Dave Eggers says … Get Engaged

Here is another great video from the TED conference. It is a talk by Dave Eggers, whose writing both inspires me and sometimes frustrates me, but I am always willing to dive in with Eggers and see where he will take me as a reader (and if you have not read What is the What, you should … one of the best books about the Lost Boys of Sudan I have ever read).

In this talk, Eggers discusses his project for young writers, called 826 Valencia that is spreading into many cities in the country. I also want to push the Non-Required Reading collection that Eggers and a group of high school students pull together and publish every year. I am always anxious for the collection to come out — knowing that treasures that will be within — and then I am told by my wife to wait until the holidays and not buy it EARLY (thus, thwarting the elves).

I love this quote about Eggers’ work in Time Magazine:

“Many writers, having written a first best-seller, might see it as a nice way to start a career. He started a movement instead.” — Time


In thinking of ways to engage young people in the art of creativity, Eggers’ talk here is both humorous and also insightful as he meets them on their own level (I mean, a storefront that is a pirate booty store … how can one resist?). And his website — Once Upon a School — is another way to engage adults in helping to improve schools in their community.


Peace (in inspiration),
Kevin

What the Heck Happened …

A little 2008 retrospective and belly-button gazing here …

2008 was my year of comics and graphic novels, I guess. Not only did I start writing reviews for The Graphic Classroom (thanks, Chris!) and began getting a boatload of incredibly interesting graphic books to read and think about, but I plunged my way into a new genre: comics. It occurred so suddenly over the summer. I realized that I wanted to make a webcomic about kids, teaching and technology. The result has been Boolean Squared, which runs twice a week on the website of our large daily newspaper and then I collect them for a website that I created. I don’t know if I will keep the comic running beyond the end of this school year. Is one year enough? Meanwhile, I also took part in the 24 Hour Comic Event, with my son, and created a graphic story about my relationship with my brother, followed up by another graphic story about my own political leanings over the years. I wish my artistic skills were better but I am intrigued by the concept of the graphic novel, to be sure. (see my Comic site and my Boolean Squared site)

I was honored to be a presenter at a number of conferences this year, mostly through the National Writing Project. I gave a keynote address out in Missouri on Writing in an Online World, and then worked with my good friend, Mary, on a presentation around digital books and stories for a writing assessment conference, and then presented on the writing process of digital storytelling with another NWP colleague at the NWP Annual Conference. In my role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I even helped organize a Technology Across the Curriculum Conference at my school. I still find it hard to believe that people want to hear me talk. But I find that giving a presentation allows me to reflect a bit deeper on my own practices. (See my workshop website). Meanwhile, the collaborations within those networks continues, as Bonnie and I have some grand plans for the coming year (crossing fingers on a possible grant) that will help keep teachers connected and engaged as writers and as professionals.

My band, The Sofa Kings, continues to survive, but we are feeling a bit directionless right now. I wrote a faire number of songs this year for the band and for myself, and that part of my life — the creative process — remains very important to me. There is something special about writing a song for me — sometimes the threads just come together and it feels …. right. I was honored to have a song that I wrote become part of our church pageant, and even more honored when some folks there said they would like to use my song each Christmas Eve as part of the service where we all come together to light candles and hold hands and become a community. That is the power of song. I had hoped that this would be the year that The Sofa Kings would release our CD that we recorded last year, but that didn’t happen due to a number of reasons and those tracks (many of which I wrote or co-wrote) now sit in the digital dustbin, collecting … digital dust. I won’t forget them, however. But what to do with them remains a conundrum.

I found Twitter this year and it has been … interesting. The quick writing suits me fine. I like to collect and shout in short bursts, I guess. But just as important, Twitter has tied me to many wonderful educators and others who share resources, connect with others and find ways to expand the concept of the learning networks that inform our teaching.

The Day in a Sentence keeps on chugging along and I had much help this year — including much of the summer, when a host of folks took it over for me — in keeping it alive. There are now more than 100 folks on my Day in a Sentence email list, which amazes me, and I am always thankful for people who spend a moment to reflect and share out. (warning: a call for Year in a Sentence will be forthcoming). I often feel as if the Day in a Sentence has tentacles that reach out and connect people in different ways. I guess that is why they call it the Web, right?

I moved into the visuals, too, with Bonnie’s very cool PhotoFridays adventure, which is a group on Flickr where folks are sharing photos and comments and elements that work in tandem with writing. I find myself thinking of the world in more visual terms as a result. Photography was never my strong suit, but digital cameras make many things possible as I explore angles and points of view. One of my projects is capturing a tree in our school playground through the seasons. So simple, and yet, I am finding it very powerful. And interesting.

