#2NextPrez: Presidential Politics for the Young

Opening to Gazette piece

I wrote a column for our regional newspaper about teaching the election to our students. The quote above is how I began it, as I wondered how to make an election in which they have no voting power meaningful.

You can read my column, although the newspaper has a paywall. I believe the first few views are free. Our Western Mass Writing Project has a partnership with the Daily Hampshire Gazette around the Chalk Talk column and writing, in which we help teachers get published once a month.


Meanwhile, I also joined in on Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast the other night, as host Paul Allison and other guests and I were talking about how we might extend the Letters to the President concept to students under the age of 13, by considering the revamped Youth Voices online space. (The Letters to the President publishing site is open to students 13 and older)

We’re making some plans …

Paul also shared out this great video documentary — Letters to the Next Mayor — which, while being site specific, lays out a foundation for how Letters to the President might unfold as a (digital) writing activity.

Youth Voices Letters to the Next Mayor from paulallison on Vimeo.

Peace (is more than rhetoric),


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),

At Middleweb: Forget the Tech/Focus on Learning


My start-of-the-year post for my Middleweb blog — Working Draft — is about what happened when I realized that the technology platform that I use at the beginning of the school year for a few projects with my sixth graders … died and disappeared on me. I had that slight panic of now what and then realized, again, it is never about the technology.

Read More Proof It’s the Teaching, Not the Tech at Middleweb

Peace (settling in now),

It Wasn’t All Bad (There Was Success, Too)

Yesterday, I wrote about my struggles on the first days of school with technology, and how it went awry. But the week also had success, too. For example, on Friday, I was able to get all 70ish of my sixth graders to activate their Google Apps for Education accounts, with very little problems, and all of them were able to dive into Google Slides to “play” for a small bit of time. (I purposely don’t show them what to do, so they have to navigate a new system on their own, with help of friends. Mini-lessons will come later)

SixWord Collage2

A fair number of my homeroom students did, in fact, get a chance to complete their Six Word Memoirs and their Summer Experiences within the collaborative project that fell apart on us on that first day. I can see I have a very sports-orientated bunch of kids with me this year.

SixWord Collage1

And we began our classroom routines (writing prompts, discussions, dedicated reading time, Circle of Power and Respect, etc.) and I began reading the first half of Rikki Tikki Tavi, which will be our touchstone text all year long when it comes to thinking and writing about literature.

200px-Rikki-Tikki-cvrSo, overall, it was a great start to the year, with a few stumbles, and I can’t wait to get back with them on Tuesday. That said, I also don’t mind an extra day home for Labor Day.

Peace (everywhere),

Slice of Life: How’s Your Head

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You choose a moment and narrow your focus, and then share out into the SOL community. You write, too.)

Back to School Anxiety Dreamscape

I knew it. I knew I’d be awake in the middle of the night, with a tumble of thoughts about the start of school. And so it was. Staff goes back today and then kids start their new school year tomorrow. I did fall back asleep eventually, dreaming the dreams only teachers seem to dream.

Peace (dream it sleepily),

A Fad Returns: Rubik’s Cubes Here, There, Everywhere

It’s always difficult to pinpoint the start of a fad. One of my gifted students brought in a Rubik’s Cube on a mid-year wintry day (maybe back in December). His is a very mathematical mind, prone to solving complex challenges. When this student shared the cube with other students, and noticed how “cool” it seemed to them, he brought in more. A whole bag of Rubik’s Cubes. I didn’t know they came in so many shapes and configurations, to be frank.

They do. Small ones. Big ones. Geometrically shaped ones. Different colored ones.

Suddenly, other sixth graders were bringing in their Rubik’s Cubes, twisting the blocks during passing times in the hallways, or at lunch, or at recess. There were informal Cube Challenges going on all the time. I had never heard of Speed Cubing before, but they had, and that was one of the challenges. How fast can you solve a Cube?

Some did “research” on YouTube, figuring out strategies. Others shared what they knew with friends, teaching how to twist the block into winning mode.

At the end of the day, at the bus loop, I now see younger students with Cubes in their hands. The fad has spread from the older grades to the younger grades.

As someone who remembered the Cube fad as a kid, it was fascinating to watch.  Not just how some students figured out the algorithm of solving a Cube, but also, that this little block of blocks had survived over time. It likely has to do with the algorithmic challenge, and that some people are more adept at the pattern recognition than others.

I don’t expect Silly Bands to make a come-back. I maybe wrong on that. (Please don’t make me wrong on that.) But apparently, these kids dug Rubik’s Cubes out of closets and attics and basements, and maybe ordered some new ones. I’m not sure how or where they found them. But I am pretty sure that it’s just one of those odd things that surfaces for a time, and then disappears again in the midst of an elementary school year. I’ll let you know in September.

Peace (this way and that way, and this way),


When Monkeys Fly: Celebrating Student Writing

Flying Monkey Award Monkeys

We had our annual awards ceremony yesterday morning, where certificates of accomplishment for all sorts of subjects were handed out to upper elementary students. A few years ago, I wanted to break up the seriousness of the ceremony and so, I created The Flying Monkey Award. Students have a chance to earn The Flying Monkey Award by keeping every single writing notebook prompt from the course of the school year. This year, there were 75 writing prompts in their notebook, and some went through two or three notebooks of writing.

I call out the sixth graders who have won (it is a lottery and your “ticket” is your notebook) off the stage, and fire a Flying Monkey across the cafetorium to them. It’s great fun, with lots of cheers and celebration, and many incoming students ask me about the Flying Monkey early in the school year.

I guess that’s what we call a “school tradition.”

Peace (flying, soaring, screaming like a monkey),

Go Forth and Write Your World

Kevin Hodgson Chalk Talk

I wrote a column for the local newspaper that ran this week. Its theme format is an “Open Letter to My Young Writers” as the school year comes to a close today. In the piece, tried to look back on the year and encourage them beyond my classroom, and our school (they transition to the regional middle school next year).

Here is an audio excerpt from the last section of the column …

I read the piece out loud to all of my classes yesterday. They appreciated it, I think. I know I appreciated them.

Peace (more than words),

Slice of Life: When the Picture Books Arrive

Picture Books Arrive

Many of you know me as someone who enjoys dabbling in technology and digital writing projects, but I am a sucker for the emotional pull of a solid, physical book. Make it a book that a student has written and created, and you have me hooked.

The Books Arrive

So, the delivery of four huge boxes of student-created picture books that arrived at my classroom the other day almost had me thinking of making one of those “unbox it” videos that seem so strangely popular on YouTube. I didn’t make the video so you will just have to accept that I was pretty darned excited when I opened up the boxes and dug out the books.

Not as excited as my sixth grade students, though, who were buzzing throughout the day after my librarian collaborator and I handed out the books with the words, “Congratulations! You are now a published writer. This is your book.”

The published books — picture books designed around the theme of remembering their years at our elementary school as they head off to middle school — were the culmination of a beta-testing project with software by Fablevision that allows students to write and illustrate picture books in a digital space, and then send the books directly to Lulu publishing.

It all reminded me of this short video from Lane Smith:

I’m happy that the physical book still holds allure for my students, living as they are in an age of digital screens, and I am glad it was a gift we could give them as they end their time in elementary school. It’s been a perfect way to end the sixth grade (still a few days to go!)

Peace (past to present),