Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It Started With A Tweet

Not a frown in the bunch
LaSalle's 6th Grade with Malcolm London and Kevin Coval

Every year has its moment that define that particular class. It's the moment that when you talk about a particular year or student, you reference that event or experience.

This year's keystone memory was LaSalle Elementary's Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) poetry performances and a visit from some LTAB greats.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that poetry in not at the top of a 6th graders list of favorite subjects. My lessons have improved over the years and I've gotten better at teaching the different types, their structure, their rules and such. But, anyone that knows me, knows that I'm not really a rule follower, which is why I think I like free verse or slam style poetry so much.

The kids love it too. I can't say that the affinity is universal, but it's darn close.

I think the appeal is that they begin to believe that their words matter at this point in our poetry unit. Of course I talk about word choice and sentence construction the entire year, but poetry- especially slam poetry - carries the weight of relevance and meaning.

As we start to explore free verse poems, I share the feature length documentary "Louder Than A Bomb" a film that follows four groups of Chicago area students as they prepare for and compete in the world's largest youth slam competition. It's a remarkable film about some remarkable kids.

The film inspires. My kids see themselves in the movie's compelling characters and can readily identify with Nate, Lamar, Nova, Adam and Nate and others. Their lives are not ideal, majestic, or free from strife, but what my kids see in these kids on screen is that despite having to navigate their age, community, and circumstances, they are doing great things. Great things with words.

I share spoken word free verse poems from the past and the present from Mos Def, Saul Williams, and Malcolm London. This year I had an entirely new resource, The BreakBeat Poets, a chronological anthology of poets edited by:
  • Kevin Coval (Louder Than A Bomb co-founder, poet, author, and Creative Director for Young Chicago Authors) 
  • Nate Marshall (Featured in LTAB, Author, Zell Post-Graduate Fellow at UofM, rapper, and founding member of the poetry collective Dark Noise) 
  • Quraysh Ali Lansana (Poet, author, and faculty member of the Creative Writing Program of the School of the Art Institute and the Red Earth MFA Creative Writing Program at Oklahoma City University). 

The BreakBeat Poets

The collection of poetry (from Haymarket Press' description) 
This is the first poetry anthology by and for the Hip-Hop generation. It is for people who love Hip-Hop, for fans of the culture, for people who've never read a poem, for people who thought poems were only something done by dead white dudes who got lost in a forest, and for poetry heads. This anthology is meant to expand the idea of who a poet is and what a poem is for.

Our class ordered a copy and when we received it, we tweeted Kevin Coval about our excitement. His reply spurred us into action.

We contacted the eminently helpful and patient Tammy Job, Young Chicago Author's School Liaison, set a date, and started our preparations for Kevin and Malcolm London (TED Speaker, 2011 LTAB winner, poet, activist, and educator) to spend the day with #Room216.

We sold candy bars among other means to raise the modest fees to host two of the world's best for a writing workshop. The timeline was tight, but as the end of the year approached, we got it done.

Friend of #Room216, Rosie Woods (ABC-57, South Bend) previewed the visit with LIVE-Remotes from our School and was very gracious with her time afterward.
Miss Woods did a great job covering the event throughout the broadcast, which featured interviews with my kids and sharing of one of their performances. So thankful for her enthusiasm, energy, and encouragement of my kids. ABC57 News -Hashtag to the Girls Maybe the best part of the story was that she shared an ensemble piece created by four of my 6th grade girls. Kevin Coval when describing their piece said "those girls were spitting fire." True enough.

Malcolm and Kevin were simply fantastic. Despite their stature and accomplishments, not a whiff of pretense or air of superiority. They were extraordinarily approachable and genuine. They were at the end of a long week of travel and we were their last stop before setting foot in their homes, but you felt that they didn't want to leave. Wonderful.

They shared a couple of their own pieces and watched as a few of LaSalle's poets performed their works. As the afternoon progressed, they workshopped generating ideas and organizing them into poems. They taught us how to use words to inspire, words as power, words to cause change. We wrapped up the day with a a quick Q&A and a group picture.

A great day for all!

and a hint of things to come.

And it all started with a tweet. A tweet that helped my kids feel Louder Than A Bomb!

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Some cool guys in this photo. Two outta three is not bad.
Malcolm London (L) Kevin Coval (R)


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Periscope, Robots, Nerf Guns, and a Breakfast Sandwich.


The idea was floated over an overstuffed burrito that I knew I couldn't finish, but had committed to its completion because I didn't have anywhere to put the leftovers. I had only met one of my lunch companions a few hours earlier at breakfast. Noah Geisel and I were both attending the 5-Sigma Educon near Denver, CO, but had never met.  (Next year's conference is scheduled for February 19-21, 2016).

Earlier that day, I had grabbed a Chick-fil-A biscuit sausage sandwich, coffee, and a glass of OJ to begin my conference morning. I quickly realized that breakfast sandwich consumption is made slightly unlikely with one hand. A lone occupant at a nearby table offered a chance to eat a little less awkwardly. Noah and I talked about why we were there, a little about his cool sweater, and exchanged Twitter handles while we ate and prepared for a second cup of coffee. We took a picture in front of the conference's backdrop, even after I called him the wrong name, and then were off to the day's first sessions.

Over lunch Noah and I talked about providing experiences for students that they normally don't get. Experiences that help them understand the world at large and open their life's prism a little wider. Noah started talking about the workspaces at Sphero, a robotics company, that focuses on "connected play" and helps kids understand programming through their products. He knew a couple of guys that worked there and visited their offices. He raved about the location, company's vision, and growth.

