Even Further Unflattening

This is what I was working on yesterday, as I dove deeper into the remixing and thinking about the graphic dissertation Unflattening by Nick Sousanis. See yesterday’s post to get a sense of some of the reasons I am doing this, and how it is helping me think about Nick’s message of art and creation and perception.

Terry, with Nick’s permission, took Page 45 from the book and popped it into ThingLink for a crowdsourced annotation. I found it fascinating to add layers to the work, mulling over how the messages of the page might get represented by other work, pulling the reader from the page itself. In effect, we are doing a dance with Nick, the writer, saying to yet a third reader: “Here is what I see in this. What do you see?”

What do you see? Add another layer in the Thinglink.

Meanwhile, I took an image of Page 45, too, and began to mess around with it in various photo editors. One of them allows me to really remix an image, through various cut-up lens. This one gives the impression of a collage remix, with the box emphasizing a message all of its own.

More Unflattening

Then, I thought: What if I cut out the frames of the page and re-arranged them into something new? Would that even work? Would it make sense? It was worth a try. Here’s what I came up with when I was done.

More Unflattening

Peace (in the remix),

Mixed (media) Interpretations of Unflattening (by Nick Sousanis)


This not a review, per se, but a sharing of my various interpretations of the theme (as I understand it) behind Nick Sousanis’ interesting graphic novel/dissertation Unflattening. (This book was suggested by my friend Ron in the Rhizomatic Learning space, and then Susan mentioned she had read it and so did Wendy, and then Terry got the book and began doing his own interpretations and then Greg just got the book but knew of the work and … meanwhile, Sousanis himself has been engaged in the conversations on Twitter about our observations of his work … all pretty fascinating in and of itself)

Honestly, I will need to read Unflattening again, and maybe a few more times, to gather up all of the nuances of thinking, but Sousanis puts forth ideas about how to break free of a narrow vision of the world and art and meaning by reminding us that we need to better see how image and art and other perceptions come into play when navigating the world. His use of the comic/graphic story format is incredibly engaging and interesting, and perfectly suited for this kind of philosophical journey.

While reading, I kept wondering how to represent my own thinking as the reader (following Terry’s lead) in non-traditional ways. How could I “unflatten” my own experiences with the book?

Unflattening is a simultaneous engagement of multiple vantage points from which to engender new ways of seeing.” — Sousanis, page 32

I began, as I usually do but which seemed very appropriate here, with a comic and a remix. I took a page from Unflattening and added my own layer of comic characters, making commentary on the content of the page. My idea was not to lessen Sousanis’ message, but to strengthen it by showing how a reader can interact with text.

Annotating the Unflattening

Still, the remix comic exists in flat space.

I started thinking, Sousanis should have an Augmented Reality layer to the book, which would create an invisible layer of information and maybe more insights on top of the book as it exists. If we all had Google Glasses when we might read books in a different way …

This led me back to the Aurasmas app, which I have toyed around with before, to see if I could add a layer of commentary via video on top of the book itself. I was quickly reminded how complicated it is to share “auras” (as the app calls them) but I finally figured it out (the app is native to your device; if you want to share auras you create, you need to set up a folder at the website, load your project there, and then share out the link. Those who have the app can use the link, which opens up the app on their device and sets off the “aura” when they point their camera at the object, which in this case is Unflattening.)

More Unflattening

Here, then (I hope) is the link you can use to get to my “aura” of Unflattening. Don’t have the book? No problem. Use the image of the book’s cover here as your object for launching the aura. On your mobile device, click on the link below, which should launch the app, and then point your camera on the image in this post (OK, so that might require some device juggling. Be safe out there, people.) Ideally, a video of me should emerge in the augmented layer of the book’s cover. I hope it works for you. It did for me, when I tested it. If not, the above screenshot is pretty nifty, with the illustration web of footprints running through my face (and what’s up with my eyes? I must be in the midst of some keen perceptions there).

