What Obama Will Say

Last night, we received one of those automatic phone calls from our community’s School Superintendent, informing us that she is asking principals to show President Obama’s speech tomorrow. At the school where I teach, we are planning the same thing and my principal sent home a letter on Friday, alerting families.

This whole thing is crazy but it makes sense: when we showed our sixth graders the presidential inauguration, we got an angry phone call from a parent who was passionately opposed to his son watching with the event in school.

I know politics is alive and well, but to complain when the president wants to talk to kids about staying in school, show respect to teachers and other kids, and also to study hard for a better life — that seems absurd to me. I would not have complained if my kids watched a Republican Rightwinger President talk about those things.

My aim is to grab the text of the speech, pop it into Wordle and have my students examine themes and phrases that Obama uses, so that we can talk about rhetoric. Talk about a learning experience, right?

On Friday, I showed this interview with my students and they were impressed by the student reporter and by the president’s responses.

Peace (in the message),

Found: A note to a teacher

This comes from Found Magazine, which is worth your time.

And my response:

Dear student,
You’ve probably had a lot of teachers who have fed you lessons and learning with little reason behind it. I know I did when I was growing up and it made me crazy. I hope I don’t do the same with you as your teacher, although there are going to be times when it may seem as if I am making you do things that are isolated and out of context. I hope to keep those activities to a minimum. Sometimes, we need to lay the groundwork for better things to come.
I want you to care about what you are doing because caring people shape this world for the better. You may be young, but you have a voice, and I want to help you find that voice and use it as best as I can. You should care because your interest and curiosity now will set the stage for an intriguing life later on. You should care because all of us have something inside us that drives — all of us are poets, all of us are scientists, all of us are musicians — and you nurture that kernel of being by caring for the world and yourself.
I can’t help you answer this question alone, though.
You need to be on the journey, too, and let me help you with your explorations. Let me show you how caring looks and then maybe, hopefully, you’ll see how one person can impact another in a positive way.
Your Teacher

Peace (in answering that question),

World Statistics

This site is intriguing and good use of congregating data collection across a wide variety of sources. How accurate is it? Not sure. The site is called Worldometers and it claims to have real-time stats on a variety of issues from across the globe. (Read about its gathering of numbers, if you want to dig a bit deeper)

There are some interesting stats about the environment there that are just plain sad to read, particularly how much forest areas are being lost and how much junk is being pumped into the air by companies.

But this area interested me. It shows media and publishing.

What do you make of a world where more cell phones are sold in a day than books that are published in a year? And just look at the number of email messages sent, number of Internet users and blogs posts. Fascinating. And are there really still that many newspapers around? You’d think there were only a handful left if you read the news about the news.

Peace (in the numbers),

A Kid’s View of Gaming

This high school freshman lays out the rationale for gaming and learning. She talks about character development, story development and interactive immersion into other worlds as learning experiences.

Peace (in the immersion),

Why No Tech (at all)?

My school district is launching into a two year Literacy Initiative and part of that push is to send a bunch of us to a conference called Literacy for All in November (right before I head to Philly for various National Writing Project and National Conference for Teachers of English conferences).

The Literacy for All Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, has a lot of interesting sessions and many seem very useful to me as a teacher of writing and reading. I can’t wait to gain some new insights and some new approaches, and be part of the conversations. Now, I know this Literacy for All is not a technology conference, but you would think that in this day and age, there would be some technology integration into some of the topics and workshops being planned.



As far as I can tell from the descriptions of the sessions, there is a complete absence of the digital world reflected in the workshops being presented at Literacy for All. Isn’t digital composition the platform for real writing that kids are doing outside of school and shouldn’t that be reflected in some of the ways we approach teaching? I think so.

I’ll contrast that to the NWP and NCTE meetings that follow Literacy for All, where much of the focus will be on ways that technology and digital tools are impacting the writing process and how teachers are using these concepts to engage their students in new and interesting ways.

I am looking forward to Literacy for All, but it just made me wonder …

Peace (in the Digital Age),

Rockin’ in the Hood

I live in a pretty cool neighborhood. We have all sorts of parties and gatherings and plenty of families. Last night, one of the neighborhood teenagers and his friends put on a rock concert on their front lawn. This four piece band of high schoolers (called Menivest Destiny) played to a packed lawn of friends and neighbors on a beautiful summer night with a full moon shining down.

Unlike my old days of playing in a high school rock band (China Grove, Rolling Stones, etc), these guys were incredibly hip. Amazingly so. Here are a few bands they covered:

  • Fountains of Wayne
  • Cake
  • Semisonic
  • Cold Play
  • Cold War Kids
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • and some others that I sort of recognized but not really.

I had a neighbor come up and whisper, “Do you know any of these songs? Because I don’t. I feel old.”

Yep — rock and roll.

Here is a clip from Youtube of Meninvest Destiny from some school event and they are playing an original song they wrote:

Peace (on the lawn),

iGoogling Comics

I know I am a Google fan and I know I say that with a critical eye because I worry that at any moment, Google could turn from being my techno friend to my techno enemy. For now, though, I like Google. Here is an example: I love to create my own iGoogle homepage and change it all the time with new widgets and new themes.

I need change to keep me happy. A new friend in my Twitter network who also integrates comics into his classsroom noted something about new themes for iGoogle using Comics. Well … now you are talking my language and there are a load of new themes for the homepage. Just click and you have recreated your homepage with new artwork. Amazingly simple.

I chose a new comic book that my four year and I just love — Robot Dreams — and made that the theme of my homepage. I can’t wait for him to see it!

