Sacred Places

“I made a frickin’ logo!” So says an excited student in a video he posted in a class project concocted by Robert Puckett. The Sacred Places project brings together the work of over 50 students in a Google Map that can be shared and viewed by anyone. Look, I’ll share it with you:

The idea is to get students to think about themselves through the lens of place, and consider how they might represent themselves through visual and written texts. Their ideas manifested in several components of the larger project:


Sacred Places Essays
I had the opportunity to co-teach this portion of the project with Puckett. After brainstorming topics using and drawing maps, students wrote narratives about places that are important to them. The essays were written in Google Docs, which allowed them to collaborate with teachers and student partners during the composing process. It also made them easy to link to the Google Map.

Students used the text of their essays to create Wordles, which make art out of words.

Self Portraits
Many of these are still in the works, but students learned a process for integrating the text of their essays with photographs of themselves. The resulting images look like grayscale portraits of the students, but they are made up entirely of twisted, darkened, repeated words.

Early in this process, students were asked to think about themselves metaphorically. Puckett had them visualize themselves as animals, which then became the inspirations for logos the students designed to represent themselves.These logos then became the students’ pins, which mark their “sacred places” on the Google map.

Reflection Videos
Students recorded videos of themselves reflecting on the project and the work they completed. It is their chance to pull their thoughts and their learning together and reflect on what they gained from it.

How It All Comes Together
When you look at the Google Map initially, all you see is the world cluttered with overlapping icons. Zoom in and you begin to discover that each icon is pinned to an exact location–the same location the student wrote about in his Sacred Places essay. Click on the icon to open a window with a photograph of the student and links to wordles, essays, portraits and videos. In a way, the map allows students to say, “HERE I am.”

Why It Works
One student stopped me in the cafeteria yesterday to ask if I had looked at the Google Map. He was excited about sharing his work through this digital tool; I was equally excited about the effect digital publishing had on his writing. He said that when he went back to his essay, he realized it didn’t quite make sense–not for a public audience. So? So he rewrote it. Publishing motivated the process of reflection and revision. It prompted critical thinking and genuine effort.

In part this project is just cool; however, it goes beyond cool. It allows Puckett to teach his graphics curriculum and draw the best he can out of his students. At the same time, his students learn web tools–specifically Google Docs and Google Maps–and writing skills. It’s 21st century. It’s WAC. It’s Common Core. It’s everything it should be.

It’s also wonderfully imperfect. You won’t see cookie cutter essays. You won’t see many perfectly edited essays. You won’t see flawless icons. What you will see are a series of works that show where students are in their own learning. And that’s a pretty sacred place, too.

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