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),

Thinking Out Loud: The Pros and Cons of Google Apps for Ed

At today’s annual conference for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I am presenting a workshop session around using Google Apps for Education for nurturing collaborative digital writing and reading skills in our students. Our key focus will be collaborative possibilities, and it will be a hands-on workshop. We’re gonna collaborate!

I’m no expert in GAFE (Google Apps for Education), having finally gotten our school district to push access to GAFE to sixth grade late last year after a few years of seeing it available in the district middle/high school (I am in an elementary school). But my students are neck-high in using their Google accounts already this year for all sorts of writing and collaboration, and Terry Elliott shared out this article with this stunning fact:

Google Apps for Ed now has 50 MILLION users in schools ..


Like Terry, though, I am hoping I keep a clear vision on the pros and cons of this development, and since I am no paid shill for Google (nor do I intend to be), I want to present some ideas in my workshop about both the possibilities and pitfalls of becoming a GAFE classroom or school.

You can’t help but notice the way Google is insinuating itself into the fabric of education, with GAFE and cheap Chromebooks. Yes, there is a clear gain for schools and students accessing technology and possibilities in the digital age. But yes, too, Google is not doing it out of kindness of its heart (disregard its ‘Do No Evil’ mission — it has already dropped that). Google wants a Google Generation (sort of how first Apple got itself into schools with early computers and then Microsoft followed suit). Google is clearly playing the “long game” here: Start them early and make them Google for Life.

Here, then, is a list that came to my mind about how to balance the pros and cons of using GAFE in a school system.

Google Apps for Ed- The Good, the Bad, the Collaborative

I am sure there are other ideas that I don’t even mention, and one that comes to mind already is the cost effectiveness of GAFE over other platforms.

And cost is probably the reason most school districts turn to GAFE, and then justify it with the “pros” that I have list here. That’s my impression, anyway.

Peace (in keeping an open mind about open systems),


Considering the Emergent (Or Waiting for the Unknown)

CLMOOC Emergent Branches

(Year One Emergence Ideas: CLMOOC)

The concept of “emergent ideas” has been on my mind this week through a few different lenses.

First, I am planning out a three-hour Make Hack Play session for the New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE) Conference next weekend, and the ethos of Connected Learning and the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration is driving my planning of the session. I hope to get teachers making things in a playful environment while also grounding the fun in Connected Learning ideas.

As I am pulling together an overview of the CLMOOC, and how one plans for the unexpected, the “emergent” projects that came out of left field and took on lives of their own, with little or only somewhat, guidance from the CLMOOC facilitators remains some of the more magical memories of that project.

Emergent Ideas of CLMOOC

(Year Two Emergent Ideas: CLMOOC)

Then, in a podcast interview this week with Chris Guest about the upcoming Digital Writing Month, my co-facilitators Maha Bali and Sarah Honeychurch and I were talking about how we are working on a plan for November’s monthlong exploration of digital writing, but that we most fondly remember “emergent” projects and collaborations from other open learning spaces (such as Rhizomatic Learning) that formed the anchor of those experiences, for us, as participants.

Our hope is that all sorts of emergent ideas bloom in Digital Writing Month, but how do you plan for that? First of all, you can’t. If an idea is open, then open is the idea, and facilitators have to keep the hands off the wheel as much as possible.

But facilitators can establish fertile ground for ideas to take root, and facilitators can “notice” these ideas and gently move them along. Facilitators can validate what might seem like a crazy idea and see it can work. Facilitators can become the conduits for collaboration.

Here’s an example already with Digital Writing Month, and the month hasn’t even begun (it takes place in November): the Storyjumpers Project.

It began with a tweet from Bruno, who was thinking of signing up for Digital Writing Month, and then after doing so, he wondered out loud, on Twitter, if a collaborative story, moving from blog to blog, might be possible. That was all we needed, and soon, we had an open Google Doc up and running, and now 18 people (including a youth writing group in Vermont) from all over the world (literally) have signed up to “pass the story” throughout Digital Writing Month, from blog to blog.

Story jumpers at digiwrimo

To be honest, we don’t know how it will unfold, and whether there will be chaos or beauty, or something smack dab in the middle. But that won’t stop us from trying this kind of collaborative writing adventure. There’s a story to write, and we’re going to write it.

