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John's earliest experiences teaching were in elementary school reading to younger students and tutoring those struggling in math. He continued to participate in tutoring programs well into his college years, earning an award from AmeriCorps for his service. While working as an English teacher overseas in Taiwan, he began using interactive comics to promote creative language skills among his ESL students - the Create a Comic Project.
John brought the project stateside in 2006 and has worked with libraries, community centers, and schools in a variety of locations serving diverse populations. He expanded the project beyond a creative writing exercise to include activities in public health, science, and math. He has given presentations at a number of conferences, including the Society for Public Health Education, Pop Culture Association, and Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching.
The CCP uses two kinds of templates for instruction: blank panels, allowing kids to draw their own, and pre-drawn comics with the original dialogue bubbles blanked out. Pre-drawn templates use art from comics all across the web, representing a broad swath of the online cartooning community. The CCP is arguably the single largest multi-comic educational collaboration of its kind.
This website is dedicated to hosting the creations of the students who participated in the CCP. Both original and "remixed" comics are posted here for all to see. Every comic here is the work of one or more children. While they were provided guidance and technical knowledge (what a dialogue bubble is, how to read expressions, etc.), care was taken not to tell the kids what to write. So each comic posted here is the free and open creation of a young mind.
"Be afraid. Be very afraid."
The breakthrough occurred when I came across Yukihime's "Penny Arcade Remix." I quickly turned to using a familiar comic - Strange Candy - and used it to make a number of templates. The activity was wildly successful with all my students and I wrote up a formal activity guide so other teachers at my school could use it. In August 2005, Hess published a version of the CCP as part of its curriculum, spreading it to roughly 60,000 students across the ROC and Singapore. As far as I know, the activity is still being used there to this day.
After moving back to America to start graduate school in Connecticut, I noticed that in the area where I was living there were a lot of disadvantaged youth whose schools couldn't afford good extracurricular activities. As a result, many elementary school students were left with nothing to do once school was out. Students weren't getting the quality of education they needed to really succeed.
To help give back to the community, I re-structured the Create a Comic Project into an afterschool program based in the main branch of the local library, with several significant differences and improvements over the early version I used in Taiwan. The new program (which I dubbed CCP v2.0) started in the fall of 2006. The kids really had fun finding ways to express themselves and the parents and librarians lauded the project's educational value. The CCP 2.0 ended June 2, 2007, when I had to move.
The Create a Comic Project began again in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It held several workshops in the area, earning sponsorships from several institutions including the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Carnegie Library, and the University of Pittsburgh. Among the notable CCP events in Pittsburgh was a collaboration with the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh to host a 200 student field focused trip from Northview Elementary in April 2008. The comic project worked most often with the Collegiate YMCA as part of its 2008-2009 after school program at Sunnyside Elementary. It was also part of their 2008 and 2009 summer camp program. Having to move again, the final Pittsburgh session of the comic project was held July 15, 2009, at the Northland Library.
In 2009, the project began to host programming at conventions. In April 2009, it hosted a workshop at Tekkoshocon in Pittsburgh. In July 2009, the project was invited to Otakon, the largest anime convention on the east coast, in Baltimore, MD, where it held a panel ("Manga, Literacy, and Children") and two workshops ("Make a Manga!"). The workshops were lauded by participants and Otakon staff. The Workshop Department Head even commented that "Make a Manga!" had achieved the highest retention rates he'd ever seen for an art-based workshop. Based on this success, the project has been invited back to Otakon to host workshops for 2010.
The project is currently located in Austin, TX, and will also be spending time in New York City for 2009-2010. Beyond the fourth Comic Tournament in March 2010, no other workshops or sessions are currently scheduled. The project is in temporary hibernation until it can re-establish itself in its new host cities.
My goal is to expand the program, such as reaching out to English teachers in schools (much as Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade have done) and coordinating community learning projects. I'm in the process of taking the lesson plans from the CCP and converting them to a series of comic books that will help children learn the art and can help adults learn how to teach comics. The first of several CCP comic books was published in March 2008.
The CCP has won five awards so far: three Small Neighborhood Grants from the Community Foundation for New Haven in July 2007, July 2008, and April 2009; a "This is Public Health" Campaign Award from the Association of Schools of Public Health in February 2008; and the "Star of Distinction" for its contributions to the Pittsburgh community from the University of Pittsburgh.
