Balancing Concern and Possibilities

Like most schools in Massachusetts, where there is a new law around bullying issues, we spent much of our first day back in professional development sessions centered around bullying and cyberbulling. Under our new state law, there will be detailed reporting procedures, a trail of action taken by administrators, and introduction of a bullying curriculum. It’s an important issue and we need more discussions. But I wonder about the message that was sent yesterday to the elementary teachers by our first speaker.

Cindy Boyle, who is a community educator with the regional District Attorney’s team, was energetic, engaging, funny and clearly has talked a lot and worked a lot with kids. She cares about young people. That was evident.  She was also upfront, letting us know that her perspective on the use of technology to engage in bullying behavior (through messaging, comments, etc.) is seen through the prism of the justice system. She urged us to see the issue through the eyes of an educator, too.

She also made it clear that the fears over predators scouring the Internet for victims is so statistically rare, and happens in certain situations, that those fears are not what should be worrying us. It’s the regular kids that need to be in our field of vision. The kids with a cell phone, or a computer.

Then, she launched into a presentation about how prevalent technology is in the lives of young people, how often clueless many young people are about their “digital footprints,” how she works in small groups to help youths see what digital detritus they leave behind, and how technology can be used to decrease the social interactions of people to such a degree that bullying can take place easily enough. She also took gaming to task for its use of cheating by sharing codes, violence in first person games and anti-social behaviors of users.

A few things she presented were not quite correct. She used a recent Kaiser Family study in which young people were show on average to be consuming media about 7 hours a day. Boyle told us that the study showed that kids use the Internet for 7 hours a day. There were some gasps around me. And she told us that when you load a video to YouTube, anyone anywhere can write a comment saying whatever they want (she had a slide with some vicious comments to demonstrate her point). Another teacher questioned her on this, and she started to backtrack about privacy controls. Just to be clear: you can shut off all comments, all video responses, all ratings when you load your video, just to be clear. And the news articles she shared made their point dramatically, all right, with reports of teachers being penalized and students being reprimanded, etc.

I imagine that the majority of my colleagues probably just shut the door on the possibilities of using web-based technology with that one single presentation because even though Cindy Boyle made it clear that education is a key component to stopping bullying online, I imagine a lot of teachers thinking the easiest way is to not even bring technology into the classroom.

Although she had asked us to view the talk through our own eyes, I think the fears that she put in place may have overwhelmed any considerations of possibilities for Internet-based work, including writing for an audience, connecting with global partners, composing in multiple media, etc. Those positive learning elements seemed diminished in the shadow of worry that she cast over us.

Peace (in the balance),

What I’ve been up to … Bassman Comics

While I was away on a blogging vacation in August, I also kept creating more Bassman webcomics, in which I am poking fun at my love of music and playing in rock and roll bands. My hope is to get my 12 year old son to take these basic comics and do the artwork. He started the project but then stopped.I think it was right around the time he finally earned an iPod touch. Hmmm.

This is what he drew up for me first:
Bassman drawn (1)
Here is a collection of the 20-odd strips I am working on with Bassman:

Peace (in the frame),

My 25-Word Story Collection on Prezi

I’m back on my blog as I gear up for getting back to school next week. It’s been a nice vacation away from blogging, but I have been writing and doing other things. I’ll slowly share some of those things as the days go along. One of the things I’ve been doing that has me thinking a lot is writing 25-word stories on Twitter. This idea was made know to me by Brian Fay, a colleague in the National Writing Project, and you have to tell (try to tell) a story within 25 words. The concept fits perfectly with Twitter, of course, and there is a collection of stories at #25wordstory.

I’ve written about 20 or so of the little guys. It’s a challenge to lay the groundwork of a tale but use brevity in doing so. You leave out a lot more than you put in. You have to think in terms of hints and motivations more than character development. I am hoping this kind of activity will tighten up my other writing.

This morning, I popped them into Prezi. Take a look:

Peace (in the writing),

The Great August Blog Pull-Back

It’s the time of year when I step back from blogging for a stretch and give my mind and my blog a rest. If you are a regular reader, thank you for coming by each day and I will be writing again when September rolls around. If you are a newcomer, welcome to my blog site and I hope you find me again in a few weeks.