Peace (with robots),

Reaching Out to the World

I had two experiences with Skype this week that reinforced in my mind just how powerful the connective tools of Web 2.0 really are. It’s not a new revelation, yet both were so interesting and both, as it turns out, used Skype as the connector tool.

First, I spent the weekend with some good friends of mine from the college days. We have known each other for more than 20 years now (wow) and although we are scattered geographically, we still find room in our calendar to come together once a year at one of our homes (wives and children often scatter). Two of our friends are in the military and it is sometimes the case that one of them is overseas. Three years ago, one of my buddies was stationed in the Middle East as a patrol guard, searching beneath vehicles for bombs. This year, my other friend who flies helicopters is on a year-long tour just outside of Baghdad. So, obviously, he could not attend the weekend here. So, what did we do? We skyped him and had a long conversation using webcams and laptops and wireless connections to see how he is doing over there (so far, so good). The ability to talk to a friend in Iraq during the war …. that is pretty amazing.

Then, last night, I Skyped my way into a graduate level education class at Columbia University, where the future teachers had been using our book — Teaching the New Writing — as a class text, generated questions for myself and another editor (Charlie Moran) using Web 2.0 tools, and then peppered us with outstanding questions about writing, technology and more for about an hour. Just think how cool that is: to be able to converse with and ask questions of the writers and editors of a text that you are using in the college classroom. It was a great conversation for both us — the producers of the content — and them — the readers of the content — and it really shows how technology is changing the relationship of how we interact with text, don’t you think?

Peace (in the world),

You Gotta Listen to the Kids on Leadership Day 2009


Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant is once again holding a blogging Leadership Day tomorrow, in which he asks folks to blog about advice or help for administrators.
This year, I decided to write a song that tries to capture the idea of administrators and leaders getting out of their offices and into the classrooms to talk to students about what they do and what they need and what they hope for. Also, I want to say again that technology should be integrated into the curriculum, not the old model of “drop my kids off into the lab for a planning period” kind of integration.


You Gotta Listen to the Kids
(by Kevin Hodgson)

Here’s what I fear
Tech won’t disappear
It’ll still be apart from the whole

When everybody knows
that kids will grow
when they connect their school to home

‘Cause kids are gonna text
explore what’s next
but they need us as a helping hand

So listen up, leaders:
we need you as believers
and support us any way you can

You gotta listen to the kids
’cause they’re gonna show you the way
You gotta listen to the kids
they’ve got some things to say

None of us knows
where this all goes
so the tool doesn’t matter much

But if they can explore
it’ll open up doors
and the world will be right in touch

You gotta listen to the kids
’cause they’re gonna show us the way
You gotta listen to the kids
’cause they’ve got some things to say

Peace (in the song),

PS — the song is also at this link.

Articulating some thoughts on Literacy and Writing

I’ve been asked by my school principal to join in a conversation on Monday about literacy and Language Arts in our school district. Our district focus next year will be to revamp our Language Arts curriculum, or at least move in that direction, and the administration is trying to bring together some teachers to discuss what literacy should look like in our schools.We’re planning a two-day Literacy Event for our district in the fall, too, and they want to get ideas from us.

I am trying to articulate what my own ideas are about Language Arts before that meeting and so, true to my nature, I am using this writing as a way to process some of my thoughts. Bare with me and please feel free to add your own ideas.

  • We write to learn. This is a central tenet in my thinking. We use writing to understand the world, to make sense of information and to reflect upon our own experiences. Writing gives us private inroads into making sense of things. When we write, we organize, articulate and explore the things we know, the things we want to know, and the things we don’t quite yet know.
  • Language Arts is all four spheres. Yes, we focus a lot on writing and reading, but listening and talking are also important elements of literacy. I wish we did more in the areas of listening (I try to work that in to as many lessons as possible) and speaking (beyond just oral reports).
  • A “Stakes Approach” to writing provides multiple opportunities for expression. I stole this one from my friend, Bruce Penniman. The Stakes Approach is built on the concept of tiered writing opportunities, moving from low stakes (journal writing, writing for the self, etc) that is not necessarily shared with anyone to mid stakes (collaborative writing in the classroom, informal projects, etc.) that is for a comfortable audience to high stakes (published work, performances, etc.) that moves into the bigger world. This spectrum of writing allows students to try on different hats and use different voices and concentrate on different skills. (See this Google Doc for my own organization of Stakes Writing).
  • Writing across the Curriculum is a key to learning. We need to integrate Language Arts more into all curricular areas so that writing is not just stories composed on paper, but thinking put into words. Math, in particular, gets short-changed with our fairly rote district-wide curriculum. It’s mostly drill and kill, and not the reasoning. For me, this has meant writing prompts connected to social studies, and digital projects connected with Science and Math. I’m not doing enough, but I am aware how important it is. (Note: my colleagues in the other disciplines do a lot of writing with the students, too, so it is not a vacuum.)
  • Technology and multi-media should be components of Language Arts. Students are highly engaged and very aware of audience when they start using technology for showcasing their knowledge and understanding. They rise to the occaision when they realize that they are in the high stakes field of writing — the web is the world.  The Web 2.0 opportunities opens up many doors for collaboration, integration of resources and multiple angles for students of all diverse learning backgrounds. Even the NCTE has come out strongly in favor of this kind of literacy. Given the world today and the world unfolding for tomorrow, to ignore this possibility to help show students how to “create” and “compose” (a better term) with technology would have terrible consequences.

What do you think? Am I on the right path? What am I missing?

Peace (in articulation),