Visual Slices of Life: Taking to the Crayons

(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.)

This summer’s CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) is underway, with a coloring art theme. So, today’s Slice of Life is a look at a few of the coloring projects I worked on yesterday.

First, I received a CLMOOC postcard from my friend, Susan, that was just begging to be colored. So, I set up my iPad and used a time-lapse function on the iStopmotion app to capture the coloring. (You can also see how I used the colored page as a frame for a story, with ThingLink)

Second, my CLMOOC friend, Terry, took a page I had colored (a mandala pattern by Robin) and reworked it. So I returned the favor, layering his remix with my original in an app called Fused, and then realized that the slider effect on one of the filters was pretty nifty. I could not figure out a good screencasting app, so I just pointed my phone at my iPad, and shot away.

Finally, after CLMOOC friend Jennifer mused about what a CLMOOC Musical might look like as part of the introductions, I started up a YouTube Playlist, opening it up to others to contribute songs or bands with a color theme to them, attuned to the theme of this CLMOOC week.

We’ll be hosting the first CLMOOC Make with Me Hangout today with folks from all over, and we will be talking about the intersections between art and writing and making, and how we might make visible the Connected Learning principles of the CLMOOC play/work now underway. If interested and available, you can join watch the Make With Me live broadcast and join in the chat today (Tuesday, July 11) at 1pm ET/10am PT/5pm UTC and it will be live streamed with a synchronous chat at CLMOOC.

Peace (all hues),


#CLMOOC: Coloring Inside, and Outside, the Lines

Mandala Colored

The first Make Cycle of CLMOOC 2017 launched this weekend, with a theme of coloring and art. Our friends Ron and Algot will be leading the week, with a project called The Collaborative Coloring Book. Folks will be using a variety of tools and technology (or not, as the case might be) to create blank coloring pages, putting them into an ebook format, and then downloading other peoples’ page, coloring them and uploading those colored pages into another ebook (ie, done with Google Presentation).

The idea is to merge the way we make art with the ways we collaborate, tapping into Connected Learning principles around “shared practice,” following your own passions, collaborating as an open network, as well as making something for a peer-supported “authentic audience.” Oh, and fun. We’re having some fun here.

CLMOOC, by the way, stands for Connected Learning MOOC (we’ve all long downplayed the Massive and removed the Course in that MOOC acronym, and highlight the alternative frame name of Collaboration.) This is the fifth year of CLMOOC, which was launched and supported for three years by the National Writing Project. Now it is run by the Crowd — folks who have been part of CLMOOC and now run it on their own time and with their own passions.

An uncolored image of the one at the top of this post was created by Robin, shared on Twitter and then put into the Collaborative Coloring Book. I grabbed a copy from the book, took out my box of colored pencils, and spent some time coloring in last night.

I quickly realized there were a lot of little boxes in Robin’s piece. But I found myself becoming very focused and meditative as I was coloring her Mandala, letting the world fade out of focus for a bit. I wanted to share what I did with her, to show her how another person might interpret her coloring piece. So I did.

Cover of the Coloring Book

You can join us, too, of course. Read more about this week’s Make Cycle (including a live Make with Me session planned for tomorrow, with Algot and Ron and others), tinker with some new ideas and add your coloring page to the collaborative book. There are no set rules.  Just an open invitation.

Color outside the lines as much as you need.

Peace (with crayons and markers),

Graphic Novel Review: Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis

This second graphic novel in a developing trilogy by Charise Mericle Harper for younger readers is so cute and adorable, you want to hug it at times. I read an advanced copy of Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis just as I was facilitating a summer camp last week and just as CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) is about to launch for the summer. Talk about a nicely timed read.

Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis is a lovely and gentle book, with an underlying message of artistic freedom, working with your hands, and tolerating the different personalities that school and camp force on you. The story is about Birdie, a young girl who loveslovesloves to do arts and crafts, and the tale is centered around the summer camp where she and her friend, Evan, attend. The crisis is .. well, you’ll have to read the story, right?

Let’s just say, not everyone gets along.

Birdie has a spirited imagination (the crafty cat is part of her dreaming mind, as a sort of super hero who helps her navigate the world) and a positive, can-do attitude. She would be great in CLMOOC!

The narrator’s voice — told through text boxes — is intriguing, as it interjects itself as part of the story (sometimes cheering on Birdie, sometimes questioning her actions) even as it tells the story. That narrative element gives the story a different kind of feel from many books where the narrator is removed from the action — and the technique is perfect for the audience (roughly second and third grade readers, and probably more girls than boys. Or am I stereotyping?)

I am not much of a naturally crafty person, although I do love to make and design stuff. I lean towards digital. But when I was a stay-at-home dad with my boys, we did crafts quite a bit, and I learned all about getting messy with glue sticks, stickers, pipe cleaners, glitter and more.

One thing I love here in Crafty Cat is how Harper provides pages of “how to” craft ideas at the end of the book. This allows readers to make the crafts — like Monster Headbands, for example — that Birdie makes in the book. We could all use more “making time” in our lives, right?