In the classroom, I keep moving forward with merging technology with writing in hopes that my students will become more engaged in what they are doing. This has included the Many Voices for Darfur Project, Youth Radio, the Longfellow Ten movie site, our own Electronic Pencil weblog and the exploration of tools that might allow them to move forward and in new directions. (See my posts about using Google Maps in conjunction with reading The Odyssey. Or go to the Heroic Journey site that we created).

More than anything, I am grateful for all those folks whom I have trapped inside my RSS reader for their wisdom, explorations, reflections and connections.  I learn so much from them. (And I even got an article published about my RSS habits via the National Writing Project.)

To all of you who stop here and read and comment — I thank you and I want to wish you: Happy New Year.

Peace (in 2009),
Kevin

All Join Hands (kids sing)

I have mentioned before that I wrote a song called All Join Hands for the Christmas Pageant at our family church. This year, they decided to do something a bit different and they brought in someone from New York City who works with schools and organizations to develop original theater productions. Lloyd (the guy) worked with the kids, and then asked the entire Congregation to submit original songs and lyrics, which he took and wrote some songs for the Pageant, which had a theme of a “journey.”

In the Pageant, some folks with local connections but historical roles were sung about — including Sojourner Truth (the strong black woman who lived in a part of the town for some time); Lewis Tappan, who helped make sure the slaves from the Amistad ship had freedom after they landed in Connecticut; and Jonathan Edwards, famed leader of the religious revivalist movement who preached at the same church where we now go — and my song was sung towards the end of the Pageant. I had my father use my voice recorder to capture the songs, since I had been asked to play guitar on the songs. The song seemed to call for some sort of video, so I went and did that, too.

Here is my song, All Join Hands, with the kids chorus.

And here is the video:

Peace (in joining together),

Kevin

When the Snowman Melts

In the days leading up to Christmas, we had substantial snow (and then, sleet, and then, rain) and the conditions were ripe for building a snowman. So, my youngest son and I went out and built a good-sized snowdude, put a baseball helmet on him and added a bucket for collecting snowball. I should have taken a picture right then and there, but I forgot. On day two, the weather turned warm and the snowman began to … droop.

Here are some pictures that are part of the PhotoFriday collective (you can join in, too).

Today … might be another rebuilding day.

Peace (in construction and deconstruction),
Kevin

The Advertising Shift in Edublogs

I have long been a big fan of Edublogs for many reasons:

  • it provided me with my first free blogging platform,
  • the forums have been a great way to get help and resources,
  • James Farmer, who runs the network, has been incredibly responsive to any of my queries,
  • and the network of educators using blogs has continued to grow (the number hovers around 250,000 blogs on Edublogs).

Those facts continue to be the case, but I knew the idea of a cost-free, ad-free network could not last forever. After all, we can’t expect James to keep investing his own money just to keep our blogs alive and free. There was bound to be a time when change was to come.

So, the inevitable happened.

Edublogs is still “free” but now it comes with advertisements — keyword links in posts that bring the viewer to an advertisement. In the Edublog forums and through various networks, this has been met with a lot of criticism and complaints, and I can understand both sides of the issue here. Teachers don’t want to expose students to advertisements … period. I know I avoid it at all costs. Our kids are bombarded with commercial messages everywhere they go — embedded in movies, in games, on television, on the Net — and I don’t want to be part of that.

But James admits that he can’t afford to keep this blogging network afloat under the “free” model. It just doesn’t make sense. And he does offer a solution that costs a little bit of money.

First, the linked advertisements only show up the first time a person visits a blog. If you bookmark a blog, the second time you go there, the ads will not appear in your browser. This is designed to minimize the impact of the ads.

Second, if you become an Edublog Supporter (which I have been since it was first offered, as a token way to support the network), there are no ads in your blog at all, ever. The cost is $40 per year, up from the initial $25 per year. And, James has added the feature of allowing Supporters to create up to 30 blogs (say, for students) under one Supporter umbrella and you can turn off the ads on all of those blogs. (There is also the option of Edublog Campus, which allows you to create and run your own larger blogging network. We currently use this for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project).

James explains the moves in a recent post:

Is this ideal? Well, in a utopian world we’d like to give everyone, everything, entirely for free and without any ads! But that’d be a utopia… so, barring that, we hope to still provide great free blogs alongside an absolutely premium supporter service that is more than worth the price of a large coffee per month.

To coax people to become a Supporter, James has also curtailed some of the things he used to provide for free, including plug-ins, more upload space, Twitter tools, etc, and expanded them for Supporters.

Although I will continue with Edublogs, I think this change in the model for Edublogs will make me re-think how I do workshops with teachers who are trying to understand what blogging is all about. I have often used Edublog in sessions precisely because I could tell folks: this is free, this is ad-free, and it is simple to use. I can’t do that anymore, and that saddens me, to be honest. If you are a teacher looking to blog, you can become a Supporter with Edublogs, or you can explore other options, including running your own WordPress package on server space.  But, truly, how many teachers have that time and expertise to set up and host their own blogging network? There is also Blogger, also with ads, and other possibilities, too — many with limitations and drawbacks.