Finally, I look at my own classroom of sixth graders, and wonder how I can best lay the groundwork this year for emergent ideas in that space, too. The difficulty is that waiting for the unexpected in a traditional school experience is often at odds with curriculum mandates. Learn this. Learn that. Teach this. Teach that. I struggle with this tension, and continue to ponder how possibly the “Genius Hour/20 Percent” concept of open student inquiry might prop the door open to emergent thinking in a more sustained way. I’m getting there … I’m moving there …

Meanwhile, Maha and Sarah and I wonder what will emerge next in Digital Writing Month. Who knows? I’m a facilitator and I have no idea. And I am fine with that. Expect the unexpected, and learn more about the world. That’s how learning takes root and flourishes.

digiwrimo 2015

Want to know more about Digital Writing Month?

Peace (in the unknown),

Book Review: An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

Now, this is an interesting little book. If you just saw the cover —  with two cute animals in Indiana Jones-style gear examining a map on the wall by light of a torch — you might think it would be aimed at the elementary school age of readers, but you would be wrong.

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Learn the Lost Art of Making Sense by Ali Almossawi (and illustrated by Alejandro Giraldo) is less a book led by graphics than a book supported by graphics, and it is packed with heavy philosophical thinking more attuned to high school or college. The illustrations support the text in a way that makes difficult ideas more accessible.

The focus on this topic is an intriguing one, particularly in this day and age of “Argument” writing and reading and analysis with the Common Core shifts. This small “picture book” is really a book about “logical reasoning” that looks at common errors of argument, deconstructing fallacies of making arguments along a continuum of thinking: from circular reasoning to appeal to irrelevant authority to the slippery slope to affirming the consequent.

Each single-page inquiry into bad arguments comes with a graphic and a caption and Almossawi notes in the preface that: “This book’s novelty also lies in its use of lively illustrations to describe some of the common errors in reasoning that plague a lot of our present discourse …. (the illustrations) are discrete scenes, connected only by style and theme, which better affords adaptability and re-use.” (page 3)

Even though much of the content was new to me (some of of it reverberated with a high school class I only vaguely remember and some of it reminded me of a workshop given by a Western Massachusetts Writing Project teacher on the art of debate), I was drawn in by the ways Almossawi explains these fallacies, and how the illustrations tell a story of the fallacy or connect to literature allusions in a single frame.

While I won’t likely be bringing much of this level of terminology into my classroom, I found the book gave me a more steady underpinning of the understanding of argument itself, and that knowledge should help with the teaching of argument to my sixth graders later this year.

It helps that we are in the year of the presidential elections, where arguments will be no doubt abound as will use of many of the “logical fallacies” outlined in this book.

I wonder how many Donald Trump has already broken? Genetic fallacy, anyone?

Peace (in the logical of the illogical),


Student Reflective Voices in the World

I shared this out on Twitter yesterday, but I wanted to include it here at my blog, too. As part of the National Day on Writing, I had my students reflect on the theme of “why I write” and then we did some class podcasting.

I was blown away by the depth of their reflective stance around the act of writing.


I don’t know why I am surprised — I know they are strong writers and I know we do a lot around reflective stance — but still … hearing them telling the world about why they write, in their own voice … it’s a beautiful thing.

Peace (in the voice),

A #Whyiwrite Collaboration for National Day on Writing

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing adventure with Two Writing Teachers, and for the National Day on Writing 2015).

Why I Write for NDOW

Over at our iAnthology writing space, an unofficial online site for National Writing Project-affiliated teachers to hang out and write each week, I put out the call for teachers for today’s National Day on Writing celebration. The Day on Writing is hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and supported by a wide range of other organizations, including NWP.

(View the slideshow in Google Slides)

Each year, there is a theme, and this year’s theme is “Why I Write,” a theme that was explored during the first years of NDOW (National Day on Writing) and provided some interesting depth to responses of writers in all age groups.

I’m doing a podcasting activity with my sixth graders today. They wrote a prompt yesterday about “why I write” and I will be showing them Garageband today, and we will be using my Blue Snowball microphone for sharing out thoughts with voice, and then connecting with the world via the #whyiwrite hashtag on Twitter. I love getting voice out in the mix.

For this collaboration with NWP teachers, I went a simple route with a low technology threshold. I set up a Google Slideshow and sent out the link, asking folks to choose a slide and write. (I will be doing a similar activity this coming weekend at an event for Western Massachusetts Writing Project). The whole idea is to invite us in as writers, and explore writing from a meta-thinking angle.

