whatever it was that kept your mind concerned, you did your job here, and you did it well. You may not have realized it at the time, but your efforts and the efforts of many more women like you began a cultural shift in the way women would forever be seen in society. You changed the world. Thank you.
Reading an excerpt of The Wartime Sisters novel and Taking the Character for a Walk (with apologies to author Lynda Cohen Loigman)
Millie rarely wonders too much at the gun beyond the assembly line, where her fingers move over the lock plate as if it were the most common task in the world. It’s all motion — this goes here, this goes there. Millie only sees the moment in front of her.
It’s at those other times, when everyone has gone home and her own shared household with her sister goes quiet, that she thinks more about what her work really is, and how what she is building day after day will be used. A bullet, in the chamber, fired down the long barrel, flying through air, penetrating a target. And the target, she knows, is a person, a human person, and that person might be killed by the very work she is doing.
She is the first step in the death of someone.
Or the first step in saving someone’s life, she tells herself, too. Not killing someone. Saving someone. A brother, or a father, or a husband, or a neighbor. She nearly convinces herself of the truth of it.
Poetic Response to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ‘Organ of Muskets’ (1844)
Whose dark future
hides in the barrel
of the guns in this
tune-less accordion —
and I fear the sounds
grow ever louder, never
Will it ever cease
Or will the bullet travel faster
by the hour?
Why is it that power only finds
its home in violence, and never
in understanding –
We were inside. We were outside. We read texts. We wrote stories, and poems, and critiques, and journal entries. For the National Day on Writing, we hosted 18 educators at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and invited them to explore the past and write with us.
Here are the series of writing prompts we provided as suggestions for the different spaces within the Armory Museum and exhibits: