Inspired by Haas: I Remember the Hummingbird

The shift within the #walkmyworld centers around poet Robert Haas, and his collection of poems known as Field Notes. Greg, one of the organizers, asks us to consider one of three Haas poems, and examine it. So I chose Letter to a Poet, and I enjoyed the imagery of the mockingbird and the “mimic world” of poetry. This phrase stuck me with long after I had finished the poem and then I began to write, too.

I began to rework Haas’ poem for my own devices. As I read the piece a few times, I came to understand a sense of place and a sense of sensory images. And the bird stuck with me. That mockingbird. And thinking of birds reminded me of the hummingbird who floats into our lives each summer, hovering outside our window near the honeysuckle. I wrote my poem with Haas on my shoulder, stealing some of his rhythm and structure at times and abandoning it at others. Our meanings diverged, too, but that’s OK.

The result is this multimodal poem: I Remember the Hummingbird

Using Zeega to construct this kind of media poem is intriguing because it is all about choices and yet, those choices are limited by the reach of the Zeega database. I struggled to not overwhelm with images and movement, and yet, I wanted faint echoes of the hummingbird in most of the pages. Also, finding a song that complemented the text and images was tricky — again, how well will it mesh? — but I think this version of a song called Hummingbird made sense to me with its picking guitar parts and haunting vocals that move in to the frame.

Peace (in remembering),

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Peculiar, indeed.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (!), is such an interesting piece of art, and I mean art in the finest sense. Riggs has created a creepy, setting-driven story that adds a sci-fi twist (that I won’t give away) to propel the discovery of a very odd school and its inhabitants in motion. What I find most interesting is how Riggs uses real “found photographs” for this novel (the sequel just came out) and a question looms at the end of the book like a chicken and egg question:

Did the photographs inform the story or did the story lead to finding the photographs?

Happily, Riggs has a short piece at the end of the novel where he tries to answer that question, explaining how he poured through thousands of “found photos” as he worked on the novel, and his answer to the question is: a little of both. Some photos he found changed the flow of the novel while in other cases, he was looking for something rather specific. When we talk about ways in which media interact with writing, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fine example of a story where those two ideas meshed together nicely. The characters don’t feel all that forced by the odd photos that abound here.

I was struck early on by the establishing of the setting, too, and the feeling of creepiness that settled on me. Not in a bad way, but in a very interesting way. I needed to keep reading, if only to figure out what was going in. I thought the voice of the narrator, Jacob (a boy whose grandfather has died in a mysterious way and whose past leads Jacob into strange terrain) was authentic and real, even as the narrative fabric of the story falls apart on him and reality is questioned.

Peace (in the beautiful oddness of the world),

Our Digital Media Lives as Similes

My Media Life
(My Media Life Simile)

One of the many excellent activities that you can find in the CommonSense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum (free!) is a short activity that I find very powerful. It asks students to consider their own media lives and to create/draw a simile to explain how they feel about the flow of media and technology in their lives. For some of my sixth graders, this gives them a chance to step back and view their relationship through another kind of lens.

Here are some samples from this past week, all of which led to discussions in class.

My Media Life 201410

My Media Life 20146

My Media Life 201411

My Media Life 20145

My Media Life 20149

Peace (like a river),


DLMOOC: On Vocational Education, Portuguese Music and Minecraft

DLMOOC Experiences

The theme this week over at the Deeper Learning MOOC has been about mentors, apprenticeships, internships and learning in the real world as a part of the learning experience. The DLMOOC Tweet of the Week asked us to remember a time when we were mentored, and two experiences have come to mind. Actually, three.

