At School, but At Home

Video Chat Reality

We return to teaching today. For the younger grades in our school, it will be in-person, hybrid. For the older students, like my sixth graders, it will be remote learning, for a few weeks, and then we do a phased-in hybrid. Since our school Internet can’t handle so many video conferences at once, many of us teachers are working from home for now (fiber upgrade coming).

I’m ready and excited and nervous and anxious, as is natural, but being home for the first day of school with students is one of the oddest feelings I’ve had. Not just all the technology glitches that might happen to disrupt the plans, but just not being in the physical space with colleagues to talk to in the hallway and with students to connect with in a shared four-wall classroom space.

Well, so it begins …

Peace (from the start),
Kevin

Comic: Revival, School or Circus?

Revival, Circus or School

I really appreciate that our principal worked to get our school a bunch of large tents for outside mask breaks and learning areas as we deal with social distancing. But the school grounds look strange with all of the tents.

Peace (breathe it in),
Kevin

Book Review: Keep Scrolling ‘Till You Feel Something

This book is a joke. I mean, you can’t even read the cover of Keep Scrolling ‘Til You Feel Something: Twenty-One Years of Humor from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency once you take the paper sleeve off. You have to hold the binding up to the light, and twist it a bit, just to realize, the entire thing … just a big fat joke. Sixteen books better than this one? Is that what it says? Only sixteen? ‘Cause I got a larger list going somewhere over here.

Skip over the 600+ pages of nonsense to read more about the contributing writers. Informative? Well, sort of, if you can get past all the insider jokey references to humor writers, about living in either New York or Hollywood, and a smorgasbord of deadpan verbiage. (say that last bit out loud in the voice of the Muppet Show’s Swedish Chef … now, THAT’s funny stuff) Even the final pages of Additional Contributors are a big joke. Email as someone to thank? I think not.

Then go on, go on and dig your way through the pages of this brick of a book. Don’t hurt yourself as you hold this behemoth of paper. It’s heft might hurt your wrists. Drop it on your foot and you’re for sure on a trip to the emergency room, signing away your life to the health care industry. I blame the editors.

Before you open the book up, though, it’s fair to ask: McSweeney? Who’s the heck is he? Or her? What’s that? You won’t find a good answer inside. Instead you get so-called Back Stories and Behind the Scenes malarky (I’m stealing that one back from Biden) that will provide little to no insight into McSweeney it/him/herself.

And just look at the writers here. Jake Tapper? Really? Are we to believe the lefty CNN guy is funny? Come on. Jake Tapper, who are you, really, anyway? Plus lots of names you never heard of. John Hodgman? Ellie Kemper? Mingled in with some people you may think you might have heard of once, but, you know, probably not. Given the joke that this book really is, the names are likely jokes, too. You could spend a few hours trying to crack the humor code, but why bother? You’re not going to laugh anyway.

It’s not that kind of joke book. The one that makes you laugh.

Last of all, why buy the book when all of this material is apparently online? For free. If you can find it. If you care to look. Yet the book costs a pretty penny, let me tell you, and the joke is on me, and you, if you spent your last penny on the purchase. At least, you won’t have to indulge again for another 21 years. If books are even around. Stories may be gone, too, for all we know.

Yep, Keep Scrolling ‘Til You Feel Something is a joke. And so is this review. I am full of malarky and loving it.

Peace (it’s in the book, next to the decorative gourds),
Kevin

At NWP Write Now: It’s Not the Tech; It’s the Teaching

Not the ToolsI was asked to write a piece over at NWP Write Now about the sudden rush to technology that has engulfed us all in the Pandemic, with a reminder that it is the teaching and teacher and pedagogy that is always more important than the app, site or platform. I found it helpful in the writing of the piece to remember my own advice.

Read Never The Tech; Always The Teaching at NWP Write Now.

Peace (on/off),
Kevin

From The Archives: Change the World

Hand Carrying a Piece of Paper of the World
Hand Carrying a Piece of Paper of the World flickr photo by Rawpixel Ltd shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

I was looking for something else entirely in my blog archives when I stumbled across this audio project from 2007, when I had my sixth graders write about changing the world as part of our reflection on the 9/11 Day remembrance.