The range of reasoning, and how writing so deeply impacts our daily lives, is at the heart of this kind of prompt. From the joy of writing to the need to understand the world to coming to terms with loss to tapping into childhood memories, the responses hit on many topics, all with a three word prompt.

So, why do you write?

Peace (in the words on the page),


Exploring Mobile Webmaker: i am small on the screen

Merely ... A Webmaker experiment

Mozilla’s pivot to mobile makes sense from its worldwide view and mission of connecting people around the world and giving them tools to “make the web.”  Most people in global communities use mobile devices, not desktop computers.

While I personally mourn the loss of Popcorn Maker (oh, I miss it terribly, and all of its remix media possibilities) and celebrate the new and improved Thimble tool (with file uploads and multiple page possibilities), I was sort of left out the mobile app experiment because I did not have an Android phone.

Now I do (long story, another day), and I went about exploring the free Webmaker App this weekend to see what Mozilla has been up to as it focuses in on mobile technology. I know the app is only the beginning (or so I think, as it seems in beta) and it wasn’t bad.

Nothing overly impressive yet, either, as far as I can tell, but I was able to make a website poem within minutes, and once I got myself situated, I found it fairly easy to use. I could see the threshold for using this app to be very low for most people. You can make the web within minutes.

View i am small on the screen

I purposely did not include any images or graphics with my small poem, as I was trying to keep the design simple, with words and links to side stanzas broken off from the main trunk of the poem. Basically, the editing mode gives you branches to create multiple pages and buttons as links to those pages. The downside is that viewing of the finished project is best done in the app itself. On the web, the poem looks scrunched up, at best.

But maybe that claustrophobic effect is effective for a poem whose theme is the smallness of the web. I’m going to nod my head and say, that was my purpose as a writer all along. (You believe me, right?) The poem became digital within the constraints of the technology.

What will you make?

Peace (here),

Post-#CLMOOC-cards: It’s Not the Technology; It’s Us


Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the technology and all of its fuzzy coolness of opportunities available to us with apps and websites and more that we forget that it is not about the technology at all …  it’s about the connections that technology facilitates.

Heck, even I forget.

And then I get reminded by an event or project, and I am always deeply appreciative of the opportunity to take a step back and notice what is really happening beneath the surface of connections.

Recently, a small group of folks from the summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC (long since ended) signed on for a “postcard project.” Karen Fasimpauer has led the way after getting inspired by, and sharing out, a post about mailing out postcards in the digital age. Someone suggested CLMOOCers could do that, too, and before you know it, a Google Doc was set up and folks were signing up to become senders and recipients of postcards.

Karen calls it “the happy series” and well, how could you not smile when reading about that idea?

My first postcard was a bright one from Karen, and (admission) I had already sort of forgotten about the postcard project when her lovely gift arrived in my mailbox. It was burst of sun in a hectic week. I was immediately reconnected with her, and with the postcard group, and with CLMOOC again. I took a breath in a moment of pause. The collapsing circle of everyday life sort of expanded out. Seeing her handwriting made the note more personal, and inviting.

Her words made me happy.

Karen’s postcard to me also reminded me to get my act together and find some postcards, which I did, and as I was writing them out, I wondered about what to say. I ended up using the imagery on the postcard as inspiration for “question poems” that became the text of the postcards. I had a special thrill as I went to the post office, asking how to send postcards overseas.

My poems were then in literal flight, and my connections to other educators were strengthened by a few words on a sheet of cardboard with a picture on it. I may likely forget about the project again until another postcard arrives in the mail and then, I am sure those connections will surge back.

Tweet collage of postcards

And I will be happy again.

The technology facilitated the connections, to be frank, but it has been the connections themselves that have outweighed the technology. The handwritten postcards are a reminder of the humanity behind the tweets, the blog posts, the videos and vines, and all of the flashy hoopla.

It’s about us. It’s always been about us (and that includes you).

Peace (on a stamp),

#4TDW Blog Carnival: Why (Digital) Comics Matter

(This post is for a blog carnival about digital writing, as part of the Virtual Conference on Digital Writing)
My Meandering Mind and MeA few years ago, I had one of those “aha” moments that forever changed my perception of young readers and writers. I had entered the local comic book store with my son, with the intention of joining something known as 24-Hour Comic Day. It is an event that challenges people to write a 24 frame comic in a 24 hour period.

