Map with Me: A #WriteOut Hangout

Map of Connection

Last night, we gathered together for the first live event for Write Out, an open learning experience that comes from the partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service with a focus on place-based learning and writing.

In the Map with Me hangout, we talked about the partnership between NPS and NWP, the value of making maps as a literacy device for storytelling, why and how place can inform learning and writing, and what we have been up with Write Out.

We also did a mapping activity in the chat, asking folks to map out an organization they are part of. We then shared our maps during the course of the session (mine is above, showing the bridges between our Western Massachusetts Writing Project at the University of Massachusetts with the Springfield Armory Historic Site and the urban school system and the specific social justice middle school we work with.)

You can find more information about Write Out at the website.

Peace (mapping it),

PS — there is a WriteOut Twitter Chat tomorrow (Thurs) at 7 p.m. est, using the #writeout hashtag. If you have never done a chat, we have a tutorial with helpful tips and information.

#WriteOut: Mapping the Immigrant Experience at the Springfield Armory

Write Out Springfield Armory Map Photo Icon

One of the hopes for Write Out — an open learning experience now underway by National Writing Project and the National Park Service — is to use mapping as a way to surface stories, and make connections. I’ve worked with the Springfield Armory now for a few years through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I’ve led professional development for teachers and facilitated summer camps for inner city youths at the Armory.

What often surfaces during our dives into primary sources and themes of social justice is the immigrant worker experience, and how many of the workers during the heyday of the Armory arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, from other parts of the world, and that immigration wave changed the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts forever.

The map I created, using Google’s My Maps, is designed to visually show the country of origin of a number of Springfield Armory workers, complete with a short biography, and connections from their home countries to the Armory itself. Using primary source material, I found short bios and photographs of seventeen workers and I asked some of the other teachers and rangers involved with me at the Springfield Armory to record readings of the text.

Each pin of each immigrant worker has an image and a voice narration as a video.

What comes to visibility are the stories of these workers, with snippets of their home countries, their families here, the work they did at the Armory, and other odd facts. It’s not much but it’s enough to give a flavor of the immigrant experience, and the map makes those stories more visible than ever.

Here are all the videos, gathered together into one video:

How can maps help tell your stories? (There is a helpful guide to various maps at Write Out, if you need inspiration)

Peace (coordinate it),



GeoLocating Yourself on the #WriteOut Map

We have a map theme going for the Write Out project, an open learning invitation now underway from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service designed to support place-based writing. Teachers, park rangers and writers are invited to play with media and writing, and the theme this week is Mapping Possibilities.

Thus, the open and editable Google map.

If you are not sure how to add a pin of your location (and hopefully a video or an image or some text, too) to the Write Out GeoLocate Yourself Map, we’ve created a tutorial to help with step-by-step instructions. You do need a Google account (unfortunately) and Chrome browser seems to work the best. And you need to be at the map in Google (you can’t add a pin here, in this embeddable version, which is a read-only version)

We’ve got 40 pins and counting …

You also can read the first newsletter to get a sense of some of the many different mapping-style activities you might want to consider with Write Out. There are also a ton of resources around place-based learning and around the use of mapping to tell stories in many ways.

Peace (coordinate it),

Mapping Connected Possibilities with #WriteOut

Today (July 15) is the official launch day of the Write Out project, an open learning partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service to connect educators with NPS and other park spaces for project-based learning opportunities.

You can read the first newsletter of the two-week project here. You’ll see a variety of different activities, depending on your time frame, and all built around the concept of mapping out the world, your connections and potential partnership possibilities. We’ll also be hosting a Map with Me Google Hangout on Tuesday and a Twitter Chat on Thursday (both take place at 7 p.m. eastern standard time).

Read the first Write Out Newsletter

As with many Connected Learning/Open Learning projects, you engage when you can, and how it makes sense for you.

It’s always fine to follow your own path or to wander into the wild.

Peace (writing out),

Away On a Short Blog Vacation

I am away for a few days with friends and I could use a little blogging downtime, so I won’t be doing any writing here for a few days.  I’ll probably be poking around the Interwebz here and there (getting ready for Write Out project), but only sporadically. Thanks for visiting.

Peace (and rest and rejuvenation),

How Headlines Inspire Songwriting (A Song for Two Fathers)

Like you, perhaps, the images and sounds of children being taken away and separated by the United States government under this heartless president has struck a nerve of humanity in me. As a writer, I often try to deal with those things through words, and as a songwriting, sometimes through music.

This song tells the story of two fathers — one who is coming to the US to escape the violence of home and one who is taking to the streets in protest over the treatment of such immigrant families.

Peace (singing it),


Perspectives On The Writing We Did

We ran out of time in the school year to do the kind of thorough reflection that my students really should do at the end of the year in my ELA class. Some got to the digital writing portfolio project and did a fine job, while others were finishing up another project, and the clock ran out on us. Sigh.

But this list that I created as guide is a nice overview of the entire school year, seen through the lens of writing and technology. The list itself gave my students some perspective on what we accomplished through the 2017-18 school year.

