#CCourses: Not Quite #Notover

#ccourses is #notover

As the last official phase of the Connected Courses comes to an end, there is ample discussion among participants on the question of: Why does a connected community end just because a course ends? (And why does an online course end when a traditional semester ends?) The #notover hashtag is being used, which I used for the comic above.

I’m reminded a bit of another comic I made for Alan Levine earlier in the Connected Courses, as he mulled over this same topic, and I reflected on an LMS I am in right now that I don’t care more than a whit about.  He put forth the idea of “keeping the lights on” and not using language about anything ending.

Keep the lights on #CCourses

And I agree.

So many folks are plotting ways to keep people connected. There was even talk of a task force. Made a comic. (Surprised? I doubt it). I was thinking of superheroes. Personally, I like the Mad Hacker.
For the Connected Course .... #ccourses

Just like anything of this nature, it will depend on the participants now, not the facilitators (although facilitators should now have permission to become participants) as to whether sharing, connecting and exploring continues under the #ccourses banner.

For my part, I will try to share out on a regular basis ideas from the collaborative Daily Connector site that (digi) Simon, Maha (B.) and Laura and I worked on. I’ve been doing random Daily Connects throughout December (after we originally posted them each day as new ideas back in October), and the ideas there have value beyond Connected Courses, for sure. The random generator is such a cool function of that site. (Thanks, Alan!)

Push for Fun-1

To be honest, the Connected Courses has been intriguing and I have enjoyed the discussions and hangouts and meeting people (I mean, I’ve been “hanging out” in spaces with Howard Rheingold and Mimi Ito and others … how cool is that? It’s a thrill). But as a K-12 teacher, much of the discussion about designing open education courses for the University level has been intriguing on a thinking level, but not all that practical on the day-to-day level.

But you know, I am still in the rather vibrant #rhizo14 network (coming towards #rhizo15), and I connect with DS106 via the Daily Creates (our model for the Daily Connects), and the #clmooc community is still sharing in various spaces. A different, more relaxed energy comes when the planned world falls away, and the unknown maps of what is ahead takes place. Sometimes, it sustains itself. Sometimes, not.

We’ll see where the #ccourses goes and time will tell if it is really #notover … but I do know that the people I have connected with there have greatly expanded my own online networks of friends I can turn to with questions and advice and projects, and ideas. And, of course, comics. I made a ton of comics for Connected Courses, in hopes of infecting a little fun into the conversations.

Check out my Connected Courses Comic Album

Peace (may it continue),


176 Collective Hours of Coding and Programming

Do the numbers matter? Not really, but it does energize my students when I work to calculate the combined and collective number of hours we spent this past week doing Hour of Code and related activities. This chart will be going up on our class blog this weekend.

Hour of Code 2014

This includes:

  • Collaborative problem solving on the Frozen game with our kindergarten buddies;
  • Angry Bird coding on the Interactive Board;
  • Flappy Bird coding collectively and individually;
  • Working on programming and designing our science-based video game projects.

Do the numbers accurately gauge the interest of my four classes of sixth graders in the coding and programming concept? Not even close. They were invested and engaged, and even yesterday, a fair number were still working on coding activities during breaks with their game design projects.

It’s all good …

Peace (in the chart),

Getting all Flappy with Hour of Code

My students had a blast yesterday with the Hour of Code project in which you can learn how to build and then publish your own style of “Flappy Bird” game. We began our Hour of Code in the morning, when I had the Angry Birds coding activity on the board and posted a sign: Play This Game!

They did.

hour of code angry birds

Then, during each of our ELA classes, students collaboratively, via the Interactive Board, went through the Flappy Bird programming lesson. There were lots of encouragements as kids used the pen to program the game, and cheers when it worked. I struggled with finding a way to collect all of the Flappy Bird style games, so that as classes and as individuals coded the games, they could share them out for others to play.

I decided upon using a Padlet, which makes the collection visible, but a quirk in it means that when you click on the game link in Padlet, you have to find the source button to get to the actual game. I find that extra step annoying. The students didn’t, so there’s that.

Class Flappy Games

A number of students went from the Flappy Bird game to the Angry Birds game, to the Frozen activity, but the “aha” moment came when a girl began watching the Javascript tutorial (via Kahn Academy). She was transfixed for a long stretch of time, and every now and then, she would say, quite loud, “This … is … so… interesting.” She eventually called some of her girlfriends over, and they all huddled around her computer, trying to wrap their heads around some more advanced programming language.

Who knows what seeds got planted during the Hour of Code … and where it might take them.

Peace (in the share),


Writing a Protest Song (of sorts)

We had an ice/snow day yesterday. Or, rather, I did but my kids did not, so I had some time at home to catch up on work and play. During the day, I noticed a tweet about Questlove calling for artists of all stripes to be the “voice of the times” when it comes to Ferguson and Staten Island, and race. I’d be dishonest if I say I wasn’t living the privileged life, as a white male in suburbia in a tolerant part of the United States.

But there was a time when I wrote only protest songs for my first bands, so I grabbed my guitar yesterday and worked for a short stretch on a song that might reflect some of my thinking, as I read the news and wonder where our country is heading. We’ve had large protests here where I live — we are in an area with five colleges, including UMass and Smith College — so I began with that scene, and moved forward from there. I wanted to end on a hopeful note. I think I did.

Here, then, is my rough song: Cities Rise Up


I am not naive to think I am in Questlove’s sphere or talent. But every artist has a chance to call for change, right?