I’ll still be writing here and there (on Twitter, at our iAnthology, for various websites where I write reviews — although I’ll be slowing down all around there, too, in August), but not here at Kevin’s Meandering Mind. I find that stepping away from the blog makes me appreciate the act of blogging more on the return, and allows me to concentrate on other things, like my family.

Write to you soon!

Peace (in rest mode),

Environmental Glogging

Now that I have decided to join in with the Voices on the Gulf project for this coming year, I realized that I needed to go back to some environmental projects from last year and pull some together on a website. These projects were done on Glogster and were part of the culminating work after reading the novel Flush by Carl Hiasson.

The glog projects were built around an interest in an environmental issue, although most seemed to choose endangered animals as their topics. I want to have them on a website because I want to be able to show some examples as we move into doing writing and research around the Gulf oil spill and recovery efforts this year. I see Glogster as one platform for composition by my sixth graders.

Visit the Environmental Glog site.

If you want to learn more about using online poster sites like Glogster, I wrote an article over at Learn NC a few months ago called Digital Posters: Composing with an Online Canvas and created this glog, too.

Peace (in the glogging),

Joining “Voices on the Gulf”

August means I am already thinking of the start of  the school year , and I decided this week that I am going to join in on the new Voices of the Gulf project that is being launched by Paul Allison, Chris Sloan and others to galvanize students around environmental issues.

I’m not sure how the work with Voices on the Gulf will emerge for my students, but I do like the idea of connecting many youth voices from all over the country together to share writing, images, videos and resources, and then move into positive community action, that stem from the aftermath of the Gulf Oil Disaster.

Last spring, I spent an entire day talking with my students about oil, the Gulf of Mexico, environmental issues and energy policy. I wish I had had that discussion earlier in the year, because they were so fired up to do some sort of community action project even as time ran out on us. I sort of felt like I let them down.

Ideally, I’d like to use the Voices on the Gulf site forinquiry projects for my sixth graders for the course of the year — a common theme that connects at various points. I need to think more, reflect a bit on what that might look like in my Language Arts classes. I’ll share out as I know more myself, and I hope that you, too, might consider having your class join the Voices on the Gulf venture.

Paul and Susan Ettenheim and others have been discussing the idea for a few weeks at Teachers Teaching Teachers, and the podcasts are slowly being published by Paul. It’s a good place for me to start thinking. Their guests have included teachers in areas directly affected by the oil spill, and their students will be part of the Voices on the Gulf, which is a great reason for me to get my students involved.

Right now, Paul is establishing some teacher leaders to help coordinate various elements of the site, and Gail Desler and I have been designated as folks who will be helping with the element of younger students (elementary) on a channel called Our Space (K-6) where students can share stories, poems, reflections, photos and more. Don’t ask me about the logistics, yet, since I am not quite there with the planning.

The other day, Paul asked teachers to begin checking out the Voices on the Gulf website, and adding content, so I created this poem about the Gulf  and shared it there.


The Gulf:  A Poem

By Kevin Hodgson

by negligence
by storms
the coast groans under the weight
of our desires

We ignore the sun
argue against the wind
temper our fears of fusion
and dig deeper than ever
into the depths of the waters

and pray the pipes can hold
so that we can illuminate
and communicate
and move from here to there
in a trail of exhaustion

set out behind us
even as we ignore the near past
in order to gaze into the near future
with no consequences of our actions
on this fragile world

There’s room for you and your students, too, at Voices on the Gulf.

Peace (in the inquiry),

Narcissistic Viewing: Teaching the New Writing

Recently, I decided to do a search on the book that I helped co-edit and write a chapter for — Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom — just to see if anyone was writing about it. Our aim was to showcase ways in which technology might be changing the teaching of writing, particularly in the spotlight of standardized testing and assessment and state curriculum. When Charlie, Anne and I were planning the book as editors, and then working on it over the course of two years with various writers, we hoped it would be something useful for classroom teachers.

But you never know.

Happily, the book has its share of mentions at various websites. It seems like much of the responses are positive and that the information is useful. I even found an entire wiki site dedicated to the book as well as a glog, which is something quite cool.

I am collecting the tidbits in the LiveBinder show above and will add when I find new things. If you are a reader of the book, I thank you and hope you found it helpful.

