Democratizing Composition

Broadening our definition of what's possible in school

What we found today: Monday, September 17th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

HAL 8bits by  armincifuentes

HAL 8bits by armincifuentes

  • The Wired Design blog covers Make It So, a book about the influence of science fiction on contemporary design. While I’m struck – kind of sadly – by how many examples criss-cross militaristic contexts, I’m interested in the tension between the familiar and the strange in both sci-fi and design. Regardless, it’s worth asking kids to visualize what they’re reading sand writing in science-fiction and dystopian lit, not only to check for understanding, but to see how tone, mood, and perspective get translated from words into artifacts.

  • Enjoying Andrew Carle’s thinking on middle-school maker spaces here. Pinball, stickers, games, food, and MaKey Makey boards FTW. I think Andrew is spot on in his characterization of a visible maker space as a driver for culture change in a school. Maybe I can get some windows put into my walls.

  • Digging around Stanford’s Epicenter, a hub for “unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of undergraduate engineering students across the United States.” I want one for middle schoolers. I’m forever unsure of why we’re not pursuing inquiry-models of education founded in making awesome stuff with all learners.

  • I saw news of GameDesk’s PlayMaker school not too long ago, but just found my way back to the rest of GameDesk’s site. I dig its Mathmaker program, which has me thinking of how to start a coding/design/programming initiative for student achievement in the humanities.

  • Bootstrap is another student-programming initiative meant to help kids between the ages of 12 and 16 become coders and designers through algebra and geometry. Bootstrap and the Northern Virginia Computer Science Teachers Association are hosting a workshop at George Mason University on October 20th, 2012. Sign up here.

What we found today: September 12th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

Havana Music Kids by ChrisGoldNY

Havana Music Kids by ChrisGoldNY

  • The Liederboard kickstarter project promises to build an online “musical scratchpad” that could one day be a cloud-based community of peer music review, like a GitHub for composers. I would love to have an accessible, free, web-based music writing program that shows kids the raw “code” of notes, time signatures, and keys under the samples, loops, and production-centric GUI of GarageBand. It would be fun to teach music theory like one of our barebones HTML “camps” and then invite kids to compose for texts, papers, and projects in other media.

  • Wiki-published RAFT-like “Immigrant Experience letters” from Meredith Stewart’s class. I like the RAFT. It’s an approach to composition, empathy, and characterization that doesn’t have to be done only through writing. I can imagine a young filmmaker RAFT-ing her way through several character beats and then mixing and matching them into dialogue in a script, or a young artist considering a subject across media and perspectives.

  • Paul Blogush (who worked at Old Sturbridge Village!) shares Staff Meeting Bingo. I think this would be a fantastic way for students to compose feedback about class, school, and texts. Think of it as a more playful Worlde through which students can poke honest fun at teacher habits, predilections, and biases (like jesters), or sum up their impressions of characters or authors’ styles. The description of class in a fun, low-risk way could then encourage teachers and students to revise class together. Chad Bingo would no doubt include gems like, “B: ‘stuff, stuff, and other things.'”

  • The Makeshop Show (via Melissa Techman). When I see sites like this, I think about a)students writing about their making (Which project did you pick? Why? What’s your plan? How will you start? How will you know when you have achieved your goals?) b)students making sites like this.

  • Making finds a way: Andrew Carle on “New Schedules, New Space” for his kids’ maker endeavors. There’s no perfect makerspace, just a perfect time to start making: now.

What we made today: September 6th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

MaKey MaKey: it's alive…it's alive!

MaKey MaKey: it’s alive…it’s alive!

For me, teaching is the same thing as imagining the future. However, given that our schools are stuck in the past, this year I’m trying to follow trends in learning outside school to see if I can at least help my classroom catch up with the present. I want my kids to master the discovered curriculum – the learning they pursue to find meaning and make stuff – and to approach the intended curriculum through meaningful, personal, inquiry-driven lenses that put our language arts standards to work for us.

While I do my best to remain figuratively small in my classroom (to teach with the smallest managerial footprint possible), I’ve set a few goals for myself (apart from the one about student performance) to help me catch up with the present and dream about the future.

  • I want all of my kids to tell stories across several forms of media.
  • I want all of my kids to learn enough new vocabulary to access increasingly ambiguous, complex, and sophisticated texts that reflect their maturation, confusion, changing worldviews and search for identity.
  • I want all of my kids to feel like our class is a family full of the care, humor, and forgiveness we each want for ourselves.

To fulfill those goals, I’m trying to bring my story-telling A-game to class each day. I’m ditching the stories and activities that don’t work on the spot. I’m making room for what works – especially when students’ stories and conjectures work better than mine. I’m putting the discovered curriculum – the learning kids pursue to find meaning and make stuff – ahead of my intended curriculum so that when students encounter standards they do so through deeply personal lenses of inquiry and wonder.

To scaffold students’ story-telling and community-building, I’m approaching the opening of the school year as a time for the creation of student spaces in the classroom and on our computers.

We’re building individual workspaces off the work stations in our classroom. Students are recycling cardboard into paneling and shelving – and they’re brining or building their own storage and decor to make the room reflect themselves.