Peace (craft it with love),

Summer Engagement: CLMOOC and the Pop Up Make Cycles

I just realized that CLMOOC and the Pop Up Make Cycles (the title of this post) sounds a bubblegum pop band from some 1960s cartoon show (shout out to Josie and the Pussycats). I’m thinking: That title needs to be a remixed album cover. I digress. I wanted to let you all know that a crowd-sourced CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) is again on the horizon of summer.

You know you’re moving into CLMOOC mode when you think about remix and word play at the drop of a hat.

As with last year, there is a whole bunch of people behind the scenes, gathering (in Slack, if you must know) and planning a few Pop Up Make Cycles. There is no formal structure to CLMOOC anymore. A Make Cycle in CLMOOC is merely a themed week(ish) amount of activities, with lots of invitation and support and welcoming. A “pop up” means it comes out of nowhere and disappears. It gives a certain informality to the whole shebang.

Play if you want to do. Don’t, if you don’t.

CLMOOC, which started five years ago through the work of the National Writing Project and Educator Innovator, remains a low-stress way to connect with other educators and explore “making” in all sorts of way. You can make with text. You can make with pen. You can make with the blowtorch you’ve been dying to try out. You can make with your imagination.

It’s important to know that CLMOOC is not one online space. Rather, it is a hub of activity, dispersed across social media spaces, and yet YOU are the center of CLMOOC. Always. No matter where your presence might be.

Interested? Awesome!

There is a 2017 signup form over at the CLMOOC website, and regular newsletters about Pop Up Make Cycles will filter out through July and into August. We’ve noticed an art theme this summer as the CLMOOC crowd began brainstorming together, but you can take any theme any place you see fit.

Come check out the CLMOOC website and considering signing up for newsletters and keep an eye out for the first activities in the next week or so. And have fun!

Peace (make it happen),

PS — The CLMOOC Make Bank is a host of creative ideas and examples. Feel free to explore and use and remix.


Visual Literacies and the Emergence of “Picting”

visualliteracy flickr photo by alisonkeller shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The term “picting” is new to me but it makes sense. In a recent piece at The Journal by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway entitled Picting, Not Wriing, is the Literacy of Today’s Youth, the question of whether the visual nature of literacy in the (literal) hands of youth — mostly via cameras on mobile devices — has overtaken the written literacies.

Maybe. I don’t know.

I look at my own teenage sons, and my own adolescent students, and I pay attention to the ways they use Snapchat and YouTube and who knows what other apps to document their world, but are they telling stories? It’s more like the visual elements of their mobile lives are connector points, or documentation hubs of their identity (or projected identities), than telling whatever we want to call a story. Read the comments at the article, and you’ll see a discussion about “story” unfolding along this query.

The authors cite research that does back up, however, how young people are more apt to “compose” with images  – and use writing only as secondary literacy points — than the other way around. Unless they are in school. Then, the equation flip flops. In school, writing is the key literacy skill and visuals are often add-ons.

I think that is generally true (that we value textual writing over visual composition), and while more of a balance would make sense, I still think the teaching of writing and of composition and of “composing” with media is a key anchor of learning in our schools. Whether young people are taking and sharing images with intentional design and composition strategies can probably be debated.

I believe that young people still need to learn and to use those more traditional skills (ie, writing with text) to inform the way they interact and write into the world, whether that writing be visual or not. Note the image I used at the top of the post. The elements of design are becoming more and more important for all of us, so teaching and learning visual literacy makes sense.

I was reminded of the work that Nick Sousanis is doing around the visual narrative. You can read his piece from Digital Writing Month, in which he explores elements of visual narrative with a unique insight.

from Nick Sousanis: Spin Weave and Cut


And I was reminded, too, of the way my friend Kim Douillard, a writing project colleague, sees the world through her camera, and shares out visual themes for others to try across many social media streams, every single week. Kim views what she sees through her camera as narrative points, and understands how a picture can be composed. I try to learn from her.

Image by Kim Douillard


Not everything we write is story, although a common definition of ‘story’ is often debated in writing and teaching circles. Still, the idea that narrative does run beneath all that writers do is an interesting concept, for sure. See Minds Made for Stories by Thomas Newkirk for more on this.

I wrote this as a comment response at The Journal’s piece:

Writing with text is important. So is visual literacy. Also, add in the ability to speak and listen. Explaining something with video? Yep. That, too. The best approach for us educators is always to find ways to fuse these elements together when working with young “composers” of media. We should teach students how each (writing, visual, audio) on its own transforms a message (if not tells a story) and how each can work in tandem with the other to make a more powerful statement on the world. It is intriguing how visual the world of young people has become and there are many ways to tap into that (graphic novels, comics, infographics, etc). I still maintain, along with others, that the art of writing is still at the center of all these literacies.

What do you think?

Peace (looks like),


Amplifying the Work of Others

Ampen don't Dampen

Ampen. Don’t Dampen.