<start rant> The first idea is not about me but about the school where my wife has taught and is now an administrator. It’s a vocational-agricultural high school, and I don’t know about how it is where you live, but vocational high schools still get a bad rap. Instead of celebrating the hands-on experiential learning, and the internships/co-ops that the students have with local businesses, vocational schools continue to get viewed through the prism of “You can’t make it in the traditional high school so why not go to Voke.” Vocational education is not valued nearly as high as it should be. Take a look at standardized testing. Where are the sections for how to repair your car engine? Or how to clean out the pipes in the bathroom? Or how to install a closet door? When we talk about deeper learning and experiential learning, vocational schools have been paving the way for decades, but are rarely turned to as a model for education. <end rant>

When I saw the tweet from DLMOOC, the first thing that came to to mind for myself was an experience I had a young teenager. I play the saxophone, and music was my main identity during high school. A friend of mine, who was a few years older, was a drummer, and we jammed a lot. He got a job in a Portuguese wedding band, and they were looking for a horn player. I got hired, even though at age 15 I had no idea about playing Portuguese music, had little experience with any wedding music, and … to be frank, I was completely out of league. I could read music fine and I could noodle around on solos a bit. But I was not a “wedding band” musician. Still, the singer wanted me to succeed (the guitar and bass players did not want me there) and he began my quick immersion into Portuguese culture and music, keeping an eye on me and encouraging me when I needed and pulling me aside for private conversations when required (a lot, unfortunately). I lasted four gigs (and made about $100) and then I was asked to leave. I didn’t regret it, nor was I too sad about it. I never got the feel for Portuguese wedding music (the food rocked, though). But the uncomfortable nature of the experience and the guidance of the singer has stuck with me over the decades.

Finally, I want to relay an experience that turns the idea of mentorship on its head a bit. It has to do with Minecraft. Now, I know Minecraft is huge with my students, and it has been for years. Although I do an entire unit around video game design, I am still unable to wrap my head around Minecraft. I know it’s me. I have no idea why Minecraft is such a condundrum. Last year, I asked my students about Minecraft, and one student said, “I’ll show you.” He came in the next day, armed with a flash drive of some Minecraft modules that he had built just for me, and then proceeded to spend his entire recess (and the one after that) showing me how Minecraft works. Frankly, I was more interested in the role-reversal of the situation — my student teaching me — than understanding all that he was showing me (he also talked very fast and “showed” me rather than let me play, but ….). How often do we let our students be the experts and admit that we don’t know or understand something? It was a powerful experience for him and for me, and like playing in the Portuguese band, the experience has lingered.

Deeper learning requires guidance, and mentors, and experiences that move beyond the books and paper and classroom settings. It’s Vygostky and scaffolding in action in the real world. Most of the educational systems where most students spend their days does not build that in.  I know mine doesn’t, and it should.

Peace (in the learning),


#Walkmyworld Kinetic Poetry: I Walk with Wonder

footsteps poem before
A shift is underway in the #Walkmyworld Project towards using our documentation of our world as the kernal of digital poetry. I took a shot of footprints from our back yard and wrote a poem, and then decided to try my hand at kinetic poetry (where the words/type can move). These two screenshots show the “before” and the “after” of the poem as it is played.
footsteps poem after

To really experience the poem. you’ll have to go to the poem itself. I constructed it as a remix with Thimble, part of the Mozilla Webmaker suite of free tools. This kinetic text template was shared out a few months ago by some National Writing Project friends as part of MozFest in England. It allows you to really tinker with words and learn a bit about code, too. I was aiming to make words and phrases “do something” that connected to the flow of the meaning of the words and phrases. So, the word “fall” falls, and the “footsteps” grows and shrinks like a footstep walking and “shimmers” shimmers.

Check out the poem (and use the remix button at the top right to make your own)

I Walk with Wonder by Dogtrax
Peace (in the walk),

When Kids Invent Our Passwords

Password Activity 2014
We’re in the middle of our Digital Life unit, and yesterday, our lessons were all about passwords. We talked through the importance of secure passwords, and watched a CommonCraft video about the topic, and then my students did a writing prompt in which they were “hired” to come up with secure passwords for their teachers.