Peace (in the viewing),

Responsibilty, Respect in Online Spaces

Gazette Article Aug2010

Last week, I  submitted to our regional newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, which has been running a series of columns under the banner of  “The Aspire Project” around issues of bullying, respect and other issues that came out of two young suicides in our area.  One of those local young people, Phoebe Prince, has been the subject of many national publications and media, particularly since her high school tormentors used social networking spaces to target her. The other, a boy from the big urban center, who also took his own life around the same time is mostly forgotten in the news.

I’ve been waiting for someone to write about the use of online spaces for the Aspire Project. Finally, I couldn’t wait for others, so I wrote my own short essay on the topic of respect and responsibility when it comes to technology.  My attempt here is to urge teachers not to turn their heads away from these online places, and instead, use the use of these sites as a way to foster community and communication. That said, I acknowledge that it is a difficult journey for wary teachers.

Earlier this week, my column hit the front page of the newspaper, and I have received a handful of comments from parents and teachers that I see at my sons’ baseball games, and in our neighborhood, and at camp drop-off. Most are not sure what they need to be doing, nor how to enter into the conversations. One teacher noted that their school forbids most use of technology, so the possibility of online work is almost nil.

I decided to make the piece a podcast, too, and so here it is:

Listen to “Expect Responsibility, Respect in Online Spaces” (note: the podcast essay is about 6 minutes long)

I’m not pretending I have all the answers, but I do believe my last line sums up a lot about my thinking: “We need to be paying attention.”

Peace (in the reflection),

Epic Fail on a Shakespearean Scale

(A note of disclosure: my blog title for this story is hyperbole for sure, but I could not resist the rhyme! I hope you understand. Also, this is part of the Epic Fail Story Day at The Tempered Radical. )

Learn more about this project

Each year, my sixth graders launch into a unit of study about the origins of the English Language. It’s fun stuff, allowing them to play with words in all sorts of ways, from reading parts of of the novel Frindle to inventing words to examining words from other languages that have crept into our English.

One element of this unit is to take a look at William Shakespeare, who was an incredibly active inventor of words (when did that guy have time to sleep, anyway?). For most, this is the first introduction into Olde Early Modern English and I took the lead from my wife, a former high school teacher, to use Shakespearean insults to liven up the class. (One day, my principal walked in as I had the kids lined up on two sides of the room, shouting out Shakespearean insults to one another. Luckily, he likes an active classroom. And just as lucky, the kids didn’t turn the insults on him.)

One year, as an extension activity, I found a random Shakespearean insult generator on the Web and embedded it into our classroom blog (note: it’s not the one embedded here. I could not find the one I used). This was before I was using Edublogs as host for our classroom blog, and the platform I was using was Manila (anyone remember that?). I was relatively new to blogs, and the platform was a bit unstable at times. It was often under construction, meaning my administrative access would suddenly and unexpectedly no longer exist for short periods of time.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

So, there we are, working on a project. Some kids begin to finish early, and I allowed them to grab the laptops and head to our blog site, and I urged them to check out the insult generator. I notice things were getting a bit quiet in that corner of the room, and then, laughter. Then, more quiet. You know how teachers can get that spidey-sense that something is not right? That’s what I got.

“Um, Mr. H, you need to see this.”


“That Shakespeare thing. It’s … inappropriate.”


I rushed over and sure enough, the insults were a bit more randy than I had expected, particularly for sixth graders. I had briefly checked out the site and it had seemed fine. I guess I needed to spend a bit more time with the generator before sharing it with my students. I can’t remember the exact insults, but “breasts” and other explicit body parts were there. It was all true Shakespeare, but still. I quickly got onto my desktop computer, hoping to remove the blog post with the embedded generator. Normally, I could do this in a second.

Not on this day. Manila was down. No access. I couldn’t do a thing to my site. The generator continued its magic, sputtering out insults with every click of the mouse.

What could I do? I told my students to turn the laptops off. Of course, by then, every kid in the classroom was crowded around the few that were online, trying to see what made me rush to my computer. They were clicking through quickly now, trying to find the profane insults before I hit the power button myself. Finally, all the laptops were shut down. I gave a little talk about all the kinds of things you can find online and explained how Shakespeare was not afraid of language (quick, turn it into a lesson, my teacher voice said) of all kinds.

“Well, I guess we learned more about Shakespeare than you wanted, eh, Mr. H?” one of my students asked, not needing an answer.

Yep. And I learned (again) that I needed to be a bit more vigilant about what I bring my students to, including spending more than a few minutes scanning through insult generators.

Peace (in the fail),