This week’s Make challenge had me stymied. The premise revolved around game design: creating, remixing, and redesigning games and gaming systems. My first thought was that I know next to nothing about video games, and although I understand the appeal (not to mention my baby brother is a lead audio director for Treyarch), I don’t play them myself. I’ve read James Paul Gee’s work enough to recognize the potential of video games as part of project based learning, but it is beyond the scope of my experience.
Then I realized that “games” did not have to mean video games. I thought of board games and tried to think of new ways to remix them for my ELA classroom. My own creativity fell short, but several people came up with brilliant ideas that I may just have to steal. Margaret Simon (@MargaretGSimon) tweaked “Apples to Apples” so that players have to use random words to create stories. Deanna Mascle composed an adorable poem from old board game names and created a Muse game that may help collapse writer’s block. My favorite may be Julianne Harmatz’s “Capture the Quote“, which morphs Uno into a close reading tool. Brilliant.
Still, my own creative process stumbled over the “game” concept. I didn’t play a lot of games as a child and I generally wasn’t very good at them when I did. As I re-read the definitions of “game” #clmooc participants had tossed around, it suddenly hit me. I didn’t play traditional games as a child, it’s true, but I did play. I read voraciously, and the books stimulated an already active imagination so that my play became play acting. It should be no surprise that I spent several active years in community theater and my first teaching job was in Theater Arts. How many of us didn’t take on imaginary roles on our play? Pirates and princesses, aliens and androids: these dress up characters take on lives when we apply imagination.
The premise of my “game” is imagination. I grew up with my imaginary friends, most of whom were fairies who lived in the giant pink flowers of my wallpaper. (It was the 70s, what can I say?) However, my imaginary world and my books took me to fantastical places beyond looking glasses, through wardrobes, and beyond time.
“Two forces create eternity – a fairy tale and a dream from the fairy tale.”
― Dejan Stojanovic
As for using this particular exercise in the classroom, I think it could be a way for students who “do school” to break out of the academic model for a moment and write or create for the pure joy of expression. It could begin with a question about childhood games and how they affect the growing up process. Who we are is largely determined by who we once were, so it is a legitimate thought for reflection. I’m still exploring this idea of “games” and I think I may be onto something useful.
Elements: mine (photography, wood overlay); Design Cuts (textures); DigiDesignResort ( a summer morning, first sun rays); Deviant Art (fairy dust wings by Jumper_stock, wings by stephanie_inlove, fairy wing by wolverine)
So #clmooc is making my brain spin – and I love it. The first week was about shattering identity and creating “untroductions.” I like the idea of shattering our personal identities in order to rebuild them with purpose and intent. Sherri Edwards (@grammasheri) developed a Google Slide Share that asks the following:
As we consider who we are, our identities in the spaces and places of the neighborhoods in our lives — what essence is there in all of them?
Challenge: Consider your beliefs. Using six words, arrange them as phrases read horizontally and vertically to express an essence of your identity.
Now, I am no poet, but I love this idea as a way to engage students from the very first day of class. Of course, I would never ask my students to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, so, here is my attempt:
And I’m stuck.
I may be onto something here.
So what does this shattering identity reveal?
You tell me.
Along the lines of the #clmooc “untroduction”, KQED posited a unique way for students to self-identify through a #donow project. Not only does it deal with identity, but it can also introduce the ideas of imagery, metaphor, and symbolism.
Select an everyday object or material as your personal symbol. What object or material did you choose, and what might it signify about you?
I had to give this some thought. I am not easily classified (which I like). Many objects have a singular purpose, so that character trait eliminates a fair number of objects. So I thought, “What one thing best summarizes my multiple interests and abilities?” Because I’m always on the go in a multitude of directions, I settled on the wheel as the object that best serves as a personal symbol.
Why the wheel? It is always in motion, often productive, useful in multiple situations, and able to cover vast distances, revealing new vistas at every turn.