My oldest son was into making comics, and I was curious. I also came armed with some ideas of my own, telling the story of my relationship with my brother in Brothers on Ice. I was expecting a few people to gather for the event.

What I witnessed, instead, was a book store that was nearly wall-to-wall writers and illustrators, sitting and standing in every place possible. And nearly all of them were young people. And many of these writers were boys, the very demographic of young learners that I often had trouble reaching as readers in my classroom.

Yet here they were, writing for hours at a time, collaborating with others, sharing work and gathering feedback. It was as if I had stumbled upon some secret writer’s society, and perhaps that what it was.

When we think of Connected Learning principles, finding your niche and interest remains front and center, and for many young people, writing comics and reading graphic novels hits that vein.

The question was, how do I bring that passion for making and writing into my classroom? And, I wondered, was there a way to fuse technology and digital literacies with comics? This seemed like it could be a natural fit, given the elements of comics as a medium of literacy, with its use of:

  • partnership between image and words
  • inferential thinking and writing with narrative gaps
  • sequential versus non-sequential storytelling
  • visual representation of ideas
  • collaboration of writer and artist

This began a journey, still unfolding, in which I first worked with students at a digital writing camp around webcomics for a few years, and then moved the concept into my classroom. Since then, making comics and its digital cousin, webcomics, have become a regular activity for my students. From writing prompts to text analysis to collaborative retelling of stories, comics are a common medium for us.  We don’t always go digital, either. Sometimes, it works best to let the young artists create off the screen. Here is one page from a class paper comic that was part of our discussions around the reading of The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. Homer Figg comic

Still, the digital does provide for interesting possibilities. We also use webcomics for a project at the start of the year, where students explain their aspirations for the future. This Dream Scenes project is a natural fit for comics.

Dream Scenes 2015

What affordances do webcomics, with their digital nature, have over regular comics? Scott McCloud dove into this issue in great detail in his Reinventing Comics book (a follow up to his now-classic Understanding Comics tome, which is like a bible for comic lovers). Interestingly, McCloud wrote this book in 2000, just on the cusp of the real digital revolution. Still, his insights into possibilities were prescient.

Whether by choosing a path, revealing a hidden window, or zooming in on a detail, there are countless ways to interact with sequential art in a digital environment. Most important, the mere act of “reading” — moving through — digital comics should be a deeply interactive experience … Comics in a digital environment will remain a still life — but a still life we explore dynamically.” (McCloud, Reinventing Comics, page 229)

Webcomics as disruptive narrative

A few ideas about the possibilities of digital comics stand out for me:

  • One has choice to use art within a comic system or draw your own;
  • There are no limits to numbers of frames/pages;
  • Other media — hyperlinks, videos, etc. — can be embedded into webcomics;
  • Publishing and sharing is often a click of a button away — an audience is close;
  • Collaborative features are often built into webcomic sites;
  • Comments and feedback are often part of the system.

Want to examine a possibility of the webcomic world? Check out Randall Monroe’s xkcd webcomic, where Monroe regularly experiments with the possibilities of webcomics along with traditional comics. His piece — Click and Drag – is one example of how he is pushing the edges of possibilities. As the title implies, you click and move through a comic that goes on and on and on, telling a narrative outside the frame.

It doesn’t end there, though. Because Monroe has a large audience, they began to take his comic and remix it and crowdsource elements of it together. Check out the wiki page about the comic. See a map that someone built to represent the entire comic. Venture into a more zoomable remix of the comic to get a better sense of scale.

I also adhere to the notion of “write alongside students” and that includes “make comics alongside students,” as evidenced by a few comic series that I have done over the years. The most prominent was a regular comic strip about the so called “digital divide” between students and teachers that I named Boolean Squared, and which ran on the website of our regional newspaper for two years before I retired the idea.


If you are seeking more resources around bringing comics into your classroom, feel free to use anything I have gathered at my Comics in the Classroom website, which I share with teachers on a regular basis.

Go ahead. Start a panel. Who knows where it will bring you.

Peace (in the frames),

PS — as I writing this piece, Edutopia put together a “Five Minute Film Festival” on the use of comics in the classroom.