Updated: Sep 26, 2018
All my life I've been jealous of people who could draw or paint or make other types of visual art. I love art. And I've always longed for the technical ability to create some myself. In fact, I've written here before about the fact that I am not an artist, but today I've decided that's not true. I am an artist. It just took me 40+ years to figure it out. And today, thanks to a tweet from Shannon Miller, I had the opportunity to share the story of how I found my inner artist with a group of eager and talented 5th graders, thousands of miles away, in Van Meter, Iowa. (Plus, since it was Talk Like A Pirate Day, I got to wear a pirate hat!)
It was AWEsome!
And, it all started with an avatar.
When Shannon asked me to show her kids how I create my avatars, I knew I wanted to talk about why avatars are cool, in general. I am a big fan of avatars. Whether working with kids or adults, I love to provide learners with the opportunity to create an avatar that can be used to share things about themselves. Plus, I think for kids (and adults) who are sometimes self-conscious or have more serious issues related to body image, self-esteem, etc., avatars provide an opportunity to focus on the stuff about ourselves that we like, while also revealing other aspects of our personality or while sharing things that we value. (But don't take my word for it, smarter people than me have written about this very thing here. And here too.)
And the kids got it right away.
With zero prompting from me, they defined an avatar as a character that is made up of stuff that "looks like you" and that "you think is cool." I could not have put it better myself. AND they easily picked out examples of both in my avatars, which was just so much fun.
It's not about the tool.
Today, I showed the kids in Van Meter how I use an app called Art Studio to create my avatars. I won't lie, I love this app because it is very forgiving, provides the opportunity for endless do overs AND allows me to share my work easily. BUT (and this is a big but!) there are lots and lots of other tools**out there that likely do the same thing.
Look at it this way, when you go out to dinner at your favorite restaurant, the fork isn't the thing you remember most. When it comes to teaching, the same should be true about the tool or technology. Like a fork or spoon, the app or website is only the vehicle through which we create or access the awesome. What really nourishes us, is the instruction. The lessons we learn are what lasts - not the tool that got us there.
In this case, it was super rewarding to talk to kids about avatars and to show them how after 40ish years of envying those who were able to draw with a pen/pencil, an avatar helped me unlock my inner artist.
There are some tools that helped us connect today. And they are:
Art Studio: an app for iPad that I use to draw things like avatars and zombies. Reflector: an app for either Mac or PC that I used to mirror my display on my computer. Google+ Hangouts: this is how we connected. Plus, I used the screen share feature to show the kids my computer screen (which, because I was also using Reflector) allowed me to show them what I was doing on my iPad. Google+ Hangouts on Air: this is how Shannon live streamed and recorded our lesson.
And, of course, the library is the perfect place for this meaningful work to take place.
For as long as there have been books, librarians have used literature to help kids celebrate differences, see the beautify in the unusual and know that when given a choice, they should always choose kind. To me, this work is just a branch from the same tree.
Finally, because I am always thinking about what administrators expect from and how they evaluate the work of, teacher librarians, I want to point out that if this had been taking place in my library and my principal had walked in, she would have seen me increasing my students' global awareness, using technology to transform education, connecting the dots between literature and real world applications, creating a space in which kids learn to communicate, collaborate and connect AND helping to strengthen my profession by sharing my work beyond the walls of my school. Not bad for a 20 minute lesson that occurred within the confines of a fixed schedule AND that began with a single tweet.
So... big, big thanks to Shannon and the 5th grade students at Van Meter. I had a blast learning and sharing with you on "Talk Like A Pirate Day!" And I can't wait to see all the avatars you create. Go Bulldogs!
**My pal Gwyneth Jones created an amazing list of digital avatar creators that cannot be beat. If you're looking for a way to engage learners in this kind of activity, or you want to create your own avatar, this is an excellent place to start!