I enjoyed listening back to these voices and their ideas. And these students, who were 1o or 11 when we recorded it, are now in the mid to late 20s, and hopefully, making the world a better place.

Peace (on this day and all days),
Kevi

Songwriting: Lyrics for a Friend

My friend, John, has long had a vision of producing a country album on his bucket list. John and I play in a rock and roll band but his country project was something he always wanted to do, drawing on Hank Williams and others as inspiration for the sound he was after. So many months ago, he started to write the music and then he asked if I would contribute lyrics, and I readily agreed.

We had worked on some of his songs live, with our bandmates, and then the Pandemic hit and that came to a sudden pause. So John did it all solo at home in what he calls The Demonstration Tapes, and the tracks are, as he explains, published drafts for a possible future studio project.

Here is his song page for Bodie Madison & The Ranchers.

I tried to write the lyrics as character sketches for a general theme that John had in mind, and it was an interesting experience to try to do a whole collection of songs this way. John and I have collaborated before, many times, so this was not a new experience, but I really wanted to give him words that would make his songs work as he wanted.

Listening to what he did, from a distance, I am proud of the stories in running through his songs and happy that music remains a connection point in our friendship.

Peace (listening in),
Kevin

Pandemic Podcast Audio Diary (September 2020)

School has started for teachers — it began last week with ten days of professional development — and students start school next week. Our school is doing a phased-in hybrid approach, which means I start the year remote. This is another in a series of monthly podcasts (except for May, when I guess I was too busy to think about doing it) that I have been doing to record some of my thoughts as the first day of school with students approaches.

Here are the previous entries, in reverse chronological order:

Peace (day by day),
Kevin

Book Review: The Hyperdoc Handbook

This teaching book is now a few years old (2016) but The Hyperdoc Handbook (Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps) by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis was helpful for me in thinking further on how to integrate the concept of HyperDocs (a way to design a lesson or unit for independent inquiry and reflection for students with links and resources and places for sharing) into my remote and hybrid learning approach. I wrote about my initial foray into Hyperdocs the other week.

And plenty of National Writing Project colleagues and I have been engaged in Twitter discussions about the viability of HyperDocs, as well as the limitations. It is important to note, as the authors do repeatedly, that HyperDocs are not just some amped up worksheet to be given remotely to students. (See Deanna Mascale’s latest post on Hyperdocs for her university instruction) I also know there are criticism of this kind of approach, as being too prescriptive or narrowing in scope for learners.

The three authors of The Hyperdoc Handbook are experienced teachers and instructional coaches and technology advocates, and I appreciated the approach of screenshots and examples and the way they talk through the pedagogical rationale for Hyperdocs as a way to engage all learners in a guided yet independent inquiry process. They explore pedagogy and tap into the ways that well-designed Hyperdocs can extend the idea of Zones of Proximal Development, through layered choices and skills and expectations.

You don’t need buy this book to learn about Hyperdocs (I am one of those own-a-book people and I like to support teachers) and their website has plenty of examples and templates and more that you can examine and borrow, and hack, as the authors tell you in the book.  A blog post at the site even provides some useful thinking on remote teaching with Hyperdocs.

This week, in fact, I am going to use a HyperDoc with teachers as part of a professional development session on Project-Based Learning, in which teachers explore a theme for a short/tiny public service announcement (an idea borrowed from AJ Jacobs).

I’m deep into the design stage of curriculum for the start of our school year (which begins remote and then becomes hybrid, with independent learning days for students in the weekly schedule). I see some possibilities here for my students, although it is important to acknowledge that Hyperdocs as nothing new, really, but more of a way to organize resources for student inquiry and exploration. Webquests, websites, blog posts, etc, all are in the same family. The book is helpful in its range of examples, visuals and testimonials from other educators.

As mentioned, a Hyperdoc (which does NOT have to be a Google Doc or product) is definitely more than a glorified worksheet. It’s more like an anchor or docking point, leading students to other activities and resources. That’s important to remember.

Peace, (linked),
Kevin