Writing in Circles for Dot Day

Dot Day Invite

Yesterday was International Dot Day, and this is the first year I had my students join the millions (6.6 million from 139 countries, in fact) people making circles and dots as a way to nurture a sense of creativity and imagination. The Dot Day idea stems from a picture book by Peter Reynolds, called The Dot. We connected with Peter and his brother, Paul, last school year, and we hope to do so again this year.

I decided to have my students write short one-paragraph stories on a circular theme — the story could have circular objects or have some other element of a circle — and then we used Visual Poetry to “draw with the words as ink.” That concept really intrigued them and blew them away. Finally, I had them upload their visual stories to a collaborative Padlet site, which has become this very cool digital wall of circle stories.

dot day circle screenshot

Watching them write, and then watching them paint, and then watching them navigate the download/upload instructions has given me a lot of insight into them as learners already. They were fully engaged in this, partially because they knew their work (which we were tweeting out during the day from our classroom Twitter account) was part of a global conversation about creativity. Their stories were in the mix.

That’s one element of Connected Learning that we teachers explore during the summer via CLMOOC — that idea of reaching out beyond the walls of your school, into the World at large — and I hope it is just a taste of things to come this year for us. Certainly, we will be doing something again around National Day on Writing and other ventures.

DS106 Dot Day

Meanwhile, Dot Day also took place over at the DS106 Daily Create site, with Dots as the prompt. There were 31 responses. I loved seeing my DS106 friends doing all sorts of strange things with dots, and more than that, I loved extending the connected element from the Global Community to my classroom to DS106 and beyond. All sorts of strands come together at times.

Peace (let’s create it and nurture it),

Make Instruments, Make Music, Make Change

We were in our independent movie theater recently when the trailer for the upcoming documentary — Landfill Harmonic — came on the screen and blew us away. There’s so much to admire in this story — of the way one person saw possibility where others saw nothing, the way they turned to the resources at hand to create something, and the way an idea can potentially alter an entire community for the better.

Landfill Harmonic from Landfill Harmonic on Vimeo.

I just ordered it (via Vimeo), so I can share it with my students this year and support the cause.

Peace (in the muse),

#IMMOOC: Go and Find Out

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

Thanks to Sheri Edwards, I am hopping back into another MOOC. This time, it is the IMOOC (or Innovator Mindset MOOC), and I am curious. It is co-facilitated by Katie Martin, whom I don’t know, and George Couros, whose name is well known to me but with whom I have not interacted (as far as my addled brain can remember) before this weekend.

Already, I find myself wondering about the term “innovation” and what that looks like in the classroom. I know, I still have to read George’s book — The Innovator’s Mindset — I’ve just started it. Sometimes, we get so bombarded by terms that they lose their meaning. Disruption. Innovation. Change. Action Research. Inquiry-based Learning.

So I am happy to dig into the term and the ideas with others in the MOOC, and see what there is to be seen below the surface. And I see, after reading just the start of the book, that this is a central question that George hones in on.

Defining Innovation #immooc

For myself, I see innovation in my classroom has a slow-moving thing. It evolves over time, not in some sudden herky-jerky motion. And stand-deliver professional development is not going to cut it, either. We educators have to dive in, experience it, react and reflect, and wonder about it. We have to live it ourselves before we ask our students to live it. Or, we have to pay attention to the lives of our students, and innovate from there. This is the heart of the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) experience.

The reason for the slow bubbling is that I need time to reflect on changes that I bring into my classroom. I need to react, and wonder, and tinker. When I think of the term, innovation, I often think to technology that causes the world to reconsider what has come behind us and wonder what is coming ahead. I also know that innovative ideas do not have to revolve around technology but tech is the first thing that comes to mind these days. Perhaps we need to uncouple those terms from each other, in order to broaden out our understanding.

And, despite my conceptual thinking of instant disruption, innovation is not often all that sudden. Not that dramatic. Maybe it is really is more about a slow revolution. What does that look like in my classroom?

I think back to a picture book project with my sixth graders that has evolved into something completely different over time through innovative practice, brought on by curiosity and a shifting landscape of platforms. Our picture book project began in my first year of teaching (15 years ago), with colored pencils and paper, and a stapler as the binder. We shared with each other.

Then, about four years later, we moved to Powerpoint, to create slideshows that were really picture books (slides were pages), and we wove in science and math themes as part of the storytelling devices. We shared with each other, and younger grades in our school, and families.

