A Collection of Avatar Creators

Last week, we were talking about online identity and avatars, and my students are now working on creating a visual representation of themselves for our Glogster space. Here is the list of avatar creation sites that I shared with them (the Lego one was the most popular).

Peace (in who you are),



Conversations with Anna: Of Constellations and Communities

This is part of a larger conversation I have been having with Anna Smith about digital writing and literacies (and which we are archiving at Jog the Web and the National Writing Project Digital Is site.) Here, I ponder how we “find” communities of other folks who are exploring, writing and teaching the things that we believe in, too. One one hand, accessing the digital world opens up doors. On the other, it has a tendency to create insular communities, too.

While Anna and I are having our conversation, we always and encouragingly invite the world in, too. So, feel free to add your thoughts to our voicethread. The second slide is where my main sharing is, just so you know.

And, as usual, I reflected a bit on what I was after and how I tried to achieve it, in comic form.
Reflecting on Voicethread Podcast

Peace (in the sharing),


Remembering Composing My First Multimedia Poem

It was a fair number of years ago (back in 2006) now that I hopped on a plane and flew across the country to Chico, California, to take part in an Advanced Technology Institute with the National Writing Project. It was one of those weeks that forged connections that remain powerful and strong even today. And the work we did in exploring writing and reading, and digital spaces, moved my own ideas forward. I started this blog during that week, learned about stopmotion animation, and brought along a new device on the market: a Flip camera. While these little handheld video cameras are ubiquitous now, they were just a curiosity back then.

And I wanted to figure out how I could use my little white Flip for something that would push my thinking about digital composition. I ended up with a poem I called Blink, Blink, Blink. But not just a poem. It was a poem with a video component that became quite complicated as I dove into it. I conceived it as project in which three videos would be running together, at the same time, recreating the idea of a human face but with multiple people being part of the larger composition. Even today, it is difficult to explain what I was after.

What I did was ask the folks in the Advanced Institute if they would allow me to film them, but in an odd way. First, I filmed their eyes – left and right. Then, I filmed their mouths, saying the refrain of “blink, blink, blink.” I got more than a few strange looks when I asked to film their eyeballs. Luckily, this was a group of creative people, looking to the leading edge of digital writing. Everyone agreed, even though they could not get their heads around what I was after.

On the plane ride home, in the airport, I began to edit the videos, and when I got home, I worked with HTML to craft a webpage that closely captured my vision. For a while, I hosted it at my old band’s server space and the videos were in the old Google Video space. A few months ago, I noticed that Google had moved the videos over to YouTube (that must be odd, to stumble across the two eyeball videos without any context). Meanwhile, the server space for the webpage went dark, and all of my options for hosting the page in a way that would allow three videos to run simultaneously (which is critical to experiencing the poem) ran into walls. Most would only allow one video to run at a time (Glogster, Google Spaces, this blog, a wiki page, etc.)

Then, the other day, I saw this post that Google Drive now can host HTML as if they are webpages. Aha! I went through the steps and sure enough, it worked! The poem does not quite live up to my vision of it, but it marks a place in time for me and is still interesting to watch. If you run all three videos, and keep the “nose” centered on the screen, it really does seem like a human face reading the poem, but with the collective experience of many people. The audio is tinny, but that was the early Flip camera.

Experience Blink, Blink, Blink

Take a look and see what you think. I’d love to get feedback.

Peace (in the composing),

PS — here is a reflection I recorded as I was composing the poem.


Book Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairland and Led the Revels There

I think the length of the title says a lot about Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. It reminds me of Fiona Apple, in a way, and reflects both the high interest and sense of wordplay and imagination that is inside this book (the sequel to the first, The Girl Who Circumnavigated the World in a Ship of Her Own Making.) The Girl Who Fell is another tour de force, but it is not likely for everyone. The vocabulary is rich, and offputting at times, and the story shifts and flows in very odd directions. You can get reader whiplash at times. But if you dive in, you will be rewarded with a story of many levels, told in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, the Land of Oz books, and even A Wrinkle in Time.

The story centers on the adventures of the protagonist, a girl named September, who in the last book, saved Fairyland by defeating the evil ruler. Here, she enters Fairyland again, only to be on a quest that requires her to travel beneath Fairyland — into Fairyland-below — where the shadows of creatures above are being trapped. Or not. In this underworld, they are ruled by September’s own shadow, which she had sacrificed in the last book and had sliced off her. In order to stop her shadow from destroying Fairyland, September must continue to go down many layers of this magical underworld to save a sleeping prince. To say she meets more than her odd share of interesting and crazy characters would be to undersell Valente’s gifts as a writer.

