What ‘Dot’ Will You Make? Come Collaborate!


Tomorrow is International Dot Day, a celebration of creativity and imagination, all connected to Peter Reynold’s picture book, The Dot. It’s all about putting your own creative mark on the world.

I have a writing and art and technology activity planned for my sixth graders today (since tomorrow is Saturday).

What will you do?

Want to do something with me? I have set up an editable Google Drawing with some dots. Claim one and do what every strikes your fancy (but be nice). Or add your own Dot.

Go to our Collaborative Dots (and view the work below)

Peace (always invitational),

Equity Unbound Webcomic: Amplification Effect

Identity and Understanding Comic

I am doing some personal exploration for the Equity Unbound course/class/discussions, with the intent of making regular webcomics (I hope) to think through some of the prompts and points about, as the site says:

… questions of equity issues such as equity in web representation, digital colonialism, safety and security risks on the web, and how these differ across contexts.

Yesterday, I shared a comic and thoughts on how difficult it is to forge our own identities.

Today, I have a comic (above) thinking on how others views impacts how we see ourselves. The last frame/box is the most important of the comic. While it is easy to fall these days into the traps of negativity, I remain hopeful of the possibilities of networked digital spaces to expand not just notions of others, but also some semblance of kindness.

I hope you do, too.

I used kid characters in this comic for purposeful effect — to remember that this world we are in now contain the seeds of the world our children and our young students (I teach in an elementary school) are growing up in. We have an obligation to make it better than it is, for them as much for us.

I hope you agree.

Peace (making it happen),

Equity Unbound Webcomic: Splintered Digital Identities

Composite Identity Comic

I am dipping into Equity Unbound, a new online course/collaboration with Mia Zamora, Maha Bali and Catherine Cronin. They will be working with university students as well as opening things up to other spaces where folks, like you and me, can jump in. (The Twitter tag is here: #unboundeq)  I am always interested in seeing how new offerings can be riffs off previous open learning networks, such as NetNarr, Rhizo, Digiwrimo, CLMOOC, and others.

One of the topics of the first week is to think about the nature of identity. I’ve done regular mulling on this topic of digital identities before and continue to be intrigued by the way we are perceived and the ways we project ourselves through networks and platforms. In my classroom with sixth graders (11 year olds), we have discussions about this in relation to creating avatars for online spaces and gaming platforms. What do your choices about your avatar say about you? About what you want others to think about you?

In some ways, we have the possibility to create new identities or to build off existing interests, to find groups with our interests (that long tail effect) and use identity to connect. In other ways, once we project ourselves into the world, we relinquish (sometimes, rather reluctantly) some authority over that identity since we lose the human interaction (facial expressions, hand movements, emotional reactions) that plays such a large role in the ways we understand another. This tension sits at the heart of the possibility and the problems of engaging in online discussions with others.

See more posts in the Identity tag here at my blog from over the years.

So, I am thinking I might do some webcomics for this Equity Unbound course as much as possible, as another way for me think about different issues. I created the comic above as I was pondering this question of how our digital interactions are often two sides of our identity — sometimes on purpose and sometimes, not.

Peace (framed),


Slice of Life: Surfing the Edge of the Data Flow

(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.)

I sat through a staff session yesterday at our school, where our school psychologist walked us through the use of new intervention assessment tool we will be piloting this year. All students will take the assessment and then we as teaching teams will analyze the data. It’s not quite Response to Intervention but we’re moving in that direction.

Good data, as we know, is valuable. Too much data, we know too, is overwhelming and worthless. I’m not making any insights into this new system. It looks fine and well-designed and likely will be useful for me as a classroom teacher. The sample reports bored down from grade overview, to class overview, to student overview, to skill overview. There’s a lot there.

I am, however, always worrying about losing students as people into the flow of data analysis. Schools are awash in data. We get reams of it from our state testing (a school year later after the assessment, which is not always too helpful) and from our trimester reading assessments (which take a lot of time to conduct but give me valuable insights). Add to that the regular classroom assessments, and soon it feels as if it is an avalanche we are surfing.

I remind myself to … breathe. And then to take each bit of data that is useful and, well, use it as best as I can. If not for intervention groups, then for classroom instruction and for writing workshop and for all the times I interact with individual students.

Otherwise, we are awash in noise.

Look What I Did – Fade to Daft flickr photo by hellocatfood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I remind myself, also, to remember: students are not data point, not now nor ever. They are young people, with strengths and weaknesses, some of which might be uncovered by data and some of which might be discovered through human interactions. They are complicated people with lives outside of school.

Just like us.

Peace (01100001 01101110 01100100 0010000001101100 01101111 01110110 01100101),


PS — https://www.binarytranslator.com/

Book Review: Endling (The Last)

I admit: I’m a sucker for a fast-paced adventure story with world-building and magic at its center. Katherine Applegate’s latest book — Endling (The Last) — is a fine example for middle school and upper elementary readers, with a foot solid in the Hero’s Adventure frame and enough strangeness to captivate a reader.