Peace (in the muse),

Honoring Anne Herrington at WMWP

(I thought I had shared this out earlier but I guess not …. never too late …)

Anne Herrington, whose work in the field of composition and digital writing, as well as her leadership for many years in our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the National Writing Project, was honored this past weekend with the Pat Hunter Award at WMWP’s Best Practices.

I’ve known Anne for many years and have worked closely with her on many projects, and her work and inquiry and approach to issues always struck me as very insightful and full of wonder. She led our WMWP through a very difficult time in recent years, before stepping down as WMWP site director, and her continued interest in digital literacies in many forms helped inform my own work as a classroom teacher.

Here, Anne accepts the Pat Hunter Award (named after one of the earlier site directors of our writing project whose legacy still shapes who we are) with her usual insightful commentary on the work we do, and the learning community we are part of with the writing project.

Peace (to Anne),

Slice of Life: A Pivot Point

(This is part of the Slice of Life writing activity sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. Come join us by writing about small moments each Tuesday.)


Something strange has happened in the dynamics of my classroom in the past two weeks or so. I’m not sure exactly where or what it springs from, and I struggling right now with how to right the ship, too. There are always pivot points each year in a classroom culture where the mood of a group of kids can suddenly turn from what you thought it was to something you were not expecting it to be at all.

I am at one of the pivots, and I don’t like it at all.

Sometimes, the pivot a good thing. Maturity kicks in. Friendships blossom. A cohesiveness emerges. You hope that, as the teacher, your work around community building has paid off, that the small things can make a big difference in the way kids see themselves, and the world — the small world of the classroom as well as the large world of the World.

Right now, my class is sort of in opposite mode, and I obviously won’t go into specifics, but there’s a small clique of students who are making negative ripples as part of social posturing, and I am worried about the tide. I’m not turning a blind eye to it. I’m addressing what I see, and what I hear, and what I hear about, as quickly and as judiciously as I can. I’m using positive reinforcement and negative consequences. Parents are involved. The administration is involved. And I am reaching into the teaching bag for all I have, in hopes I can change what needs to be changed so we can move forward with positive energy — all of us.

Still, youthful social dynamics can be a powerful force. On their own, each student in this clique is a nice kid. As a group, they become something I barely recognize at times when I hear some of the stories of how they treat others in the hallways, on the playground, on the bus. And, online, too. Never in the classroom, though.

I’m struggling to make it right, and it makes me sad and frustrated to know this, too, is part of teaching, when so many of my students just want a safe and fun place to learn each day.

Peace (in the think),


Hour of Code: Make a Flappy Bird Game

One of the many great activities that are included at the Hour of Code site (and there are many) is learning how to program/code your own Flappy Bird-style app game. You can even share it out for others play after you learn and make your own game.

Check out mine:

flappy spaceship

You can even remix my game and make your own. How cool is that, eh?

My son also made his own version — Flappy Santa — and was very engaged and had to do some problem-solving. But he found success and when he learned he could publish it for others to play, he was highly motivated.

I am sharing this programming activity with my students this week, as it is a perfect companion to our video game design unit. I have also set up a Padlet site, where they are going to gather and collect each other’s games. I’ll share later …

Peace (in the flap),

Book Review: Gaming the System (Designing with Gamestar Mechanic)

This book – Gaming the System: Designing with Gamestar Mechanic — could not have arrived at a better time. I am knee-deep in our science-based video game design project right now, and while I have done gaming for a few years now and have a pretty solid handle on it, this look at game design through the lens of systems provides me with a fresh insight into the learning that is going on each day in my classroom.

The book is part of a series put out by MIT Press called INTERCONNECTIONS: Understanding Systems Through Digital Design.  There was a NWP Blogtalk radio show with the writers/editors that is worth checking out. I should note that I was an early reader of another book in this series, and received a free version of that book for my time and effort. But I did not read this one on gaming and bought for it myself. Also, the National Writing Project is one of the partners in the putting together the series, so I do know some of the folks involved.

This book, while somewhat pricey for a cash-strapped teacher, gives a powerful look at the potential of game design, connections to literacy and science standards, and plays out like a how-to guide for getting started and how to push kids further into complex thinking. It references Gamestar Mechanic as its base of game design (a site which I also use) and includes numerous screenshots, handouts, reference sheets and lesson plan ideas for implementing gaming in a constructivist approach.

And all of this is done through the lens of “systems,” which is a conceptual frame of thinking of the whole being a sum of its parts, and how changes in one part of the system change the whole. Think of weather patterns. Or political maps. Or airports. Or manufacturing. While those are pretty advanced systems to consider for young people, game design makes it real by bringing them into a system they understand, and showing how a designer’s intentional approach changes the system of the game. It’s a brilliant approach, really, and I realize now that I have been teaching Systems withou quite realizing it, and without using some of the domain specific vocabulary that I now have in my pocket for our work in the classroom.

Here is a quote that helps frame this concept:

A game can be considered a system because how the game is played and how the game play unfolds are the results of multiple interactions among different components … It’s important to be able to reflect not only on how a system might be functioning currently, but also on how a designer might have intended it to operate (or intended to change it). — page 200-201

I’ve bookmarked a fair number of pages in my copy of Gaming the System, and I intend to share it with my science colleague (whom is my partner in our game design project) and if my new principal walks in for an observation and wonders why everyone is playing video games in ELA class, I have some materials to help me make my case about the value of our science-based video game design project.

Peace (in the system),