Finally, about five years ago, we shifted to creating and publishing science-based video games, keeping our focus on literacies and science, but using the lure of video game design to hook students as creators and makers of digital content for an authentic audience. We shared with each other, other students in our school, families and to the larger game-playing world (in Gamestar Mechanic).

Notice how this shift took many, many years to make. Part of it was technology — could I have had students designing and publishing video games early on? I don’t think so. The technology wasn’t available for what I needed to do, and for the entry points needed for my sixth graders.

And I wasn’t ready for it, either. I needed to immerse myself into gaming, and think through what it might look like in the classroom. I had to make my own video games, and then envision the learning moments. (See our website where we shared resources on video game design and tracked our first year of the project)

I wonder: what’s next with this idea? Where do I go from here? And, as important, do I? Should I even innovate further? I’m nowhere ready for it, but Augmented Reality might be a logical innovative step forward (or perhaps it is just another false excitement) for our science-based storytelling. Could we make Google Cardboard goggles and create some interactive science/storytelling experience? How in the world would I even approach it, though? I don’t know. Not yet.

That’s one of the interesting elements of being an educator. We go and find out. And then we innovate.

Rikki Tikki: Go and Find Out

Peace (dipping in),

Defining Digital Writing (A Modest Proposal)

Digital Writing, in the margins

It’s quite possible this is impossible. I am trying to narrow in on the affordances of what we mean by the phrase “Digital Writing.” I may even veer way off track here, and perhaps it is best for all of us just to drop the “digital” once and for all, and just call it .. writing. Although, I, for one, still prefer the word “composing.”

Still … I am on this merry path of thinking because I am giving an ending Keynote to the (free!) 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing, which takes place on Sundays in October and because I have been engaged in an intriguing margin annotation activity with my CLMOOC friend, Karen LaBonte, who wrote a “field report” blog post that shared some critique of the phrase “Digital Writing” by close family members.

That had me thinking: OK, so WHAT do we mean? What affordances does the digital bring to writing? How is it different from what we think of as (regular) writing (ie, paper, pen/cil, etc.) And, why do we need to differentiate?

Here is a rough list of affordances, in my view, of how Digital Writing is different from, eh, Analog Writing. (Boy, that phrase looks odd, right?)

Digital Writing …

  • is more than just words typed on a screen. A simple blog post is not really digital writing;
  • potentially crosses mediums, so that words might mix with sound might mix with video might mix with other media;
  • narrows the gap between writer and reader by giving more agency to the reader than traditional relationships, and so, the writer must plan for that changed relationship;
  • can have deeper associative properties, particularly when thinking of how hyperlinks embedded within the text might connect one text to another, providing options and trails that move away from the main text itself;
  • may or may not harness the possibilities of the underlying yet mostly hidden “writing” — the computer code of the page that we read that has been represented as text but is actually not text;
  • provides for possible collaborations beyond the writer, and sometimes without their permission or notice, such as the margin annotations on a website page or a remix of media.

The criticism, including my own, may be be that most of what I just wrote in this list is not necessarily “writing.” It is more technology — tinkering with the way we represent writing in the larger world. But I still think if “composing” is the word we use when it comes to “digital writing,” we are more apt to be open to the use of various media, of hyperlinks like paths on a literacy map, of reader involvement in the original text, of the sort of planning that “digital writer” has to do to create a “digital text.” It is all composition.

DIGITAL the poem

I don’t think we are at a point where all writing is digital writing, and therefore, we don’t need a separate designation on it. I don’t know if digital writing is the right term, though. But it does seem to me that we need some way to show that technology is changes the way we compose our texts in the world, if only so we can talk about it (and maybe debate it).

What do you think?

Peace (write it into the world),

The Appeal of Musical.ly (and the Trap of the Likes)


My 11 year old son has really enjoyed making videos with the Musical.ly app this summer. If you don’t know what it that is, Musical.ly is a lip-syncing app, which provides short bursts of song that the user creates an equally short video for. Most people lip-sync the song and share within the community. Tons of kids are using it.

I was going through the videos my son had been making (nearly 100 now), and I was laughing at his sense of humor. His friend was over this weekend, and they made a very interesting one, that was shot entirely in reverse, as his friend catches some inflatable baseballs and items while grooving to a song. A sort of trick-camera thing. I thought it neat, but it might just be a simple tweak of the app. I’m not sure.