A previous Applegate book, The One and Only Ivan, is still one of my all-time favorites, and while the writing here in Endling is not quite as strong as that novel (where the voice of Ivan the gorilla still sits with me, years after having read the story), the story of what may be the last creature of its kind in a strange world has a powerful draw.

This is the first book in a series (called Endling, I believe) and the characters who have banded together — the two human children and three magical creatures, plus a horse — undergo their trials and tribulations, all set up with the grief that the main character and narrator — a dog-like diarne named Byx — must deal with as she seeks to find more of her kind (after her family is slaughtered and she is the last dairne, as far she knows).

I appreciate how Applegate cleverly uses the titles of the sections and chapters to weave the narrative nearly in reverse — the first section is called “The End Begins” and the last section is called “The Beginning Ends.” The plot moves along at a nice pace as the band moves from place to place, and a map at the start of the book gives the reader a better sense of the world Applegate is building.

I’ll be looking out for the second book so that I can continue the adventure.

Peace (beyond this world),

Changing IOS Changed My RSS Reading Habits


(Note: this post was sitting in my draft bin for some time. I have only slightly updated it. My reading habits remain changed.)

Like many, when an operating software update comes along, I wait a bit for the bugs to get squished and then download and install it, figuring newer is better (not always the case). For the most part, the IOS11 update on my iPad had been OK.

Except … Apple has decided to sever many of the ties between apps and social sharing spaces like Twitter and Google (and, I guess Facebook, too, but I don’t give a darn about FB). I likely would not have really noticed or been bothered about it …

Except .. I still use RSS readers to automatically snag posts from a boatload of sites and sources, and then regularly read through what others are thinking, writing, reflecting upon in education and the arts and more. I use Mr. Reader app, which I recently found out was discontinued and no longer available (too bad .. it rocks!) and will no longer be updated (sad).

Now, with the IOS update, I no longer can share anything directly from my RSS reader into my Twitter and Google streams. It used to be a simple click of the button. Good piece? Bang. Shared. At first, I thought the loss of access was a setting that I had to reset with the new IOS. I searched and searched for a way to reset it. It’s not a setting. It’s the IOS itself.

Look, it’s not the end of the world, but I noticed something interesting … I am reading RSS different now.

RSS-Audio-Flag flickr photo by troutcolor shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I used to consume the news updates from blogs with both an eye towards my own interests as artist and teacher, AND with an eye towards sharing out any interesting tidbits and projects with my friends. Now, I am mostly just reading for myself. I’ve lost the sharing element, and I’d like to say that makes me a stronger reader for an audience of One (that’d be me) but that doesn’t seem true.

It’s as if someone cut the power wire on my amplifier, and now I am playing an electric guitar with only the tinny sound of metal strings. I miss the filter through which I actively read my RSS feeds — knowing that I was curating things of interest for others was part of my desire to dive into RSS on a regular basis. It feels presumptuous to think that people enjoyed and depended on my sharing of what I was reading, and makes me a little unsettled to imagine that such sharing might be valuable to others.

Chances are, no one will even notice the shift.

I still read my RSS, but I am bit slower to get to it, a little more likely to zoom through headlines that don’t quite interest me. Sometimes, I can use the “share” button on the raw post in my RSS but not always. I can’t tell if this withdrawal feeling is a good thing (less easy one-button sharing means more quality sharing?) or a bad thing (why was I so dependent on the concept of an audience to read what I was sharing?)

I’ll adjust. I’ll adapt. I’ll still read. It just feels different now.

(And this reflection on RSS and change reminds me that Apple itself as a company seems intent on making its closed garden of apps, IOS and more, and its influence, more and more closed off to the world, shutting doors left and right to outside influences. It gives them more control over what we are doing on its machines. That’s not necessarily a good thing, from the user standpoint, is it?)

Peace (it’s the RSS, baby),

Seven Things Noticed After Seven School Days In

new school bike racks

We are now seven days into the school year (two weeks) and I thought I would take a breather to think about Seven Things I am already noticing with my new sixth grade classes.

