Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Power of Edu-Twitter

I'm a fan of Twitter. Despite the abuse and misuse and the ridiculousness of Certain Leaders of the Free World, I like the instant reach that Twitter can have for good. I was reminded of this just yesterday.

Last week I was facilitating a workshop with elementary teachers -- how to use picture books to teach social studies. We were dipping into dozens of picture books, mostly from the National Council for the Social Studies list of Notable Trade Books. If you're looking for resources to teach K12 social studies, go there.

At the end of the workshop, a fifth grade teacher stayed behind and asked me if I knew of any picture books about grieving. One of her students lost a parent this month, and she was looking for ways to approach it with the child. I know I've read picture books about loss, but couldn't remember titles, and an Amazon search didn't bring up what I was really looking for. Yesterday afternoon, I sent out a tweet:

Within minutes, I heard from my friend Anthony (a school librarian in Minnesota) and John Schu, an expert in children's books. Within the hour, I had heard from a few other teachers and librarians. And then School Library Journal retweeted it to their network of 74,000 librarians and teachers. By this morning, I had 25 solid recommendations for books, several I've read and forgotten, but others I haven't seen before. There are five or so that were recommended multiple times, and I figure I'll purchase those, send them to the teacher, and she can see what works best for that particular student. She can gift the copy to the kid, and then I can replace that one if the teacher would like.

And that's the power of Twitter. So often teaching is an exercise in isolation and survival. If you're a teacher who doesn't feel like they have the support or connections at your school or local community, Twitter can help with that. If you're the only music or art teacher in your building and you need to bounce ideas off of other teachers, Twitter can help with that. If you have a great accomplishment you want to celebrate, Twitter will celebrate with you.

It took me a few tries to really understand Twitter and how it could be used professionally; I was introduced to it at a state tech conference a long time ago, and then introduced to the idea of Twitter chats at a national social studies conference. Since then I've figured it out, and I use it professionally and frivolously and everything in between. Because of the gradual way I grew into Twitter, I don't have a separate education account and personal account, which probably isn't recommended, but hey. I'm me. Good, bad, weird, thoughtful, messy. And that's okay. My engagement with other teachers on Twitter is probably what got my book Play Like a Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics published, so I'll always be grateful to it for that.

If you're new to Twitter or old to Twitter, it's worth checking out. There's more on there than you'd expect. Sometimes the answers to your education questions are just a few clicks away. A great intro to Twitter in education is the book 140 Twitter Tips for Educators; these guys can teach you everything you need to know to get you started.

If you're already on Twitter, but haven't dipped into the Twitter Chats yet, here are some quick tips from Whitney Kilgore:

This is part of her brief introduction to what exactly Twitter chats are on Slideshare.

There's a list of education Twitter chats here -- I've participated in dozens of them, and get something good out of each. It may not be an answer to a question. It may be a reminder of something I already knew. It's usually a solid connection with educators who are inspired and energized and willing to put in time "off the clock" to find new ways to reach their students. If you've taken the time to read this far? You're one of those teachers.

Here's the list of books on grieving that were recommended by the teachers and librarians; the starred books were the ones recommended multiple times. Below that are the Twitter handles of those who have responded so far. Thank you for your help.

·         *** The Scar Charlotte Moundlic
·         The Next Place Warren Hanson
·         Tear Soup:A Recipe for Healing After Loss Pat Schwiebert
·         *** Boats for Papa Jessixa Bagley
·         Grief is the Thing with Feathers Max Porter
·        ***  The Sad Book Michael Rosen
·         *** The Heart and the Bottle Oliver Jeffers
·         Badger’s Parting Gifts Susan Varley
·         Goodbye Mog Judith Kerr
·         Missing Mummy: A Book About Bereavement Rebecca Cobb
·         *** Ida, Always Caron Lewis
·         Cry, Heart, But Never Break Glenn Ringtved
·         Granddad’s Island Benji Davis
·         Always Remember Cece Meng
·         What Happens When a Loved One Dies Dr. Jillian Roberts
·        ***  The Invisible String Patrice Karst
·         The Goodbye Book Todd Parr
·         I Love YouForever Robert Munsch 
·         Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan
·         The Old Lady Who Named Things Cynthia Rylant
·         Death is Stupid Anastasia Higginbotham
·        ***  After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again Dan Santat 
·         Cardboard Doug TenNapel 