  • Dream Scene (Slides)
  • Time Travel Story (Docs)
  • Fake News Comic (Slides)
  • Peace Poster Artist Statement (Docs)
  • Booksnap (Draw)
  • Independent Book Report (Slides)
  • Video Game Review (Docs)
  • Parts of Speech Color-Coding (Docs)
  • Tall Tale Story (Docs)
  • Quidditch Play Design (Docs)
  • Invention Essay (Docs)
  • Eponym Invention (Draw)
  • Interactive Fiction (Slides)
  • Rikki Tikki Tavi Story Remix (Docs)
  • Three Haiku Poems (Slides)
  • Digital Poetry Book (Slides)
  • Argument Essay (Docs)
  • Stuck in a Game Story (Docs)
  • Digital Picture Book Project (Slides)

Looking at it this way, I can see (and my students could remember) the wide variety of projects and range of writing we accomplished in the school year.

Peace (writing it),

Book Review: Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now

Jaron Lanier is a well-known name in Silicon Valley, and I’ve enjoyed some of his books in the past. His latest — Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now — is not as strong as some of his other books, and he gets too cute with his explanatory acronyms at times, but the book has merit for informed reading.

I won’t go through all his arguments, but it boils down to this observation from a technology evangelist from inside the technology industry (with a decidedly humanistic approach to technology):

Companies like Facebook and Google that have created algorithms that sell user personal data to third party companies (See Cambridge Analytica controversy) have created a toxic atmosphere that feeds on negativity because the powerful emotions of negativity — anger, sadness, frustration, isolation — fuels interaction, and interaction with the technology leads to profit for companies.

The only way companies will get the message to change their course is for users to stop using the technology. In fact, Lanier argues that this current business model is unsustainable in the long run, and that if Facebook and Google don’t consider other models of profit, they will be doomed. Until then, though, the degradation of experience will continue.

Unless you make a choice to stop.

Lanier argues that we make that choice, and quit. Not the Internet itself. Not the connections we make. But quit the social networking systems that don’t value users as people, and whose algorithms (now set in motion and running rather autonomously) nurture dissent and friction. He cites examples from Black Lives Matter to the revolution in the Middle East and more, as examples of how the use of social media begins positively and then quickly turns negative when the algorithms amplify negativity for engagement.

He also acknowledges that everyone’s situation is different, and quitting for one person might be easier than for another. His final message is, be informed and make an informed choice.

Interestingly, Lanier is not entirely pessimistic. He believes there is still time to change things for the better. He offers up some different solutions, including the idea of users paying a small fee to use social networks, but also, the idea of social networks paying users for any content that engages people on the same network. So, you would pay (creating a new financial system for companies) and they would pay you to write and create interesting content.

Would it work? I don’t know.

Will people really quit in numbers enough to effect change? I don’t know.

Is the current system sustainable? I don’t know but I don’t think so.

Peace (through networks),

Slice of Life: What Would Mr. Rogers Do Is the Wrong Question To Ask

(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.)

There’s a moment towards the end of the fantastic new documentary about Fred RogersWon’t You Be My Neighbor? — where a gentleman, Junlei Li, who works at the Fred Rogers Center looks directly at the camera, and says something along the lines of: It’s not what Mr. Rogers would do. That’s not the question we need to be asking. It’s what are you going to do?

The comment comes as the film wrestles with the current climate of incivility, of unkindness, of using media for personal gains by finding and exploiting the faults in others. Fred Rogers saw the world was changing in the years before his death, and he was saddened by it.

Aren’t we all?

Li’s point is that we can’t look to media figures, just as we can’t look to sports icons, to change the world for the better. We have to look to ourselves, and how we treat each other, how we tap into kindness and caring and understanding. It’s heart-breaking that such talk sounds old-fashioned in the current age of a president who acts like a thug on the wires, but it’s true.

We can take care of each other. We need to take care of each other.

My wife and I — and pleasantly surprising us both, our 18-year-old son joined us — got out of the scorching heat yesterday to watch the movie in the theater, and my wife and I were nearly crying at times (not sure about the kid). I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but I know of him, of course, and of his work. To see his journey and his mission, and his impact on kids through the medium of television, is powerful viewing.

There’s another moment in the movie that also stuck with me. Right at the end, all of the people who are being interviewed as given a minute to remember someone who impacted their life in the positive. The camera stays with them, holding their gaze, quietly, as they think and remember, and even cry at the memory.

Let’s remember those people who helped us, and be the people who others might remember, too.

Peace (in the heart),

At Middleweb: The Last Working Draft Column

I’ve loved writing for Middleweb, a site dedicated to teaching the middle grades. After five years, I have decided to pull the plug on my monthly column (which began as a bimonthly column) called Working Draft. It’s been fun to write, and inspiring to think about topics, and reflective practice from teaching perspectives, and I have nothing but praise for editors John and Susan.

Read my farewell piece

I also linked in the final column to a handful of pieces that I think still resonate for me.

I am also pleased that my National Writing Project friend and collaborator over the years, Jeremy Hyler, will soon be launching his own ELA column at Middleweb, filling in the gap I leave behind. Jeremy starts writing sometime this month.

Peace (in the writing),