Category Archives: creativity

Literary Maps

This summer, I am taking a course through North Tier called Telling the World’s Stories Through Google Maps. We’re just getting started on the first week and I’ve already learned a few things I didn’t know about this tool that I use almost every day. I am fortunate to have Tim Stahmer as my instructor.

Part of my motivation for taking this course came from my reading. I was reading Wallace Stegner’s biography of John Wesley Powell, the western explorer known for being the first European to make the passage through the Grand Canyon. Using the maps to explore helped better understand the challenges of navigating the Colorado River. It was fun to look up the various places mentioned in the book, many of which Powell named.

From there, I headed to the 10,000 Islands area of the Gulf Coast of Florida as part of reading Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, the fictionalized story of Edgar “Bloody” Watson who lived in the islands at the turn of the century. It is a wild country, and the satellite view was  most helpful as the Google street view cameras haven’t quite made it to the mangrove swamps yet. Again, maps enriched my understanding of how the setting influenced the story.

Finally..and here was the real lightbulb moment for using maps in the English classroom…I was reading a cozy mystery series set in Leap, Cork County, Ireland. One of the characters was an elderly Irish woman and when I checked out the tiny village in maps, there she was! A woman showed up on one of the photos, pushing her walker down the road. I know it was not the woman from the book, but it occurred to me that exploring the maps would be a wonderful story starter activity.

Integrating Electronics Into Our Lives

As summer begins and kids get out of school, various versions of “summer rules” are floating around the Internet. It’s a way to set expectations for a time of year when it can seem that all rules are off.

This one, from the Thirty Handmade Days blog, is typical. Its purpose, according to the creator, is to keep the kids from spending the whole day glued to a screen so they earn the time with their gadgets  while spending time reading, writing, creating and playing outside. I like the spirit of it but something felt off, based on my own use of electronics.

For instance, I often use my device to read and write. I’m writing this blog post on my laptop. I often carry my phone on a dog walk, partly for safety, but also in case we happen upon something interesting that I want to record like an unusual bird or flower. I imagine that kids might want to do the same: create a video of the rules for a game they created or do some macro photography of bugs or butterflies. As for creating, I often reference the Internet for ideas or directions for things to my projects. I’m participating in the DS106 June 30 Day Daily Create Challenge. The goal is to be digitally creative by providing a new challenge each day and move us away from just “like buttons on Facebook or retweeting other people’s memes.” The tools we carry with us offer almost infinite possibilities for creativity but if we don’t help kids see that, then they will rush through the other items in order to be able to settle into the consumer pull of those same devices.

And, I understand that concern. We certainly don’t want the kids to spend the whole summer playing video games or watching movies, never lifting their heads or hands to interact with the real world. And, as Mique says, every family has to do what makes them comfortable. I would just like to see a more integrative approach to technology, finding ways to use it as part of our other activities. Maybe that is what she meant but this seems a little too much like the classroom where the kids only get to use the computers when they do everything else. Electronics shouldn’t be a reward but a natural part of our daily lives.

I also can’t help but wonder if these rules apply to parents, too?

Beyond Work: Finding Your Own Space in the Day

My “of interest” post this week focuses on a Washington Post reporter even though it’s really supposed to focus on poet Donald Hall. The reporter exposed Hall to ridicule and was criticized.

I’m thinking about Donald Hall because I’m reading Essays After Eighty and The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, a collection published in 2015. I have come to love this grizzled, rumpled old man who isn’t afraid to dive into the vagaries of old age who, after a lifetime of poetry, can no longer write poems:

New poems no longer come to me, with their prodigies of metaphor and assonance. Prose endures. I feel the circles grow smaller, and old age is a ceremony of losses, which is on the whole preferable to dying at forty-seven or fifty-two. When I lament and darken over my diminishments, I accomplish nothing. It’s better to sit at the window all day, pleased to watch birds, barns, and flowers. It is a pleasure to write about what I do.

Both his prose and the insights he communicates make it a pleasure to read about what he does.

In the essay “Physical Malfitness” he describes his physical failing as he ages, but also his lifetime failure as an athlete. However, even though he doesn’t play, he loves baseball. He watches every night during the season, cheering on the Boston Red Sox. He watches without doing anything else, and he compares this single minded focus on baseball with other writers like Yeats and Eliot who read westerns and mysteries in the evenings.

Our brains need to rest, to reach in different directions, to focus on something that brings us pleasure without any concern for a test.  It may be baseball, or a particular genre, or…I like to crochet and stream PBS shows. I’m counting and creating with the crochet hook but also letting my mind follow a compelling story or engaging educational experience. The latter is a fancy way of saying “Great British Baking Show.” I’m watching the Master Series now so it is educational as I’m learning how to bake classic breads and desserts and more.

Our students also need their chance to get beyond their school work. A chance to pursue passions without accountability, just learn or be or do as they find their way. These moments of freedom, minds ebbing and flowing around some activity or event, can be percolators of innovation.

Even the Normal Ones Need More

In just an hour or so, I’m going to sit on a stage with a group of students from grades 3 to 12 plus and talk to them about their lives and their use of technology. The audience will be made up of teachers and I’m hoping to foster a dialog that may extend beyond our short time together.

I met with the group yesterday just to give them an overview of how it was going to work. What an interesting bunch! It includes one fourth grade girl who doesn’t really interact with technology at all outside of school. It isn’t about access; it’s about interest. “I’m more about being outside,” she said.

A reminder that, despite our desire to categorize and catalog, human beings are exciting in their uniqueness and despite being born as a digital native, not every 10 year old loves technology.

I was reminded of this incredibly important ideas again as I read this excellent essay about the “extranormative” student in today’s NCTE blog post. While these authors focus on students seemingly outside the mainstream, they end with a call to recognize the humanity of ALL students, including the seemingly normal ones who can easily get lost as they don’t come with any special labels:

Smagorinsky and Robinson agree in allowing students more freedom. By giving students the ability to highlight their strengths and differences, no matter through what lens they view the world, teachers engage the most recalcitrant and nourish their creativity and thought, particularly in written expression.

Makey Makey Links

Heading out for a makey makey demo with a group of teachers in my local school division. I’m excited to spend a few hours creating with them: we’ll do the banana piano, an interactive picture, and the count the coins game. I think they’ve been sitting in curriculum meetings all morning so I want them to have hands-on fun!

I put together some links to ideas and tools:

And when I get home this afternoon, I’m making my own monome.