"Mr. Baird...seems excited and committed to engineering and perfecting these learning games. We appreciate his effort."
Margot Kramer, Head Native Speaking Teacher, Hess Educational Organization
"[The Association of Schools of Public Health] is very excited about this project."
-Laura Biesiadecki, Senior Program Manager, Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH)
"Everyone is wildly enthused about your skills and the Create a Comic Project."
-Susan Claus, Children's and Young Adult Services Librarian, Northland Library
"Thank you so much for coming to the HSCC and doing an activity with the kids...It was a hit! The kids really enjoyed it."
Leah Price, Youth Programs Director, Human Services Center Corp.
"This is the good kind of community service, not the kind that misbehaving celebrities get sentenced to."
Gary Tyrell, Fleen
"More fun to look at and less intimidating than blank notebook pages."
Erin Ptah, And Shine Heaven Now and Create a Comic Project Artist
"This sounds great!"
Kazu Kibuishi, Copper and EIC of Flight
"[The Create a Comic Project] sounds great, and I would really love to see what the kids come up with on their own."
Kean Soo, Jellaby
"I'm honored to have my comics be a part of [the Create a Comic Project]...Best of luck with the program."
Amy Kim Ganter, Reman Mythology
"We are just pleased as can be that you are going to be using Girl Genius with your classroom project."
Studio Foglio, Girl Genius
"My buddy [J. Baird] sent in this guest strip by one of his students - it's the funniest (unintentional) parody of my comic I've ever read."
Jeph Jacques, Questionable Content
"It sounds like an excellent project, and we're very happy to be able to help out!"
Shirt Guy Tom, Sluggy Freelance
"Who knew 8 year old girls could write my strip better than me?"
David Willis, Shortpacked
"I think that would be pretty cool! Go for it."
Chris Hastings, Dr. McNinja
"Congrats on a such a great program!"
Jorge Cham, Piled Higher and Deeper
"You have my full support."
Christopher Baldwin, Little Dee
"If it's for education then we're fine with it."
Mohammad Haque, Applegeeks
"I'd be honored if you used Goats for educational purposes!"
Jonathan Rosenberg, Goats
"Best of luck with the project, hope it works out."
Ian McConville, Mac Hall and Three Panel Soul
"Hopefully this will grow into something used in classrooms and such."
Scott Christian Sava, The Dreamland Chronicles
"I think that sounds like a really fun program. Good for you giving kids something cool to do."
Mitch Clem, Nothing Nice to Say
"I think you're doing a wondering thing with your Create a Comic Project!"
Wes Molebash, You'll Have That
"Good luck with your classes - sounds like a very good story building exercise."
Jenn Lee, Dicebox
"Thanks for letting Matt and I be a part of this project - we can't wait to see what the kids will do with them!"
Jessi Bavolack, Geeks Next Door
"I think [the Create a Comic Project is] an excellent opportunity to help children develop literacy and creative skills."
Brooke Spangler, A Girl and Her Fed
"[The Create a Comic Project] sounds like a wonderful way to help get kids more involved in writing."
Erin Lindsey, Venus Envy
"I'm for your idea, anything to promote comics...Have fun and good luck."
Hampton Yount, Rob and Elliot
"What a cool project! I know I would have loved to have something like this going on when I was in grade school."
Lindsay Smith, Daisy is Dead
"Knowing that Kastle Comics is going to be helping kids get interested in comics and writing and stuff is very exciting!"
Sarah White, Kastle Comics
"It sounds like a wonderful program."
Bryan Wong, Seasons of Constancy
"I'm a fan of anything that gets kids doing literary stuff, so by all means, go ahead."
Faith Erin Hicks, Demonology 101
"I think that's a great project and I'd be overjoyed to help."
Katie Tiedrich, Awkward Zombie
"I'm all for teaching kids comics!"
Barry Linck, Phineus: Magician for Hire
"Good luck and I applaud your endeavor."
Bryan Climer, Something Like Life
"I'm glad that my work can be used for something like this."
"I find the Create a Comic Project very fascinating, as a both vehicle for education and generating continued interest in the arts."
"Your CCP project is an excellent idea and I have been seeing serious lack of originality in many anime fanarts the young people have been drawing lately. So I am happy to be of a help with that."
Jeffrey Anderson, The Realm of Sailor Energy