How to Use Memory Objects for Digital Stories

Yesterday, a visitor asked a bit about how I teach the Memory Objects/Narrative Writing/Digital Story assignment, and I am happy to walk through what we do.

First, this writing is part of our unit around paragraph structure and paragraph writing. The emphasis for this particularly piece of writing is “narrative” and telling a story. I begin by reading the picture book Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox as a way to talk about memories. This delightful picture book tells the story of a young boy who helps his elderly friend recover her memories through a series of gifts. It’s a perfect segue into our discussions around not just memories, but the artifacts and objects that we collect to remind us of events and people and experiences.

Second, they begin their writing. Since this is a lesson around paragraph structure, we emphasize through graphic organizers some of the main ideas, and how to develop the body. This paragraph later becomes the script for their digital stories. I share my own examples with them, and show them a few digital stories from prior years. For some, the hardest part is figuring out what to write about. So, I give them a few days to mull it over.

Third, we jump into iMovie. Since most have not used iMovie before, I give a tutorial and then they had a  good part of two days to play around with the program in ways not related to the digital story. I showed them how to add titles, use transitions, embed music, drag in photos, etc. This is not wasted time. This play time gives them a chance to explore, try out techniques, fail and try again, and more. I have found they need a good grasp on the possibilities before the real project begins.

Finally, they either bring in their objects or they bring in f lash drive with images of the objects. If they have brought them in, they use PhotoBooth to take photographs (hint: use the “reverse image” feature if the object has writing, since PhotoBooth takes mirror shots). What is nice is that iMovie integrates PhotoBooth and other applications seamlessly into the program. We talk about using Garageband to create a soundtrack and Free Play Music as a source for music (which leads to a longer discussion about “mood and tone” of music working in conjunction with the mood and tone of the writing.)

When they are done, they have the option to upload to our class YouTube site, or just export to the desktop.

The whole project takes about a week (of about 30 minutes a day), although I continue to have some stragglers. That’s always the case.

This is one of the projects that I do not grade. Surprisingly, of my 80 students, only two have asked me that question (will this be graded?). Instead, I see this as a way to value writing, introduce a useful bit of technology, and offer up an authentic publishing venue for them to tell a story. The level of engagement is very high across the board. It reminds me that if the activity is enriching as an experience, the need to grade every little thing seems a little less important. At least, it does for this particular kind of writing/technology adventure.

I hope that helps you think about how to bring digital storytelling into your classroom.

Peace (in the sharing of memories),


Playing Around with Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality: Digital Writing Cover
For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by the movement towards more “augmented reality” apps are allowing people to layer information on top of the view of physical objects. I suppose this idea has been given a great big push forward with the emergence of the Google Glass project.

But, how to experiment with it?

Erin Klein, a friend in several teaching networks, shared a post this weekend at her blog that helped show one way forward. She describes in great detail how she is beginning to use an Augmented Reality app called Aurasma, which is a free and allows you to set up a virtual layer of information on top of images. (The layer is called the “aura” by the app.) What’s nice is that it is not overly complicated. You essentially choose the layer (either one that comes with the app or you make your own), then choose what it is that you want to layer information over, take a photograph of it, and then whenever you look at that image through the mobile device screen, the layered information magically becomes visible. While there is a bank of “auras” built into the app, Erin assures me that you can create your own media (video, etc.) and use that as the layer, too.

You can even publish the augmented reality layer at the Aurasma website, and share it with others.

I experimented first with a little dancing ninja popping up on a flower pattern on one of our rugs, and then brought my 8 year old in to check it out. Yeah. He was jazzed about it.  He kept putting his hands down to the ground, wondering where the ninja was. But, the thing is, you would need to have my rug in your viewer in order to see what I am even talking about. No offense, but I am not inviting the world into our sun room to watch the ninja in action.

So, I looked around my bookshelf for a book that I thought others might have access to. Since so many of my friends are in the National Writing Project, I pulled out Because Digital Writing Matters, and layered a floating Earth on top of it.

Want to see?

Tap to view my Aura.

If you don’t have the book itself, you can point your mobile device at this image of the book and click on the link above (This is where you will need to juggle your mobile device with your computer, I suspect. Oh, and you have to have the Aurasma app downloaded, too. I should have mentioned that. Center the image with the app open, and the layer should start by itself). It should still work by using the embedded image of the book, although you have be sure to carefully situate the view in the screen.

(I just tried it with the embedded image and it worked!)

So, what’s the point? There’s the cool factor, for sure, but is there more to it than that? Erin does a much better job explaining how you might begin to conceive using Augmented Reality in the classroom for learning, and she has plenty of great information about her work and ideas at her blog. She even has a free guide to using the Aurasma app, as well as some handy videos. I love it when other teachers share what they are doing. Thanks, Erin!