I’m not sure who the audience for this book is, though. While it seems to be aimed at young adults, the vocabulary and syntax and writing style would likely frustrate even the strongest readers. It maybe more for adults who enjoy the whole Wicked franchise — those seeking to relive the imaginary journeys of our youths through fiction, echoing the classics while carving out something new. The Girl Who Fell is not necessarily an easy read, but it is an enjoyable ride.

Peace (in the adventure),

Educator Portfolios, Student Work and Privacy Concerns

Like many school districts out there, we are in the midst of changing the ways us teachers are evaluated by our administrators. For us, this is not a huge shift, as we began a semblance of this new model a few years back — we set goals, have discussions with our principal, await a series of quick classroom visits, self-evaluate on a rubric, and have another discussion with our administrator, who evaluates us along numerous lines. One of the main changes is how we collect and share our “evidence of practice” with our principal, as our new system requires us to construct a portfolio of our work as teachers complete with student samples.

Our principal is moving us into digital collections, so that he and we can have access to a digital file of the evidence. Ideally, it will save us paper and time, and make shared access quick for both of us. Our district is moving into Evernote, the sharing site, as a way to make this happen in a logical, coherent way. I am all for it.

Except …

I keep raising the idea of privacy. While our Evernote spaces will be private (accessible only by the teacher and the evaluating administrator), I keep wondering: will it always be private? Who owns the content once we upload it into Evernote? It is Evernote or is it us? This is not a diss to Evernote but a real concern when it comes to not just our own work but also our students’ work. While Evernote is independent now, you can be sure it is on someone’s radar: Google, Facebook, Pearson. Someone is no doubt taking notice of how Evernote is being used more and more by schools. So, I keep wondering, what happens to student work if Evernote does get bought out?

We don’t know.

And I think we should.

Or at the very least, we need to have a school district policy about how to format materials for Evernote (no names of students, no images of students, no videos of students) so that if the unknown becomes reality (if Evernote is bought out by a company whose policies are not in tune with our own), we have some safeguards in place. My principal “heard me” and made some phone calls, and has our district technology coordinator on the issue, as we try to sort this all out before the digital portfolio idea takes hold.

How does your district deal with this issue?

Peace (in the privacy),



Bill Moyers and the Digital Divide

Bill Moyers takes on what is contributing to the Digital Divide, looking at corporations that don’t care enough about many communities (rural, urban) to provide high-speed connections. Simply put: the profit isn’t there and companies are built for profit. But what is that unequal access mean for our students and then future? And shouldn’t our government be doing more on this?
Here is just one clip:

from the show’s promo:

“America has a wide digital divide — high-speed Internet access is available only to those who can afford it, at prices much higher and speeds much slower in the U.S. than they are around the world.

But neither has to be the case, says Susan Crawford, former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation, and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. Crawford joins Bill to discuss how our government has allowed a few powerful media conglomerates to put profit ahead of the public interest — rigging the rules, raising prices, and stifling competition. As a result, Crawford says, all of us are at the mercy of the biggest business monopoly since Standard Oil in the first Gilded Age a hundred years ago.

“The rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out, and this means that we’re creating, yet again, two Americas, and deepening inequality through this communications inequality,” Crawford tells Bill.

– from http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-who%E2%80%99s-widening-america%E2%80%99s-digital-divide/

These are issues we need to pay attention to.

Peace (in the equity),


More Tinkering with Stopmotion Animation

Nothing like a Snow Day to hunker down and tinker … I started this as a saxophone with notes and then morphed into an animation for my band. I am now thinking I want to do one just for the band, for our website. (That’s us playing, and me on saxophone).

Peace (in a frame),

Get “The Game Design Learning Kit”

I stumbled across this free Game Design Kit for instituting game design into the classroom. It’s a pretty comprehensive document from The Learning Games Network that is worth a gander if you are wondering about gaming and learning. It’s not so much about Video Game design, but more about game design in general, and there’s a lot to be said about finding ways to move elements of that (if not the entire unit, which stretched out weeks) into curriculum planning.

“The process of game design looks very similar to thoughtful research and and creative development activities you likely already incorporate into your teaching. It requires students to exercise conceptual, critical, strategic and creative thinking, communication, collaboration, and planning skills.” — from the kit

The kit (a pdf file) is free, but you have to join The Learning Games Network blog (so maybe it is not so free). There are some good resources and links off the site, thuogh. And this video is worth a watch as kids at Stanford explain their Game Design Jam challenge:

Peace (in the game),