A Month of Morning Doodles (Collected)

Every morning, all month long, I have been doodling on a theme with my friends in CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration). My approach has been to keep it simple: I used a stack of very small sticky notes, and my doodles on a sticky note were often done in pencil. I purposefully kept myself to a short time limit — read the theme, get inspired, doodle and share.

Collage bw

As a result, some of my doodles … look like they were done by a toddler with a big pencil (which is not to disparage any toddler artists out there, or the use of big pencils). Drawing has always been a creative weakness of mine, but I liked the freedom of the daily inspiration and I was often very impressed by the doodling of others in the #DecDoodle Twitter stream and elsewhere.

I gathered up all of my 31 doodles and sorted them, with a time-lapse camera running, and then put them all into an Animoto video. I lost the small bits of color I ever used  in the doodles in this video theme, but I could not resist the party elements.

Thanks, in particular, to Susan W. for inspiring the month of making art in CLMOOC!

Peace (doodle it!),

Reading Student Stories by Playing Student Video Games

Student Video Games Collage

I’ll admit: it’s one of the oddest ways to “read” a piece of student work. I’m digging into the video game of a sixth grader made on Gamestar Mechanic, trying to make my way out of the maze and rescue a character in my role as a hero on an epic quest. I am confronted by dragons, spitting out fire as I dodge and weave, and die. And then, I start the story all over again.

This is how I spent large parts of my vacation week: assessing student stories by playing the video games they have built with stories as frames. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what it means to tell a story in the format of a video game.

Some of the projects are excellent. Games like Bartimaeus’ Quest by Hailey and The Wall’s Secret by Devin and The Quest of El by Megan show student game designers and writers who get it, who understand the idea of story informing the game experience. Other students, not so much, although all of the other writing and reflective work we have done has given me insights into their learning, and allowed me to focus my teaching. I have notes for our conferencing when we return to school next week.

One of my favorite projects, not so much for its final version but for its origin, is a game called Captain Zero and Turtle Man. Two boys have been working on a comic book of the same title, and wanted to use their comic book story as the basis for the game they wanted to develop. Of course, I said, yes! I love when ideas from one genre spill into another.

As I play student games as player and as teacher, I am also assessing these student video game projects through three distinct lenses (all of which the students know and have used as the basis for design):

  • Narrative Story Frame (in this case, the use of the Hero’s Journey loose template);
  • Writing Mechanics within the game’s text areas;
  • Game design

Given that this is the first time nearly every one of my sixth grade students has designed and published a video game, I am not overly strict with these elements (and our grading system is standards-based, meaning the range runs from “meeting expectations” all the way to “beginning to show understanding”). I am looking for growth, and for experimental writing of stories, and of games that engage and challenge and entertain the reader/player.

As a teacher, this work is a very different experience than facing a pile of essays or stories or analytical pieces to read. I am playing the stories of my students (often, over and over, for if I want to see how the story ends or continues, my only way forward is to beat the level and keep moving forward). I leave comments both in public, at the game itself within Gamestar Mechanic, and privately, on an assessment sheet that every student will get back from me.

I am intentionally balancing my remarks in those spaces, knowing that one audience is beyond the student and our classroom (but probably more important an audience than my role as teacher), and the other, is a space for more one to one with my young writer/game designer. I am critical in both, if I need to be, but more celebratory in public.

Peace (game on),



The Power of Student Voice (Sydney Chaffee Keynote)

It’s taken a few weeks, but I finally got around to editing video footage from our Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s fall conference keynote address by Sydney Chaffee, a Massachusetts educator who is the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. Sydney’s keynote speech centered on how to encourage student voice, and how to spark a love of words and language.

I hope you can watch her talk. Be sure to listen to the spoken poem of one of her students — Omar — whose performance of his poem caught the attention of our former state commissioner of education (he passed away earlier this year), who shared Omar’s poem with educators around the state and beyond, and apparently even performed Omar’s poem a few times himself.

Peace (shout it loud),

Dear Gamestar Mechanic .. letters from student game developers

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

One of the many writing activities that I do with my sixth grade students as part of our video game development unit (which is taught in writing class) is to write a letter to Gamestar Mechanic about their project, what they like about the site, and some ideas for making Gamestar even better.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

I’ll be mailing the letters off in early January.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

I don’t know if we will get a response from the company (my main contacts no longer work there and Gamestar is part of the larger eLine Media) but the act of writing to Gamestar — a site we we have been using rather extensively since the start of December — and articulating some ideas gives me a chance to see what they are thinking. The letter follows a community brainstorming about features they wish the site had.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

The letters act as one sort of reflective end point as they finish up their games.

Peace (sincerely),


Book Review: Solo

This is the third Kwame Alexander book that I have read in the past year or so and I am enjoying the ways he (and here, his co-author Mary Rand Hess) use free verse poetry to explore a character’s inner life and inner story. This one — Solo — captured my attention for the music element, as the main character is both a songwriter and musician, and comes from a musical family.