They then had to “test” the hackability of those passwords with the How Secure is My Password site and use our class blog to submit their password recommendation for me. Students used a variety of methods, including mnemonic devices, things they know about me and other strategies. Even I am not sure exactly what the thinking is behind all of these passwords, but I find it fascinating to look at. (And I should note: the word cloud generator stripped out a few symbols here and there, and divided up a few suggestions that had symbols in the middle, so what may look like a basic word in this cloud is probably missing a few parts or was part of something larger).

More importantly, I hope they have a better grasp of how and why to create powerful passwords for the online spaces where they go and roam. There were more than a few eye-opening ideas that they had never thought about nor had anyone ever talked to them about passwords.

Peace (in the word),

Remix The MOOC/Make Your Own MOOC

The Making Learning Connected MOOC ended many months ago, but the ideas behind the open learning project continue to resonate in some of the learning spaces I inhabit, including Make/Hack/Play and the Deeper Learning MOOC. Now, over at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site, the facilitators (I was one) have pulled together our thinking of what went on behind the scenes of the CLMOOC in hopes that others will take our ideas and remix the MOOC for their own projects.

You can go directly to the resource (expertly pulled together by Karen) or you can use this Thinglink clickable image that I created as a visual connection point to all the resources.

Peace (in the remix),

#Rhizo14 Provocation: Is Books Making Us Stoopid?

I love how Dave Cormier provokes folks in the Rhizomatic Learning course to reconsider where we stand. This week, he takes the idea of “Google makes us dumb” and turns it on its head with the question of “are books making us stupid?” Which, of course, requires a response (Dave is a genius). I took a gander at what Terry had done in a mixed media response, and decided to make my own media piece, too.

Thanks, Dave, and thanks, Terry.

Peace (in the thinking),

Graphic Novel Review: Defend until Death (Nickolas Flux)

Here’s one of the better character names that I have come across in some time: Nickolas Flux. Isn’t that a cool name? He’s the young hero of a series of new graphic novels from Capstone Press that ties into history. Nickolas is a kid who has an odd ability to suddenly, and unexpectedly, get zapped into the past (it has to do with a science experiment gone awry), right at the juncture of major events in history. He also gets zapped back into the present before any danger happens to him. Convenient, right?

Defend Until Death tells the story of the Battle of the Alamo, and I want to give kudos to the writer and publisher for giving young readers both sides of the story. Nickolas (zapped from the stands of a high school football game) first finds himself in the ranks of the Mexican Army, with General Santa Anna, as they march into Texas to reclaim lands stolen from them. The start of the story is sympathetic to the march towards the Alamo.

At least, for a few pages.

Then, Nickolas is in the Alamo itself, hanging out with Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, and the story’s perspective turns very pro-American, as the fort is overrun and the defenders perish as Santa Anna’s forces overwhelm the outnumbered Texans. Nickolas gets to back to his football game just as the fort falls and Bowie is about to die.

The story, aimed at elementary students, has a quick pace to it, and multiple historical perspectives, and there are small text boxes on the bottom of many pages that gives interesting historical tidbits about the scenes played out on the pages. Also, as with most of these Capstone books, a section at the end gives even more historical details about the theme of the story, so here, we learn more about the Alamo and the fate of the Mexican-Texas-United States dispute.

Peace (in the fight),

Looking at the Data of their Digital Lives

DlDay Voicethread
Each year, I present my sixth grade students with what we call the State of Technology and Digital Media Survey. The idea is to get a snapshop of their impressions and to get a glimpse of their use of technology, particularly outside of school. This year, for Digital Learning Day, I put the results into a Voicethread and narrate some of what I see.

I used these results for conversations this week around the idea of digital lives, digital footprints and digital citizenship as we launched into a new unit around technology. (By the way, if you want a copy of the survey, here is a template from my Google Docs. Feel free to steal it, remix it, use it as you need.)

But I invite you, too, to add questions and observations to the Voicethread. Make it a conversation. Do the results of my students resonate with what you know about your students? (Note: I teach sixth grade, so these are 11 year olds). Haven’t used Voicethread before? Now’s the time to give a new tool a try.

Peace (in the sharing),