Get Up And Dance (A Staff Act)

Talent Show 2015

At this year’s school talent show, I suggested the staff learn the song Shut Up and Dance, but change it to Get Up and Dance, and so we did. The other night, teachers packed the stage. I played the bass on the song, and I had to learn my part via YouTube (Thank you, YouTube).

Other teachers coordinated the whole thing — t-shirts, balloons, kazoos, etc, and it was a blast. Kids loved it when teachers left the stage to dance in the audience. I was tethered to my bass amp, so I stayed on stage.

Peace (in the chords),

What Student Interactive Fiction Story Maps Look Liked

Yesterday, I shared how we are using Google Slides as the platform for Interactive Fiction stories where the writer provides choices for the reader in the narrative. The most important part of that kind of writing the planning of the story itself. It’s easy to get lost in the branches. So, students have to really think through where each and every choice will end up, and storymapping is a critical component of composition.

This is the one that I shared as a Mentor Text with students, and we looked at a few others, too, from the Make Your Own Adventures series of books.

Story Map The Bike


Check out a few of the storymaps from my sixth graders:
Interactive Fiction Story Map1

Interactive Fiction Story Map3

Interactive Fiction Story Map2

Makes you wonder what those stories will turn out to be, doesn’t it?

Peace (in the branches),

Using Google Slides for Interactive Stories

Story Map The Bike

I almost ran out of time for Interactive Fiction with this year’s classes but then found a way into this very different kind of writing and reading. I had a two-day window to introduce the concept of Interactive Fiction — the kind of writing/reading where the writer leaves choices and the reader is in control. We read Make Your own Ending stories, and do a short writing activity where small stories are written with branches, and then shift to writing longer pieces.

In the past, I have used Twine with students, and while I liked it for the way it shows the visual branches, Twine was acting funky on our laptops last year and two days would never be enough to teach a new technology tool and have them plan/write their own. (If you use Twine, check out this site for tutorials.)

But it occurred to me that they already had a tool at hand: Google Slides. And we had already done much of the groundwork earlier in the year with Digital Poetry books. They knew how to add internal hyperlinks and create a network of paths. So, we dove into Google Slides to create some Interactive Fiction stories. They are not yet done, and even as we work on another story project to end the year (more later), the Interactive Fiction project is a nice extension project for my writers who are already finishing up their short story projects.

I did share my own Interactive Story with students as an example. You play it, too, if you want.

I’ll share out some of the story maps tomorrow … they are intriguing visuals of young writing minds at work.

Peace (choose it),

Of Podcasts and Poems for Voices and A Knot of Ideas

Warning: This is one of those posts where I don’t have any clear ideas of where I am going to end up. I am thinking as I am writing. Writing as I am thinking.

Poems for Two Voices 2015

Anybody know how to …” a voice called out in the classroom.

I do. Be right there.

I watched from another part of the classroom, as one student got up from their project, walked over and showed another how to add the loop browser into Garageband.

How do I ….” another student called out.

Let me show you. I figured that out when I …

Again, I am nearly completely removed from the discussion. One student calls out for help. Another steps up to share their knowledge. This was yesterday, in class, as my students are learning how to use Garageband (only two or three of my 80 students had ever used it) to record podcasts of their poems, which are “poems for two voices.”

Poems for Two Voices 2015

I’m thinking of all of the work going on in the Rhizomatic Learning community these past few weeks, right into this week’s current theme, as posed by Dave Cormier, of “rhizomatic learning as an invasive species.” I’ve appreciated Terry Elliott continuing to remind us to find and notice and share out rhizomatic practices in the field, to help make the move from the theory of the tangled roots of learning to what it might look like in the classroom.

Poems for Two Voices 2015

So, these “poems for two voices”? They are a tangled woven root system in themselves. Designed to be read and performed, the poet weaves the words in and out of the two voices, often pulling phrases into conflict and then in harmony with each other. Ideally, the two topics are related but different enough to create tension.