(Note: I asked later the boys about it. It was done in the app. So much for hacking the app for creative video editing.)

I also get a little antsy, though, in how my son, entering his middle school years, gets caught up in the number of viewers and likes and all of the suitcase luggage of social media (thumbs up, plus, etc.) on his work (not just here in this app but also in other platforms) that doesn’t really designate anything much in reality. He sees it as “someone is watching what I am making” but I suspect it is an ego thing, too. He wants to be popular, and he sees technology as one of the ways to be “cool.”

We’re already overhearing conversations about “how many views do you have?” and “how many videos have you made?” as if it were all a cold numbers game.

We’re trying to temper that impulse for “likes without context” with discussions at home, as best we can. He’s always enjoyed making movies, and has regularly written and produced videos himself with friends. (In fact, he is finishing up the editing a video that he and this same friend shot over the weekend.)

This Musical.ly app is designed for short videos, and I hope that it doesn’t suck dry the creative fountain for his desire to make longer video productions. I hope, instead, it gives him more ideas that he can use elsewhere.

And sure, he’s having fun with it. That’s important, too.

Peace (in navigating the world),

The Lives of Connected Teens/The Nuances of Social Media


I read with interest an article in Wired Magazine about teenagers and their use of social media and technology as part of their ways to navigate and connect with the world. The piece, by Mary H.K. Choi, dovetails nicely with the work being done by researchers like danah boyd.

As a teacher, and a father of teens, Choi’s piece gave me a lot to think about, particularly around the nuances of Snapchat, and of Instagram, and of “ghosting” and other nuances of the social media world. I appreciate that she makes clear this is no large ethnographic study like Mimi Ito and others have done. Instead, Choi spent time with a small but diverse group of teenagers, observing their habits.

Anytime we can get some insight into the minds of teens, particularly using technology for connections, is important, so I grabbed some quotes from the article that stuck with me.

Teens and Social Media – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

Peace (in the minds and the world),

PS — Check out the accompanying “guides” on social media use that were part of the article, too.

Collaboration Falls Apart: I’m Still Learning

flickr photo shared by russellstreet under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Earlier this year (which was actually last school year), I wrote about using Google Slides as a collaborative space for writing poetry with four full classes of students over the course of a day. It was a great idea that failed rather miserable and ended in chaos. You can read about it here.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but no … Actually, I hoped I had learned my lesson. But I tried something similar again this past week with my new class of sixth graders, only to sort of fail … yet again. Sigh.

Welcome to Sixth Grade title

On the first day of school this week, before my sixth grade students had activated their school Google Apps for Education account, I set up a Google Slideshow, made it a public document for anyone to contribute without logging in, linked it off our class blog site, and assigned each student three slides (four, if you count their name slide). I did, in fact, remember what I learned from the past failure. I made sure that each student had a designated space inside the slideshow, with their names right on the slides. (Each student’s task was to create a slide of something they did in the summer, a six word memoir and their favorite “media”)

I walked my students through the process of how to use Google Slides (only one student in my class had ever created a slideshow, ever, which is interesting .. and the pattern for my other three classes as well, it turns out). I presented a mini-lesson on using Creative Commons for the search for images, and how to add the links to photos inside the slides as attribution points. I showed them my example as a mentor text.

Summer Moment

And then I set them loose for the next hour.

For about 30 minutes, it was beautiful. They were engaged, helping each other out, and I was wandering around, talking to them about their summer and their memoirs, and giving help with finding and using images. We talked about design elements of slides. They were having fun.

Six Word Memoir

Then, someone tried to use spellcheck.

Now, let me say, I was quite happy they found spellcheck. It meant they were checking their writing. They noticed the red squiggles. They wanted to fix a mistake. But when they tried to spellcheck their own slide, the tool jumped them to other slides in the collaborative show, and either they began to hit “back” or “delete” or something to get back to their own slide, and suddenly, entire slides — not their own — were disappearing.

There was that murmuring energy that begins slow and then builds into crowd confusion. No teacher wants to sense that in the room, believe me.

Keep calm, I said to the class, as hands were now raising into the air. We’ll figure this out.

I helped a few with the “undo” button, but that only worked if I was with the student who did the accidental edit. If it was a student whose slide disappeared in front of them because of someone else’s actions, the undo button didn’t work.

