Writely is Transformed — for good or bad?

This summer, I discovered the joys of Writely — the online word publishing program run by Google — and quickly jumped into its collaborative nature. I have been using it to begin writing a Monograph Book for the National Writing Project and I have been planning out a book about technology and composition in the classroom with two colleagues. I have collaborated on songwriting and lyrics, and used Writely in a bunch of ways.

So, like others, I was surprised to wake up one morning this week and discover that Writely had been merged into the Google family completely, and reborn as Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I already use Google calendar and have a gmail account, so it does make sense to me on some level to have all my Googleness in one zone. I also know it is not much more than an interface change (all the old features still seem to be there) and I know I will quickly get used to the new design (which my friend Troy points out is not quite as warm and friendly as the old Writely design and poor Troy designed his blog banner by using the Writely interface as his design template).

Still, some warning would have been helpful, other than the little notice the night before that said they were going to be working on Writely. Maybe they were too busy closing the YouTube deal …

Peace,
Kevin

NetDay SpeakUp

I am continuing to find ways to not only introduce technology and writing to my sixth grade students, but also to engage them in some critical thinking. For example, the other day, I showed them a funny mashed-up photo circulating the ‘net, and then we discussed Photoshop and how nothing is quite what it seems in the wired world.

So I am interested in this project called NetDay, which seeks to gauge student understanding and knowledge of the digital world as a collective research project in the month of November. Here is an overview of guiding questions the group hopes the data can help us answer:

  • WHO are today’s students?
  • HOW are your schools supporting the teaching and learning of 21st century skills?
  • WHERE are students and teachers accessing technology and learning technology skills?
  • HOW are teachers using technology for professional activities, both for teaching and for their own learning?
  • WHAT are students’ ideas and concerns about technology use for their education?
  • WHAT are teacher’s ideas and concerns about technology use and their professional goals?
  • WHAT are parent’s ideas and concerns about technology use and their children’s education?

from http://www.netday.org/speakup/

There is also an invite to have parents participante in the surveys. Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare data from parents to data from students?

Speak Up logo

Peace,
Kevin

Comic Strips and Writing

As I was considering the writing of this post about comic strips (!), I realized that the site which I am going to talk about (called Darkgate Comic Slurper) may not be quite so legal and so I am in a bit of a quandry here. However, I am going to plow forward because I love comic strips and in the interests of thinking about the prospects of Web 2.0, this site is a good example of readers and writers can tailor content to fit their own needs.

First of all, I have always loved comics and it is interesting to watch my young sons now discover Calvin and Hobbes, and rush to the Boston Sunday Globe to read through the comic pull-out section (sample household dialogue from yesterday: Me Anything good today in the comics? Older SonNot much today. I wish they had funnier comics) This illustrated a point: There are hundreds of comics out there and we rely on the editors of the newspapers to make the choices about what we read, and their decisions are not fine-tuned to our sense of humor but to economics — how much do they have to pay the comic syndicate and how many readers will it keep?

I discovered Comic Slurper through my Bloglines RSS reader and it dawned on me that I could now create my own daily comic page with strips that tickled my funny bone. Comic Slurper somehow grabs the RSS feeds from a long list of comics, and then you decide which comics you want to view daily, and set up your aggregator reader (such as Bloglines), and every morning, there are comics that I want to read. Meanwhile, I have stumbled across a whole field of new comics that are funny that I have never even heard of before.

For example:

  • Of course, Calvin and Hobbes reruns and Dilbert
  • Baby Blues — which is a look inside a family with three kids, just like me
  • Brewster Rockit: Space Guy — which is a bizarre Sci-Fi strip (I am a sucker for sci-fi)
  • InkPen — which I am still trying to figure out but I am having a good time doing it
  • PC n’ Pixel — which is a stab at the geek in all of us
  • Sherman’s Lagoon — which is set in a lagoon with a talking shark (I think) and turtle
  • Toyzville — which features kid toys doing strange things

I guess my point is that I am in control of the comic page that I want to set up through the benefits of an aggregator and RSS feeds and by doing this, I have some power over the content and I am not held captive to the interests of my local newspaper. That is something work celebrating!

Peace,
Kevin

K-12 Online Conference

Everywhere I go as I wander through my Bloglines account, there is a mention of this upcoming conference, so I finally traveled to the site for the K12 Online Conference myself to see what it was about, and it seems interesting. Certainly the names of people that I admire in education and technology seem to be represented and the call is for all teachers to participate and learn from others.

Here is a blurb from the homepage:

The “K12 Online Conference” is for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice! This year’s conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30- Nov. 3 and will include a preconference keynote. The conference theme is “Unleashing the Potential.” — from http://k12onlineconference.org/?page_id=2

So, why not enter the conversation in the coming weeks and get involved. Who knows who you will meet and what cool ideas you may pick up?

Peace,
Kevin

Dogtrax Audiocast: Writing the Score

Way back in college, I studied some basic music theory and then quickly forgot most of what I learned. So much for proper education. But years later, my dad (who is a drummer and drum teacher) showed me a music composition software that he was using to design drum lessons and he thought I might be interested.

So I tinkered with it and began writing some music that was very different from other things that I was doing. With the software, I could not only layer parts but I could write everything out note-for-note and then listen to it as if a small ensemble was playing for me. All that music theory suddenly came into use. Recently, I finally got around to converting some of those songs from MIDI files to MP3, and so here is the next installment of my Dogtrax Audiocast series.

microphone Listen to Dogtrax Audiocast: Writing the Score

(A future installment will center on a few pieces that I wrote for our family’s church choir and organ, with sax and guitar as accompaniment).

