Book Review: Spy School

A few years ago, after reading some Carl Hiaasen with my class, I saw the book Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs in the book store. The cover had the same sort of style as Flush and so I picked it up. It was a fun read, certainly influenced by Hiaasen’s style of humorous writing and focus on hijinks and the environment, albeit with the setting of a zoo, of sorts. Still, it was a fun, fast read, with lots of chuckling on our part. I guess some students liked it too because Belly Up went missing from my classroom library not long after I put it there.

Darn kids.

So, when I saw that Gibbs had another book out (and a sequel), I kept it on my radar. Finally, my son and I dove into Spy School as a read-aloud and as soon as it was done, we were searching for Spy Camp. My son is nine years old, so spying as the source for stories has great appeal (that Gibbs, he knows his audience). The novel tells the story of Ben, who gets invited to join a super-elite school for young spies-in-training, only to find out things are not what they appear to be and suddenly, the hunt is on for a mole in the espionage establishment.

There’s plenty of action, and pretty decent characters, as Gibbs establishes some of the ins and outs of the spy agencies, and puts Ben’s life in danger more than a few times. Luckily, Ben has a protector of sorts in Erica, a beautiful girl whose espionage skills would rattle James Bond on a good day. She’s a one-person wrecking crew of smarts and skills. And Ben is smitten (my son wasn’t all that interested in that element of the story).

Spy School is a good, adventurous read for middle school kids, particularly boys. Gibbs has found a solid topic to build some novels off, and my son and I are going deep undercover … to read.

Peace (this blog post will self-destruct in five seconds),

Slice of Life: Collecting Voices, Stitching Together Poems


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Yesterday, I was collecting voices from across the world. Collecting and collating voices. It was all part of an impromptu digital adventure that emerged from a P2PU Course called Rhizomatic Learning. The course ended but our inquiry has not, and so when one of the participants began to write a style of poem that has 11 words on Twitter based on days of the week, I had this idea: what if each day, more and more people wrote and podcasted and shared poems from the week? And what if we pulled them all together?


That was my job, and so yesterday, I was using Audacity to string together more than 30 audio files of podcasts from folks from all geographical spaces around the globe but whose footprints are all over my #11poem Twitter hashtag feed: Ron, Marianna, Tanya, Nick, Simon, Terry and Estelle. They generously lent me their words and their voices, and I stitched us together into this single podcast.

Listen to it. Every time I do, I am amazed at how it blends and flows, and how the digital composing transforms each of our single poems into something larger and incredibly amazing. The shortness of the poetic style, the common themes, and the use of voice … even after listening to it many times as I was editing it together, I still find it amazing to hear.

I’m still thinking about where we go from here. It feels as if there is something else that needs to happen with the collective podcast of poems, but I am not sure yet what that is. I’ll share out some of our resources tomorrow, and there will be an invite for you to remix us. For now, I invite you to listen to the voices.

And write your own poem. You’re invited.

Here is a visual collection of my poems from the week:

MonSunday Collage

Peace (in the poetry),


Sunday is a Poem

I am still working on writing a #11poem every day for each day of the week as part of a collaborative offshoot of the #rhizo14 community, and I am working to gather all of our poems together as an audio poetic pyramid in the coming days.

Here is what Sunday looks like from my poetic stance:

Here’s what Sunday sounds like:

And here is my visual of how the poetic pyramid is coming together, as more people joined us every day.

Peace (in the poems),

Slice of Life: It’s a Dog’s Life


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)


Duke at Dog Show 2014

42 wags. 20 seconds.

That’s what our dog, Duke, did to garner first prize — a blue ribbon, no less — in the category of “tail wagger” at a Dog Show fundraiser for our city schools. He may not be the smartest dog in the crate. In fact, he is not that bright. But he sure is full of love and happiness, and plenty of tail wagging, so he gets his blue ribbon, a whole lot of treats from a lot of strangers, and plenty of praise from the kids, who adore him.

I’d give that an extra wag of the tail for Duke.

Peace (and the dog),

PS – He tried out for “softest ears,” too, which we thought he’d be a “contenda” but apparently not. We still love his soft, droopy ears.

Strangely Captcha

Today’s Daily Create asks us to create with captcha — the anti-spam words that you rewrite on blogs. The whole notion of captcha is fascinating, I think, as it relates to books and words and crowdsourcing and more. Anyway, I decided to do a search of other Meandering Minds in the blogosphere (we are quite a few, actually) and settled in on Meandering Mind, using Courtney’s blog for generating captcha. I left her a comment, too, to let her know I was borrowing her captcha and connecting our meandering minds together.

I went a bit further than the Daily Create, generating a bunch of captchas and then trying to create a short visual poem.

Captcha Poem

Peace (in the text),

Slice of Life: The WayBack View


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I was curious as the 2014 Slice of Life Challenge starts today to remember when it was that I first began writing Slice of Life posts. OK. I admit. I couldn’t remember. Luckily, my blog did (thanks, Meandering Mind! I owe ya a beer!), and so I dove into my blog dashboard to see what I could see.

Here’s what I found.

First of all, I have written 238 Slice of Posts over the years (well, now we’re at 239 with this one). That includes the March challenges each year as well as the periodic Tuesday Slice of Life pieces. I wasn’t always a regular writer for the Tuesday challenges. I wrote when the fancy hit or I had a small moment with larger reverberations in mind. I always appreciate the audience, though, and the Slice of Life community is one of the warmest, most supportive group of teacher-writers you can find (this side of the National Writing Project).

So what I realized? I’ve done a whole lot of slicing over the years.

The first piece I did was on March 1, 2008. That’s right. 2008. You can read it here, if you want.