Monday, November 13, 2017

LEGO Set of the Month: Justice League Battle of Atlantis

So the Justice League movie is set to come out this coming weekend, and I'm trying to be cautiously optimistic. With the exception of Wonder Woman (glorious Wonder Woman)(lesson ideas here) the DC Comics movies have been pretty terrible since Man of Steel came out in 2013. In my humble opinion, the biggest part of the problem has been the "vision" of Man of Steel/Batman V Superman/Justice League director Zack Snyder. He's missing the warmth, the fun, the color that's at the heart of these characters. Anyone who can make frigging Superman a dour hero doesn't have any business making Superman movies. 
But then came Wonder Woman. And then came Joss Whedon, taking over directorial (and writing, and re-shooting) duties late in the production of the Justice League movie. I'm hoping that Whedon, who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and directed the first two Avengers movies, can bring some hope and light and humor, even though he did come to the movie late in the game. 
Oh yeah, LEGO. My LEGO Set of the Month is Battle of Atlantis. Honestly for the simple reason that I love Aquaman. I might write a whole blog post or chapter or epic opera about all of my reasons for loving Aquaman, but I do. Whether we're talking classic fuddy-duddy I've-Been-Wearing-This-Orange-Shirt-Since-1941 Aquaman (my personal favorite, I grew up with him on Superfriends)(and I've cosplayed as him a few times over the years), 1990s Piranhas-Ate-My-Hand-And-It's-Been-Replaced-With-A-Harpoon Aquaman, or now Jason Momoa Wow-They-Badassed-Him-Right-Up Aquaman, he's a favorite of mine. So the LEGO set with Aquaman is my Set of the Month. If you're interested in winning the set, check out how to do it below. 

The Battle of Atlantis set is small, but has some things going for it that are pretty cool. The minifigure selection is impressive for a set this size, naturally featuring Aquaman at the heart of things. The likeness to Jason Momoa is good, with a two-sided head that has a pretty neutral face and normal eyes--then turn it around and he's got a fierce grimace and his glowing superpowery eyes, I guess. He's not wearing the orange and green, but a gold and green that looks like intricate metallic armor--he got an upgrade for the big screen, and it's probably for the best. There are two Atlantean (from Atlantis, not Atlanta) soldiers with sweet finned helmets and similar gold armor -- and then there's a Parademon attacking Atlantis. The Parademons are winged monster soldiers from Apokolips, home of Darkseid. The storyline (sigh) involves one of Darkseid's lieutenants, Steppenwolf, leading an invasion of Earth, making way for Darkseid himself to come someday and finishing the subjugation of the planet. But the Justice League will repel this invasion by becoming a team and winning the day. I have so many issues with that storyline you guys. So. Many. Issues. If you ever want to have a prolonged conversation about all of the many things wrong with it (you don't), just say the word.

The scene takes place among the pillars and arches of Atlantis, which look like they may be carved from coral (?) with some seaweed here and there, some barnacles, and even a few glow-in-the-dark pearls. There are a few pieces designed to break apart when attacked, that can be reset easily. The pinnacle of the archway is this cool transparent blue piece that topples nicely, but brings an air (a water?) of elegance and royalty to the set. Another part of the storyline involves "Motherboxes" that are like beacons to Apokolips; they're scattered across the globe and one happens to be in Atlantis--that's the white cube on the plinth wow I know the word plinth I hope it means what I think it does at the bottom center.

It's a cool set. Not perfect, but it does what it should. Sets the stage, allows for some adventure, fires up the imagination. I'm sending one set, but if someone was obsessed enough to buy say, four of them, you could build a pretty extensive Atlantis and then have an Army of Atlantis and like four Parademons which is more of a threat, and then have an Aquaman for the set, but also a display shelf and also your desk at school and also your pocket JUST IN CASE. Yeah, that would be prettttty obsessed. 


Kids and adults, so humans, I guess, love the story of Atlantis. Whether it's a civilization that sunk millennia ago, or one that grew up with fish people underwater, or it leaked through from another dimension (the DC Comics version is some combination of these things), it's a place that's been part of Western memory and myth and pop culture for thousands of years. It's going to be featured in Justice League and then be at the center of the Aquaman movie coming next year -- but I don't know if it looks like "Atlantis" looks in my own imagination. Have students design their own vision of Atlantis, whether on paper or out of LEGO or other building materials. 