I don’t plan to pack up and move from this place, and I will continue to run this blog, the Electronic Pencil and a homework site that my teaching team uses for parents and students to access information and assignments. I am a supporter, even though I wish that Edublogs had not had to turn the corner into advertising. Isn’t there someone with a boatload of cash who can support a network of teachers exploring the wired world? (if so, please leave name and number where you can be reached).

Peace (brought to you by the makers of dogtrax),
Kevin

Lending Small, Acting Big, Learning Lessons

For the past year or so, I have heard about the Kiva organization and was interested, but I never took the plunge. It took a humorous piece in Time Magazine by Joel Stein to finally convince me to check out Kiva, which is a micro-lending organization that pools donations from web-based users to help strugging and emerging small business owners from the developing world. It works in increments of $25, so I lend out $25 and that is added to your $25 and so on. Then, the small business buys some equipment or expands its retail line or territory, pays back its loan and my $25 can get re-invested in some other business. (See a comic about Kiva and the way it works with other small lending agencies)

I love this concept, so I have put in a stake into a couple of businesses.

Then, this week, I found a post by Bud Hunt, who was following the trail of Karl Fisch, who has created a group within Kiva for educators and urges the concept of “Paying it Forward.” This is what Bud wrote:

Today, Karl Fisch posted a message on his blog inviting members of his PLN (Personal Learning Network) to join Team Shift Happens and contribute however much possible to Kiva. Kiva is different than other charities in that it is a micro-lending website. People, like you and I, can loan money ($25 and up) directly to individual entrepeneurs in the developing world.

On Karl’s suggestion, I’ve donated $25 to an entrepreneur and I also purchased two $25 gift certificates that I have emailed to two members of my PLN. I’m asking them to do the same as I did:

  1. Log in to Kiva.
  2. Join Team Shift Happens (click on Community and search keyword, “shift”)
  3. Choose the entrepreneur to whom they will loan the value of the gift certificate.
  4. Then consider doing the same thing I did – purchase two $25 gift certificates and email them to two members of their PLN with the same request to “pay it forward.”
  • Make a $25 loan yourself, or
  • Do what I did; make a $25 loan, then purchase two $25 gift certificates and email them to folks you know and ask them to do the same, and/or

So, I did join the Shift Happens team and I did add two loans to the group, and I will be sending forward a gift certificate or two to some friends in my network, with hopes that they might do the same. It’s a great way to give, and follow the impact of your giving (Kiva gives you updates on the status of the loan and project).

But, I have a group of students working on a Teach the Teachers Day at our school (set for Dec. 23) and they want it as a fundraising activity (it costs a dollar for a student to teach a lesson in class). I mentioned Kiva to them as a possible place for the funds raised by the Teach the Teachers Day, and they were very excited about the concept. So, my intention is to give the students complete responsibility for choosing the business and investing fundraising money and following the progress of the loan. I think it will be a great lesson in financing, collaborative efforts and social responsibility.

Peace (in small but powerful doses),
Kevin

Two Cool Things

Here are two neat things that I found this morning in my RSS reader.

First, I went to a site called Create Your Own Snowflake. I know. A waste of time. But a fun waste of time and something that kids might get into. You create the snowflake by clicking in the circle and it makes symmetrical patterns. Nice enough. But here is the thing that was fun: you can then put the snowflake into motion in either 2D or 3D (which is very cool).

(go to Build a Snowflake)

Next, this video from the Google Docs Weblog (which you should put into your reader if you use Google applications at all) is just an amazing thing to watch, as some Google-ites collaborate in a Google Spreadsheet on the creation of a holiday picture. I was fascinated by the movement and wondered: how could we replicate this somehow? (pushing that to the back of my mind for now)

Enjoy!

Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

Edublog Awards … and me

There is considerable debate in the blogosphere about the value of any online awards system and I can see both sides of the coin. It is strange to narrow a vision to just a few sites in a sea of millions, and yet, I find that award systems allow me to discover many new places that become valuable parts of my network. If someone has taken the time to nominate a site, it must have some value.

I say this because the finalists for the Edublog Awards for 2008 have been announced, and so I went there, searching for some new RSS feeds. I am always looking for new voices and new resources.

And, there, in the category of Best Teacher Blog was my own Kevin’s Meandering Mind. I want to thank any and all of you who may have submitted this site forward to the nominating committee. I am honored to think that there are folks who find what I sprawl on about useful.

Again, thank you.

Peace (in recognition),
Kevin