Connected Learning: A Flexible Approach

I’m still learning about what Connected Learning might mean. This interview with Mimi Ito is helpful.

A new report shows how the Connected Learning approach — meeting kids needs on an individual level by tapping into a wide array of potential resources — showcases the problems facing our educational system, and proposes some ways to improve it.
Peace (in the learning, myself),

Two Views of Writing: Woody Allen and John McPhee

Check out this view of Woody Allen, old-school writer.

As I was watching it, I was reminded of an article I had just read in The New Yorker by John McPhee, who writes about how he writes in a piece called “Structure.” (I think it is part of the paid archive now, so may want to go to your local library — you still have one, right? — to check it out). McPhee brings us right into his whole planning and writing of longer non-fiction pieces, showing off visual structures of his content. You can see charts, and maps, and visual puzzles that form the backbone of his pieces. His larger message is try to move away from chronological sequencing, and instead, find new ways to structure content in a piece of writing. But that requires considerable thinking, planning … and an understanding of structure.

The connection to Woody Allen is McPhee’s memories of using large notecards and scissors and other tools to begin the planning, until he discovered the personal computer, and had another professor create some programs that replicated what he was doing with paper planning on the computer. So the second half of the article showcases what happens when ideas move from tangible notecards to a specific software text editor that can sort ideas, too.

I found it fascinating, in part because I often struggle with the idea of structure in larger pieces. I have never been able to find a good system for visualizing where I am going with a longer piece, and often resort to the old “this is the first thing …. this is the last thing” approach and McPhee’s illustrations were illuminating in many ways if only to remind me that there are many ways to write a piece, and perhaps digital tools — with their flexibility of replication and movement — might make some of that thinking easier. Or not. Maybe too many choices is just as difficult as too few.

Peace (in the text),

A Reader’s Lament: The Digital Devours Newsweek


(or listen here)

So long, Newsweek. I’m going to miss you.

Like many (but not nearly enough, apparently), I have been following with some amount of trepidation the new year because I knew that Newsweek‘s print self was coming to an end. And so it has. The last issue of Newsweek arrived the other day, and all the adults in our house huddled around it to see what the end of the magazine would look like. Sure, the venerable and scrappy magazine is now headed online and there are hopes by its owners and top editors (including Tina Brown) that Newsweek will survive and maybe even thrive as an entire digital magazine.

But, well, I don’t know. It’s sad to see print fade away like this. I’ve looked forward to every Tuesday for decades because that was the day when Newsweek and The New Yorker would arrive together in my mail. Sometimes, if there was  a delay, it would be on Wednesday. Beyond that, and I would get frustrated. Where is my Newsweek? I’d ask my wife, as if she were hiding it somewhere. At school, I get Time magazine, but it isn’t the same. There was always something about the writing and the layout, and yet, it must be more than that. I suspect it has to do with the emotional resonance that a magazine can bring.

And I’m not sure a digital magazine can replicate that experience. It can certainly bring other things to the table — embedded media, direct links to other content, etc. But the arrival of a notice in my email inbox just does not compare to the arrival of the magazine in the mailbox at the end of our driveway. For me, magazines hold such promise — I am always curious about what stories lay beyond the cover story. What unexpected nugget will I discover just by flipping through the pages. What will I learn today? It’s the same feeling I get with the morning newspaper, and one I don’t ever get from reading news online. It’s the “old guard” in me, I suspect, who remembers the black inked fingers from delivering newspapers as a child and the late nights pounding out stories on deadline during my tenure as a journalist. I don’t get those same feelings from digital content.

It’s not like I ever relied on Newsweek for breaking news, either. But I did rely on it to help me make sense of the world, and to put the breaking news in perspective. In this day and age of flash news and headlines driving everything, I always appreciated the chance to dive into a longer piece that required me to think, analyze, reflect. Newsweek consistently brought me new perspectives on world events.

I don’t blame Newsweek for taking the plunge away from print and into the digital. It’s been on life support for a few years and it comes as no surprise that they had to do something. I don’t anticipate the magazine surviving, though, even with Brown at the helm. There’s just too much information clutter out there. Newsweek has offered to extend subscriptions to its digital edition, and I did sign up and added it to my wife’s iPad, but I am not at a place where I spent a lot of time reading magazines on the screen. In fact, the iPad often sits buried in a drawer, so it’s not like our regular reading device. I like to hold the news in my hands, leave a magazine open on the couch as I get a snack or rush to get my son to a sports game, return hours later to keep reading or find something new because the dog has turned the page with his tail, wander over to my wife or kids with an article I think might interest them, put it in the magazine pile and rediscover the issue weeks later. Those days, alas, are now gone.

So long, Newsweek. It’s been great to read you. I’m going to miss you.

