Archive for December, 2015

Haiku Mobile

Posted: December 19, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about mobiles in my Digital Fabrication class recently. Our first project was a catapult using 3D printed pieces and other pieces of this and that. Our current project is a mobile using either 3D printed pieces, laser cut/engraved pieces, or a combination of the two.

My mobile is also a haiku writing game. I have been on a creating-with-words kick lately. Lots of blackout poetry, some playing with words in other art projects, etc. So, for my mobile I decided to make a twist on the game Haikubes. My personal family received this game from cousins a few years ago. Briefly, you roll the dice and get a selection of words as well as a topic and style for your haiku. Then you create the poem.

Here’s how I adapted the game to a mobile.

  • Instead of the dice, I used the laser cutter to make cardboard rectangles with words cut into them–I’ll call them tiles from now on.
  • The tiles are painted different colors based on the number of syllables in the word: orange for 1 syllable, green for 2 syllables, purple for 3 syllables.
  • Each tile has a hole at the top so that it can hang from one of the bars that hold the three, individual lines of the haiku
  • There are 4 arms on my mobile–3 for the lines of the haiku, 1 for the “Haiku Mobile” sign.


Here are some early attempts.

Wild logical girl,

Finally here dripping light,

sleeping under love.





Our melodic boy,

to her a parallel life,

a brother embraced

IMG_5197  IMG_5198  IMG_5199 IMG_5195

Things to consider for version 2:

  • The look of the tiles hanging from the nails is what I was after, but the balancing is hard. I may need to have some sort of curve to the nail/hanger/etc to hold the tiles on more securely.
  • The font is too tight so it is hard to read a lot of the words. I thought that it would be easier once they were painted, but for a lot of them, it’s really hard to tell. Either a different font, a space after each letter, or raising the bed on the laser cutter for a tighter cut.
  • The soot on the cardboard from the laser cutter just does not go away.
  • I like the “natural color” of the cardboard in some places, but the soot on the edges means it is not an option. What to do there?
  • Better word list
  • A more thoughtful combination of colors. This combination was based largely on a combination of what was in our house and what was at the local hardware store the day I went.

Any other suggestions? What else could I do here?

So, I’ve been thinking about my seniors. As I decided recently, they are my people. And, they make me crazy. This is not unlike how I feel about my personal kids. I love them dearly; they make me crazy.

This past week or more, I have felt more of the “make me crazy” feelings for these young adults whom I am trying desperately to engage and teach a few more lessons before they are off to something new. I seriously doubt that a lot of the reading is getting read. If the recent test is any indication, there is also not a lot of thinking about the reading going on. I had to stop grading the test; it was too distressing. But, since I can’t seem to convince those grading fairies to do my work for me, I have plenty of other work that needs attention.

I turned to their memoir writing. I have to say that I was not really looking forward to diving into this bunch of papers. We have just finished reading Black Ice by Lorene Cary, a memoir, and I thought that some writing in the same category, memoir, would be a nice change of pace. A friend of mine posted this video on Facebook, which I showed to the class.

George Saunders Explains Storytelling for The Atlantic

George Saunders Explains Storytelling for The Atlantic

I think this is great stuff.

Yawn, said my seniors.

No one had come to class with an idea or topic, despite the fact that it had been part of homework for a while. The next day, people did come ready to write. We talked about a few more things: turning a real event into a story, that is still nonfiction, but which needs to be a good read; coming back around to the same idea that began the story. I suggested thinking about a goal response from readers. Should they laugh, cry, cringe? I have to say that I was not overly optimistic.

I was wrong! The pieces are funny, dramatic, revealing (but not too much so), and sad. The students are so recognizable, not only by what they chose to write about, but what the way they told their stories. One student wrote this in the email he sent me with his piece of writing:

I really enjoyed writing this paper, this is the first time I have ever felt comfortable talking about this incident.

I saw him today in the dining hall and said how much I enjoyed his piece and the interesting way he chose to tell the story of coming to a new school. And, while he did ask about the grade, he also said,

It was like what we talked about with the video. I started off thinking it was going to go one way and then it changed. I had to totally rewrite whole first paragraph.

Victory filled up my teacher self . . . “until everything/ was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” (with apologies to Elizabeth Bishop)

It’s good to know people are listening, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

Just like my own kids.

So, I’ve been thinking about graded class discussions and written multiple times about how I have been working this concept during the semester. My most recent twist was to have two smaller conversations to provide a space for the quieter students, which was a success. However, the ultimate goal is to have all the students participate in a single discussion. (The class is very small so there is time for all to participate.)

