Slice of Life: Sitting Down with Mike

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16My friend, Michael Silverstone, has started up a monthly podcast series in which he is interviewing folks along a wide range of ideas … with creativity at the center. Michael is a teacher, musician, songwriter, published writer, and a colleague in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. He asked if I would join him for a conversation for his First Saturday Podcast series, and we talked about writing, teaching, technology, kids and more.

These kinds of conversations, where someone asks you questions, give you an opportunity to evaluate our thinking, to reflect in the moment and peruse your view of the world, out loud. I did not know what questions Michael would be asking before I joined him, although I had some ideas given our similar paths, but I enjoyed the flow of the discussion as we sat in his living room.

The podcast (30 minutes long, just so you know) went live this weekend and I just got to listen to to it yesterday as I was getting my classroom ready for the school day. It’s an odd experience, to hear yourself like that, but I think we did a nice job of moving through important ground, even with my numerous “uhs” that peppered my thinking out loud.

Thank you, Michael, for inviting me into your podcast.

Peace (in the reflection),


Slice of Life: Disappointment, then Forward Motion

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16It’s not a huge thing, really, but still, I feel this lingering disappointment about a grant that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project was going for and didn’t get. We found out about it this week in a very kind letter. I know this is how it goes in the competitive world of grant funding. Small pots of funding means lots of people vying for support, and not everyone will get some. I’m thankful there was even an opportunity.

But I had been the primary writer of this grant, drawing on more than a few projects from the past that our writing project has been quite proud of, and building off an existing two-year initiative that connects science teachers around argumentative writing and NextGen Science standards.

Our grant application took that a step further, proposing to virtually connect the students in those classrooms in online spaces as science writers, so they would have authentic audiences and collaborative hubs of inquiry. We had more than a half-dozen teachers in urban and rural and suburban schools ready and willing, with hundreds of middle school students who would have been in the mix next year. It would have been crazy and hectic, but inspiring and enlightening.

This was a visual of our vision of our Connected Learning hubs:

Making Scientific Connections Hubs

We’ll keep pursuing funding in other places – we believe in the project’s potential — and I’ll keep an eye on the initiatives that did get funding. We can always learn from each other, even in disappointment. And laying out a vision of this kind of project on paper was educational in and of itself. The disappointment comes from wondering where we fell short, and if I missed something in the visioning process.

Peace (shake it off),

Video Share: Reading Like a Historian

Read like Historian video

Today, I am off to the University of Massachusetts to co-facilitate the first of three sessions around using the Library of Congress digital archives for primary sources for inquiry projects. This professional development course is a collaboration between our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and a local educational collaborative that does a lot of professional development.

Our aim is to help teachers construct “text sets” of primary sources and develop questions and tasks that spark student inquiry and open-ended explorations.

I was reminded of this great video from Teaching Channel called Reading Like a Historian and figured it was worth sharing out. It shows a classroom where the focus is on reading archives and primary sources through the lens of a critical historian. I hope we have time to share it during our session today … (the embed is strange here, so you might be better served going to the source)

Peace (in the think),

At Middleweb: History and Innovation at the Armory


flickr photo shared by dishfunctional under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I helped co-write an article over at Middleweb about the development of a summer youth program through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project that explored a relatively unknown resource in our backyard: the Springfield Armory. The summer camp brought middle school students from urban Springfield into the only National Park site in our region, and it is quite an eyeful to walk in and see walls and walls of guns and munitions, let me tell you. The Organ of Muskets will make you pause, I guarantee it.

Read Writing the History in Your Backyard at Middleweb

The article provides resources for connecting with local National Park sites. The camp was funded through a grant by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. My role was as a documentarian, not a leader of the youth program.

Peace (in innovation of industry),

More Reasons We Write (from WMWP Teachers)

During a workshop at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project on collaborative writing and reading with Google Apps yesterday, I pulled out another version of my “Why I Write” collaborative slideshow as an opening activity, and it was a huge hit with the folks who attended my session.

The slideshow theme was connected to last week’s National Day on Writing. Once again, I love the depth of the responses, and also, the ways that the slideshow allows many to write together on a single project, and then the ability to share that project out to the world.

