I’m enjoying the project over at Connected Courses in which folks are writing and creating media on the topic of “why I teach,” because it gives everyone a point of reflection. As I wander in and out of projects, I see a lot that connects us together, regardless of the level in which teach: engagement by our students, enjoyable learning experiences, a sense that we are making a difference in the lives of others.
Why do you teach? Add your piece to the collection.
Peace (in the share),
I found myself in a webcomic mood yesterday ….
Peace (in the funny pages),
Just having some fun with Mozilla Webmaker’s Thimble, which makes everything completely remixable. Haven’t tried Thimble out yet? Give it a shot. Remix my How to Rock a MOOC. It’s yours to mess with.
Peace (in the mix and remix),
There was no real reason for this comic — no one in Connected Courses is talking about Flipping the Classroom, as far as I can tell — but I had this thought as I was reading through the tweets and blog posts of some eager young professor somewhere going overboard with the idea of transforming their classroom experience, and how the graduate student helper might complain about being flipped.
Peace (in the frame),
The Fire Chronicle is the second in a trilogy underway by John Stephens, and my son and I are completely hooked on the story of three siblings with a powerful destiny ahead of them to reshape the world (or save the world, it’s not yet clear) with three books of power.
The first novel, The Emerald Atlas, mostly tells the story of the eldest sibling, Kate, as she discovers how to move through time. The Fire Chronicle gives us the story of the middle child, Michael, as he becomes the Keeper of a book of great power of life and death. In fact, life stories is the great magical power that Michael gains as the Keeper, but it comes with a cost to his identity and memory and more. You know, “With great power comes great responsibility” and all that.
As with the first novel, this one is packed to the brim with adventure, interesting characters and multiple story-lines that bounce and weave back and forth before merging together, and then pulling back apart by the end (to set the stage for the last book). Stephens does a nice job of digging into the heads and hearts of the siblings, too, allowing their insecurities, family bonds, betrayals and secrets to guide the story forward.
For my son and I, the last page of The Fire Chronicle was one of those reader moments: Now we have to wait until next spring to get the last book in the series, The Black Reckoning, (which we suspect will focus in on the youngest and most unpredictable sibling, Emma), and we can’t wait that long! But we will. I already pre-ordered the book, and no doubt, we will get surprised when it arrives in the mail for us to dig into.
Peace (in the fire),
As has been my mode lately, I was watching the most recent video from the Connected Courses project in Vialogues (Thanks, Terry) with Michael Wesch, Randy Bass and Cathy Davidson with my ear towards ideas that I might use in a comic. Of course, when you have smart people like that, interesting ideas float around like butterflies.
But something Cathy articulated resonated with me. She was talking about the growth of online learning spaces, and the tension between technology opening up new platforms for learning and the value (or not) of the “teacher in the room” as opposed to a screen at your desk.
Her comment about whether teachers can be replaced had me thinking. I know she was being provocative.
Later, after I tweeted the comic out, Cathy graciously replied that she liked the comic and then forwarded me her blog post in which she unpacks this very comment in a very thorough and thoughtful way. Go read it. (not being bossy; I think it is worth your time)
I made the comment back to her that I took her point to mean that we teachers (humans form) have to take advantage of what we bring to the table, live and in person. If we don’t and if we are just replicating the droning Q/A of a computer program or the distant teacher with no personal connections to their students, then why not just automate learning? I don’t believe this, although I see the value of online collaborative learning initiatives, but I do believe that we teachers – at whatever level you teach — have to take advantage of those learners in your space and work your butt off to make it worthwhile for them to be there with you.
Peace (in connections),
I remember reading about the blogging that film critic Roger Ebert was doing as he neared the end of his life, writing with depth about art, mortality and, yes, life itself. But I never got around to his blog, alas, and then, he was gone, succumbing to cancer. His memoir – Life Itself — is an interesting read, bringing us back into his life and career in the media business and then into his struggles with cancer itself. The disease took away his voice, and most of his jaw, but not his ability to write and say what he wanted to say.
