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.
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.
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 …
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 …
A few years ago, our principal hired a web designer to work on our school’s website. What came out of that venture was one of the annoying school websites I have seen, and it has driven me crazy for years. I get what the guy was trying to do: create a site that was kid-friendly. What he created was a mess of colors and images that are a prime example of what you should NOT do when designing a site for an organization.
See what I mean:
Among the most glaring deficiencies, in my mind, is the lack of audience. He built this for the kids. He should have built it for the parents. Students almost never have reason to visit the school website, except for the summer, when they are trying to get a glimpse of what is in store for the year ahead.
No, school websites are for parents, and the old design was the worst possible message to parents. I lobbied hard over the years to our principal, who admitted the web designer came cheap. (I won’t even go into the designer’s claim that teachers could easily update new content for their pages … if you know HTML … we might agree that some knowledge of HTML is good — see Paul Oh’s piece over at The Digital Shift — but the reality is that few teachers know what HTML is, never mind what it does.)
So, I was pleased as punch this week when our school’s website got a complete overhaul and now looks more professional than ever. It’s not perfect but at least it has potential. I don’t look at it and want to shoot the screen, as I often did with the old animal-themed one. And the audience has shifted back to parents.
Now, if we can just get classroom teachers to move on beyond using Teacher Class Pages (which reflects the early 1990s in their feel) and into the 2010s …. (actually, my colleague Gail Poulin has been doing just that, teaching a group about how to use a WordPress blog for their class site.) And maybe updating news from last year is a good start, too.
I decided to have some fun with the Hackasaurus X-Ray Goggles application, which allows you to layer in a hack on websites, by adding my band — Duke Rushmore — to the news feed page of Rolling Stone magazine (I am sure Jann Wenner won’t mind. Right?). In typical tongue and cheek, I created a series of news stories that poked fun at each of us in the band. If you knew us better, you’d get all the inside jokes. But I’d like to think the hacked Rolling Stone is still fun to read. I tried to make the writing I was doing in the form of short stories, thinking of the activity more as short story writing than information text. And let’s face it: humor writing can be difficult to pull off.
I didn’t leave myself out of the picture, either. (I’ve had my saxophone break apart on me before. Really. But I did not use Gorilla Glue. Really.)
Logistically, the most difficult part of the hack was the images. While X-Ray Goggles allows you to change most images, you need to have the image hosted online with a .jpeg extension. We have plenty of photos online but none that were in a format that worked for what I wanted. And we needed our own images on the site for the hack to work as I intended (as if we were really in the magazine). So, I ended up finding this site — Postimage — that hosts images, and allowed me to create thumbnails of the band.
One thing that is intriguing is that anyone can remix my hack, too (as long as you have the X-Ray Goggles button on your browser) and it would be cool to have my bandmates give it a try. (I actually rehacked my original hack to add more details to the stories that came to me later in the day, so this is final is the second itteration of the hack.) I’m not sure they will take me up on the offer, although they all loved what I had done with the hacked site.
Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is in the midst of a year-long inquiry around digital literacies. It began back in the fall with a running theme through our Best Practices conference, and has continued with a few inquiry sessions with our WMWP leadership team. The other day, I facilitated a Hackjam session, as a way to get us talking and thinking about the hacking and remixing culture of young people and how it might connect to school-based learning.
We began with an activity away from the computer. I call it Hacking the Writers, a version of Hacking the Poster that I did at the National Writing Project meeting (thanks to Chad Sansing and Andrea Zellner). I brought in a poster that I have of cartoon characters of famous writers (the poster is very funny in itself) and handed out sticky notes and said, add your own comments to the poster. The room got sort of silent, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But soon enough, there was a lot of laughter going on and the poster got hacked.
Next, we had the privilege of having Rafi Santo skype into our meeting for about 40 minutes. Rafi has done some very interesting work around “hacking literacies” and the consideration of systems, and how to think about participatory media in a meaningful way. (We all read a piece by Rafi about hacking literacies to set the stage — you can find a link to the article here). Rafi was wonderful, helping to open up some eyes around why teachers should be considering this topic. His talk moved from social justice issues (giving power to change the media message and the issue of access) to the reclaiming of the word “hacking” as a positive endeavor to a rationale for at least understanding the technology we use on a daily basis. The topics of privacy and ownership were also featured.
My hope had been that Rafi would establish a case for why we should care, and use, hacking literacy ideas in the classroom, and he did so in a meaningful way.
Next, I introduced two tools: one was the Lego Gender Remixer, which allows you to remix Lego commercials in order to uncover marketing techniques. The other was the Hackauraus XRay Goggles, which is a hacking tool that allows you to hack websites (not really — it is an overlay) and craft new messages. We went into Education Week and hacked our own messages about teaching, and you should have heard the giggling and chatting that was going on in the room. There was excitement about some easy tools that would help students and teachers understand the larger concepts.
These kinds of sessions help lay the groundwork for consideration of our classroom. I don’t expect hacking to suddenly explode in their schools. But getting situated on the possibilities, and flipping the concept to a positive idea around empowerment of student voice, is a step in the right direction.
This afternoon, I am facilitating a session with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project around hacking literacies. It’s part of our year-long inquiry around digital literacies. I’ll share out some of the work (playful work) we will be involved with, and the sites we are using, tomorrow. But I created this slideshow of quotes from Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Program or Be Programmed, as a teaser for the start of the session. (The book is great, by the way, and I highly recommend it).
I wasn’t there but Doug Belshaw shared his slideshow for a presentation he co-facilitated around supporting a new generation of digital makers. I’m fascinated by this direction, and wonder (again) how to balance this idea of technology, creation/making and school curriculum. Doug’s presentation reminded me of the resource that I had developed over at NWP’s Digital Is around a similar concept — of connecting the Maker’s Movement with the Digital Composition concept.
I am going to be leading a Hackathon session with the Western Mass Writing Project in a few weeks and so I wanted to try out (again) how X-Ray Goggles (from Hackasaurus) work as a browser tool to allow you to “hack” websites (basically, you are messing around with the overlay of text and images and making a copy). I was pleased to see that you can now publish your hack right through the tool itself (that will be handy for sharing).
Here is what Education Week looked like before I got busy on it:
So, why hack? Why teach it? Well, it has to do with a form of literacy, right? We remake media messages, deconstruct it and revamp it, and in doing so, we understand the original source even as we are making our own message. This is all about critical thinking, and engagement, and putting creativity into the hands of users — of helping to make the shift from passive consumer of media to creator/remixer of media.