What It Looks Like When We Hack Chess

hack chess collage 2013
My sixth graders have been working in collaborative groups to hack the game of chess, with new pieces and new rules on how to play. I’ll share more later as part of a larger collaborative DS106 radio project but this collage nicely captures some of the work they are doing to invent new board games out of traditional ideas.

Peace (in the hack),


Slice of Life: Did You Approve My Comic?


(This is for Slice of Life)

She was barely in the door, when she asked: “Did you approve my comic?” When I answered, yes, she jumped and shouted out, “Yes!” and high-fived her friend. Talk about getting excited about publishing. We’ve been using an online webcomic space and it’s interesting how the act of sharing out work to an audience of peers within the closed webcomic community of just a classroom can really bring forth a certain amount of excitement and motivation.

Honestly, I liked her comic because of the musical theme, and girl empowerment. She’ll be happy to know that I am sharing her comic here, too, I suspect.


Peace (in the frames),


What My Writing Looks Like When I Freewrite

Freewrite with Students Oct2013
I am going to use this image for another post in another space, but I thought it gives a pretty good view of what a page of my writing notebook looks like when I am freewriting over the course of a day, which is what I was doing with my students the other day.  There is a poem in the middle, some funny notes making fun of myself along the edge, and then the sketch when I got lost and didn’t know what to write. You should have heard the gasps and laughter when I shared this page with students. They expect that I write perfect, every time, but no … my writing is often a mess and a stew of ideas that sometimes coil around a theme.

Not always, but sometimes ….

Peace (from the writer to reader),


Dreaming of School Themes

Schools of Their Choice
We had just finished up an interesting article about schools that are developed along themes and so, that led to an activity in which they did some thinking and writing about the school they would want to establish and attend along a certain theme. There were interesting choices, beyond the popular sports motif. Can I say I was happy that Engineering and Math, along with culinary and agriculture, were on the list? I have a student body with broad interests, that’s for sure.

Peace (in the school),

More Connections and Sharing in the World

Skype with Virginia collage

We connected with another class of sixth graders — with Michelle Haseltine’s class in Virginia — to talk about similar projects that our students worked on to start the year around dreams, aspirations and goals. The video feed didn’t quite work on their end, but we still chatted and shared for about 20 minutes, and we are planning more talks in the future.

One topic that emerged from the students in Virginia was the question of how to stay focused when writing. If you could have seen the virtual high five I gave Michelle, you would know that this is the kind of question that a teacher lives for, particularly when it is asked with no adult prompting. And my students did a fine job of talking about strategies and techniques that they use to remain focused on a piece of writing. I was so proud of them for stepping up and articulating those ideas.

For our part, my kids were jealous that Michelle’s class is piloting a laptop program, allowing them to use technology in all of their classes through the course of the day, as needed. It was a nice connection to start the year (and my class’s second outreach to another school) as I try to continue my goal of connecting my students to the world.

Peace (in the talk),

The Loudest Pencil in the World

We’ve been working on a short story project for the past few days, and I have been so amazed at the quiet focus of my sixth graders on this project. You can hear a pin drop for 45 minutes at a time as they work on their stories. Then, yesterday, in one of my classes, all you could hear was this one kid’s pencil in the back of the room. It was incredibly noisy. It might have been his grip, or his intensity, or the table surface … who knows.

But as they wrote, I composed this poem:

The Loudest Pencil in the World

I just heard
the loudest pencil in the world;

Some kid in the back of the room
with a Kung Fu grip
and words tumbling out of him like an avalanche –
He’s racing to keep up,
pushing lead to stay ahead of his ideas,
else all might be lost …

And, boy, I know that feeling – all too well –
yet I write quiet,
so as to not cause a riot in my foolish head
as every sliver of sound has the potential
to get me lost
on some byway of my own way of thinking.

His pencil?
It shouts;
It hollers;
It sings;
It’s the loudest pencil in the world.
He’s scratching out a symphony in the back of the room
and the sounds have us all wondering –
I can see the heads of other students popping up
like prairie dogs now and then –
what is he writing,
and will his writing stay in tune

And I wrote it to be read and listened to, paying attention to internal rhymes. So, here is the podcast:

Peace (in the poem),

A Few Dreams to Inspire Them …

My students are working on their Dream Scene projects (done in a webcomic space) and I am enjoying getting to know them a little better through their aspirations (Note: I am sharing two versions here — the flash version and then the image version.)

Peace (in the dreams),


Webcomic: Dream Scene Mentor Text

My students are working on a start-of-the-year project known as a Dream Scene. They are envisioning some point in the future and thinking about a goal that they have to get there. In the past few years, we have created digital stories for dream scenes, but some technical issues (mostly, moving from PC to Mac and me not being ready for this project) have us instead working in our Bitstrips for Schools webcomic space.

My Dream Scene Webcomic 2013
Or as a flash file:

I shared out my own Dream Scene with them yesterday as they began their rough draft work. Today, they will head into the site and use an activity template to create their own. I love this project because it gives me a chance to know more about who they are as a person and where they see themselves going. Some of them really spend a lot of time mulling this one over!

Peace (in the frames),


Slice of Life: Connecting and Conversations

(Note: This is a Slice of Life post. You can join in with your own slice, too. Head over to Two Writing Teachers to get more information about the writing activity that takes place online every Tuesday.)
MountainMoonTalk 2013

We’ve just started school but we had the pleasure yesterday of connecting our classroom in Western Massachusetts with a class out in Arizona to talk about a book that both classes have read: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. This book was our entire school’s summer read but the students in Arizona are using it as a read-aloud. They’ve done a whole lot more work that we have and they shared out a lot of great ideas about the book, asked questions and considered a few different angles of the rich storyline of a character who heads off on an adventure in China to bring good luck to her village and family.

This is the first time my students have connected with another classroom, and they were pretty focused and jazzed up about it, even though we had some trouble hearing and they had some trouble hearing us. I realize I need to have a better system of students being closer to the computer for sharing — a little chair or something — and because we are at the start of the year, I didn’t feel quite as prepared as I would have liked for my own students sharing.

But my teaching friends in Arizona — Michael Buist (whom I met during our Making Learning Connected MOOC) and Jennifer Nusbaum — were great to work with, and I love extending the classroom beyond our walls, reaching out to make my students feel connected to something larger than themselves. It was a great first step at the start of the year.

Peace (in the discussion),

PS — here is the whole hangout:



Starting the School Year: We’re All Comics Now

Class of 2014
This is one of my opening day traditions with my homeroom class and it is a lot of fun. I have my students on the first day of school get up into our Bitstrips for Schools webcomic site to create avatars of themselves (first, we have a discussion about avatars and identity — a topic we will return to later on). Not only do I get this great webcomic version of my classroom, but I get to move around the room, talk one-on-one with students, watch who is a collaborator and who might need a little help, and who are my technology assistants.

I also have them work on the first activity in our Bitstrips, which is creating a “pro card” of themselves. This is an easy entry into making comics, since it is a template activity. I purposely did not give them specific instructions. I wanted to see what they would do with it. Most just used the template. But a few others (my future hackers?) began to modify the template a bit, making changes to the font and where their character was on the card, and more.

Here are a few:

Peace (in the comic world),