Student Interactive Fiction: the Home Space

norris interactive fiction site
Our school just began the switch into Google Apps for Education, which means I finally get to use Gmail and other Google tools for the classroom with a little more ease. I decided to try out the Google Sites option as the space to host students’ Interactive Fiction stories that were created in the past three weeks (Another two classes will launch into it this week.)

Please visit our space and read some of the stories created by sixth graders. Follow the branches and try not to get too lost!

Peace (in the stories),

PS — you can follow our work over the past few weeks with this link, too.



Storybird: Why I Keep Teaching

There’s been a ripple of posts around the Net lately in which educators write or share their thoughts about why they keep teaching (see the Use Your Outside Voice blog being moderated by Beth Shaum). An offshoot of these are public resignation letters being sent to Arne Duncan. These responses come, no doubt, due to the increasing pressure we teachers are under from political officials. Over at our National Writing Project iAnthology space, the question of “Why We Teach” is at the heart of this week’s writing prompt. I went the route of using Storybird to create my visual, storybook response:

Peace (in the book),
PS — here is the video put together by Beth and others that captures what is on the minds of many teachers.


Teachers: Raising our Voices

Kevin Gazette Article
Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has an ongoing partnership with the local newspaper to feature teachers writing about educational issues on a monthly basis. This month, I wrote about going to a School Committee meeting and watching teachers become political advocates for learning, and for kids, and urging the rest of us to find our voices, too, when it comes to educational reform and issues.
I created a modified podcast of the article (which you can read through the link off the WMWP website).

Peace (in getting heard),

Bye, Bye, Busy, Annoying School Website

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:

old norris

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.

new norris

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.


Peace (in the site and in my sight),

Hanging out at Kirby’s Lane

I had the good fortune to be asked by blogger Kirby Larsen to “sit” for an interview about my work around teaching video game design in the classroom. Kirby runs a regular feature at her blog in which she features teachers, so I was honored that I was asked. I didn’t realize that I was going to travel down memory lane to my childhood for the first part, but that was fun, and it got me remembering my own sixth grade teacher, Mr. Dudak, again.

Head over to Kirby’s Lane to check out the interview

And thanks to Kirby for thinking of me!

Peace (in the blogging connections),


Educator Portfolios, Student Work and Privacy Concerns

Like many school districts out there, we are in the midst of changing the ways us teachers are evaluated by our administrators. For us, this is not a huge shift, as we began a semblance of this new model a few years back — we set goals, have discussions with our principal, await a series of quick classroom visits, self-evaluate on a rubric, and have another discussion with our administrator, who evaluates us along numerous lines. One of the main changes is how we collect and share our “evidence of practice” with our principal, as our new system requires us to construct a portfolio of our work as teachers complete with student samples.

Our principal is moving us into digital collections, so that he and we can have access to a digital file of the evidence. Ideally, it will save us paper and time, and make shared access quick for both of us. Our district is moving into Evernote, the sharing site, as a way to make this happen in a logical, coherent way. I am all for it.

Except …

I keep raising the idea of privacy. While our Evernote spaces will be private (accessible only by the teacher and the evaluating administrator), I keep wondering: will it always be private? Who owns the content once we upload it into Evernote? It is Evernote or is it us? This is not a diss to Evernote but a real concern when it comes to not just our own work but also our students’ work. While Evernote is independent now, you can be sure it is on someone’s radar: Google, Facebook, Pearson. Someone is no doubt taking notice of how Evernote is being used more and more by schools. So, I keep wondering, what happens to student work if Evernote does get bought out?

We don’t know.

And I think we should.

Or at the very least, we need to have a school district policy about how to format materials for Evernote (no names of students, no images of students, no videos of students) so that if the unknown becomes reality (if Evernote is bought out by a company whose policies are not in tune with our own), we have some safeguards in place. My principal “heard me” and made some phone calls, and has our district technology coordinator on the issue, as we try to sort this all out before the digital portfolio idea takes hold.

How does your district deal with this issue?

Peace (in the privacy),



Technology Boxed Me In

I’ve written about this a few times here and there, and to be honest, I am having trouble finding the right way to explain what I mean. So, bear with me here. I love using technology for creative projects. I think the digital tools that I find and play with have pushed my writing and creating in new directions. But, every now and then, I run into a wall and realize: as much as technology helps me to push boundaries, it is also limiting what I am doing. Even as I think technology is opening doors, it is also closing them. Partly this is due to the limitations of the technology I happen to be using. Partly it is my own inability to push around those limitations or abandon a project midstream when it isn’t working for me.

Let me give you an example.

I play saxophone in a rock and roll band — Duke Rushmore — and I am one of the songwriters. We’re just now moving more into original material, which I am happy about, and I have been sharing some songs with the band, and thinking of how to get back into songwriting with more energy than I have in the past few years. (I sort of took a step back). The other day, on the way home from the grocery story, a melody line and the first two lines of a song came into my head. I spent the entire car trip, working mentally on the song, “hearing” it as a soul/pop groove with a chorus all ready to go. I came home, passed the bags of food to my wife, and ran upstairs.

Unfortunately, my guitar was out of tune and a string had snapped, so I booted up a music loop program that I like to use, and began the task of “writing” the song on the computer. What happened was this: the song completely changed as a result of using the loops, and when I was done and could take a breath, I realized that not only was the song not right for the band, I had also completely lost the thread of the original groove as a result using the prefab loops. The technology had reshaped my song, and the original idea had not only been supplanted, but it disappeared completely. And oddly enough, I only realized this when I was almost done with the writing.

It was frustrating, to say the least, and I blame myself, not the technology. But the technology had a role, right? It brought to my mind the thinking of Kevin Kelly in his book, What Technology Wants, and how technology seems to be shaping our thinking more than we are shaping our technology. My songwriting experience here is a clear example for me. It’s not the first time I have come out of a project and thought, my vision was not realized — either because of the limitations of the technology or my inability to wrest control of the technology to meet my own creative needs.

I’m not sure if that makes sense or not, but it is something I struggle with. The songwriting process that I described above is just one example, although it is very concrete to me. The song that I ended up with was very different from the song I wanted to write (and heard in my head), and that is because I allowed the technology to shape the process instead of my ideas.

Peace (in the thinking),

PS — I am still thinking about what to do with the song, but here it is: