Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cool Websites and Apps, and an idea from the Stanford d.School

Finally back from...wherever it is that I've been. Sacramento, Chincoteague, Bethesda, mourning. My friend Joan died a week before the Adventures in Homeschool Conference, and I spent that week in a bit of a tailspin. Then off to present my Reluctant Writers workshop and Poetry Haters workshop at the HSC, and off again to the East Coast to stay in rented houses with Tad's family on the humid, mosquito-infested tourist trap that is Chincoteague Island. The beach was great and I enjoyed spending time with everyone, but I will never go back to Chincoteague ever again if I can help it. 

One great thing about my Reluctant Writers workshop in particular was that I got suggestions for some very cool apps and websites. 

The Book Creator, an app which helps you make and publish e-books from your iPad, can be found here: http://www.redjumper.net/bookcreator/

FutureMe lets you write an email to your future self. The tone of their FAQ page alone makes me want to use this service; what founders of a company publish their Amazon wishlist to potential users? These guys: http://www.futureme.org/ 

Speaking of missives to one's future self, this video mashup of a grownup being inteverviewed by a video of his kid self (does that make sense?) is hi-larious. I mean actually laugh out loud funny. And smart. That boy was smart. I also love the portrait of Van Gogh in the background of the grownup. 

Fanfiction for kids! Here are two relevant websites:
The first site is a bonafide kids' fanfic site; the second is basically a place to publish kids' writing online. The fanfic website fanfiction.net has pages for kids' books (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for example) but there's no guarantee that all of the posts are kid-appropriate.

The Stanford d.School (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford) does this thing with colored post-its, and a new homeschooling friend of mine used it with her 8-year-old reluctant writer to put together a presentation:
  1. He dictated his thoughts, ideas, and "learnings" on the topic he'd learned about (sharks, maybe?)
  2. She put the ideas on post-its.
  3. I missed exactly what happened in this next part--maybe she classified and categorized the ideas, or maybe they did it together--but in any case, the ideas got on different colored post-its depending on whether they were "main ideas", subtopics, details, etc. I love this. It's such a great way to work on thinking and organizing--and you can do it multiple times and change which color post-it an idea goes on depending on the point you want to make.
  4. The post-its get organized on a wall, with main ideas on big post-its, or on top, or whatever, and topics, subtopics, details, etc. arranged below or around the main ideas. This makes things visible, touchable, and changeable. Once you get the structure that makes the most sense to you, you can write it or speak it. Or see what your next step of the project will be, if it's an action or design project. Very cool.

It's a little like paragraph puzzles. Have I talked about that yet? Maybe not. Well, look for it in the future, and then I'll add a link.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Another Poem: Four "Addresses" by Peter Davis

Four "Addresses"
Peter Davis


This poem can turn invisible and it can beat up bad guys! When people
read this poem it is like a laser shooting bad guys right in the stomach!
This poem knocks bad guys on their bottoms! And if you need a force
field you can get one from Dr. Defense who lives in this poem and
makes a number of bad-guy-fighting tools and weapons. Sometimes
giant robot bad guys try to kill this poem by bopping it on the head,
but this poem doesn't allow that and sends ninjas and wiaards out to 
reverse time and destroy the robots. Dr. Defense jumps up and kicks 
everyone in the face and he, like, flies through a window and then, like
this poem explodes!


These things can wait. This is a very good poem and you'd be very
myopic to lose sight of this beauty simply because some of your baser
needs are asserting themselves. I'll keep this short, but you should
exercise some control, okay? Stay with me here. Allow this poem to
carry you beyond yourself, transcending your mortal flesh as you wed
yourself with the potentially infinite.




How this found you I don't know, but this is a good event, a good
omen. Not because it's mystical or mysterious, but because you're actu-
ally reading this poem and I have actually written it. I know that this
poem is a sort of prison too, but it's a much, much more beautiful one.

I don't know what the difference is between poems and prose poems, but if something declares itself to be a poem, and if you find it in The Best American Poetry 2012 as I did, then I suppose it's a poem.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Poem of the...month: Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins

In memory of my dear friend Joan Owen.

Picnic, Lightning
Billy Collins

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident 
(picnic, lightning) when I was three.                                                                                                                                         --Lolita

It is possible to be struck by a meteor
or a single-engine plane
while reading in a chair at home.
Safes drop from rooftops
and flatten the odd pedestrian
mostly within the panels of the comics,
but still, we know it is possible,
as well as the flash of summer lightning,
the thermos toppling over,
spilling out on the grass.

And we know the message
can be delivered from within.
The heart, no valentine,
decides to quit after lunch,
the power shut off like a switch,
or a tiny dark ship is unmoored
into the flow of the body's rivers,
the brain a monastery,
defenseless on the shore.

This is what I think about
when I shovel compost
into a wheelbarrow,
and when I fill the long flower boxes,
then press into rows
the limp roots of red impatiens--
the instant hand of Death
always ready to burst forth
from the sleeve of his voluminous cloak.

Then the soil is full of marvels,
bits of leaf like flakes off a fresco,
red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick
to burrow back under the loam.
Then the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue,
the clouds a brighter white,

and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone,
the small plants singing
with lifted faces, and the click
of the sundial
as one hour sweeps into the next.

Billy Collins

She had the eye that the speaker gains in the last two stanzas, but always. She saw the beauty and the marvel of life--in everything, really.

I am updating here, because I've been thinking about this poem.
On my first few readings, I thought those last two stanzas were about being more present, more alive to the moment, more cognizant of the sensations that tie us to this life. But on subsequent readings I began to think that maybe they are about what it's like to die--maybe the tiny things he sees in the compost are details of death as well as life--for what is compost but a life-giving mixture of dead and rotting plant life with alive and kicking bacteria? Maybe the rasp of the steel edge is Death sharpening his scythe. Maybe the blue, the white, the singing flowers are the ecstasy of death, a vision of another world. And isn't the sweep of time inextricably connected with death? Maybe I'm pushing this too far.