An Inquiry into Technology, Student Voice and Social Justice

I’ve written about this a few times, but our inquiry theme this year the Western Massachusetts Writing Project is digital literacies. A keynote address that I gave the other week at a WMWP event centered on valuing the emerging literacies of the digital age.

And yesterday, as a follow up to that keynote, I helped facilitate an inquiry session with about a dozen WMWP folks around the idea of valuing student voices. In particular, much of our discussion and exploration centered around the ways that podcasting and audio recording can open up doors for expression for students.

We began with a writing prompt, on which we wrote about one of those “aha! moments” around technology — that time when something happened that you suddenly realized some possibilities. We then used Audacity to share out some of our moments. We didn’t save the audio file, however, since it was an experiment in the session and I was working on the school’s computer. But here is a podcast version of what I wrote about, centering on a student with learning disabilities who discovered some tools that helped re-envision himself as a writer.

We then spent some time on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website, considering the rationale and reasons why technology can have an impact on learning, and empowering students. In particularly, we read and watched the videos related to this fantastic resource by some friends in California: The Change Writers. What we really loved is how the resource shows a project that merges the power of digital media and production with writing and research, in a meaningful way. That resource also connected last year’s of WMWP around social justice with this year’s digital literacy theme.

Check out one of the videos from the resource that really shows the value of podcasting and Voicethread for student voice and motivation and audience:

Finally, we used Voicethread, too, and we began with a short writing prompt, asking the folks what kind of change they would bring to the world. I’ve kept the thread open, if you want add your ideas, too. Please, do.

And for a final reflection, we used Wallwisher to add a final thought to the inquiry session. I was happy to be part of this group, diving into the possibilities of digital literacies and tools, and keeping our focus on student learning as writers and as producers of content.

Peace (in the inquiry),


Digital Citzenship: A K12 Online Conference Keynote

My National Writing Project friends Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi have given the first of a handful of keynote presentations for this year’s K12 Online Conference, and it is such a wonderful and insightful, and important, look at the need and imperative of teaching all students the merits of digital citizenship and digital footprints.

If you are not moving into this content area with your students, you probably should. And Gail and Natalie give a great overview, with examples, and a path forward. Check out their Digital ID Project presentation.

Peace (in the sharing),

Digital Kids, Digital Literacies: A Keynote Address

Here is the presentation from my keynote address given on Saturday at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Best Practices Conference at the University of Massachusetts. We also captured it on video but I have not yet gotten around to the editing of that footage. Here, you can at least see some of the themes I was tracking as I talked about the literate lives of our students outside, as well as inside, of our school, and how technology is becoming a part of that fabric of reading, writing, speaking/listening, and the mechanics of writing.

Peace (in the share),


A Teacher’s View: Student Research Queries

instagrok teacher view

One of the things I like about using Instagrok with my students on our research project is that I can “look over their shoulder” at the kinds of searches they are doing and websites they have visited, as well as the amount of time they are spending (including out of school). This screenshot is pretty typical of the research that my students are up to. Neat, eh?

Peace (in the research),


Mozilla X-Ray Goggles: The Intentional Hack of My Blog

For a year or so, I have had friends in the National Writing Project run Hackathons or Hackjams, using various tools to show how hacking skills are another form of literacy, and how those skills are becoming ever more important to young people in a digital world because it provides them with agency via remixing and a lens to critique online sources.

One of those tools is the Hackasaurus Xray Goggles, a handy bookmarklet from Mozilla that lets you change the text and design of a website. I finally got around to checking it out, and boy, it is pretty fun to use.

Check out what I did to my own blog site here — compare it to the real thing:
A Hacked Meandering Mind

I wonder how this might be used for the political season? And it does bring up questions of ownership, right? Who owns a webspace and what does it mean when you hack it? I see that Mozilla is working to create an unique URL for sites that get hacked via Goggles. (Right now, you can only save the HTML code of the hack). Interesting …

Peace (in the hack),


Research and Writing and the Web

I’ve been asked to give a 50 minute literacy-based workshop to my upper elementary colleagues today (sort of a last minute request) and since my professional goal this year is to really dive into developing research skills with my sixth graders, I am going to share out some strategies for using technology to help students conduct research. As luck would have it, this week, I got a book that I had ordered about research and am already loving it, sharing it and will be using part of it today.

