New literacies and frogs

I visited the University of Connecticut in Storrs yesterday. It was a brief stop, but enough to be once again impressed with the excellent work of the New Literacies Research Team, led by Don Leu. They use new media, not simply to enhance or modernize in a superficial way, but to return classroom literacy to its roots in real communication. Nearly every project I heard about emphaizes reading and writing with a purpose and communication with real audiences.

For example, one project links a fourth-grade class studying the continents with a first-grade class in another state doing the same. The fourth-graders made online slide presentations to help teach the younger students, but quickly learned that their language was too advanced. They then recorded audio explanations to help explain things better.

On the way to UConn, I passed through nearby Willimantic, which is famous for its legend,“The Battle of Frog Pond”. This great battle occurred in 1754 around the time of the French and Indian War. It started with a huge racket in the middle of the night. The terrified villagers seized their muskets and prepared for the attack. In some accounts, they fired wildly across the town common. But no attack materialized. Instead, when morning arrived, they found hundreds of dead bullfrogs. A nearby pond had dried up causing the bullfrogs to fight for the remaining water.

Later, American Thread Company established a mill in the town, which grew to be one of the largest producers of thread in the world. Willimantic became known as “Thread City,” and today boasts four statues on its bridge across the Willimantic River, each with a huge thimble and a giant, now silent, bullfrog.