My friend, Terry, wrote this phrase elsewhere in a discussion about “hospitality” and his words stuck with me, for its spirit of generosity of others. I hope I do that with my close reading activities, with quote pulling, with comic making, and with the remixing stories of others and sharing back.

By amplifying the work of others, we amplify the thinking of ourselves, for when you choose what to focus on in the work of others, you share a bit of yourself, too. This approach is also a way to counter the selfie-centered heart of technology. Turn the lens on someone else, and make a connection.

Peace (amplified),

PS — Is ampen a word? I don’t think so. A quick search came up empty. Is it important? Nope. I still love invented language, and ampen to me signals a variation of amplify, but with softer and kinder tones.

Literacy Collaboration: The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon

Here’s a neat project just finishing up, in which Juan Felipe Herrera (United States Poet Laureate) and artist Juana Medina were “slow writing” a picture book story, with input from second and third grade classrooms around the country. I say “slow writing” because the story had been unfolding one chapter at a time, over months, and the book apparently has just been completed.

There are five chapters, and an epilogue, and the prompt for one of the chapters gives you a nice taste of the story and the characters: How does Catalina use the poetry book to unleash her neon powers and save her familia?”

Herrera and Medina used input from elementary students who responded to the prompt (via a teacher submitting ideas with an online form) as the spine of the next part of the story. Then, they give credit to the schools where the ideas were submitted from.

Cool, right? You bet it is. I hope they do it again.

Check out The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.

Peace (writing it forever),

What If You Met All of Your Virtual Friends?

MassMoca Day Trip

My wife and I took a personal day (no kids!) last week to visit MassMoCA, a huge and expanding contemporary art space in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. It was my first visit there (see yesterday’s Slice of Life for what I saw) and as we wandered around huge galleries in an old manufacturing facility, I was amazed by the depth of the artwork (and we even got a chance to try Virtual Reality Goggles for the first time, too, which was a neat immersive experience).

One of the exhibits that caught our attention was by Tonya Hollander, whose Are You Really My Friend? seeks to break down the barriers between the “friends” we make in online spaces and our interactions out here, in the worlds beyond the screen. Hollander decided to visit, with her camera, all 626 of her Facebook friends, documenting her journeys. Along with photos, she has sticky notes from folks, stuff given to her along the way, documents of her journey, and much more. The exhibit itself is multi-layered, in interesting ways, with translucent banners of artwork hanging from the rafters of the room.

It’s fascinating to see how she breached the wall between our virtual identities and our offline identities.

I was struck most by the humanity of the exhibit. It’s easy to lose track of the stories behind those who choose to follow us, and those we decide is worth our time to follow. Can you imagine spending fives years on a journey of documentation? Can you imagine how powerful that would really be? How it would strengthen your network?

Given all of our worries about how digital spaces are dipping towards chaos and negativity, the act of sharing our lives with a stranger, who becomes a friend, reminds us of why many of us went online in the first place: to find our Tribe and connect with others, and to expand our own notions of what it means to be a citizen of the world (or World).

Peace (in all spaces),


Remember the Children (Digital Rights in a Digital Age)

What the Kids Say

Someone in the #DigCiz community shared out a research piece about the rights of children in the Digital Age, and I spent some time the other day looking through it. You can, too. The two researchers — Sonia Livingstone and Amanda Third — scoured through research on children to parse out what rights young people have, or don’t have, in the digital world.

As we talk about Digital Citizenship and Civics in the Digital Age, I find it important to remember the balance of adults and children, and how too often young people’s unique concerns and issues of agency get left out of the discussions.

Really, the focus should be all about the kids.

Ideal social media user (company perspective)

Yes, as an adult, I have my own personal concerns about digital platforms (See Doug Belshaw’s post: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Facebook), and the commercialization of our data, and the privacy decisions made behind closed doors. As adults, we can navigate, react, resist, leave, stay, pause.

Kids have a tougher time, for all sorts of reasons related to developmental growth, social pressures and more. I hope I am not being too authoritative here when I suggest, from my experience as a teacher of 11 and 12 year olds and father of three boys, that young people are:

  • less apt to understand the mechanics behind digital sites
  • less open to individual inquiry about what is happening to their data
  • or are more likely to shrug off the trade-off because they see things “in the moment” and not in the larger picture
  • less likely, particular as teenagers, to have an adult they can turn to for help and advice (parents are often the adult of last resort during the teen years)
  • more apt to follow the social herd into something new without fully understanding the trade-offs
  • more likely to have their unique concerns be ignored by adults when a technology is in the sphere of public debate (read danah boyd’s work for a better understanding of all of this)

Take a look …

This video pulls some of the ideas from the research article, and hopefully, it allows for several point of discussion, including:

  • What rights should young people have in the Digital Age?
  • How do we articulate their concerns?
  • How can we empower young people to be part of the conversation and support their unique status when technology companies and governments try to exploit them?
  • Where is the line between adult protectiveness and youthful exploration?

I don’t have the answers. But, as a teacher and a father, I am often thinking about it. I hope you are, too.

Peace (in the kids’ world),