I admit it. I get bored easily. I like new adventures and new challenges. What more evidence is needed when I join #clmooc when I should be enjoying a short respite from school between M.Ed. completion and Ph.D commencement? Learning new things keeps my mind busy and gives me new ideas for being even more unorthodox in my pedagogy than I was a year or five or ten years ago. That keeps me fresh and relevant and frankly, effective. No stale lesson plans for me; every corner I turn reveals new ideas to test and tweak.
Always spinning, always thinking, always looking for the next adventure. What better personal symbol than the wheel?
Hopefully all the links are intact!
Heroes among us
This week’s learning event caused me a little angst. I understand the hero’s journey in a literary sense, but we live in an age where true heroes come in unique forms.
Back in late 1988, Michael Jackson released his album, Bad. I was student teaching 7th grade in Arroyo Grande, CA at the time, and decided to create a unit about taking personal responsibility for making the world around them better. Jackson was near the height of his popularity, so I used his song, “Man in the Mirror” as my central theme. Of course, the internet didn’t exist, and even MTV was so new that it actually played music videos, but Jackson being who he was, every student knew the song. I recorded the song from the radio for reference and as a class we decoded the lyrics and analyzed them (I was cutting edge even then!) We created “mirrors” of tinfoil and constructed paper frames, writing poems on the silver about personal change. We discussed current events: the Cold War just ending, human rights issues in the Soviet Union, uncertainty over China’s policies, economic challenges in the US, drugs, drought, and increasing Anti-Semitism. The bulletin board reflected light from the foil, while the students reflected for a moment the power of attitude. I discovered the role of relevance in the classroom.
Skip ahead a whole bunch of years, and #walkmyworld again considers self reflection, addressing the man in the mirror. Looking back at the headlines from 1988 and comparing them to headlines in 2015, and the stories are largely the same: wars and rumors of wars, human rights issues around the world, uncertainty over foreign policies, economic challenges, drugs, drought, and a rise in violence in the Middle East, a symbol of increasing (again) anti-Semitism. The old aphorism, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” sings true. In his poem, “Two Fusiliers,” Robert Graves wonders, “And have we done with War at last?” The 2014 movie American Sniper was a huge box office success that told the story of the bond between war veterans because of the “wet bond of blood” they share. We have not done with war, as Graves had hoped. If anything, war is a constant in the 21st century.
So this brings me to the reflection of this week. Jackson’s song is a call to take responsibility for making the world better, not on a global scale, but by reaching out to the needy nearest us first. While we wait for governments to “fix” society, it continues its decline. The best of times are when individuals come together. We saw this as a nation in the weeks following 9/11. Jackson calls our normal state a “selfish kind of love” that needs to be replaced with personal change that makes a way to improve life for someone ELSE. It doesn’t take wealth or fame or influence to give of oneself. The smallest things matter. I have given countless hats and scarves from my own head and neck to individuals who needed them more than I. It takes just a few seconds. I have sorted shoes for donations, served lunch in rescue missions, sung in nursing homes on Christmas day, and photographed memories for strangers who couldn’t afford a photographer for their events. I’m nothing special, but I did look in the mirror back in the 1980s and vowed to make a change that makes me see others in a different way.
To take this concept to the classroom would be such a easy thing: trash collection, scrubbing dirty and graffiti tagged walls, food drives or clothing drives to replenish the stores of the local rescue mission, and any number of other things that students can imagine. Let students brainstorm ideas. Give them ownership of the new vision and give them power to make it happen. Connect the service to poetry or song lyrics and biographies of people who have given of themselves (Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Eric Liddell come immediately to mind). This particular learning event can serve as a springboard to all sorts of positive changes, one student looking in the mirror at a time.
Graves, R. (1918). “Two Fusillers”. Fairies and Fusillers. Retrived from http://www.bartleby.com/120/4.html
“To sleep, perchance to dream…” (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1)
How do dreams reflect identity? How does the unconscious mind become the conscious decisions of daily life or long term plans? Who am I in my dreams and can that become reality if I so desire?
This week’s learning event afforded an opportunity to consider the power of dreams, but also reflect on which dreams are worthy of pursuit.