I could see this technology being used in a classroom (with access to mobile devices, by the way) where presentation posters hang on the walls, and students use the app to create layers of information about their projects; or in a library, where book reviews might be embedded as invisible overlays; or perhaps the layers are part of an informational treasure hunt around the room, or school; or … well, who knows? The ease of Augmented Reality is still pretty new, and so, the possibilities are still unknown.

What would you do? What will you do? If you make something, share it out in the comment section, so I can check it out.

Peace (in the reality, slightly augmented),




The Entire Fox News Piece: Your Secret’s Out

Some of you know that my sixth grade class was featured in a recent Fox News Special about Big Data, privacy and digital citizenship (that’s where we came in), and I shared out the edited clip that featured us. But here is the entire hour-long special on Hulu, in case you are interested. It certainly has that paranoid Fox slant, but some of the findings about the reams of data being collected on all of us is eye-opening, and always worth remembering.

Peace (on the screen),


Thoughts and Insights from the Wired World

Many years ago (I realize now it is 20 years, back in 1993), I saw a brand-new, start-up magazine on a newstand one day that seemed vaguely interesting to me for reasons I did not fathom and so, I subscribed for a year. I had no idea what in the world they were talking about in the pages of this magazine, but it seemed intriguing.

So, I kept reading Wired magazine.

One article that stuck with me was a piece about how this thing called the Web was going to change people’s lives and how a tool called Mosaic — a web browser — was going to shake things up. I had only vague notions of the Internet, thanks to a friend’s Compuserve account, and no clue as to what a web browser was nor why a graphic interface was important. Again, I kept reading, even as I was pushed way, way outside my comfort level and way outside my field of knowledge. I dropped the subscription during some lean financial years, and started back up again about 10 years ago, and have kept it going ever since.

I even took part once (in 2007) when the magazine said, send us your photo and we will send you a special edition with the reader on the cover. I did. I was.
Wired Magazine Jul07
I mention all that because I still look forward to Wired dropping in my mailbox (I’m still not yet excited with magazines on my iPad, and wish Newsweek still came to my mailbox, too.) I have always enjoyed how they balance a look to what’s coming with a look at what’s in the present, and that which has gone away. I don’t always buy the preachy viewpoint of technological change that they push us towards, but that’s OK. There is always enough in there to spark my brain.

So when the 20th anniversary, celebratory edition of Wired arrived the other week (see for yourself), I was intrigued and dove in. In a traditional alphabet sequence of ideas (Wired goes Old School!), the magazine revisits some of the transformative events and flops of the last 20 years as they have covered the world becoming increasing digital. From Beta designations of just about everything to Hypertext to the vocabulary of “snarky” tones of online writers to virtual communities to xkcd comic, the magazine’s coverage of the last 20 years is a great read.

Here are some snippets from the 20th Anniversary edition that jumped out at me:

“Now we experience culture through our apps.” (26)

“… the Arab Spring has shown the world what is possible when you combine social unrest with brave citizenry and powerful digital tools.” (28)

“The beta designation used to mean that a product wasn’t finished. Now we know it never will be.” (30)

“Really good coders build entire universes out of ideas.” (36)

“Crowdsourcing is the first industrial operating system native to the information age.” (42)

“We’re also in the midst of another major development: Design has become accessible to anyone with a laptop.” (44)

“Geekiness has become a synonym for counterculture braininess. And the rest is history.” (80)

“We now speak of hacking as a way of life, a gleeful corrective to any mired process … Whether or not we code, we all have a bit of the hacker in us now.” (86)

“In its wonderful vagueness, HTTP encoded a profoundly upbeat idea about our ability to come together, to fill in the blanks. And that crazy optimism has proven correct.” (90)

“New possibilities come to mind when intelligent worlds collide, and in the long run the web needed the poets and philosophers almost as much as it needed the coders.” (92)

“As with any technology, the long-term survival of language depends on utility. A word must fit its task, and sometimes — thankfully — that calls for a little wit.” (98)

“Put it all together and you have a bottom-up transformation of manufacturing that is following the similar democratized trajectories of computing and communications.” (108)

“Digital tools complement our effort to obtain meaningful face-to-face interactions.” (120)

“Reading code is like reading all things: you have to scribble, make a mess, remind yourself that the work comes to you through trial and error, and revision.” (122)

“The most accomplished trolls force online communities to ponder the limits of free speech in a medium that was supposed to obviate censorship.” (160)

“In the moment when some meme or viral video is taking off, it really does feel like a sort of epidemic.” (166)

