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),

My Son Wins First Place in Story Contest

GoingbackinTime by Rowan
My youngest son, in second grade, won first place in a short story contest hosted by one of our regional independent bookstores, and yesterday, he took part in the ceremony and read his story — Going Back in Time — to a crowd of parents, kids and patrons at the book shop. His story was inspired by the Dan Gutman series — Baseball Card Adventures — and tells of him using a baseball card to meet with Willie Mays in 1963. (The contest prompt was imagine going back in time or going ahead in time by 50 years — he was one of the few who went back in time, apparently). He won first prize for his grade.

I was so proud of him, as a young writer, and as a speaker, although he was nervous in front of the crowd. The story will be published in the local newspaper soon, too. Hopefully, this is the start of many more stories to come …

Peace (in the sharing of the news),
PS — I suggested he send Dan Gutman an email, thanking him for the inspiration. I am trying to track that down …


Poetry Withdrawal and the Rhythm of Writing

I spent much of April writing and thinking “poetry.” Each and every morning, I worked on one or two poems, and sometimes added my voice as a podcast. I believe I wrote more than 50 poems in April, collecting most in a Google Doc for a later look. Some, I know I know I need to add to the Google Doc so that I don’t lose them forever (although, I don’t always mind that either — the scattering of poetic lines to the wind). Many of the poems are not worth saving, but there are a few gems in there, I think.

So it is an odd feeling now to not be writing poems yesterday and today, now that we are in May. Oh, I know I can still be writing them (and I will) but the breather and the break is helpful, too. Poetry is more than April, after all. Still, it’s funny how you get into a rhythm of things, a rhythm of writing, and then when you stop or break up the momentum, things feel … different. As if I am a different writer looking at the world from a slighter different angle than when I was writing poems every day. I had that same experience in the aftermath of the Slice of Life writing, where I spent my days eying so many little moments that when March ended, I had withdrawal.

Just an observation …

Peace (in the poems still be written),


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),