Ebert does not make his life story a sad story. Instead, he brings honesty and raw emotion to his view on what makes a life worth living, and along the way, his words teach us something about how to look at the world through films, and therefore, through art. The book is a bit inconsistent, though, and you can tell these chapters were stitched together from blog posts and musings of Ebert over the years. Still, his pieces pack a lot of power. I found more than a few similarities between Ebert’s entry into journalism to my own (covering high school sports, asked to do art reviews, etc.) but of course, his accomplishments on his own and with Gene Siskel far outweigh my own pop culture reference points.
I had bought the book for my sons, both of whom love movies and have more than a passing interest in the business, but this book is more a biographical sketchbook than a dive into how to view a movie. Which is fine. I learned a lot about Ebert as a writer and thinker, and a person, than I knew before, and I came to understand the courage of not giving in until your last breath, to know that words may still carry you forward even when all else seems dark. That, in essence, is Life Itself.
And you may know that a documentary on Ebert is now out, too, based on the book.
Peace (in life),
Over at Connected Courses, the push this phase/cycle/week is into the “why” of connected learning and the why of teaching itself. A lot of people are sharing out this video by Michael Wesch, who has been pushing his university students into interesting terrain around digital humanities and culture and information flow. His use of the questions of “why” and “what” and others had me thinking of the classic Abbott and Costello skit.
Of course, Professor Wesch’s talk is not a comedy routine. And it is worth viewing.
Peace (in the why),
An inquiry question that is emerging during this cycle of the Connected Courses is “Why I teach” and a bunch of people are writing and sharing media on this particular question. It’s always a good question to ask.
I went the comic route, although I felt a bit constrained by the format of the comic. I had to limit my explanations, I found. Still, I hope I communicated the complexities of teaching young people. It will be interesting to see how my own ideas of teaching intersect with other #Ccourse folks, who are mostly university professors/teachers.
Why do you teach?
Peace (in the inquiry),
(This is for the Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers.)
“So, ” he said, juggling a neon green soccer ball in his hand, “I got all my homework done.”
I nodded. “Excellent. Now you can spend the afternoon outside, right?”
“Yeah. I have a soccer game,” my sixth grader answered, and then asked: “Do you have homework?”
“Yeah. Do teachers get homework? Like we get homework?”
I thought about the staff meeting I was going to with our new principal, where she would be handing out a pile of forms for teaching goals this year and for teacher evaluations. I’d have to fill those out. I thought about how I was going to a meeting after that meeting, with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and how I needed to create a plan of action for the year for our Technology Team. I thought about the stack of vocabulary quizzes sitting on my desk.
“Yeah. I’ve got homework,” I said, smiling at him. “Plenty.”
“Too bad for you,” he laughed, as the dismissal bell rang and he raced out to his bus, balancing the soccer ball in his hand, as I yelled out “have a great afternoon” and made my way back inside on a beautiful end-of-summer/start-of-fall afternoon, facing another four hours of meetings. And homework assignments.
Peace (in the share),
Peace (in six words),
I had the pleasure of being part of an impromptu chain of poetic events yesterday, which stems in part from discussions in the Connected Courses, although all of those in this poetic chain are existing connections.
I may have gotten the very start of the poetic path wrong. I wasn’t there at the gathering, so I am interpreting from the echoes of words left as breadcrumbs from others, and I suspect there may be more to this that unfolded outside my field of vision. Isn’t that always the case anyway? Aren’t we always left to our interpretations of where an idea has begun and where it may yet end up?
So … I made a map, of sorts. Follow along, and take the connection further, if you will. We made room for you. Find an anchor and write. Make a connection and invite us in.
Peace (in the pursuit of a poetic idea),
I have a challenge activity going for my sixth graders: create a six word memoir on our comic site. I shared mine with them yesterday, showing how narrowing the focus can give power to the idea of the six words. A fair number of kids were working on theirs yesterday, as they were finishing up another project.
Peace (in the words),
One of my all-time favorite start-of-the-year activities is our Dream Scene Project, in which students work on a project of their aspirations for sometime in the future. Over the years, this project has morphed from a paper art project, to a digital storytelling project, to the current form of a webcomic project.