For 11 and 12 year olds, even at the end of our sixth grade, writing “poems for two voices” is critical thinking challenge, and not only in the crafting of the words. The physical writing, of leaving gaps in the poem for the other voice to fill, required me to teach them how to make and use tables. That seems pretty basic, no doubt, but if you have never created a table before or used a table before in a word document, it’s something new to be discovered.

Add the element of podcasting, and a new software experience (Garageband), and suddenly, the level of learning gets extended even further, and this is where (as indicated by some of the exchanges above) that I noticed what rhizomatic learning sort of looks like in small moments of my classroom. I have purposely tried only to show my students the basics of Garageband, and given them time to play and tinker before moving into the recording of their performance of the “poems for two voices.” Sure, it would have been easier and simpler to use some other voice recording tool, or to have given detailed Garageband instructions.

But it is a wondrous thing to watch what happens when everyone is struggling to get their head around how to add new tracks, record different voices, add vocal effects, and layer in a musical loop soundtrack underneath the poems, and to observe what happens if the teacher is purposely (they don’t know this) standing back, offering only minimal support.

You know what happens?

They help each other. They turn to others. They play and figure things out, and then share that knowledge in a very informal way. One helps another. That person helps another. Someone discovers something “cool” and a crowd flocks around to learn how to do it, too, and then that leads to something else, and suddenly, the classroom is alive with experimentation. Or, learning.

I am always surprised, and saddened, when so many students say they “hate writing poems” and it is mostly a result of being forced to write in strict styles, particularly rhyming poems, that don’t allow students to feel free and experiment with language. This “poem for two voices” (and we even read together a very complicated “poem for four voices” that blew their minds) is so unlike anything that they have experienced, that it opens up new possibilities for how we merge writing and technology and creativity together.

What’s my role in this podcast activity, as teacher? Of course, I am there to help those students who just can’t seem to figure it out, for whatever reason. I guide them. I call over others. And my role is to put the experience into a context of learning, of helping them see the entire process from above after spending time deep in their little recording world.

My co-teacher and I were having a conversation in class yesterday, as we watched this unfolding. We were talking about changes in expectations this year with a new principal and her push to make the standards we are teaching more explicit and preferably posted each day (we are not yet required to do that but I suspect it is coming), and how some teachers are struggling to figure out how to find that balance between their experience in knowing what engages students as learners and offering proof that it connects to standards.

We looked around the room, as podcasts were being recorded, with students in headphones speaking into computers and remixing media. There was laughter, and sharing, and teams working. I noted that while the learning on display here touched on writing and speaking standards, my main goal was to enrich their knowledge of technology and keep the push alive to get them composing their own content, making the shift away from passive consumer. There’s no explicit standard for that.

But there should be.

I know the phrase of “invasive species” has a negative connotation (something foreign snuffing out the native species), but if we think  in the positive of learning something new and sharing it with others as a way to create impact, and maybe root out some shared knowledge, by suffocating old ideas, then this kind of media poetry activity is on target.

Peace (in the knot),

The Struggles of MultiModal Assessment Design

I had an interesting conversation with a doctoral student who is doing her work on how teachers are evaluating and assessing student digital writing projects. I am part of her study (well, as a teacher, I am participating) and yesterday, we had a 90 minute chat about assessing digital work. Interestingly, this connected in my head to the inquiry going on at Rhizomatic Learning this week, too.

During our time, she asked me a lot of questions and I admit, I struggled to explain how I best assess digital writing projects that my sixth graders make. Even after co-editing a book on assessment of digital writing (Teaching The New Writing), and even after years of bringing various projects into my classroom to push at the notions of what it means to write in a digital age …. I am often as lost as I have ever been.

In particular, yesterday, I did a very close look at a video game design project and “talked through” what I was seeing, using my own project indicator sheet as my guide.