“But never gone is the miraculous feeling of connecting with people far from our houses but close to our hearts.” (168)

Peace (in the words of the Wired world),

The 3D Effect: A Slowly, Tilting Website

The other day, a companion in the Teach the Web MOOC shared out a feature in Firefox that I didn’t even know existed. It allows you to get a 3D view of a website. Check out these two screenshots that I took of my blog site:
Meandering Mind 3D View

Meandering Mind 3d View2

What is amazing is that this tool is right in Firefox itself. No add-ons or anything. Here’s how Michelle explained it:

“Use Firefox. :-) Go to any page. Right click and go to “Inspect Element.” In the dark box that appears at the bottom of the screen, click the 3D cube button (“3D View”) in the upper right. You can then drag the visualization around and look at it from different angles.” — from Michelle’s post in the MOOC Google Community.

I was blown away by this simple rendering of a website, and then started to think: how might this be useful in the classroom? Sure, it’s cool. But is it useful? I think it is, particularly when doing lessons around the architecture of the web. Notice what elements of my blog stand up and out, and the question is: why? What content is there that makes Firefox separate it from the surface? How might we re-envision a website from a flat interface to a three-dimensional space? Intriguing ideas that will surely get kids thinking and playing, and wondering, right?

Peace (in the pop up world),


Considering Web Literacies: Ideas from Mozilla

This is part of a process underway by the Mozilla Foundation to articulate Web Literacies. They describe the process as “… elements we believe it’s important to pay attention to when teaching other people how to read, write and participate on the Web.”

I continue to be intrigued about the concept of thinking of my students’ lives online, and those intersections between learning in school and learning at home with technology, and where those ideas overlap … and don’t. Here, I do like the branching ideas of exploring, building, connecting. Many of the ideas are built on the concept of writing and reading, at least in my mind, but then take those ideas in new directions with technology.

What do you think? There is more information about the work here.

Peace (in the consideration),



Video: Explaining Classroom Inquiry Projects

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been working in partnership with an urban middle school on strengthening the writing and literacy instruction. One aspect of that project is that teachers have to design and launch a classroom research/inquiry project. What we found was some confusion over what that should look like, so along with written instructions (and future one-on-one sessions),I created this short video as another way to explain what inquiry might look like.

Peace (in the sharing),

Serendipidous Poetry: NY Times Haiku

ny times haiku
What do you make of this? This site uses software analysis on articles in the New York Times to generate haiku poetry. It’s pretty fascinating to think about that idea of accidental poetry culled from the newspaper.

From the site:

How does our algorithm work? It periodically checks the New York Times home page for newly published articles. Then it scans each sentence looking for potential haikus by using an electronic dictionary containing syllable counts. We started with a basic rhyming lexicon, but over time we’ve added syllable counts for words like “Rihanna” or “terroir” to keep pace with the broad vocabulary of The Times.

Not every haiku our computer finds is a good one. The algorithm discards some potential poems if they are awkwardly constructed and it does not scan articles covering sensitive topics. Furthermore, the machine has no aesthetic sense. It can’t distinguish between an elegant verse and a plodding one. But, when it does stumble across something beautiful or funny or just a gem of a haiku, human journalists select it and post it on this blog.

– from Times Haiku

Peace (in automated poetry),



Writer’s Knowledge Search Engine

writers knowledge base

I don’t know where I heard of this site, but the Writer’s Knowledge Base is  a modified search engine with links and resources specifically around the art of writing. I was playing around with it this morning and I liked how the filters are mostly set to find answers to queries about writing. You don’t get the world at your doorstep with every search. (The engine is created by the guy who created Hiveword, a software that helps with the writing of a novel. I haven’t used it but it looks like it might be helpful.)

The Writer’s Knowlege Base reminds me of some recent posts by Richard Byrne about how to create your own Google Search engine for your own needs by tweeking parameters and fields of search. I may tinker with that one of these days …

Peace (in the search),


Interactive Fiction Experiment: A Rvl Story Cube

Interactive Fiction storystarts
I saw someone in my RSS feed share a link for this beta site — Rvl — that allows you to create virtual-cube-shaped presentations, and I wondered if it might work for interactive fiction. You have to envision the project as a cube that has sides up, down and to the right when creating (although you can go left to view). It does work, somewhat, but the inability to see a master plan, or concept map, of the various slides in orbit around the virtual cube made the writing of a story quite tricky. I had to make sure the narrative folded back in on itself a number of times (and there may still be some potholes in the story as a result. Sorry.)

You can access the story directly here, too. Use your arrow keys on the keyboard to toggle around, or you can mouse-click it, too. Let me know what you think …

Peace (cubed),