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The Daily Create 30-Day Challenge

My June 2017 30-Day The Daily Create Challenge Art

Reading for Pleasure

Chilly gray winter coupled with angry voices have left me feeling blue and a bit angry myself. I have a list of possible blog entries but can’t seem to get past the feeling that they are frivolous in a time of great seriousness.

The New Yorker published a list of books that various writers are reading now, and Caleb Crain comments about his reading of Langdon Hammer’s biography of poet James Merrill:

In such parlous times, I felt a little guilty about indulging at length in reading for mere pleasure—the one lacuna in Merrill’s cosmopolitanism was politics, which he seems to have found boring—but only a formidable pleasure was capable of drawing me away from the news, and for the sake of my mental health I decided I had to license it.

I’m reading a lot this year, but my path does seem to have taken a serious turn that Crain might not count as reading for pleasure.  The year started with Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee’s prose poem/ethnographic study about poor southerners who worked as cotton tenants during the Depression. It seemed a good place to start to understand division and anger in America, and in The New Yorker article, Judith Thurman references it in her review of the 1960 book Crowds and Power, a book she says is about the dangerous resentments of those who feel helpless:

It seems that we are seeing something parallel taking place in Trump’s America: the panicked reaction of a crowd that feels it has been devalued and is looking to project that sense onto a group that can then be driven from the fold. This process has happened before in American history, notably in the post-Civil War South, when defeated whites, many of them poor and dispossessed, projected their sense of depreciation onto the even poorer population of former slaves. (Read James Agee on THAT subject.)

I read Agee as a follow up to Hillbilly Elegy, the new book about these same people. If I had to do over, I would read Agee first as the historical understanding helps with Vance’s more abbreviated memoir.

For Martin Luther King Day, I read all three volumes of The March, John Lewis’s collaboration with Nate Powell. The graphic novel takes us to the heart of the Civil Rights movement. Hatred and violence pulse in the black and white images of murder and mayhem during a time when it seemed as though black lives really didn’t matter and the police and courts were the handmaidens of systemic evil. As he tells the story, Lewis is preparing to attend the inauguration of the first Black president. A moment of pride and success that now seems under attack by that same evil cloaked not in KKK robes but suits and ties and forked tongues.

Sabrina Stevens’ twitter thread was one of the first things I saw on February 1. She provided a list of the myths that were going to be told to kids during Black History Month to make slavery seem not so bad.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s story of a runaway slave who moves through a world where whites implement diverse evil ways of dealing with slaves, deals with all these issues. While I suspect it would not pass the censors in high schools, it would be historically realistic in a way that is, as Sabrina writes, is often not presented in public schools classrooms. Whitehead drew his characters from slave narratives and runaway slave advertisements, and in the book the runaways move along a real railroad, built deep in the ground, each station bringing them to new places where they had to discover the rules and underlying secrets in order to navigate dangerous paths. I think the most sinister of all places was South Carolina where the slaves seemed to be treated respectfully even as whites were experimenting in terrible ways. The novel was powerful, often mentally jarring, and I am still thinking about it. It would certainly overturn the myths of the happy slaves and paternal owners that are the usual fare of this month and black history in general.

My nonfiction reading–Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Suburban Schooling–provides an ethnographic view of the racial divides that exist in seemingly integrated schools and shows the legacy of continuing prejudice. Even though they are in the same school, black and white students are not getting the same quality of education. Expectations for the students are different with many black students finding their way into special education classes while white students take advantage of advanced classes or after school programs. He describes an ugly 1985 redistricting battle that clearly hinged on race and sounded a lot like my local suburban school division lived through much more recently.

Next on the list is Hidden Figures, about the Black women of NASA. It may be a bit more uplifting except the segregated world where they did their work kept them from them from advancing. Even now, they would probably face discrimination–they might be able to use whichever bathroom they wished but the upper levels of engineering still seem to be off limits.

These are the books students should be reading rather than watered down textbooks that don’t want to make anyone feel bad about themselves or their ancestors. It is “reading for pleasure”? While it is not always pleasant, it is reading I have chosen as a way to understand the world around me which I think helps define reading for pleasure. But it doesn’t matter. It is reading for knowledge and understanding and that is more important right now.

Should I Post This?

I have been blogging merrily along in the new year, having fun exploring and writing about poetry and community on both this and my book blog. Part of the reason I was able to post so often was because I cut myself some slack in terms of content. Like Tim Owens, I wasn’t worried about profundity, just publishing.