It had been some time since I had played this game called Into An Animal Cell (you can play it, too) , and I remained impressed by the work of this student. Talking the game through with my assessment lens on as I played it was another way to examine the moves of the student around game design, story narrative and the use of science as the underpinning theme.

But I openly admitted to her: grading/assessing something that has many modalities — here, for example, game design, science concept, story narrative, science vocabulary, etc. — is something I continue to grapple with on so many levels. If I get too specific, then I lose the flavor of the whole. Too general, as I am in the assessment tool for this project, and it is nearly meaningless. And then there is the element of “newness” here — I’m lucky if one of two of my 80-odd students ever designed and published a video game. Assessing the newness of the skill tugs in contrast to the learning experience I want them to have in the end, which is a design mentality and expanded notion of story narrative flow in a multimodal space.

I still seek (and yet, have not yet found) the balance here to create an assessment that will do what an assessment tool is designed to do: guide the student to make improvements so that they can further their work and learn from the experience. I still feel as if I am designing assessment tools to give them a grade. The tool is for me more than for them, as a way for me to justify why we are making video games.

I need to turn that whole perspective on its head. I need to better figure out how to create something more meaningful for my students. I’m still struggling with this. As it turns out, so are many others, as evidenced by some of this researcher’s other interviewees.

Peace (in the pondering),

Enter Pink Fury (Tired and Sore)

This is our team, Pink Fury. As you can see, there are only about a dozen of us.

Pink Fury 2015

I am on the one with the painted shirt. I like to do my own thing.

In the Students vs Teachers Quidditch match the other night, there were more than 60 student vying to play us in our school’s unique game. For almost 80 minutes, we teachers ran and shot the quaffle and did all the nutty things we do for our game, as wave after wave of students (fresh from sitting) joined in.

Yesterday, I was tired. This morning, I am sore. But the spirit of fun was baked into the entire day yesterday, and it was all kids could talk about it (even our new principal joined in the game and she had no idea what was going on). So, yeah, as we move into our April break, it was worth it.

Peace (in the pink),

PS — our name, Pink Fury, comes from supporting a colleague battling cancer …

We Play Quidditch (What About You?)

So, today is our huge, massive, completely-nutty Quidditch Tournament at our school, where the four sixth grade classes square off against each other for an entire day of running, teamwork, running, throwing, running, cheering, running and well, running. There’s a lot of running in our game, which began with a group of students reading the first Harry Potter book years ago and asking, “Why don’t we make this game for us to play?”

They worked with our PE teacher to design rules of the game and this “literature in motion” has been a major event at our school for more than 12 years. Other classes come to watch the games during the course of the day (not a favorite event for many other teachers, I must admit.)

After the teams of sixth grade students play all day (with us homeroom teachers as coaches), then the students take on the staff at night (I am exhausted just thinking about it already) in a fun match in which the line of students seems never-ending and the line of teachers seems pretty small. Did I mention a lot of running?

See you on the field …

Peace (in the Quidditch Pitch),

Slice of Life: Charting the Listeners

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give


In another writing space, in which connected friends from the National Writing Project write regularly and different folks take on different writing prompt hosting each week, my friend, Fred M., posed the question this week of nurturing active listeners. Fred, citing Peter Elbow’s work, used the launching idea of: “Listening is NOT waiting for the other person to stop talking.”

It’s a great topic, and one my colleagues at school and I talk about a lot, mostly from the deficit viewpoint: “Why isn’t he listening?” or “She was staring out the window again” or “He never participates in class discussions or raises his hand.” Maybe we need to think more of, what I am doing to bring her back to the classroom? Or how I am engaging him in something he is passionate about? That’s another day, another time.

I wrote to Fred’s prompt about some story activities that I do that encourage listening skills and then started to think about a typical class. I had this idea to use one of my four sixth grade classes, and to break it down (very unscientifically) along categories of listeners.

Here is what I came up with:

A Class of Listeners

Fred suggested I share the chart back with my sixth graders and get their input and perspective. I just might do that.

Peace (I’m listening),