As an aside, it’s interesting for me to share the project because you (the reader of the file) can only see the slides themselves in my embeddable file above. But there is a whole set of comments and conversations that took place in the margins of the slides themselves as folks reacted to what others were writing (sometimes in real time, which was a cool surprise for many who had never used Google Apps for collaboration before). That’s another post for another time.

Peace (that’s why I write),

A Consideration of Themes: WMWP Brainstorming

WMWP Theme ConsiderationOne of the best things about being a leader with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (beside learning about writing and the teaching of writing) is connecting with colleagues in other schools and other levels of teaching. Yesterday, our WMWP board met for the first time this school year, and we began discussion of “themes” to guide our activity, work and conferences this coming year.

We didn’t agree on an overarching theme yet, but you can see from this brainstorming list that we have a lot of possibilities to chew on and we will try to make connections across ideas. This list captures only the main ones that emerged from an enriching writing and sharing activity during our meeting. But the ideas here cover a lot of ground worth exploring.

Peace (in the think),

Views from a Digital Writing Marathon

Last week, I facilitated a Digital Writing Marathon through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Part of the intent was to invite folks from various ongoing WMWP initiatives together to play and tinker and reflect on technology.

I began by sharing the Gary Hayes Social Media Counter as a visual reminder of why we need to be at least considering the impact of technology on the lives of ours students. This sparked a discussion about the Media Lives of young people, and the important role that teachers play in helping students navigate technology.

We then moved into some collaborative writing, and we riffed off the recent #celebrateteachers concept of teachers writing about educators who influenced their lives. I really love this kind of reflective writing, and we used a simple Google Slides format to collaborate together on a single presentation. Although nearly everyone in the marathon has Google Apps for Education in their school, very few have tapped it for its collaborative power, and this activity sparked some great conversations about possibilities for shared projects and more.

From collaboration, we shifted into identity in digital spaces, and how best to help students think about how they represent themselves — and protect themselves — in various social spaces they use outside of school. I brought the group from the Digital Marathon into our Bitstrips for Schools space, and we spent some time making avatars to represent ourselves, and then shifted into how teachers might use online webcomic sites for engaging writers. Bitstrips was a hit, with lots of laughter and making.
WMWP Tech Marathon comicsWMWP Tech Marathon comics
I wrote about the next activity the other day, as a WMWP colleague led us through an activity that turned a math word problem into a Google Sheets learning experience and ended with a video essay format to check for understanding.

Wmwp tech workshop 2015We then moved into the world of coding and programming as literacy practice, and I introduced the Hour of Code and the Flappy Birds game activity that ends in the creation of a Flappy Bird game. I framed it as another way to engage students in technology in a meaningful way. This activity was sort of hit or miss, as some seemed to get bored with it or not all that interested in programming elements (whereas my students get highly engaged). Wmwp tech workshop 2015

Finally, I showed them Padlet as a place for exit tickets and reflection, and I asked them to leave some thoughts on technology and learning, and a few knew of Padlet, but many did not.

WMWP Reflection

The day went by quick, even for four hours of PD, and I think it had just enough balance of play and reflection to make a ripple in some classrooms this fall.

Peace (in the tech),

PS — here are some extension activities I put in play for them. We never got to them, but they have our website to refer back to and share with colleagues.

Turning a Math Problem into a Video Essay

Wmwp tech workshop 2015

I was the lead facilitator at a Digital Writing Marathon yesterday, bringing in folks from various groups of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for a day of play, tinkering, making and reflection on teaching practice with technology. Our workshop purposefully dovetailed nicely with the ethos of the Making Learning Connected MOOC, too.  I’ll share out some more of my end of the entire day in a future blog post but I wanted to share out a project that my WMWP Tech Team member Tom Fanning brought to us that really had us engaged.

Tom led part of the workshop, fusing math, writing, and technology in a really interesting way. He had us creating short video expository essays to explain how we solved a math word problem using Google Sheets (ie, Excel) to solve it.

Essentially, Tom laid out a math problem (two girls walking from two ends of town need to meet … where do they meet and when?), gave us some initial data points, and then proceeded to help us learn how to use Google Sheets to solve the problem. First, we did some data analysis, and then we turned our data into a chart that provided us with a visual of where the two girls would intersect. That information then helped us answer the questions of where and when they would meet.