Since we are doing a little secret snowflake gift exchange at the moment, I thought about incorporating that into our discussion. In the past I gave each student an individual goal/job which was about what the individual student should do for him or herself to be successful. This time I gave students jobs that were for their classmates’ success. The idea was that as students did their jobs, they were giving gift to their classmates. Each student received a note with one of the following written on it:

  • Please invite _________ to participate in the discussion.
  • Please encourage __________ to give specific examples.
  • Please challenge ___________. (I gave this only to 1 student and chose the challenger very carefully.)
  • Please encourage ____________ to connect his or her ideas to those of other students.

Once again, the students stepped up. They asked others to participate. With a few absences, I didn’t hear anyone ask for examples, but I did hear students asking for their classmates to engage. These are things I usually do, but it’s so much better if the students ask take this responsibility. Also, the quiet people had a task to do to get them started talking. Great.

Of course, for some it was obvious who their “secret snowflake” was right away. However, I don’t think that the student who was “challenged” realized what was happening. It came off as very natural and created some actual back and forth where there was not agreement. This does happen at other times, but with different folks, and it is sometimes less graceful. And, because of who I assigned to be the challenger, the challenged could hear it, and the rest of the group took the lead from challenger and engaged in more of a debate. I just took notes and giggled to myself.



So, I have been thinking about how to help students write effective analytical essays for what seems like forever. Shouldn’t I be better at this by now? The goals are certainly different at different ages; what I expected in 5th grade was different from what I expected in 9th and what I look for in 12th. However, I still see the same old divide between those papers that are about the book (effective summaries) and papers that are about an idea that is discussed by way of the book. Really what it comes down to is how do I move the book report writers into the analytical writers’ camp. Is there a magic wand, pen, saying? Would bribing them with s’mores do the trick? Seriously, I would do whatever it takes.

I’ve been talking with colleagues about this, going to summer workshops, thinking of new and not new ideas. The more I think about it, the more I think that I need to go back to what I know worked in 5th grade. I don’t say this in a mean way or to be insulting. But, for the students who have not found their way to the analytical camp on their own, how can I check in earlier, before they head off down that long, boring summary road.

So what do I know?

In 5th grade I never let students start writing without an approved plan of some sort. As the year progressed, I knew who was ok without a detailed plan and who was not. So there might be students whom I let start writing with what was a very brief plan; however, they were students who had proven themselves to be on the analytical path, which in 5th grade is more like the “having an opinion” path.

In 5th grade I had students do physical things to identify different sentences in a paper. So, I might read aloud a paragraph. One side of the room would stand when the sentence was a retelling or summary sentence. One side would stand if it was the writer’s opinion (which is what analysis starts as in lower school). This turned out to be one of the most effective tactics in helping students even understand what I meant by summary or opinion sentence.

In 5th grade we sometimes wrote papers a paragraph at a time and “discovered” that this might actually be an essay with a bit of introduction and conclusion added to the paragraphs. Sneaking up on the essay was not a bad strategy. Everybody could write a paragraph on Karana’s friendship with Rontu (Island of the Blue Dolphins is still a winner), a paragraph on her friendship with the birds. Oh, look it seems like we are writing about her friendships. Hmmm. What could we say about the community she has or has created? Seems like that would be an interesting conclusion. While we’re adding things, let’s just introduce the book at the beginning. Tada, essay!

In 5th grade I learned that writing gets better writing. It’s like babies and sleep–good naps lead to good betimes, overly tired kids fight sleep. I learned, and was reminded of this fact at my summer workshop this past summer, that I did not need to edit everything, give extensive comments, and have students write many drafts of every assignment. We need to do some of that. We also just need to write. A lot. That is how my class’ blog was born, oh so many years ago

Now, how to take these lessons to some 12th graders.

Plans are totally doable. Shame on me for not making students be more intentional here. Some do a quick list of big point and sub-points and I can tell they are all set. No need to force the issue. However, for those who have proved that they are summarizers, I need to be more forceful. They may be 12th graders, but if I see they need the scaffolding, I should be providing more of it, even students don’t like it.

Standing up and sitting down in class to identify parts of the essay, probably not going to work with high schoolers. However, for those who are not getting to the analysis, insisting that their rough draft have analytical sentences highlighted, totally doable. Again, it is about me insisting.

Sneaky papers. This one I think I might be able to do next semester. I had forgotten about it, but I think it has potential. Again, there are going to be those who do not need this support, and I will need to think about whether everyone does it anyway or some folks do something else. I have time on this one since my current class ends mid-January and I won’t have time to do everything between now and then, but I’m definitely going to move this to a front burner item.

Just writing. I’ve been really trying to do this. My summer workshop reminded me of and reaffirmed my belief in this strategy in addition to convincing me that it would work in high school. My class has been doing a lot of short writing in online forums, in class, wherever. On the recent reflections that the students wrote, many commented on the amount of writing, not always in a complementary way, but many of those same students also said they felt more confident in their writing.

Now if I could just go back to not having to give letter grades, that would be great.