Dreams release us from all limitations, but also bring our fears to life. Patrick Ness’ book, A Monster Calls, brings to life an old yew tree in the dreams of a boy who must find a way to cope with his dying mother. The fear of monsters parallels the fear of the disease and how it has and will continue to affect his life. As the protagonist faces the dual monsters (the tree and the cancer), he finds himself able to do things he never imagined.
Of course, it is a work of fiction, but in many ways, dreams can help us discern new ways to manage life’s stress because in dreams we are not limited to what is practical. As a teacher, some of the best lessons I’ve ever written have come either in dreams or in that twilight between waking and sleeping. Once the idea is discovered, the analytical daytime mind can begin to work out the logistics of overcoming the limitations of practicality.
Some dreams can take on a real life, as Ryan Neil demonstrates as an American Shokunin. His artistic dreams manifest in Bonsai, where he has learned to balance life and design to create living sculptures that will live for hundreds of years. This is the beauty of art, no matter what the medium. I have some skills with photography and digital manipulation, and if I were to describe an impossible dream, it would include being discovered as an artist and making a living with this kind of creativity. My logical mind, however, sees the limitations (including my inability in sales and marketing), and puts my art into the category of hobbyist.
Still, the creativity of my dreams does find its way into the classroom. I never teach the same lesson twice–even on the same day. Every class has its own personality and requires a unique approach, a certain kind of humor, and a personal touch. I use the analysis to create goals and objectives and outlines, but once class begins, I shape my lessons in much the same way Neil shapes his Bonsai art.
One element of pursuing dreams is the freedom to do so. The arts offer that kind of freedom. Today’s educational system does not. The current obsession with standardized tests, single stream learning, and strict analysis places nearly insurmountable limits on teachers. The standards themselves are not the issue, for the most part. The application of those standards, however, puts many teachers in a bureaucratic maze with only one escape route. This devalues the creative passions of the teacher as well as minimizes the students’ ability to innovate, create, and think beyond multiple choice. What will happen to the dreamers and the visionaries if they are forced to conform to a false norm? Is there a place for the Einsteins and Edisons in our elementary schools today?
Teachers must dream bigger than ever in this day of sameness. We must find new ways to talk about literature and culture and society. We must create new ways to connect content with life in relevant ways all while ensuring our students are able to perform on state test day. It is a challenge that for me has inspired a new dream. While I once dreamed of leaving a legacy in the world of visual art, I now dream of leaving a legacy in adults who, having walked into my world classroom, are not afraid to push back, who value creative problem solving, and who are able to meet ridiculous regulations with style, panache, and enough humor to know that in the long run, life is a better teacher than textbooks anyway.
Totems are not things I generally consider often. I associate them with trips to Seattle and thoughts about Alaska, but as a general rule, they’re just not on my personal radar. And then came learning event 5: http://bit.ly/walk2015le5.
By definition, a totem is a sacred object that represents a group of people connected by lineage, family, or tribe. When families are fractured, however, the ideal symbol is elusive. One side of my family may be best symbolized by wheels: trucks, race cars, go carts, and gears. The other side is less connected, some sharing a similar faith, some a love for words or music, and others deeply patriotic. There isn’t a real shared tradition or history; in fact, it is difficult to trace back even names more than two generations removed.
So the idea of a totem has to be rethought. My last 30 years have been spent creating a family with the guy I married at 22. On our 25th wedding anniversary I created a book that contained some of the best memories. It’s certainly not sacred, but it is a symbol of our life together.
“Maybe it comes and goes. Maybe it’s always there.” Jonathan Levitt
Feelings often do come and go, but the commitment represented by any totemic symbolism is always present as underscore and foundation upon which the rest is built. The challenges of mortgages, moves, career changes, and loss are balanced with the satisfaction of raising three independent young women and still actually liking each other at the end of each day.
And so, more than 30 years since our first date, our totem rises higher and higher, represented in thousands of photographs, lived out by the real people who make up our family.
For the full book, click here.