Designing a CMYK backdrop for a workspace

Designing a CMYK backdrop for a workspace

Scored, flexible cardboard for a shelf

Scored, flexible cardboard for a shelf

The scored cardboard shelf shapes up

The scored cardboard shelf shapes up

We’re coding basic webpages that will grow into electronic portfolios. Each portfolio will have a page for student-made badges designed in response to each week’s learning. Students have already begun self-assessing and asking themselves how to represent what they’ve learned and made in class. To begin, Friday will be our self-badging day (using pixel art right now), and Web-authoring will be part of our daily writing. (Is there a better proof-reading activity than debugging code?) Eventually, we’ll organize and connect our badges and perhaps adopt the Mozilla totems of Web-authorship.

Designing a primary color-scheme competency badge

Designing a primary color-scheme competency badge

Designing an analogous color-scheme competency badge

Designing an analogous color-scheme competency badge

Student coding with a text editor and a browser

Student coding with a text editor and a browser

We’re messing around with approaches and materials that seem alien to traditional language arts classrooms. Today we played with a MaKey MaKey board. We can confirm it works with air-dry clay, grapes, sandwiches, copper tape, and people. Some of us even played a song together by tapping on one another’s arms.

Our initial MaKey MaKey set-up

Our initial MaKey MaKey set-up

An air-dry clay MaKey MaKey button

An air-dry clay MaKey MaKey button

A sandwich being used as a MaKey MaKey input for a piano

A sandwich being used as a MaKey MaKey input for a piano

We have ideas about making a basketball into an input device – for a Scratch-programmed b-ball game – using copper tape. We have ideas about connecting the MaKey MaKey board to our shoes so that we can “walk” characters on the screen. None of our ideas has a clear connection to our standards yet, and that’s awesome. We have to play with new toys to see what they can do before we can imagine using them intentionally. Good design is predicated on play, which is really the imaginative iteration of our expectations as we push ideas and toys past what we thought was possible. I have no doubt that MaKey MaKey – and a bevy of other unlikely things – will become part of my students’ story-telling repertoire.

I’m not supposed to know how, but I am glad my kids are already thinking about designing alternative impute devices for the computers and mobile computing devices ceaselessly present in their lives. They are thinking like Valve in middle school thanks to a little electronic toy I never could have imagined.

We need to write, make, and play alongside our students. We need to learn from them what’s really possible in school. We need to help them find their voices and stories so that democratizing composition becomes a culture – not just a pedagogy or practice aimed at our kids.

We have students who will grow up to design amazing things.

Our classrooms should acknowledge as much, and we should recognize that acknowledgement as a profoundly good and right thing, despite the institutionalized shame we might feel in putting our kids and their future ahead of the intended curriculum and all its tidy, annual outputs.

What we found today: September 5th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

Our new MaKey MaKey kit

Our new MaKey MaKey kit

  • Very psyched to find our class MaKey MaKey kit waiting for me in the mail today. Tomorrow is all about capturing and sharing the story of our early makey efforts. Digital story-telling + making + reflection = win.

  • Shawn Cornally has teamed up with his former student Helaina Thompson “to increase the rate of female retention after entry-level physics courses”. We should all compose with students – and we should all work together to unpack biased classes, methods, and operations in public schools so that we all get to the learning. The question should never be, “Why does this kid deserve this?” All kids deserve the best, most authentic learning we can offer. The question should be the one that concerns Shawn and Helaina: “How do we help students access this?”

  • Mind/Shift announces the opening of the PlayMaker School, a game-based school that incorporates material making as part of teaching and learning. The best part (for teachers): the in-house professional development shop is called the “DreamLab.” I appreciate the democratic leanings of the school – check out the adventure map idea. Nerds, see also: student character sheets apparently act as report cards/merit sashes. (Shared by Andrew Coy.)

  • Shared by Mal Booth: “Twitter announces tool to embed interactive timelines of tweets into any site.” With an easy html embed, this could be a useful tool for kids researching current events or interviewing experts or mentors – or for kids mapping how social media works to spread news.

  • Star Wars Uncut stitched short fan-made snippets into a full-on patchwork quilt of a movie. Now it’s time for The Empire Strikes Back Uncut (TESBU). The idea here isn’t so much, “have kids contribute to TESBU,” as it is, “ask kids to reinterpret a film – or other work of art – together.” I wonder if re-making even a small part of something like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind would be an engaging problem-based task to go along with an ecological read like, say, Hoot.

What we found today: September 4th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

Democratizing Learning Innovation  by DMLCentral

Democratizing Learning Innovation by DMLCentral

  • My friend and I talked about an extreme-weather/terra-forming project this morning, and the mad-scientist angle we took reminded me of Simply Awesome Sylvia. Watching Sylvia’s videos, I could easily imagine a science-infused maker middle school built around doing science, blogging and vlogging science, and following other kids’ informational texts about science to repeat, validate, and/or challenge peer’s methods and findings.

  • On the drive home this weekend, my kids played nothing but the Scribblenauts home screen. I’m starting to think the game would make for both a great visual dictionary and a great visualization tool for class concepts, content, and stories. I’m sure that I’m late to the party in discovering all this; is anyone using Scribblenauts extensively in a classroom for reference or composition?