Luckily, we were now near the end of our time, and so I announced, in my confident teacher voice, that we would be stopping for the day and I would try to go back in time with Google Slide history/revision, and find the missing pieces (I’m making it all out to be worse than it is, but I am still not sure how many slides got deleted). I expressed confidence in the auto-save.

Alas, because they were all anonymous guests, working at the same time, the revision history only went so deep, and I can’t traverse back to the time (even when going into advanced revision history) where the slides went kaput. What’s missing is still missing, and may remain missing. I’m still looking.

Here’s the thing. While I am disappointed again at how collaboration failed, I realize later I accomplished some of my goals for the lesson:

  • All of my students now have a basic understanding of how a slideshow works;
  • We started discussions around digital design with text and image;
  • They can find images with Creative Commons tags and use those images, with attribution;
  • They understand that we will be using technology for collaboration projects this year, and that means working together;
  • Sometimes, the technology just doesn’t do what we want it to do — either through our own actions, or mistakes, or through the technology’s limitations;
  • We keep on trying, and moving forward, and don’t panic;
  • Even the teacher, with the best-laid plans, doesn’t always have the answers to unexpected problems, at least in the moment when problems arise.

I am back to thinking about The Next Time I Do This and how to make this kind of collaboration work better for me, and for them. Yes, I am determined. Perhaps the solution is to have them create their own slides shows in their own accounts, and then port them into the collaborative show as a second step. That way, they always have their own versions.

They, of course, seem less concerned about it than I am. We’ve already moved on, activating their Google accounts and pushing forward.

Kids. Go figure.

Peace (in collaboration),

Writing in the Public Sphere: You Write It, You Own It

flickr photo shared by mpardo.photo under a Public Domain Dedication Creative Commons ( CC0 ) license

We’ve had an interesting and controversial issue going on in my small liberal city in Western Massachusetts, and at the heart of it is what we consider “public space.” I find it intriguing on a few levels, but mostly, it reminds me of our community discussion two years ago in CLMOOC about the notion of the Public Sphere in the Digital Age.

Some background: Our city has a Human Rights Commission, appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council. The mayor put forth a few new people for the commission, which sponsors education programs and outreach efforts and more. It also can field complaints about equity and other issues on behalf of the city.

Just as it seemed like it might be a buried news story, the local newspaper must have received a tip about one of the mayor’s nominees, and after looking through this person’s public Twitter feed, the newspaper shone a light on some controversial comments with a front page piece. The nominee’s defense sounded a lot like Trump Lite: You don’t get my humor. I was being sarcastic. I am being attacked by the liberal media.

The nominee was quoted as calling the article a hatchet job that cut them off at the knees, but I went through the Twitter feed in question and I think the newspaper was pretty fair in its assessment. This person wrote about national events in a harsh tone, calling, for example, for a mother to stop getting pregnant by medical means as a way to stop violence in an urban community and suggesting suicide to another person in the news spotlight.

Maybe it was sarcasm, but as we know, digital spaces don’t always translate well into nuanced cold reading. This person came across as .. rather cruel and taunting with their rhetoric. I’m not sure that would be true in life outside the screen. I don’t know them. I only know their words on my screen. I’m not all that impressed with that person.

The nominee withdrew their name from consideration after the article came out and the newspaper published a flood of letters this week, all condemning the former nominee for using Twitter in this way and then complaining about it when people (and reporters) actually read the tweets.

One letter writer noted that Twitter is a public space. You write it you own it, they keenly observed. One should expect to get read, they noted, and be held accountable, particularly if you intend to become a public official that deals with rights of all people.

Kindness matters.

Which brings us to the notion of online spaces as public spaces. We examined the nature of digital spaces, or the Commons, during CLMOOC 2015, and I dug up one of the posts that I wrote, because this event in my city resonated in my mind. The post has to do with the Digital Commons, and who owns what, and our responsibilities in those spaces.

The Internet as Public Space 1 (Where the Center Meets)

A question facing our city now is whether the public social media feeds of candidates to appointed boards and commissions should be part of the review process. Currently, it is not. The mayor was caught off-guard by the newspaper article. But I think it should be, right? If you write in the public, whether it is for a newspaper or Twitter or graffiti on the wall, then what you write is part of who you are in the public.

Words have meaning.

I haven’t checked the former-nominee’s Twitter in some days because it was turning nasty, with right-wing supporters saying the city was somehow suppressing the free exchange of ideas and targeting the newspaper for its reporting, saying it is run by “white men” of privilege, as if that had anything to do with the story. The nominee promised to write an “op ed” piece but then suggested the newspaper would never run it.

