Pieces in Play: The Great Outdoors as Game Board

Park Site as Game BoardWhat happens when the outdoors becomes a board game?

Yesterday, in our last full week of the school year (still a few days to go, though), our sixth graders took part in an activity called The Ultimate Game, organized by an outside group. The Ultimate Game turned local recreational parks in town into a huge game board, for collaborative and cooperative activities. This was our first time using this group and I was impressed.

There were riddles, and challenges, and a GPS scavenger hunt component. Teams of students had to work together to find clues, solve mysteries and earn tokens, roll huge fuzzy dice, move pieces on a massive game board, draw on their various strengths, and it all came together so nicely — the weather, the kids, the game — that it has me wondering how to do even more of using the outdoors — field, forests, park sites — as settings for cooperative game design.

We have explored game design throughout the year, from different angles, so this field trip made sense as a way to tie things together.

Along with a six week video game design unit earlier in the year, we ended the year in our ELA class with a short story project in which students wrote a fictional piece of a narrator going into a board game to rescue a person from history. The game becomes the setting. Sort of like Jumanji and Zathura, picture books by Chris Van Allsberg (and both became movies, of course).

In the Write Out project from last summer, we explored and talked about more ways to better integrate the urban, suburban and rural outdoors into curriculum, and I admit, I did very little of it this year until the end of the year.

So I paid attention to the group that led yesterday’s events, watching how they so skillfully set up engaging experiences for success for all students, and used the contours of the landscape and woods and fields for the design of the huge game system they put into play.

(Oh, FYI: Write Out for 2019 will be this coming fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing. Keep an eye out for more details later in the summer).

Peace (outside inside),
Kevin

 

History, Writing, Mapping: Planning a Summer Camp Experience

WMWP Armory Camp promo 2019

The other day, I helped gather together another team of teachers together for another year of offering a free summer camp for middle school students at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site — as part of an ongoing partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory and the City of Springfield school district (focused on a social justice magnet school in Springfield).

This will be my third year as main facilitator of the camp — which we call Minds Made for Stories — and the sixth year of the camp itself, which has been funded over the years through a variety of support from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service, and other local organizations. This year, with no grants and with worries that there might be no camp, the Duggan Middle School in Springfield and the Springfield Armory itself stepped up to fund the work, and I am very grateful.

WMWP and Springfield Armory

The week-long camp takes place at the end of June at the Armory itself, and each year, we change the themes of the experience for the participants. We also have new folks from the middle school involved, as a way to provide more professional development to more teachers.

This year, we are using “Seasons and Maps” as our hook, with each day focused on a season and a historical theme (such as Autumn: Pearl Harbor and Winter: Shays Rebellion), while we work different kinds of mapping activities through the week to visualize history (such as mapping out the immigrant journeys to Springfield during the heydays of the Armory as the main manufacturing center for the US government). Our goal is to publish a Zine of student work at the end of camp.

At our planning session, we did our own mapping — charting out each day’s main events along themes, taking on responsibilities, tasking each of us with some different elements, and after two hours, the camp really took shape.

Now I just need to get through the school year (3 1/2 weeks left!) and then it is right into summer camp.

Peace (in planning),
Kevin

 

Write Out: Connecting to the Community’s Conservation Efforts

Town of Southampton Conservation Lands

The other day, I met with two officials from the Open Space Review Committee of the town where I teach (different from the town where I live). We were talking about a grant they have received to gather landowners in town for a few meetings to talk about open space preservation and conservation, and I was curious about how I might dovetail their work with a community writing project with my sixth graders. (I had noticed an article in the local newspaper about the project and reached out)

Ever since the Write Out project last summer, I’ve been thinking of how I might get my students more involved in the wildlife and woods of their small but growing town. (Write Out is an online collaborative learning experience with a focus on historic and natural spaces, stemming from a long partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I was one of the co-facilitators, learning along with others. This year, Write Out is planned for the Fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing)

The after-school meeting was great — they were enthused by the idea of the school in town connecting to their efforts to reach more landowners, and we agreed that my students might be able to do a research project on some of the endangered/threatened species in different areas of the town, perhaps by creating some public informational pamphlets before a community-wide walk scheduled for May.

Town of Southampton

For now, I am perusing the resources — maps, and informational packets, and more — and reaching to the local Audubon Society for help in thinking about the natural landscape of the town. The town sits on top of the one largest natural water sources underground in the region — the Barnes Aquifer — so I want to be able to incorporate that, too. The town officials have offered to line up folks to visit the classroom, to share information and answer questions.

We even talked about resurrecting an old field trip (long run by a retired teacher) to a nearby small mountain — the highest peak in the town — as  a way to connect the research work with another view of the place where they live.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

Peace (outside, in),
Kevin

 

When You Meet a Typewriter Atop a Mountain

from Towers and Type

This is so #writeout! I heard this story on NPR of a National Park ranger — Elyssa Shalla — in the Grand Canyon National Park who decided to set up a five dollar Goodwill typewriter in the mountains, with an invitation for hikers to write.

People did, including love letters (and a marriage proposal) and the story is a cool convergence of exploring the National Park in the great outdoors, coming unexpectedly upon an opportunity to write, and using old(ish) technology set up in a place where you least expect it.