  • I found Wide Angle Youth Media through the Digital Harbor Foundation website. Wide Angle Youth Media is a Baltimore non-profit focused on media education for youth empowerment through community engagement and participatory politics. I like this “Anything Is Possible” video riffing on “Where I’m From.”

  • From brain picker Maria Popova, the wisdom of Ray Bradbury: “Don’t think about things, just do them; don’t predict them, just make them.” ‘Nuff said regarding education.

  • Automated copyright infringement-slinging Web bots shut down a broadcast of the sci-fi Hugo Awards on Sunday. It’s really important that we give kids practice composing with fair use media so that they understand why and how to use it rhetorically or artistically, so that they understand where their fair use rights stop, and so that they know how, why, and when to challenge corporate interests needlessly limiting free speech.

What we found today: August 31st, 2012

by Chad Sansing

Marin 365| Day 19 Images; LEGO Digital Designer by cproppe

Marin 365| Day 19 Images; LEGO Digital Designer by cproppe

What we found today: August 30th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

Lego letterpress

Lego letterpress

  • Materiality aside, designing and coding webpages attentively reminds me of letterpress in a way that word processing does not. I think one of my favorite “identifying bias” lessons was helping kids make Hunger Games and House of the Scorpion letter-press propaganda posters for the classroom using Lego plates. But what we’re really here for is Anaïs Nin’s account of letter press printing as shared on Brain Pickings.

  • I dig these Sifteo interactive cubes (found on the Wired Design blog). I described a similar idea a few years ago at a meeting; I imagined a series of tablets communicating with one another during a multiplayer game that showed a map across all of the client tablets when they were placed together to create an ad-hoc gaming table – or during a learning activity that showed how a creek flowed into a pond and impacted its ecosystem when the tablets were arranged in accordingly. When players split up, each tablet carried away a tiny version of the same map and game or activity. I’m excited to see where these go. Games surfaces that creep towards one another?

  • Public education moves so slowly. We could recapture the public imagination in an instant if we gave up just a little bit of time every day to let kids of all ages play, create, and practice design, entrepreneurship, and gifting with 3D printing. Here is “Watch Your Back, Hasbro, 3D-Printed Games Have Arrived” – again from the Wired Design blog. I say, watch your back, schools, more meaningful learning has arrived/never left. The article includes a cool application of Tinkercad which I need to show kids for their workspace and badge designing tasks. Also, we need our own custom Catan tiles.

  • BoingBoing points us toward Amanda Visell’s wooden Star Wars figures (I’m partial to the detailing on Darth Vader). We recycle a lot of boxes into canvases and room fixtures each year (having to pack our rooms before summer vacation and to unpack them when we return to school). It would be great to collect scrap wood for a project like this to make figures for story-telling kids’ works and to study design and remix – the figures and packaging would be great to compare and contrast against the originals. I especially like how Visell’s boxes reference the typography and color of the original figures’ blister-pack backings.

  • No idea how we’re going to work SpaceChem into class this year, but we will. I’m no good at playing it, even though I love it. Time to ask the kids. Multi-media chemical compound RAFT stories? Chemical stencil art? Expository writing on how silk screening works before we find, build, or buy a frame?

What we made today: August 24th, 2012

by Chad Sansing

Always design with your students

Always design with your students

This week I asked kids to design covers for their journals. I also asked them to design new surfaces and storage for their workspaces. I introduced and posted some basic design vocabulary to help get us thinking. Then I got out of the way.

We aren’t fluent yet with design, but I’ve started using our new words in conferences about kids’ workspace sketches.

Here are some examples of students’ journal covers. Please note that we bought the construction paper and other craft supplies, including the patterned sheets of paper. We recycle cardboard, and kids make their own stencils unless otherwise noted.

A pop-up cover

A pop-up cover

A googley cover

A googley cover

An eye-stalk cover

An eye-stalk cover

A righteous cover

A righteous cover

An in-progress reinforced cardboard cover

An in-progress reinforced cardboard cover

A cover with ears

A cover with ears

A stenciled cover - before

A stenciled cover – before

A stenciled cover - after

A stenciled cover – after

A disassembled cover - before

A disassembled cover – before

A re-assembled cover - after

A re-assembled cover – after

A crafty cover

A crafty cover

Next week I hope to share out some photos of the workspace project as it takes shape. Most kids just finished their journal covers today.

I want kids to trust me when I say that this is “our classroom.” I want them to take the space from me – and I want them to do their work, not mine. That they’re already thinking about their own aesthetics and making decisions about style and organization can only help our compositions from here. That they’re remixing our physical materials and space can only help them understand and make connections to our digital work later.

What we found today: August 23rd, 2012

by Chad Sansing

Tesseract Phantogram Test by JoeLosFeliz

Tesseract Phantogram Test by JoeLosFeliz

What we found today: August 22nd, 2012

by Chad Sansing

from a June, 2012, Mozilla Open Badges presentation

from a June, 2012, Mozilla Open Badges presentation