Peace (in the news),


Holiday Greetings

Whatever your beliefs, I hope you find peace and happiness today, and every day. Thanks for stopping by.

Peace (in the unwrapped box),


Thank You for the Edublog Nomination

This is a little late in coming (sorry) but I’d like to thanks the friends and folks who had taken the time to nominate my blog for the Edublogs Awards (Teacher blog category) this year. I always appreciate that folks hang out with me here and read what I share, and offer up comments and criticism,, and then some of you go the extra mile with that kind of nomination … it is very humbling. That I didn’t win is beside the point in my mind (which meanders anyway). Thank you. Thank you so much.

Peace (with appreciation),


What We Built: The Holiday Video Game


My 8 year son and I created this video game over the weekend, working a holiday/winter theme into a game experience. I’m sharing it here but also, I am creating a game challenge for my students to see who can created the most inventive holiday-themed video game (with my son, as the judge).

Here is the link to the game.

Peace (in the holidays),

Silence for Sandy Hook Elementary

Today, many teacher bloggers are going silent as a way to honor the memories of those lost in Friday’s tragedy. I am joining them.

On Tuesday, December 18th, there will be a blogger day of silence. We will post the button and that’s it. Please try to not post anything else that day if possible.
We are also raising money that will go to an organization in the memory of this tragedy. The organization is called The Newtown Family Youth and Family Services.
Here is the official description of the support service we are donating to:
“Newtown Youth and Family Services, Inc. is a licensed, non-profit, mental health clinic
and youth services bureau dedicated to helping children and families achieve their
highest potential. NYFS provides programs, services, activities, counseling, support
groups and education throughout the Greater Newtown area.
Please visit THIS PAGE to make your donation.

Peace (please),


No Time to Think: The Informational Age and Mourning

 … how to re-imagine the space

with laughter and talking and learning

in the days before

is where I am finding myself in trouble this morning

as images invade my mind,

and all I can think is,

my youngest son is the same age

as those children.

— A poem I wrote yesterday in our NWP writing space, the iAnthology

Like many of you, I heard about the Sandy Hook shooting in the midst of the school day. We refrained from mentioning it our sixth grade students, both out of uncertainty of the situation and appropriateness of who should be framing such news. But we heard about it from a young substitute teacher who got a text message from a student at the high school.

My first thought: my 12 and 14 year sons are at their schools, and they probably already know about it, and I am not there to help them process it.

Which was true.

The news apparently spread like wildfire through their middle and high schools, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and word of mouth and the constant flow of news in the information age.  I may be an advocate for technology, and I may talk a lot here and in other places about the power of digital media, but there are times — like this — when I wish there was a huge switch we could yank on to slow things down and give us — individuals, families, schools — time to mourn thoughtfully. Just to stop the deluge for a bit.

Listening to the radio news on my ride to get my oldest son from basketball practice after school on Friday, I was in tears. I could not shake the vision of the terror of the situation, and the sadness that must be consuming the families and the community. I picked up my older son, and then my 12-year-old son, and we talked a bit about what happened, about the madness of the situation. Not much. Just enough for them to know I was there, and they were safe, or at least, as safe as they could be. And that we could talk, if they needed.

“But don’t talk about it with your brother,” I warned.

My eight year old son was at home, blissfully unaware of the news. He’s far from plugged in, and yet, my wife and I knew that come Monday (or maybe sooner), the news of Sandy Hook would filter to him, and he would learn about it, and what he would hear would be filtered through the minds of other 8 year olds. In other words, it would be news from sources that could not be trusted for accuracy.

We hid the newspaper yesterday, burying the headlines in our bin of paper.  Out of sight. But still, he needed to know.

I struggled yesterday with how to broach it with him. I asked around on Twitter. I read some articles that gave advice, thought long and hard, and then, as he and I were sitting on the living room floor making Lego ships during the afternoon, I gently explained that he would probably hear people talking about a terrible tragedy, that some children in a school were dead, and I wanted him to know about it. I gave very general information, nothing specific, and emphasized our need to say prayers and send good thoughts for the families, and keep those kids in our hearts.

He nodded, and said, “Can I ask a question?”


“Did it involve guns?”

Here was the topic what I was hoping to avoid, but I both acknowledged that guns were involved, and then I deftly dodged/weaved around the specifics. I brought our discussion to a close with another reminder about prayer and thoughts for the world undone by tragedy. He looked at me closely, seriously, and asked if our church pastor had heard the news. I said, he probably has, and that he would likely ask the congregation to pray for Sandy Hook families.

My son nodded, thoughtfully, and got back to making his Lego ship. We worked in silence on our Legos, both of us deep in thought. It was the best I could do.

