Slice of Life: Rattling The Bones

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The title for this post is sort of click-bait. This is not about Halloween and funny bones. It’s about the final lesson in my Digital Lives unit with my sixth graders, where I talk about bullying in online spaces. While I often try to balance out my Digital Lives unit with lots of positive messages — for all the many ways that technology allows them to compose and connect and learn — this lesson is a bit of hard reality for them.

It’s the only time I will intentionally mention how two students in our area of Western Massachusetts were harassed so much in online spaces that they took their own lives, and how those tragic events triggered the ways we talk about bullying in our state and our schools.

The room gets completely silent and thoughtful, as I see that reality registering in their minds. I see looks around the room when I talk about how police now keep files on students who have engaged in any bully behavior in the school system. I see the seriousness in their eyes, and it feels as if they are too young for all this.

But, of course, they are not too young. They are at the right age for this discussion. Social media is already in their lives, as I know from the survey I did with them and from our discussions.

These sixth graders are heading off to the regional middle/high school next year, where all sorts of new social dynamics kick in, and many of them are already in multiple online social spaces with their smart phones.

I always end with the message of hope and love. Of places where they can turn if they find themselves the victim of online bullying. Of the importance of friends and family. Of us, as teachers, caring deeply for them and being here for them. That they should look out for each other, too, and stand up when needed. To be strong. That despair and loneliness in the face of social media can be countered and dealt with.

Of all the things I said yesterday to my sixth graders, I hope that message is the message they remember the most.

Peace (in the world),

Fake News/Media Literacy: The Slideshow Digital Comic Lesson Plan

Yesterday, I shared out the presentation that I did for my sixth graders around Fake News and Media Literacy skills, providing information and talking points for 11 year olds navigating a strange social media-infused world of truth and fiction.

Today, I want so share out my lesson plan for them, in which they use Google Slides to create a Digital Comic that focuses in on strategies they learned for filtering news. This lesson had two focus points: showing them how to use ‘call outs’ for dialogue bubbles in Slides and how to use the ‘scribble tool’ to free draw, as well as sharing information about Fake News in an engaging format.

As always, I created my own version of the project, making a Slideshow Digital Comic on the Fake News theme. In the next day or two, I will share out some of the student work on comics and fake news.

By the way, making comics in Google Slides is an idea that came from Mike Petty, who has tons of resources on how to do this.

Peace (spilling beyond the frame),

Fake News/Media Literacy Overview

I did a series of lessons this past week with my sixth graders on the idea of Fake News and Media Literacy, and how to become a more active and critical media consumer. This is all part of our Digital Lives unit.

While many of my young students had heard the term “Fake News,” much of the connection was the uttering of the president’s critique of news organizations (you know, the ones that hold him accountable). Trump’s use of the term unsurprisingly co-opts the word and muddies the need for readers of all ages needing more filters for truth.

I put a call out on Twitter, asking for lesson plans and ideas around teaching Fake News for upper elementary/middle school students, and many people shared links and resources. I am very grateful for all of those friends who went out of their way to dig up and share out ideas. Thank you, all.

My aim is to:

  • Define and discuss the concept of Fake News
  • Provide some context
  • Think through some strategies of critical reading

While much of the shared resources was aimed at older kids, I was able to supplement and strengthen a presentation I had created last year for our Digital Lives unit. For example, the slides around vocabulary comes directly from A. Hinton Sainz, who is working on a series of units herself.

In the coming days, I’ll share out the activity that my students were working on to show some understanding of ways to filter through the raft of Fake News in the digital world.

Peace (it’s real),

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week One

James Paul Gee Quote

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan (who once led me into Minecraft with Networked Narratives). This is our first week of responses, and we read the first two chapters.

A few things stand out for me:

  • Gee’s work has had a lot of influence on thinking about literacy and video games, so I have seen some of his video presentations and read smaller pieces, but never the book itself. It’s a bit dated now (2003, and updated 2007) but it seems so far that Gee’s ideas and insights still stand up.
  • Gee’s defining of terms such as affinity spaces (a favorite of mine in relation to CLMOOC), Semiotic Domains (a new one for me), and literacies and learning already has me thinking of my teaching and my own learning.
  • I appreciated that he approached the topic from the standpoint of a father wondering what his son was doing when playing video games, and then as he immersed himself (perhaps more so than most of us would do), he began to uncover the variety of skills and literacies needed to play these games but also the invisible literacies in the design itself (which is where I am most interested).
  • I am curious/confused about this Semiotic Domain concept, and how people immersed in a system of some sort share commonalities of learning and more.  What is this concept? Well, “Semiotic domains as described by Gee (2003) refers to a variety of forms that take on meaning such as images and symbols, sounds, gestures and objects.” It also refers to “… distinct collective consciousness shared by people with similar interests, attributes or skill sets …” — from You can tell there’s a lot to unpack there.
  • The elements of multimedia composition coming together into the video game medium/format is undeniable, and finding ways to showcase those elements seems important, particularly as I work with my students in a few weeks on our own video game design project.