Check out the NPR story

Check out the Towers & Type project that Shalla has been documenting, with words typed on paper in the mountains of the Grand Canyon

This project has me wondering about how to replicate the idea in other national park and historic places that are part of the Write Out project, particularly as it will dovetail with October’s National Day on Writing.

Peace (typed on the screen),
Kevin

When Your Classroom is a National Historic Site

We just wrapped up a professional development partnership between the Springfield Armory Historic Site and the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I was one of the lead facilitators, and it was such a great experience to use the Armory itself as our classroom as a way to explore history and primary sources. The course was supported through a grant by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.

After all the participants shared lesson plans and resources and topics — ranging from the role of light rail transportation at the Armory, to the use of the Organ of Muskets poem that was inspired by a visit to the Armory by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to use of The Things They Carried to invite a veteran oral historian into the classroom, to deep research into local history of a community — we asked the teachers to write a reflection. Part of what we are doing is gathering resources for a future website to showcase the potential of exploring local history.

Peace (and thinking),
Kevin

A Write Out Write Up

Write Out Springfield Armory Map Photo Icon(Experience the immigration map created during Write Out)

The Educator Innovator website did a nice overview article recently about this past summer’s Write Out project, focusing on a few folks and giving an overview. I was one of the team of facilitators, and enjoyed the intersections of the outdoors, the historic, and writing/making/sharing/learning.

Read the article at Educator Innovator about Write Out.

#Writeout was a two-week professional development program, sponsored by the National Writing Project through a partnership with the National Park Service. The program connected educators and park rangers with place-based learning opportunities in July 2018. A team of educators from both organizations—educators who have themselves been working on collaborations in their local communities between Writing Project sites and national park sites—designed #WriteOut. Their goal was to help educators make connections between learning, writing/making, and local outdoor and historic public spaces. — Educator Innovator

Yep.

Peace (in the woods and urban spaces),
Kevin

Innovation, Design and History (plus Multi-Genre Writing with Primary Sources)

Innovation and History PD at Armory

Our second professional development session of Exploring HIstory with a Local Lens with teachers at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site last night focused mostly on engineering design and innovation, with a deep look at some of the designs in the Armory archives that worked, and those that did not. (This project, a partnership between Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory, is funded with a grant from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.)

We were pleased to have the Springfield Armory Curator, Alex, join us, sharing his vast knowledge of the Armory’s history and an understanding of how the engineering design process fueled not only the Springfield Armory’s place in the field of manufacturing and innovation in the country, but how other businesses and innovators in Western Massachusetts grew and expanded as a result of the work being done in Springfield.

Alex showed us a variety of prototypes, and like a detective game, we had to figure out why a design worked and was further developed, and which were not. A coffee grinder in the stock of the rifle? A sword with an embedded whistle? A gun with revolving chamber that might blow up at any moment?

Ranger Scott and the 3D Printer

Armory Ranger Scott Gausen, a fellow facilitator in the course, then had us exploring patent diagrams in a lesson about interpreting engineering drawings, and determining the notion of a patent. We then worked on our patent drawing for a flying machine. Mine became a Rube Goldberg machine that you probably should not build at home.

How to Fly (but don't)

Scott then brought us down to the museum floor, where he made a connection between the innovation practices of old and the new, as he had a 3D printing machine up and running, working on a plastic part that the huge lathes behind the printer used to make.

Finally, after perusing and exploring our state’s new Social Studies standards, I had our participants exploring multi-genre writing through the use of primary sources of Shays Rebellion, which was a farmer’s uprising and assault on the Springfield Armory after the Revolutionary War. We made black-out poems, drew illustrations, wrote journal entries, made newspaper/media products, and I joined in with a rough comic, featuring George Washington and Daniel Shays.

Shays Rebellion Comic Strip

All in all, it was a great professional development session, leading us deeper into the notions of history, stories and innovation. We meet again in January as participants start to fine-tune their project ideas.

Peace (in the past),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Four Presentations in the Days Ahead

(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 next two weeks, I am facilitating or co-facilitating four different workshops at three different places, and while I am making good progress, I still feel a bit scattered, thinking through all of the tasks I have to do to get it all into place.

October Presentations

This weekend, my Write Out colleague Bethany Silva and I are doing an online presentation for the 4TDW (teachers teaching teachers about technology and digital writing), and we used Zoom this weekend to finalize most of the planning. Online presentations like this are tricky because you want to engage the audience and encourage them to visit resources, but then you need to have them all come back to the platform. The virtual conference is free, by the way, and our session on Write Out (an initiative between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service) is on Saturday, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

A week from today, meanwhile, I am gathering with some grade 3-6 colleagues in our school district, as I have been asked to lead a Professional Learning Community around Project-Based Learning. I have a bunch of activities and activators all set up, but there is limited time, and we will meet only one more time this year. Yeah, not really a PLC. More like a PBL teaser, but I’ll do my best to get conversations started and underway.

Finally, two other presentations take place a week later at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s annual fall conference. on October 13 at UMass Amherst. There, I am doing another version of the Write Out workshop (but this time, more localized, around our work with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site) as well as a workshop about digital annotation and the Writing Our Civic Futures project from Educator Innovator. My aim is to get us annotating a text (by Linda Christensen) on paper (first, solo, and then as a workshop), then together, online, joining the crowd annotation project.

Phew. October just started, and it already seems busy.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin