Graphic Novel Review: Dogs (from Predator to Protector)

The latest in a series of Science Comics coming out of First Second Publishing will surely catch kids’ attention. It’s about dogs. Artist/writer Andy Hirsch’s Dogs: From Predator to Protector is a lively romp through the canine world, told with humor and gusto and jam-packed with science.

In fact, there is so much scientific information — told engagingly and with a nice mix of comic images and writing — that I wonder about the audience of this book. The text complexity pushes it into upper middle school/high school, I would think, as we learn about behavioral science, mapping of genetics, breeding for traits, the history of humans to animals (and vice versa), and more.

It’s all very interesting, but deep and dense. Luckily, the mascot of the book — a dog off chasing his ball as a portal into time — is cute, and engaging, and very dog-like in his mannerisms.

I suspect many kids will pick up the book because of its cover, and hopefully, they will stay to learn more about the complex canines in our midst. This book is another example of how the graphic story/comic format can engage learners and impart informational text, in a fun way.

Peace (woof),


Annotation Invitation: Critical Literacies and Student Stories

Annotation Event: Critical Literacy

As part of the ongoing Writing Our Civic Futures project, through Educator Innovator and Marginal Syllabus, a crowd annotation of Linda Christensen’s deep article on how she turned her classroom around to focus on the lives of her students is underway.

And you are invited.

The project uses the open sourced Hypothesis tool, which allows for discussions and annotations in the margins of online documents. Linda Christensen is also participating, so you might have a chance to dance in the text with Linda. The article — Critical Literacies and Our Students’ Lives — was first published by NCTE via In the Middle, and Christensen’s views about how to pivot towards authentic stories in times of testing is an important sharing moment.

I’ve been moving some of my annotations of the paper version of her piece to the online piece, via screenshots. But you can add text, images, gifs, videos, sound, and more in Hypothesis, creating a multimedia collage of thoughts and connections.

Critical Lit Margins6

I was fortunate to be invited to take part in a video conference with Linda and some other educators to talk about what she wrote and the nature of public annotation of writing, as sort of a preview for the annotation event. She was very open and insightful, and I most appreciated her thoughts when I asked her about how she was feeling about opening up her words to annotation in the commons. (see her response)

I hope you can join us in the margins …

Peace (in and beyond the classroom),


Slice of Life: Unexpected Chaos

(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 don’t know all the details. The entire sixth grade class was outside for a short recess and I was in the office when a call came in over the walkie-talkie about a student falling off the slide, and landing on their head. The nurse rushed by me with a wheelchair.

As the class came in from the outside, I heard murmurs about the incident, with some students telling me that another student had pushed the fallen student off the top of the slide, on purpose.

The next class period in my classroom was chaotic, as the student who fell is a member of that class and all of their friends were worried (I am purposefully writing gender-free here, to protect privacy). Some students got called down midway through class to talk about what happened on the slide to the vice principal, further disrupting the learning.

I did my best to acknowledge the incident in very general terms — expressing concern for the student who had been hurt — without opening up the classroom to accusations. I had the sense that any opening about the incident could easily turn my classroom into a courtroom.

Unfortunately, this particular class needs very little distraction to get off-track – nearly every day requires a command performance to keep the lessons going forward — and I spent the entire hour trying to keep them on task with our reading and our game design project. I can’t say I was all that successful.

The ambulance pulling into the school driveway just outside my window didn’t help. It just made us all more worried and concerned, and for the fallen student’s friends, even more angry. I kept the calm as best as I could.

A note later from the vice principal confirmed some of the incident that students had suggested to me in the hallways, about the push seeming to be intentional (but probably not the severity of the injury). Some things are hard to explain, difficult to understand. The impulsiveness of adolescents is a known and yet surprising part of child development.

I just hope my fallen student is doing OK.

Peace (on the playground),


Book Review: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone

Rod Serling Quote

I understood the gimmick behind this book but I could not resist it. Mark Dawidzkiak’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone is a fabulous read, with references to a myriad of stories that unfolded in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. I won’t pretend I got all of the references to all of the episodes, but there were enough to jar my memory banks to the crafty stories of Serling’s show.

Broken up into 50 lessons — from Always Keep Your Heart Open to the Magic that Comes Your Way to Don’t Live in the Past to Imagine a Better World to Angels Are All Around You and more —  this book explores the strange terrain of the television show by reminding us of how stories can expose the truth of our lives.

Reading the book had me digging out my old box set of DVDs of The Twilight Zone, to find reference points. It’s pretty amazing how Sterling’s production and his and many other writers’ stories still stand up over the decades. That is probably the result of the stories themselves, and the twists and themes that emerged on the small screen.

Dawidzkiak is a media critic, whose beat has often been television. You can sense the love he has for Sterling’s art, and how these narratives can be grouped around important themes, or lessons that we best learn (or suffer the consequences, as often happens in the twisty ending of the show). Dawidzkiak remind us that Sterling sought to bring to the surface the good of people, yet was never afraid to punish those whose choices damaged the world, those around them, or themselves.

Reading Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone is sure to draw you back into the Zone. That’s not a bad place to be, as long as your heart is true.