James Paul Gee Quote2

I’ve been reading the book on the Kindle and then using my highlights and notes for sharing of some quotes. This kind of curation works most effectively for me in my busy life for finding and keeping some anchor points. This third quote nearly goes in the direction of immigrant/native, which would have turned me off (even remembering the 2003 publication date), but Gee straddles the line and makes it more about adults needing to pay more attention to what kids are doing.

James Paul Gee Quote3

Come join the conversation. Keegan has an open invitation. Let’s learn together.

Peace (game on),


Don’t Pass Up the Mayhem of Creativity

Stay Creative

My friend, Terry, wrote a blog post about this list of Ways to Stay Creative and then did a bit of a hacking remix on it, and then put out the call to others to remix/hack it, too.

So, of course, I did.

I made the text tumble into itself, saving the phrases “Stay Creative” and “And here is the mayhem” as anchor points.

Peace (and staying creative),

Book Review: Al Capone Does My Homework

We were about five chapters into the third “A Tale from Alcatraz” book by author Gennifer Choldenko when my son announced that “this might be one of those books I want to read myself.” In other words, our read-aloud pace for Al Capone Does My Homework was not keeping up with his interest, and he wanted to know what happened with Moose Flanagan and his family and friends on the prison island of Alcatraz.

One one hand, I am always happy to put another book into his hands. At 12 years old, he is still an avid reader and I want to keep it that way. On the other hand, I too was deep into the story and knew I would miss the read-aloud experience (not to worry, we have a stack of read-alouds ready to go). He took it, read it in a night, and gave it to me, and then I read it over the course of two or three weeks (in-between some other books).

Once again, Choldenko does a marvelous job of creating a story that goes deeper than you first expect, as the story revolves around arson, youth pressure, family (including his older sister, Natalie, whose autism is treated with honesty and compassion by the writer), and the strangeness of living on an island full of the most notorious prisoners in the US system at the time of the setting. (Moose’s father is a warden for the Alcatraz prison).

Capone is mostly in the background here, but his presence is felt, rumbling at the edges of the story. Moose and Natalie and his friends are skillfully constructed by Choldenko, and my son and I will keep our eyes out for a fourth book, if it ever comes.

Peace (on the island of the world),

(My Students’) State of Technology and Media 2017

Sample Screen from Student Survey

Each year, I give a survey to my sixth graders about their use of technology and social media as one entry point into a unit we call Digital Life. I also share the compiled results back with families, too, so they have a sense of trends with technology.

Here are the results of this year’s survey:

A few observations:

  • The amount of time that kids spend on technology is certainly continuing to grow over time, moving pretty solidly into the two/three/more hours a day. This echoes the results of a lot of official surveys of this age group.
  • More and more of my students have Smart Phone, meaning parents are spending a lot of money not just for the phones, but also for the services.
  • Facebook has seen another sharp decline among my sixth graders while Instagram grows at a steady rate for this age group.
  • Snapchat continues to be popular and growing.
  • Fewer students say they have had negative experiences in online spaces than in years past, and this reflects a trend in my surveys. Good news there.
  • More and more students indicate that parents and teachers have had explicit discussions with them about using technology. Another piece of good news.

This is a small sample, of a narrow population group, but for me, I find it valuable as a way to talk about their footprints in the digital world, and what it all means — both in positive terms (connections, sharing, creating) and negative terms (harassment, bullying, privacy). It’s all about the balance.

Peace (in the numbers),

Visual Slice of Life: Avatars on the Window

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Sticky Note Avatars on Window

We’re in the midst of our unit on Digital Life, and we were talking about online identity and the many ways people represent/misrepresent themselves in online spaces for all sorts of reasons: privacy, acceptance, gender, etc.

Before launching into an online activity around building avatars with different sites (and considering using what they made for their school Google Accounts), I had my sixth graders create Sticky Note Avatars and put them on the window as a sort of public display of representations.

They looked pretty neat, all there on the glass.

Sticky Note Avatars on Window

Peace (imagine it),


Peace (falling),

A Poem Emerges from Collaboration

Emergent Poem Collaboration

One of my participatory ideas from my presentation last week on “Emergence: Expecting the Unexpected” for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing was to invite those in the presentation to write an acrostic poem with me. Over the course of a few days, I invited others, too, and the result is pretty nifty. I used an open source writing space called Board.Net (built off elements of the old Etherpad), and used the timelapse element to capture the poem being written.

Peace (in poetry),

PS — Terry Elliott is also using Board as an invitation to play with a poem.

Comic Interpretation: Step Up and Take Action

(Full screen viewing works best)

My friend across many social spaces, Daniel Bassill of Tutor/Mentor Connections, put out a request recently, asking if anyone might be interested in making a comic version of any of his many resources at his site, which encourages partnerships to improve the lives of urban youths.

How could I not give it a try? I read and took notes from a resource entitled “The Role of Leaders” and made my own version.

A PDF of the comic is available, if interested.

Step Up Take Action Comic

Peace (interpreted and amplified),