Noah described the workspaces and how personalized and diverse they were. A modern workspace that relied on collaboration and creativity was something that I thought my kids would enjoy and learn from. I knew if Sphero was willing, #Room216 would love to spend some time with them.

Up Periscope
Skype was the initial platform for the "visit", but then the Mayweather v Paquiao fight happened in early May. The fight between the two boxers had been on boxing fans wish list for a long time and when it was finally scheduled the pay-per-view prices were right around $100. A little too pricey for many. Millions of people paid, but many watched the fight for free via Periscope, a free live streaming app that allows users to live stream any event in front of their phone.

A number of the people that were watching the fight through pay-per-view also setup a free live-feed broadcast, albeit illegally, from their living rooms. Anyone in the world with the Periscope app could watch. That's when most people heard of the app, including the media, and many of the stories focused on the business losses and how the technology disrupted the pay-per-view business model.

Noah suggested we take this disruptive technology and "flip it" into something positive. We started expanding our game plan to utilize Periscope and turn the static Skype call into something more dynamic and interactive. A virtual field trip.

We came up with a combination of Google Hangout on Air (GHO) and Periscope. Noah would be our Periscope feed and we would be the remote, directing him where to go and what to look at. Dani and Lauren would take us on a virtual tour of Sphero's Corporate offices (Boulder, CO) using their iPads.

Room #216 friend, Rosie Woods of ABC-57 covered the event as part of her station's "Cool Schools" series. Rosie's genuine excitement for the "trip" resulting in a great story and a great memory for my kids.

We started in the lobby, met the digital receptionist, and saw the differences between Sphero's two main products the Ollie and Sphero. Dani and Lauren showed us the Sphero museum, a collection of past product iterations, failures and successes, which included the phone with which President Obama used to work one of the Sphero balls. A highlight for the kids.

We got a great chance to see the design and collaborative spaces of the company's associates where all of the different roles function. We got a chance to talk to coders, video creators, and product testers among others. Dani and Lauren were awesome!

Is that a Nerf Gun?
In Mishawaka (Indiana), we had setup dual screens so that we could watch both the Google Hangout broadcast and the Periscope feed. Three of my 6th graders were piloting the tour from a table in the center of our room, which included all of school's 5th and 6th grades. The three students took turns commenting and asking questions in the chat portion of the GHO, live-tweeting, and sending feedback in Periscope. The trio also had opportunities to ask questions when they were in the 'hotseat' (on camera).



Along with Teched-out, 3-screened multiple computer work spaces, the kids spotted a razor scooter, various toys, stuffed animals, and a nerf-gun. "You can have a nerf gun at work?" They were beginning to understand that today's work places are often much more comfortable and fun than what they may be used to seeing or expect.

The Sphero folks were just tremendous. Every employee we talked to were absolutely generous with their time and commitment to the effort. We concluded the trip by joining their Friday "all company" meeting and said hello to company executives and others that we had not met yet and had a chance one more time to say thank you. It was a highlight of the school year for many of my students.

Towards the end of the field trip, one of my girls asked if there were any "girl engineers" that worked at Spehro? Indiscernible to anyone in Boulder or Mishawaka, that question, from that student was the highlight of the call for me. This is the girl that started the school year making excuses for not understanding things or maybe not giving her best effort with references to her blond hair and "I'm a girl ya know." Now, this girl had taken the lead for this project, threw herself into understanding the basics of coding and took on a big project as a result. She transformed herself during the school year into a serious student who believed in herself and wanted to work towards being an engineer someday. The experience with Sphero and their products solidified that foundation.

THAT's why we do these things. To give a kid a glimpse of what's possible.

Feel free to watch some of our experience at Sphero Corporate Virtual Field Trip.
Next Time
At the time, we weren't aware of anyone attempting something like this on this scale using the technologies and anytime you pioneer something like this there is bound to be a large bit of learning that happens.  The start was little clumsy, but once we got going it smoothed out considerably. During our debriefing call the following week, Noah and I identified a couple of things that we'd like to improve on and we'll pass on our learnings if you would like to try something like this in your classroom.

  1. The use of an external microphone for the devices would improve sound quality tremendously. Despite testing the connection and sound the day before, there were times when either end of the feeds were sure if we could hear each other. Those doubts limited the interaction between the parties a little. The device microphones were not powerful enough to capture the voices of the participants and don't do a sufficient job of eliminating ambient sounds in both locations. 
  2. Test the stuff in the environment where the event will take place. As I mentioned, we tested the connection and equipment the day before the event, but not in the location where we gathered the following day. The larger room necessitated some adjustments on the fly during the call and caused me some unnecessary hot flashes. 
  3. Have the tour guides practice holding the devices and delivering a quality video image. If the guides have access to a quality monopod, it would help make their job a little easier, while providing a more stable image.
  4. Have both ends of the feed monitor and respond to the the chat features in GHO and Periscope. the chat features allow for questions to be asked without interrupting whomever is speaking.
  5. and/or disable comments in Periscope. Anyone with the Periscope can watch the broadcast, which means anyone can comment, unless you click the icon that turns off or limits comments completely or to only people that follow you on Periscope. While we didn't have any problems during the actual events, there were some profanities thrown our way in the test the day before. Ahhh, the internets.
If you have any questions on how to set up your own Periscope field trip, let me know. I'd be happy to help. You can find me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Thanks for reading!