Seven Things I Have Learned

  1. My students love stories. There was a real excitement in the air as I started a read-aloud of Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kiping. I stretched it over three days, stopping at cliffhangers. They feigned anger at me, and then asked eagerly each next day if we would be reading more. Next week, I will see how well they shift into writing about stories. We also started a short story prompt that is inspired by an adventure map of an imaginary world … and the quiet hum of young writers diving into a story was magical.
  2. My students are insightful. I stopped often in the Rikki Tikki story, asking probing questions about literary elements and plot design. This sets the stage for the year ahead. There were many rich discussions about story-writing that emerged from those informal talks.
  3. My students love to doodle. I introduced the concept of sketchnoting — or visual notetaking — and as I read the story, their task was to do “active listening” while doodling. We used the doodles to summarize the story each day. They chuckled when they saw my own doodles, which are worth chuckling at. But they know they don’t need to be “artists” to sketchnote. Just look at me.
  4. Many of my students are struggling learners. I know this from documentation, of course, but I am also starting to see it in the first days of school. This means I need to be sure to use the various teaching practices I have gathered and learned — multiple entries to new vocabulary, visualize information, use collaborative learning techniques, think through different tiers of words and concepts before teaching, etc. — and be sure that no students are getting lost.
  5. My students are social. There are groups of boys who are definitely still settling into the school year. I try to balance tough rules with patient compassion, and provide time for social interactions. Eleven-year-olds are social creatures.
  6. My students are kind. I am seeing this every day in different ways. From helping neighbors with initial technology log-in snafus to holding the door for others to lending highlighters to noticing others’ kindness, these kids are keepers with hearts.
  7. My students will push and challenge my teaching. I can’t be complacent. I’ll need new tools and new approaches and new ways of thinking, of reaching my students. And I will be learning along with them.

Welcome to the school year.

Peace (open doors wide),

Bringing Digital Annotation into a Workshop Experience

Marginal Annotation Workshop Session

At an upcoming October 13 conference for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I am facilitating a workshop session around digital annotation, with technology like Hypothesis and NowComment and with sites like Marginal Syllabus and Educator Innovator in the mix. My aim with my session — Conversations from the Digital Margins — is going to be to work sequentially on a single article — moving from single copy/pencil notes, to workshop wall copy/sticky notes, to online annotation.

So, from solo to group to crowd.

I’m still thinking through the way I envision the workshop unfolding and am mulling over which article from last year’s Writing Our Civic Futures project that I want to pull into my workshop. What I find interesting is that the participants of my session will be in “conversation” in the margins with participants of the annotation event from last year. The discussion will continue ….

If you are a Western Massachusetts educator, we invite you to register for the Saturday October 13 conference, which features many workshops from WMWP teacher-consultants and a keynote address by a WMWP alumni, Kelly Norris, whose book — Too White: A Journey into the Racial Divide — has just come out.

Last year, we had Sydney Chaffee, a teacher of the year, as our speaker.

Peace (beyond the margins),

Graphic Novel Review: The Cardboard Kingdom

There’s a poignant moment in Chad Sell’s The Cardboard Kingdom, a graphic novel collaboration between Sell and writing friends, in which the father of a character in the book (about the imaginary adventures of a neighborhood of kids) sits down on the bed and admits to an error of judgement.

“Sometimes, it is hard to accept what you don’t understand,” the father tells his son, as an apology.

While this graphic novel, perfect for elementary and middle school students, is a bit heavy-handed at time with its stories of diversity and acceptance, The Cardboard Kingdom has a huge heart, capturing the way kids can invent worlds and accept others into those spaces of play (although sometimes, the path can be a little rough.)

The kingdom of The Cardboard Kingdom is the neighborhood, and Sell uses the art of the graphic novel to transform the kids (the book is broken up into chapters showing different character perspectives) into heroes and villains, with help of discarded cardboard boxes and other items that are refashioned by imagination.

Sell worked with ten other writers to tell the stories, and this range of voices shows. We meet a boy who is drawn to dress in women’s clothes as part of his character, and see his mother grapple with asking questions of sexual orientation (done gracefully). We see a girl struggling against her grandmother’s view of what a girl is expected to be (demure and polite). We see a boy whose father and mother are divorcing and fighting, as he struggles to understand why. We see a bully who is himself being bullied.

There’s a lot going on here in The Cardboard Kingdom but it is all done with grace and love.

Peace (beyond the box),

Account Activation Day: Success is One Login Away

Solve the puzzle to see place flickr photo by Ellen5e shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

We’ve sort of settled into the first days of school, shifting into more content instruction in my ELA class.

The other day, I spent the full periods with my four classes of sixth graders, talking them through the steps to activate their school Google accounts, setting up new passwords (quick lesson on password protection), joining their Google Classroom space, and working on a vocabulary-themed slideshow connecting images to words.

Although I have the entire system down pretty well by now, these “login days” are always chaotic and hectic, particularly if it is just me and 20 kids. Each task has a few steps. Some finish early (I recruit them as helpers, which they take on readily). Some have trouble typing (particularly the passwords, where you can’t see the characters). Others click somewhere other than we need to be and stare at the screen, confused.

But .. but … by the end of each class period, we had 100 percent success with activating all accounts, joining Classroom and working on the slideshow. Phew. Add in the excitement they were all having about using technology (there is not much done in the grades below me other than research projects) and we were all starting off on the right footing for the new school year.

I kept my patience. I stayed calm as I moved through the rooms dealing with issues. They did, too. Small victories. We’ll take them.

(Side Note: this kind of day also gives me an informal view into the ability to process sequential steps and information by my students. I can quickly see who will have difficulty with some complex information and who is facile with technology and following directions. It’s a window into how the year might unfold.)

Peace (in tech),