The Dream Scene project involves students thinking of a dream for themselves, why it is important and how they are going to make it happen in life. Along with the mixed media that I introduce, this project gives me some keen insights into the minds of my students early on in the year, and sparks some great conversations about interests outside of school and where their heart is at.
I had interesting conversations this week with a student who wants to travel to Africa as a volunteer, and help fight poverty. Another conversation was with a musician who wants to write songs and sing for the world. Another is already writing her own novel and wants to be a writer (she already is!). There are two boys who want to form a technology company, and they already have a name and have begun some tinkering with their phones. A few would be happy to have a stable family and a roof over their heads.
It’s all good!
The word cloud above represents the various themes of their Dream Scenes from across four classes of sixth graders. These kids are going to change the world someday.
Peace (in dreams),
As much as I enjoyed the story and art of The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, what I truly most enjoyed about this book is the explanation of how the book came to be. (You may know Yang’s name from his wonderful American Born Chinese and/or Boxers & Saints)
After the main story ends, Yang gives an overview of the origin of the story of the The Green Turtle, one of the first superheroes created by an Asian-American artist Hank Chu, and his battles with publishers to create an Asian-American superhero. He actually failed in this fight, according to rumors that Yang chased down, and his original Green Turtle comic – published during the Golden Age of Comics — is interesting in that Chu always hides the face of his hero, so the reader can’t discern racial identity.
Let me have Yang explain:
Yang and Liew decided to invent the “back story” of the Green Turtle in The Shadow Hero, providing insights into Chinese-American culture, racial prejudice, and the myth of The Green Turtle superhero, who has been mostly forgotten in comic circles. Until now.
Following Yang’s piece of writing, the two provide the very first comic of The Green Turtle, as a sort of interesting time travel twist. You can get the sense of what Chu was after with his creation, and see how he pushes up against the publisher’s restraint against an Asian-American comic book superhero. It’s a fascinating lesson in history.
The story in The Shadow Hero is solid, inventive and engaging, with plenty of action and humor, and a bit of tame romance. I would say this book would work fine for upper elementary, middle and high school students.
Peace (in the story),
Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is focusing in on assessment this year as our inquiry theme, and our annual fall event — WMWP Best Practices — in October will have the focus of pushing against the confines of assessment and exploring more ways to shine a light on student learning, as opposed to data collection.
If you teach in Western Massachusetts, please consider joining us for what will be a great day of connecting and collaborating and sharing knowledge (plus, lunch is included). Here is the link for online registration.
Peace (in the event),
I love gathering our “comic” versions of ourselves for the first days of the school year. As my sixth grade students make avatars (and as we talk about digital representations) in our webcomic space (Bitstrips for Schools), it creates a classroom picture, with all of our comic avatars together.
Peace (in the strangeness of ourselves),
I don’t know the epic tapestry that writer/illustrator Kazu Kibuishi has in mind for his Amulet series but I am along for the ride right until the very end. The latest in his series of intriguing graphic novels in the Amulet series — Book Six: Escape from Lucien – is another powerhouse example of storytelling, bringing us action and character development and various story threads that weave in and out.
The most difficult part? Remembering the stories in the intervening years between Amulet books. I should have read the fifth one to get my mind inside the story but instead, I jumped right in. Which is interesting in itself. Kibuishi, a gifted artist and writer, does not provide backstory. You’re in right with the first few pages, and I had that experience of my memory kicking in as I read — Oh yea, that’s who Emily is …. That dude looks familiar …. why is this character acting like this? Who is the Elf King again? Who wants to be Elf King? Oh yeah … and so on.
It would be too complex for me to give the story away in a review, but suffice it to say that Amulet is turning out to be a classic graphic story that makes other stories pale in comparison, and is a perfect series for middle school and upper elementary readers. The difficulty is the cost for the books. I suspect that somewhere down the line there will be an Amulet Omnibus. But the story is still unfolding.
This is actually one of those series that I have not yet brought into my classroom, for fear that the books will disappear from my shelves. My sons read the Amulet books regularly so I keep them at home. Sorry, kids. (Might be time to save up my Scholastic book points and get a class set, though).
Peace (in the power of story),