You could have students write a short story about a visitor coming to Atlantis for the first time, marveling at the world around them, and the things they'll encounter there. Are they welcomed as a hero, are they captured and brought before the king as an enemy, are they in a stealthsuit so they can't be seen, and observing as an anthroichthyologist, or is the civilization long dead, and they're an aquarchaeologist looking at the ruins? 

Students could compare and contrast Plato's version of Atlantis with the one pictured here -- could they be the same civilization? They could watch a clip of the heroes visiting the Disney version of Atlantis and compare it with this one too -- would the Justice League Atlantis fit in with that one, or are they too distinct to share the same world? 

If Atlantis is too fishy for you or your students, you could have them do most of the same things with any number of fictional places:
  • Hogwarts (Harry Potter)
  • Neverland (Peter Pan)
  • King's Landing (Game of Thrones probably don't watch clips of that in class though)
  • Oz (Wizard of, not the acclaimed HBO prison series)
  • Who-Ville (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
  • Halloween Town (Nightmare Before Christmas)
  • Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings)
  • Cloud City (The Empire Strikes Back)
  • Narnia (...Narnia)
  • Arendelle (Frozen)
  • Orbit City (The Jetsons)
  • Bedrock (The Flintstones)
  • Pawnee (Parks and Recreation)
Atlantis can be the key to a student's imagination. Help them unlock that door. 


I knew you were wondering. There are three ways to enter:

1. Comment on this post. You do that below at the very end of this post. Lower...lower...there.

2. Subscribe to the monthly Play Like a PIRATE newsletter. It comes out once a month, with ideas for the classroom, a graphic novel review, and a review and chance to win the new LEGO Set of the Month. No spamming (beyond once a month), no selling your emails to anyone. I don't even know who I would sell them to. It may be worth investigating.

3. Follow @jedikermit on Twitter and retweet this tweet. If you're not on The Twitter, you really should be. Sign up just for this entry. And follow me. So worth it. You can follow the #PlayLAP hashtag to see what other people are doing with Play Like a PIRATE. A book you should totally buy.

So you can enter up to three times. Don't try and cheat. Teachers always know.

Some fine print: the LEGO Set of the Month will only be available to U.S. residents. Even though I love everyone on the planet, international shipping is beyond my reach. The drawing for the November LEGO Set of the Month will be at 9 PM MST on Wednesday, November 15. The drawing will be taken from all eligible entries with a random generator. So hopefully you win. Yeah, you.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

William Shakespeare's Star Wars

When I first saw the cover of William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope flash across Twitter a few years back I had two thoughts: the first was "This is blasphemy, and it must be stopped!" The second thought: "This must be a work of either genius or madness--either way, I must have it!" Ian Doescher's adaptation of George Lucas' original Star Wars screenplay to be in the style of the Bard of Avon has moments of genius, and moments of madness. I will say that for most of the time I was reading it, I had a stupid grin plastered on my face. Because (this is my usual line about these series ((also The LEGO Movie))) it was better than it had any right to be. Doescher could have written a sloppy mashup of Star Wars and Shakespeare, and it would have sold well enough. But what he's done is create art. 

Rewriting one of my favorite movies as a five act Shakespearean play could have fallen completely flat. I love Star Wars. If you know me at all, you know this. In 1977 my DNA was overwritten, and I'm at least 22% Star Wars at any given time. My handle on every friggin social media is JediKermit. I'm that kind of nerd. You know this. What you may not know is that I love Elizabethan English, whether in the form of Shakespeare's plays or the poetry of the King James Bible, I genuinely love it. I was worried that Doescher's treatment of the language would be poorly-written, or unnecessarily cluttered. Instead, what he's done is take George Lucas' script, translate it into iambic pentameter (really!), and discover more depth and meaning to key scenes and characters than I would have thought possible. I mean, I know Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia better than I do my own parents. (Happy Thanksgiving Mom and Dad!) I know their biographies, their passions, their fears...what could Ian Doescher possibly bring to the dejarik table that I don't already have? Turns out, a lot.   
Bith cantina musicians
Each major character gets asides and even soliloquys that I love--some of those are expected, and just flesh out the characters. Some are for comedy's sake--Han Solo gets most of those. What Harrison Ford may have expressed with a facial expression or body language is written out here as an aside, thrown with a wink or a sneer at an audience that isn't actually there. This formatting as a play will be a barrier to some readers, even more than the four hundred year old language is, but I love it. Doescher uses stage directions and these asides and soliloquys to add new layers of depth to characters that don't interfere with, but enhance our heroes and villains. 
The best soliloquy in the first book is from Luke Skywalker, after seeing that his aunt and uncle have been killed by stormtroopers on Tatooine. I don't want to put the whole thing in this review, but here's a portion:
Adventure have I ask'd for in this life,
And now have I too much of my desire.
My soul within me weeps; my mind, it runs
Unto a thousand thousand varied paths.
My uncle Owen and my aunt Beru,
Have they been cruelly kill'd for what I want?
So shall I never want again if in 
The wanting all I love shall be destroy'd. 
O fie! Thou knave adventure! Evil trick
Of boyhood's mind that ever should one seek
To have adventure when one hath a home--