That was all interesting enough, particularly for the room of English and Science teachers not all that accustomed to crunching numbers and generating data charts.

Tom then had us outline a “script” in which we had to explain our answer and our process to finding the answer, and use video to capture our thinking. Tom often uses this style of informal expository video capture as part of his work around digital portfolios (he shared a video of a student walking through some math strategies). The videos are rough, no editing needed, but are a perfect way to document understanding and voice in a meaningful archived way.

Here is what my partner, Rick, and I came up with:

What I like about Tom’s project is the cross-discipline approach (math and writing and technology); the discussion my partner and I had around what we would say to explain the problem; the way the video essay element becomes a real documentation of what we had learned; and the deeper use of Sheets/Excel to really dive into the concept of formulas and data bases (this part of the lesson could have gone another hour or two, I am sure.)

Peace (solves the problem),

#Celebrateteachers with #CLMOOC and Beyond

Teacher Challenge Collection

It’s interesting that this started in the Make Cycle on the theme of “games” of the Making Learning Connected MOOC. But Laura, who started the #celebrateteachers idea, pitched it as a game of tag. She suggested we riff off the Ice Bucket Challenge concept by writing or recording a post about a teacher who impacted our lives and then tagging other teachers to do the same.

The game is still unfolding …

My #celebrateteacher was easy in that I knew who I wanted to celebrate — Charlie Moran. But it was difficult to record because Charlie just recently passed away. He’s one of those towering presences in our writing project and in the field of composition and writing, and yet, he was so personal and friendly and supportive in so many ideas, particularly around pushing at the edges of digital literacies and technology.

I’ve been trying to curate/collect the posts on Google Plus from folks who have taken on the challenge and then tagged others. (But, my Collection is closed to only folks who follow me on G+ because I was worried about the sharing of personal stories) You’re reading this, so consider yourself tagged for the game. You now have 24 hours to write or share about an influential teacher and then tag three to five other teachers, asking that they do the same.

Why play this game?

For starters, anytime we can celebrate those influential figures in our lives, we should. Consider it a broadside against the increasingly negative view of the teaching profession. Second, this kind of game is the kind where everyone wins — you, for writing and remembering; your celebrated teacher (or the memory of them), for making an impact; and everyone else, for understanding how some teachers can change a learner, forever.

Tag. You’re it. Go make something.

Peace (in the reflection),

Make an Inquiry via #CLMOOC

One of the offshoot projects (and there seem to be quite a few this year, which is so very cool, as they are coming as much from participants as from facilitators) of the Making Learning Connected MOOC is Michael Weller’s concept of Make an Inquiry, in which he is encouraging a group of us teachers to consider a classroom inquiry project. By coming together as a collective, the hope is to keep momentum going forward through the summer and into the school year.

I shared out this video that I created for some professional development work that our writing project site has done with some schools in our area. It is a simple overview of how classroom inquiry might proceed (you might have a different path).

And here is a quick video of some recent presentations by teachers at a middle school STEM school. I worked as a facilitator with this school for a year, ending with inquiry presentations to colleagues. For many, this was the first time they had ever done an inquiry project for their own classroom. It was a learning experience, for sure, but valuable in that the reflective stance — of noticing something you wonder about, asking a pertinent question, gathering some resources, trying something out, sharing out the experience — made for a wonderful way to draw our work to a close.

Our writing project is working on curating the Inquiry Project presentations and when that is done this summer, I will share out via the CLMOOC and Make an Inquiry group. We learn from each other, right?

So, here is my own inquiry question that I am beginning to ponder for my sixth grade classroom. The question is sparked by our school district’s move (finally) into Google Apps for Education. I am wondering:

How can my students engage deeply in the revision process when the “peer review” process moves beyond the walls of the classroom?

In other words, using Google Apps not just for writing to the teacher (me) and even the classroom, but beyond that. And if the audience shifts, how does the revising process shift to meet that audience of the world? This will tie into my professional goals next year of starting the process of “digital portfolios” for students. That could be its own inquiry question, right?

Peace (in the questions),