Peace (in the mourning),


The Reading Teacher: Writing and Digital Literacies

Between my wife and I, we get a lot of teaching and educational journals. In the latest edition of The Reading Teacher, Bridget Dalton writes about the connections between multimodal composition and the Common Core standards, and she notices many openings for bringing technology and emerging literacies into classroom instruction. I agree, although I would have liked more overt references to how technology is changing our view of writing in the Common Core, but maybe that is asking too much at this point.

I liked the way Dalton defines what is happening:

“The fixed display of the printed page is being transformed on the screen into an interactive, dynamic experience that can be manipulated across time and space by the reader/viewer and the author.” — page 334.

She then ventures into the idea of a Digital Writing Workshop (which Troy Hicks has also done with depth in his Digital Writing Workshop book) and touches on issues of developing not just scaffolding of instruction with technology and composition, but also, establishing the idea of a “design community.” I love this concept, since design is a critical part of digital composition — particularly as we merge media together into something new. And, to be frank, not many teachers teach design.

One area of interest for me is in a section Dalton entitles “Pitfalls!” where she tries to lay out things to avoid. I liked her idea that we, teacher, cannot scaffold too much because that limits what students envision for themselves. She also encourages teachers to dive in and not wait for expertise to arrive. The only way to know the possibilities is by doing it, playing with it, and using it.

But she also suggests that writing not come first. She suggests that while “… we often ask students to write first and then to enhance what they’ve written with media. For many multimedia compositions, this is not the way to go.” While she acknowledges that some students benefit from writing first, others need to create first and then backtrack to writing.

I’m mixed on this.

While I agree with Dalton that there is a “back-and-forth” to digital composing — a constant shifting in strategies that can seem disorientating but often has a certain logic to it — I still believe that writing remains at the heart of digital composition, even if it is reflective writing that gets them started. My view of technology is that ideas are best developed by writing,  and then creating, and I have come to this by watching too many of students lose focus on their work because they did not have their ideas in place as guideposts (which I always tell them can be reshaped by their experiences in a project).

Still, I see where she is coming from, and when we think of the various strategies of our students as writers and media creators, it may make sense to have a bigger picture of what helps who. The tricky part is providing them with enough varied experiences, and reflective moments, to understand what works best for them. And those reflective moments? Yeah. That would be writing.

In another part of The Reading Teacher, Ernest Morrell lays out a rationale for a new column he is doing around youth literacies, and why digital literacies will be at the heart of his writing. Morrell (who gives powerful speeches about technology and the culture of kids, and is the new president of NCTE) notes that while technology is everywhere in the lives of young people, “…there is still a great deal that these youth have to learn about how to process the information they are innundated with via these new portals of information.”

I agree, and hope that Morrell’s work will further dive the division of the digital native/immigrant into the ground, and also, buffer the idea that teachers and librarians are in the ideal place to help young people navigate and make sense of this media-rich, technology-infused world, and become critical of it all so that they have choice and agency in their lives. I’m looking forward to following Morrell’s column and learning from his work and his perspectives.

Peace (in the journal),


Reflections on National Writing Project Annual Meeting, part 1

I’ll be sharing pieces of my experiences here in Las Vegas at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting over the coming days (today, it is on to NCTE). I attended a number of very interesting sessions yesterday, and co-presented one around game design. I also joined 600 NWP colleagues in the main plenary sessions where we wrote (naturally) and got inspired by some terrific speakers.

What stuck out for me over the course of a very full day, however, was something rather surprising and for me, unexpected. I was reminded once again about the power of the narrative. I say surprising because the shift to the Common Core has reduced how narrative writing might figure in our classrooms, in favor of informational, expository and argumentative writing.

But, starting in the first session I attended around Systems Design and Digital Writing, I realized that so much of this theory around elements shaping outcome, and how the parts define the whole, and how one twist in an element can potential alter the system is pretty close to what we do when we write a story. We add a character, toss in a plot twist, design a story through its parts for a larger meaning. It’s really a narrative understanding of the world.

And the keynote speakers at the big session — Jeff Wilhelm, Michael W. Smith, and Jim Fredricksen — have written three books centered on some main elements of the Common Core, but all three spoke passionately about the ways that narratives inform our lives, and provide a framework (again, a system) for understanding. So, when Wilhelm was talking about how making lists for informational text and understanding is one way of organizing our understanding, he also noted how we use narrative to put those lists in order in a meaningful way. The other two speakers touched on narrative, too.

And then, in both our gaming session (where narrative is the design backbone of my game design project, but with a science theme), and in a last session around tools that allow you to compose/hack the web, we talked again about how story and narrative are an essential thinking framework.

All this is heartening. I know the Common Core doesn’t remove narrative, but it does minimize it, and that worries me as a teacher and a writer. If we can find more ways to weave those strands together, of remixing narrative in the scope of informational/expository writing, so that writers have more options, then we are providing an interesting road ahead for our students.

Las Vegas, not New York

Peace (in Vegas),