Then, I started to draft of a potentially more controversial post, and I got stuck. To George Couros’s list of overthinking questions, I would add, “Should I post this at all?”

The story I want to tell may be offensive to some; even just the knowledge that what I am going to describe still exists in our country could be upsetting. But I think we need to know how others think, how their facts blur into perspectives and then become narratives so we can examine our own processes and perhaps find empathy even in what might otherwise be offensive.

So, I answered the question with a yes and you can find the post here.

 

Scratching Away

After a very full June with lots of events and a trip to the ISTE conference in Denver, I am basically home for the rest of the summer with just one vacation week planned. There is plenty to do: gardening, bike riding, pool floating top the list of R&R activities.

But, I also want to be able to spend time on my own areas of interest and that includes coding. I’ve been dabbling in Python on the Pi and for the last two days, getting into Scratch using a couple books I found on Amazon, both from DK publishers. The Coding With Scratch Workbook is short and features four games that use what I would consider advanced features. I made them and in several cases did some remixing of the code provided. I’m now working through Coding Games in Scratch. It takes a similar visual approach and includes a “hacks and tweaks” section in each chapter with ideas for going further. I’m also thinking that I might try to write the code from the description of the game and then dive into the chapter when I get stuck.

There is also a whole community of Scratch educators out there at the ScratchED site from Harvard. Twitter led me to the Creative Computing Guide that Dylan Ryder has remixed. I’m looking forward to spending some time with the old and new guide.

If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s my Scratch studio.

Am I Justifying a Colossal Waste of Time Or….Am I Learning?

I had a long, busy week away from home last week. Lots of terrific meetings, both formal and informal, as part of the CoSN Conference and then a chance to play with robots and makey makeys with a bunch of K-12 educators on Friday.

I needed some down time this weekend. I gardened a bit, read a Steve Perry mystery, and played Zoombinis. I’m not a big gamer, but I have always loved solving logic problems and that’s the focus of Zoombinis. I fell in love with the first version of the game when it was first introduced in 1996. A new version was introduced in August 2015, and I signed right on.

I’ve been playing and reflecting on my progress through the game. I think the biggest lesson I’m learning is creating and implementing problem solving strategies.

Testing Variables: In the pizza trolls puzzle, you make a pizza based on the responses of the troll to various toppings. The first level is fairly straight forward but helps set the strategy: isolate and test each variable until you get the correct combination. Subsequent levels add more toppings AND trolls so keeping track of preferences requires a chart.

Enlisting Experts: I just couldn’t figure out how to succeed at the subsequent levels of  the Hotel Dimensia puzzle. Multiple variables have to be applied across a grid, and the rules around that deployment just escaped me. The grid itself is really a chart, but the puzzle comes with a time challenge so you need to establish the important variables very quickly in order to get all the Zoombinis through. No leisurely musing on this level. I struggled and knew I need more help so I headed to the web. The Hotel Dimensia page at Wikia was very helpful.

Purposeful Practicing: Zoombinis includes a practice mode that includes all puzzles and all levels. I worked through several Hotel Dimensia practice sessions, developing a strategy that I could apply in the real game. I really wanted to get better at this puzzle because it is on the path to the Mudball Wall, my favorite puzzle. Somehow, the pattern in that puzzle is easy for me to discern. I think it may be because I used to play it as a stand alone game on the web so I got lots of practice and have internalized the various patterns that can be made.

Embracing Failure: With Captain Cajun, you have to arrange the Zoombinis on a boat and you may or may not have the right combination. The game warns you that you may have to leave some of your Zoombinis behind. You will fail despite enlisting help or practicing.

Overcoming Failure: But, I have discovered a strategy to solve the Captain Cajun puzzles. Stack the deck. Literally. Once you are into the game, you often have your choice of Zoombinis to take with you through the next leg of the journey. So, you can arrange the Zoombinis ahead of time to make sure you have a combination that will fill the boat.

So, I am learning how to play the game using a variety of strategies. Some, like testing variables, are strategies I’ve applied outside the game while others, such as stacking the deck of Captain Cajun’s boat, are game specific. My biggest question is how much transfer takes place from the game into the world. In other words, if kids figure out the “testing variable” strategy for the pizzas, will they internalize that particular strategy and use it to solve problems outside of the game? Does the game foster a general understanding of formulating strategies for problem solving?