This was the Slice of Life icon back then.

Back then, I was writing about reading The Lorax to my sons. That was a favorite book of ours (still is, I guess). Reading that slice again brought me right back to that moment. Isn’t that interesting? Our writing has power over time, and here is where Slice of Life is most interesting for me: not only does it force me to notice and document the moments of our days, it forces me to keep a record of those days.

I’m now culling through 238 posts because I am interested in doing a sort of auto-ethnography of myself to see what I was writing about. I know there are themes each year. If you read me, you know that Quidditch is about to start, as ell as baseball season. Some things recur in different forms each year in our lives. We just don’t always take note of the patterns.

My aim for the next day or two is to create an infographic of sorts (to be shared out as a slice, of course) But for now, I am going into my 7th year of Slice of Life with open eyes and an ear for the world.

How about you? Come join the Slice of Life challenge. Write every day. Share what you write (use the #sol14 hashtag on Twitter). Invite others into your world. Make your way into the world of others. Make connections.

Peace (in the slice),

This might be helpful:

The CLMOOC Reverberations

More Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with NWP radio on BlogTalkRadio

Last night, I took part in a National Writing Project radio show about our summer’s Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration. With my friend Paul Oh at the helm, the hour-long discussion was less about how the MOOC came to be (although NWP Program Leader Christina Cantrill and I did that) and more about how the CLMOOC experience has come to impact teachers and writing project leaders.

I did my part and then listened as Jenn Cook, of the Rhode Island Writing Project, and Michael Weller, of the Los Angeles Writing Project, and Rosie Slentz, of the Redwood Writing Project chatted about how their experiences over the summer have come to inform their teaching and their work with other teachers.

As one of the facilitators, it was not just gratifying to hear these stories on the radio broadcast; it was touching in a way that I can’t quite express here. We spent many hours planning the CLMOOC and many, many more hours helping to facilitate it. With hundreds of teachers involved, we knew folks were engaged in our Make Cycles. And I suppose we assumed that there would be some residual benefits after the summer ended.

But here, Jenn and Michael and Rosie brought to light stories of those experiences, and with Paul’s masterful questions, we come to see how CLMOOC continues to live on in spirit. Not that it wasn’t an interesting enough experiment, but hearing personal stories really does bring the whole adventure of the MOOC back to life, and — not to get too sappy — warmed my heart as I listened. I suspect my co-facilitators would say the same thing. The MOOC had an impact. We sort of knew it but to hear it makes that observation real.

And of course, we want others to remake and remix our MOOC.

Peace (in the appreciation),


DLMOOC: Academic Mindsets and Open Connections

I’m working to get back into the mix of the Deeper Learning MOOC, after having a slight detour away from it, and the topic has shifted to Academic Mindsets. The chart above from DLMOOC shows a bit of the thinking in relation to what the term means around how we view ourselves and our work within the academic sphere.

I’m all for stepping back and thinking of how we teach and what and where we teach through these lens although (and here I will use the old teacher complaint) the reality is that most of us struggle with the time to actually do that and see this kind of inquiry as a luxury at odds with the typical day. With lesson planning, communicating with parents, navigating shifting curriculum standards, enrichment/intervention, interactions with administration, and more, taking a breath to think through academic mindsets often feels like something easily put to the side in the “now” of the teaching moment that require immediate attention. I appreciate the DLMOOC has not quite forced me, but given me an opportunity, to mull the concept of academic mindsets over. I’m not done thinking yet, either. Consider this post just a marker for now.

The DLMOOC Tweet of the Week asked us to share a thought about this and to give an example in our own professional lives of this concept. Here’s what I wrote:

I have also begun to watch some of the archived discussions on a tool called Zaption, which creates a “tour” of longer videos (so, curated video segments). I like the tool but wish I could add my own thoughts and comments, and felt like I was not part of the conversation. It’s funny how much I now expect that — that I can be part of the conversation. That’s part of my own mindset, I suppose, as a learner myself and as a teacher. I anticipate entry points and get disappointed when they are not available.

The video I have been watching is about Academic Mindsets and the Common Core, (with Camille Farrington, Eduardo Briceño, Carissa Romero, and Rob Riordan) and where those ideas might mesh (or not). The main element of the discussions was about assessment and competencies of students over time. The majority of the speakers here seem strongly supportive of the Common Core in connections to nurturing mindsets of students. I don’t know. I see some openings for deeper learning but wonder about how the standards are being integrated and how the standardized testing will assess it. We can talk again after PARCC and Smarter Balance have been rolled out and we see what’s in there.

I appreciate the discussions around writing, however, and the theme of “purpose” of learning for the individual student and away from the purpose of standardized testing data points. The last speaker in the video provided some realistic balance, for me, about how to frame learning in the Common Core era, as we move from the hypothetical learning space to the real classrooms.

What this discussion around Academic Mindsets comes down to for me is … does the place where I teach my sixth graders every day still enrich my academic mindset and is the environment such that it continues to challenge me as a professional? Are there structures and supports in place for that kind of growth? For the most part, I give a qualified “yes” on that question, but I also realize how much I turn to outside elements (the National Writing Project, online spaces, etc.) for those kinds of opportunities. I suspect that if I did not have those places to turn, I might think differently, and might view my teaching career differently, too.

Peace (in the set of mind),


20 Steps Around the School

Yesterday’s Daily Create was to create a “20 Steps” video — in which you record your location, take 20 steps, record your location, take 20 steps …. 20 times. I walked around my school yesterday morning, using a shot of my feet as an anchor for my shots. As I noted on Twitter, this sort of video fits nicely with the #walkmyworld project, too.

Peace (in the documentation),