Actually, that “white men” knee-jerk comment was also made by the chair of the commission — someone I know from when she and I worked together as journalists for another newspaper, and where she left to start up a regional Hispanic newspaper to give voice to Latinos, and whom I respected. Now I am not so sure.

The Public surely gets messy as we try to figure out the nuances of the world.

Peace (in all spaces),

A Day Late to a Twitter Chat (but not a dollar short)

Margaret Simon, who helps facilitate a weekly discussion around digital literacies with the #DigiLitSunday hashtag, organized a Twitter Chat on Sunday that I could not attend. So, I played Monday Morning Quarterback with her Storify curation, adding comments as a way to engage in the conversation (after it had already ended). And days later, I am now sharing.

The theme of the chat was about essay writing, and centered on a book by Katherin Bomer, entitled The Journey Is Everything Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them. Margaret gives more info at her blog.

Here are my comments, strung together.


Peace (write it from the heart),

#CLMOOC: Arriving Right on Time

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

I was reading this blog post by Tania Sheko yesterday morning. She reflects on jumping into the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) a few weeks after the official Make Cycles have come and gone. Tania acknowledges that she only minimally popped in and out of CLMOOC and is only now getting to some of the newsletters and Make Cycle ideas.

There’s a mantra which Tania cites in her post that was embedded early in the CLMOOC experience – something that has become part of how a lot of us think about CLMOOC:

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

But, what does that mean, exactly?

The idea came from discussions in the first years of CLMOOC, sponsored by the National Writing Project, in which facilitators were trying hard to think about how best to leverage an open, online networked space where anyone could engage at any level they saw fit or had time for. The worry was that after the first Make Cycle was up and running, anyone new coming in would feel left out. Time of arrival itself would act as an exclusionary marker.

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

So, the intent was to try to situate the CLMOOC with no a real starting and ending point. The timeline of activities might follow a certain arc, mostly due to logistics, but the arc is merely artificial in nature. Arrival and activity could potentially happen at any time, even long after the official Makes are first introduced. This illusion of timelessness, though, is hard to pull off unless you follow the Netflix model and dump everything in at once and let people Binge Learn (which, in fact, is possible after the summer). In reality, we are so attuned to a timeline of activities (this is Day One, this is Day Two, etc.) that giving yourself freedom to say, I’m interesting in that, so I will do that — I am not interested in that, so I will ignore that, is a somewhat discomforting notion for many of us.

But there are people who wander into CLMOOC weeks or months after the unofficial “end” and dip into the activities, engaging with the #CLMOOC hashtag and in the CLMOOC Google Plus Community, and other spaces. Not many, but some. I think most people still feel the time-bound nature of learning. They see a catalogue of activity in the archives and think, Oh, I must have missed it.

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

CLMOOC facilitators share versions of this phrase a lot, as a welcoming and inclusive message. And we do mean it.

But the reality is that the words we say with best intentions don’t always work. Some people still feel left out if they didn’t take part in the summer experience. Others feel as if the possibilities are too large, to grand, to just dive in, solo. And others might think, I’ll just wander through what they did, and get a taste on my own time.

Perfect. That’s part of the CLMOOC experience, too. Wanderers are welcome!

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

In the past, we’ve had some interesting revelations about how the CLMOOC extended into learning spaces — at schools, through Writing Projects, into other online experiences. (And the CLMOOC is built off the ethos and models of other open online experiences, and so it goes).  Sometimes, it is months or even years later that we learn about it. That indicates we probably don’t ever hear about a lot of other connections, too.

There’s a “trust factor” when you help build an open network that something is happening beyond the field of vision, even if one can’t see it. We learn in the moment in hopes for understanding far beyond the moment. It’s like being the classroom teacher with young kids (or even as a parent) and thinking, I have faith that what we are doing here, now, will impact their lives down the line.

Back to Tania  … I pulled out a few lines from her blog post (see up top) which I think makes me the happiest of all, as one of the CLMOOC facilitators. The ways in which she articulates how CLMOOC is a welcoming network of people with different experiences and backgrounds (which could still use more diversity in the mix) and a community that values her play and work, and even monsters, that she can turn to beyond the summer months is heartening. I feel it, too. To see others express it is satisfying beyond belief.

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

Peace (it’s time),