Blade Morrison, 17, has just graduated high school, and he’s a mess. Not quite ready to move on but oh, so ready to move on. His father, a world-famous rock and roll star with all of the stereotypical problems of drugs and alcohol and need for the limelight, has a suffocating personality that vexes Blade. Blade’s mom, who died years earlier, is a memory that both haunts him and guides him.

Oh, and Blade’s girlfriend … well, things are complicated.

And then the complications becomes even more so when Blade learns that he is adopted and that his birth mother is in Africa, doing work in a village in Ghana. So begins the second part of Solo, as Blade comes to understand a bit about himself, his father, and the world at large as he travels to Africa to meet his birth mother.

The book uses scattered verse, sometimes relayed in short dialogue-drive stanzas and sometimes just as short phrases as Blade tries to navigate a difficult world. Music is always just a heartbeat away, however, and the weaving of song and poetry, and story, is a nice mesh done well by Alexander and Hess. We see into Blade’s heart as well as his mind.

This book would be a solid fit for high school students and some upper middle school students. It captures the world of confusion often facing so many teenagers as they take their first steps out in the world, away from the protective net of family. And above all, the story reminds us that love does indeed bind us together, and holds us together even when we least expect it.

Peace (sings the blues),

PS — a bonus video as Kwame Alexander shares how he wrote Solo

Wandering the Map with Eyes Closed, Ears Open

My friend, Wendy, sent me a map from Australia. It is part of the CLMOOC Postcard Exchange, and last month, we were working on mapping as a theme in CLMOOC. Wendy’s map is a Soundscape — the drawn map connects to a playlist on Soundcloud that connects back to the map itself, all with an invitation from her to make a path on the map.


I was intrigued and wondered how best to honor her invitation. I put on my headphones, closed my eyes, and let my imagination wander around her soundscape. Her mix was a collection of her own recording, and then chosen songs from within Soundcloud.


I realized that the listening was giving me a way into her map, which was a sort of story. So I decided to jot down some ideas as I listened, and then found a poem emerging, which later became a sort of free-verse rap of sorts, with stanzas connected to different points on her map that connected to different music in her soundscape.


I decided she probably needed to “hear” my poem response, and so did a version (listen above) and shared it out, hopeful that Wendy knows her map has kept me traveling forward. The words in parentheses connect to her tracks and her points on the map.

A Snail’s Pace: Soundscape Response

I am here
inside the sounds
of this map
that a friend
has drawn true,
a snail’s wandering,
slow, ambling motion
into the unknown blue —
this space is here
between me
and you —
I keep my pen
in its place…

(Sea Turtle)
… where echoes
bloom inside
the clicketyclack
of turtle shells,
the railroad track,
the path, it yells,
as it beckons me
forward …

… the sky’s filled with
fallen stars, of birds
from afar, their wings set
to the beat of
forever blue, forever
this line follows
magnetic north, true

… my feet are in motion,
dancing among the fallen
trees of
the forest,
all hallucination
and emotion,
all appreciation
and devotion,
for gravity has me
turned around,
upside down,
off the ground,
I’m always almost
there …

(North East)
… I hear the noise,
of the Northeast arrow,
the corridor calling my
name, I’m game
for the adventure,
I follow the sparrow …

(South East)
… of the Southeast
flow, something goes
in the direction of justice,
words folding
my heart into
bass lines and mad
rhymes and
a brave face
against these troubling times …

(South West)
… I am disappearing again
into the fingers
of the keyboard, the V
of the geese of the sky
of the distant shore,
where the poems
always flowing …

(North West)
… I’m going,
I’m still going,
you can’t stop me,
everyone is always knowing
this map is more
than the snail’s pace,
it’s the way we play to create
the world as a safe space and
you’ve drawn me out
with love
and peace
and filled us
with your grace.

Peace (off the map),

Creating Print Advertisements for Video Game Projects

Making Video Game Advertisements

I’m continuing to share out elements of our Video Game Design Project, as my students race to the finish line with publishing and reflecting on their work of the past weeks with designing, creating and publishing an original video game with a Hero’s Journey story-frame narrative.

Making Video Game Advertisements

Today, I’d like to share about our Video Game Print Advertisement Campaign assignment, in which we explore the art of advertising and then turn the students loose on making a print advertisement for their own projects. After holiday break, we will hang them up all over the room and hallways.

We begin with a presentation that allows us to closely examine the way video game advertisements are constructed, noting layout, art, lettering and other elements.

Making Video Game Advertisements

Then, I turn the class over to my paraprofessional colleague, who was a graphic artist for various companies before becoming an educator. I am grateful every day for her presence in the classroom. Beyond her skills as a support educator, her knowledge of art and layout is expansive, so she becomes the teacher during this part of our activity. She provides visual examples of works in progress …

Making Video Game Advertisements

Students have to lightly draft out their advertisements in pencil, and then go through a process of creation (after proofreading): blocking out letters and images, erasing pencil marks, coloring in the page. They have a lot of fun with this assignment — art connected to writing connected to design — and seeing them working so hard at something they love to do is always a nice experience.

Video Game Advertisements Dec2017

The results run the gamut — it depends on how careful a student is being, really — but taken together, the ads are always impressive and the posters become visual invitations to play the video game projects that have been working so hard on.

Peace (free and over the counter),