Peace (twists and all),


The Start of the Journey: Video Game Design Project


Writing and Game Design Compared

We’re just starting up our video game design project, with a theme of the Hero’s Journey as the storyframe for video games being designed and then published by my sixth graders. The other day, I gave them a few games from last year’s class (as well as my own mentor game) to play and to write about, from a player perspective.

Storyboarding Video Game DesignThink you can play?

Play The Odyssey of Tara

Right now, students are working on the brainstorming of the storyframe, and how they envision the levels of the game to look like via storyboarding.

Storyboarding Video Game Design

Peace (game on),

Students Engaging in Reading with #BookSnaps

BookSnaps from Students

I wrote the other day about my plan to try out BookSnaps with my sixth graders. BookSnaps are images of reading books, with “stickers” and short text annotations. While the original idea is to use Snapchat, we used Google Draw, and it worked out just fine.

BookSnaps from Students

My aim was to talk about annotations, with text and images. I also wanted to show them Google Draw, another app within their Google accounts that can be tapped for various projects.

BookSnaps from Students

I walked them the process. We ended up using PhotoBooth to take the pictures (while I was going to use an extension created by Alice Keeler, I realized that our students don’t actually log into the Chrome Browser but instead, log into Google itself.) It turns out our librarian had already shown them how to use PhotoBooth, so that was … a snap.

BookSnaps from Students

Next, I talked about what could be in the texts, which were call-out shapes within Google. I explained that annotations make thinking visible, so they could

  • Ask questions of the text
  • Make predications
  • Find connections with other books
  • Pull out phrases or words that seem interesting

BookSnaps from Students

One friend suggested creating a Google Draw template with call-outs and stickers in the margins of the drawing field, which is a good idea, but I went with a blank Draw slate, and let them build from there. It took longer but I think it gave each BookSnap its own flavor.

BookSnaps from Students

And the ‘stickers’ were merely Google Images, related to the text on the page. I did some mini-lessons around cropping (which some used and some apparently didn’t), and the fading tool, so that they could better manipulate the image within the design of the page.

BookSnaps from Students

Overall, the BookSnap project was a success, and kids were very engaged in the activity. I have now shared all of the folders of BookSnaps with all students across four classrooms, so they can peek in and see what their friends and fellow readers are reading, and maybe get inspired to pick up a new book.

BookSnaps from Students

Peace (and stickers),

Mapping the Journey of a Character in the World

Regarding the Fountain Student Map4I was thinking of ways to use Google’s My Maps feature with my sixth grade students, as a way to get them to play with mapmaking in connection to literature, and decided to use the travels of a character from the book Regarding the Fountain. Florence Waters travels the world, sending postcards, telegrams and other notes to a classroom in the book, which is very non-traditional in format.

Regarding the Fountain Student Map3

My students had to “pin” her locations around the world (there are more than a dozen places she travels), adding a quote from the book (with page number) and some sort of image to represent either gifts that Florence is mailing to the classroom in the novel, or a representation of the geographic place. (I saw a few students realize they could use animated gifs, which I should have shared out with everyone, giving the pins a little more life.)

Regarding the Fountain Student Map2

Then, I had them calculate distance traveled throughout her entire journeys, using the line draw tool (which gives distance between points). I also showed them how to customize the pins, which many did to represent Florence in the world.

Regarding the Fountain Student Map1

All in all, this was a very successful mapping project, and incorporated geography and math with literacy in a hands-in immersive way, and they were fully engaged in this work (which took longer than I expected to complete but well worth it.)

One change for the future: I should have had students estimate the total distance first, and then compare their calculations to the estimate. Why didn’t I think of that?

Peace (map it),

PS – if you use Google Apps for Ed, like we do at our school, you may need to have the technology folks turn on Google maps in the student accounts. My Maps is not part of the walls of the traditional Google suite. We sent a notice home to families about the use of maps.

Musical Landscapes: Sunlight Moonlight Starlight (Song Six)

I am immersing myself in making music, and found myself connected to the idea of a musical landscape, a musical map of ideas expressed not in latitude and longitude, but in sound, melody and rhythm.  This project connects back to this month’s Pop-Up Make Cycle with the CLMOOC.

I have already shared out Five pieces:

This sixth and last song of the collection, Sunlight Moonlight Starlight, is just the sense of wonder of the sky during a walk at night along our quiet neighborhood streets.

Take a listen to Sunlight Moonlight Starlight.

Thanks for opening up your ears to my sounds. I am thinking how to pull all of these tracks together into more of a map.

Peace (in wonder),

Musical Landscapes: Bird Off Balance (Song Five)

I am immersing myself in making music, and found myself connected to the idea of a musical landscape, a musical map of ideas expressed not in latitude and longitude, but in sound, melody and rhythm.  This project connects back to this month’s Pop-Up Make Cycle with the CLMOOC.

I have already shared out Four pieces:

This fifth piece, Bird Off Balance, came after watching a bird on the power wires on the street in front of our house, and how it seemed to always be on the verge of wobbling off the wire. It never did, of course. It was always in balance.

Listen to Bird Off Balance.

Thanks for taking time to imagine through listening what I was seeing.

Peace (in balance),