The book is by Christopher Lehman and is called Energize Research Reading and Writing. (Lehman is a colleague of Lucy Calkins and collaborated with her on the Pathways to the Common Core book that I have also shared.) This book outlines the rationale behind the push for more research-based reading and writing in the new standards, but also offers up a lot of practical advice. I will do a more formal review when I dive deeper into Lehman’s book.

Here is my agenda for the session today. Understand that while this handout succinctly focuses in on tools and standards, our discussions and activities are all framed around student research and writing. Our state standards call for research in the earlier grades, ramping up over time until sixth grade (which I teach) when suddenly the research component expands greatly. I’ve been revamping my curriculum to shift basic research skills early in the year so that my students have some knowledge about search queries, citation of sources, and more.
Research and Writing and the Web

Peace (in the search),


A Many Forked Path: The Historical Timeline of the Web

web history timeline project
I found myself lost in this Web History timeline, which is put together smartly and which brings you right into the history of the Internet and the Web. There are many links you can follow, but what becomes clear is how recent the history of the web and hyperlinks and hypertext really is. It’s another reminder that we are living “in the moment” and yet, we still are trying to make sense of it all.

And can I just say that I found it incredibly fascinating to think that the first point plotted on the line is a short story (by Borges) called The Garden of Forking Paths, which prefigured hypertext choices of the reader and provided a conceptual framework later on for the integration of hyperlinks to connect information (or stories) together. I don’t know the story, but I am going to try to find it and read it.

Check out what Wikipedia has to say about the story:

“Beyond its façade as a spy narrative, “The Garden of Forking Paths” has similarities to today’s digital media and hypertext projects. Borges conceives of “a labyrinth that folds back upon itself in infinite regression”, asking the reader to “become aware of all the possible choices we might make.”[4] The elaborate hypertext is much like the book which Borges suggests to be the labyrinth, (“Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing…the confusion of the novel suggested to me that it was the maze”[1]) in a sense of how the site offers different approaches to how you may interpret the information provided, yet you’re not trapped in the dilemma of choosing one and eliminating others; you may choose to unfold all possibilities. You “create, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork” (Wardrip-Fruin, 33). Although the story appeared before the advent of modern computers, Borges seems to have invented the hypertext narrative structure. Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort write: “Our use of computers is … based on the visions of those who like Borges—pronouncing [The Garden of Forking Paths] from the growing dark of his blindness—saw those courses that future artists, scientists and hackers might take.”[1]

– from Wikipedia

Peace (along the line),

PS — Reading the timeline inspired me to begin writing a new webcomic, called Walking the Web, about two kids who go back in time to see the development of the World Wide Web. It’s sort of like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure but the boys meet up with folks like Steve Jobs, and Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Case, and others. I’ll start sharing that comic tomorrow.

What to make of Google Field Trip

Check out the video above, which is an advertisement for a new Google App (on Android) called Field Trip, which pings you with information about places and things, and history, as you walk around with your phone or device. It’s like the next version of the MP3 Museum Tours, but outside, in the big world. (Add in something like Siri and you’d have a chatty companion talking as you walked, I suppose)

It’s intriguing on one level. You can get deep knowledge about various buildings and locations that might have some significance you never knew. It’s also a bit worrisome from a privacy level (you’re being tracked!) and on an advertising level (buy our stuff!), and you can see how this kind of app might be integrated into the Google Glasses idea (wearable computers for the eyes).

You have to wonder, though, about the possibilities for education. Could we get our students to eventually move towards constructing tours of their own communities, based not on businesses selling stuff but on historical records?

We’ll see ..

Peace (in the walk),


A Presentation Teaser: Digging into Digital Literacies

I’ve been doing some thinking work around a keynote address coming up around digital literacies with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I made this video as a sort of teaser, trying to lay out some ideas and flesh out some direction for what I want to speak about — which is how the digital literacies of kids can be connected to the literacies we value in school but we need some bridges between reading/writing in school and reading/writing in their lives.

Peace (in the prez),