Peace,
Kevin

Using Mixed Media to Tell a Story

I was driving to school the other day, listening to our local NPR affiliate (WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts), when this story came on about a production at a nearby arts installation studio (MassMOCA) that fuses music, spoken language and other media into one production that examines the Truth Commissions in South Africa.

From WFCR: … a new musical based on the findings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be performed. Johannesburg composer Philip Miller has created a cantata that incorporates musical composition for voice and instrument, with audio recordings taken directly from the Commission hearings — thousands of statements from men and women about the violence they experienced, witnessed, or conducted during apartheid.

The story is powerful as a story as a country coming to grips with abuse of power and socio-cultural and race relations, but the use of spoken voices from the actual commissions, combined with music, stunned me as I listened in the car and the snippets of performances reminded me of how hybrid this world can be.

Take a listen and see what you think.

Peace,
Kevin

Culture Projects

Each year, my homeroom class works in small groups to create a new culture or civilization as a way to learn about teamwork and ways that people can come together.
The students invent a language, some sports or games, and brainstorm ways their culture could be defended. They create posters and PowerPoint slide shows to present their information to the class.
Follow the links below (or click on the posters) to view the slide shows.


The Cagbmimins

The Hotheads


Purple Dragon Warlords

Purple People Eaters

The Skitzfizzlians

Soccer! Rockers

Peace,
Kevin

Can a Robot Play Music?

Consider this a musical diversion for me. I found an interesting article through my Bloglines aggregator that looks at a new robot being created in a lab (where else?) at Georgia Tech that can play percussive music – by itself and along with others.

Here is a quote from the article:

By combining the ability to improvise algorithmically and having different physical limitations than a human, Haile can create a novel kind of human-machine musical interaction, leading to new music. Haile’s uniqueness lies in the robot’s ability to play acoustically with a vibrant sound while combining the computer capability of utilizing complex algorithms.

There are a few video links embedded in the article to watch. It’s an interesting concept and, as a musician, I am not sure how I feel about the idea of a piece of tin and wires being created to make music.

Is it music if there is no emotion attached to the invention of the sound?

Peace,
Kevin

Call for Proposals: Technology and Writing

I am working with two distinguished researchers/writers in the field of composition (Charlie Moran and Anne Herrington) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to develop a book that examines how our view of teaching writing and composition is changing with the integration of technology. Anne and Charlie have looked at writing practices from a variety of angles, including writing across the curriculum and genres. Now they want to add technology to the mix.

We are looking for classroom teachers in grades 4-13 who can write about their experiences. We have just published a call for proposals in English Journal and other sources but I wanted to use my web of Blogs to get the word out, too.

Here is our Call for Proposals:

Practically everyone agrees that writing is changing, as writers compose more on screen than in previous generations. But how has this change in what we consider “writing” affected teachers’ classroom practice? In the context of emerging multiliteracies, what are teachers’ goals for their students’ learning? How have teachers revised their definitions of writing in the age of digital literacy? How are these expressed as changes in their classroom practice? And what new writing do the students produce?

The primary goal of this edited collection is to examine the ways in which teachers in grades 4 to 13 understand changes in writing, and to examine the ways in which these changed understandings are reflected in their classroom practice and in their students’ work, particularly given reductive definitions of writing now current in national and statewide testing. Classroom teachers will principally author chapters in this collection. Each chapter will include the teachers’ understandings of the ways in which writing has changed, new goals for students’ learning, and the ways in which the teacher has adapted curriculum and classroom practice to respond to these changes. Chapters would include excerpts from students’ new writing and the teacher’s criteria for assessing this writing.

Editors Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran seek 500-word proposals for chapters of 3,000–4,000 words. The deadline for proposals is January 15, 2007. Please email proposals as Word or RTF attachments to cmoran@english.umass.edu.

Please consider contributing to this project, as it will inform the teaching practices of many (hopefully) others in the field of writing.

Peace,

Kevin

Who is this Taylor Mali?

At a workshop on creating a student-centered Poetry Cafe during this past weekend’s Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing at Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a participant told me that I just had to “discover Taylor Mali” and so I went searching for him and found his home on the ‘Net.

Taylor Mali is a slam poet, a teacher, a fast-talking preacher of words that flow from inside the soul, an advocate for education, and intense dedication to the cause of language flowing off the tip of the tongue for the old and the young … (hmmm, slipped in some of my own flow there for ya) and his strange yet very admirable mission is to use poetry to recruit teachers into public schools. He has set a mark of 1,000 teachers (he’s at 145 and tries to keep track of them via a blog).

Mali has gained some fame with his poem “What Teachers Make” and on his site, he notes how many unauthorized versions are now scattered throughout the Web, with little or no reference to the author/poet.

Am I disappointed not to have received credit for writing this poem that has inspired so many? Used to be. But the truth will always come out in the end. And if I had to choose between inspiring teachers anonymously or not inspiring them at all and, I would choose anonymous inspiration every time.” Taylor Mali

So go to his site, listen to his voice on his podcasts, read his words and, if you are inspired, buy one of his What Teachers Make pens to support the cause of the conversion of poetry, language and teaching. And if his words inspire you to enter teaching, let him know so you can be counted, too.
Peace,
Kevin