I'll cut Luke off there. On the screen, what we saw was Luke standing near his burned home, the smoking remains of his family. The next scene, he's back with Ben Kenobi and the droids, and is clearly upset, but pretty much says "saddle up, Imma be a Jedi!" This scene at least gives him a few minutes to mourn his aunt and uncle and their blue milk, and summon the courage to go on to Alderaan. 
The book is richly illustrated by Nicolas Delort, who combines elements of Star Wars and Elizabethan dress in woodcut-inspired black and white drawings. So we have Grand Moff Tarkin in a high collar that accentuates his already gaunt features, and Darth Vader with a medallion seal of the Empire on his chest, and a fur-lined cloak in waves around his armored doublet. Jabba the Hutt sports a feathered Italian cap, and Han Solo wears knee-length breeches. We get pieces of how the sets could be designed and how the plays could be staged, which is another thing that boggled my mind. How would a play based on such special effects-intensive movies even work? I hope someone is thinking about these issues right now. 
Verily, A New Hope was published in 2013, and the series has continued on through The Empire Striketh Back, The Jedi Doth Return, all three Prequels, and a few weeks ago The Force Doth Awaken debuted. And I snatched it up. Because LOOK AT BB-8 ZOMG THE CUTENESS AAAAAH 
Like Shakespeare himself, Ian Doescher has taken a great idea (if not a new one) and run with it. I won't say that it's greater than the sum of its parts, but "William Shakespeare's Star Wars" has made me consider that galaxy far, far away in a new light. And I'm grateful for it. The subsequent books in the series are as good, and each has brought new depth to something that I didn't think I could understand better than I already did. In The Empire Striketh Back, there are two particularly poignant passages. One from Lando Calrissian, being torn between betraying his friends and letting all of Cloud City fall to Darth Vader. I've never quite forgiven him for this crime...after reading this take on his character, I finally get it. What may not have come across in the film for lack of time was brought home to me by this project, which I know at least eleven of you are going to dismiss out of hand. But if you're one of those eleven, you haven't read this far. So unclench a little and enjoy life, man. It's too short.

The other mindblowing, heartbreaking, and incredibly funny soliloquy in Empire is from that giant space slug who lives in the asteroid? The one the Millennium Falcon is hiding in and then has to fly out of? And it's like GNOOOMP ROAR even though it's in the vacuum of space and our heroes fly away and the Exogorth for lo verily that is its name ruminates (ironically, because ruminate is also TO CHEW but he's got nothin but vacuum)...that space slug gets his own page to mourn his loss, his hunger, his loneliness. GAH I love this series so much. DID I MENTION THAT YODA SPEAKS IN HAIKU?? 


Look, I could rattle off a few ideas for what I would do with this if I were teaching a Shakespeare unit. I'd have kids read a few of the most famous Star Wars scenes, ones that pretty much everyone knows even if they've never seen the movies. "I am your father," etc. You could have them do a side-by-side comparison with the script from the movie and Doescher's re-writing of it. You could have them reverse engineer Doescher's script into what they think the original language was, and then compare that to the movie. I'd have them take a few minutes of their own favorite movie or television script and try their hand at turning it all Elizabethan-like. I mean, I could. I could put five solid quick ideas in a little paragraph like that. 
Instead, I'll point you to two other places. First, is Quirk Books' own website, where they have study guides for the books in the series, but also a fully-fledged unit plan that's extensive and mindblowing and any single part could be used pretty much as-is in your own class. The other is Star Wars in the Classroom, an ongoing project that's collecting lesson ideas, camaraderie, and resources for bringing Star Wars into various parts of your curriculum at every age level and content area. Always worth checking out. They're good people. 

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