Go to Aura

It also occurred to me that I could use a nifty tool in the Firefox browser that lets you get a 3D look at websites, and that I could use that tool to look at Sousanis’ own website where he writes about the writing of Unflattening. I love how he uses the last part of his book to talk about what influenced individual pages. I am a sucker for “behind the scenes” of writers. In using the 3D view tool in Firefox, I would be making the leap from the book to the author writing about the book that I was reading, and I would be using yet another lens to see what he was writing about. Maybe. I’m not sure it succeeded on that level, but it is still an intriguing look at how to use “multiple engagement points” to look at the web. I took a tour.

Meanwhile, Terry and Greg and I and a few others are working on a media annotation of a page in Unflattening, with Sousanis’ permission (although, to be frank, we would have done it anyway, as that is the reader’s prerogative, but we let Sousanis pick the page from his book he would like us to annotate because the relationship between reader and writer is always an interesting one to explore. I wonder how Nick feels about all this.)

More on that later venture ….

Peace (in perceptions),


A #Rhizo15 Comic Book: Practical Advice and All That


In the final (maybe) week (spin cycle) of Rhizomatic Learning (roots take hold), Dave (the instigator) asks us to consider (please) adding elements to a crowd-sourced Practical Guide to Rhizomatic Learning that will become sort of a legacy project for the community/network/crowd/swarm.

I’m into that.

So I dove into Bitstrips for Schools (which my students use to make media) to create a comic book version of some advice, using characters of some friends who happen be in the Rhizo15 community already, including a Dave character from some past project that focused on Dave and his Daveness. I don’t quite remember now why I had made a Dave. (Anyone? It might have been a DS106 assignment)

I used a site called FlipHTML5 to create a flipbook version of the comic, which makes it easier to read. You can also see the full comic as a single page (it’s long) over at Flickr, too.

Check out the flipbook.

I guess Dave will be pulling together people’s posts and artifacts into one ginormous GUIDE. That should be interesting, right?

Peace (in the frames),



Connecting Dave with Dave: A Top Ten List

This is mostly likely a pop cultural reference that only those in North America really get (sorry, everyone else) but with the retirement of late night television show host David Letterman, there has been a lot of news about his Top Ten lists.

When a newsletter from another Dave (Cormier) entered my email box, asking us to think and maybe contribute to the development of a practical guide for engaging in Rhizomatic Learning, my sarcasm box got powered up.

And so, with apologies to both Daves (one for ripping off the sarcastic Top Ten idea and the other for aiming the sarcasm at Rhizo15, which I love), I give you my Top Ten Reasons You Should NOT Join Rhizo15:

Top ten


By the way, I used the Hanx writing app, which gives you that old-fashioned typewriter feel to writing. I like the look of it for a top ten list.

Peace (engage your sarcasm filter),

Am I Really Rump?

I am Rump

I took this quiz after read this post by Ellie in the Rhizomatic Learning network and I know it’s determination of me as that ugly child-stealing, gold-weaving villain is not worth a hill of beans (or maybe a mountain of straw?). But the post by Ellie is still interesting as a conceptual device, as she wonders aloud about how we can map ourselves to fairy tales. Fairy tales are such archetypal stories, right?

She pulls out an interesting bit that she once wrote that guides her own writing:

Map your life onto fairytales if there’s no other way to navigate

It has me wondering if Disney hasn’t spoiled this notion for so many of us, with its sugar-coated, Captain-Crunched recasting of Grimm Brothers’ stories of old, which were very scary and not always happily-ended, and often tended to resolve themselves on the fortitude and wits of the heroes and protagonists, not on the kindness of strangers.

I don’t know what fairy tale I would map my own life to in a way that makes sense (that would be a messy adventure), but the fairy tale character generator that put me as a villain like Rump is intriguing in itself. Spinning gold from straw? Blog posts from ideas? Stories from thin air? Poems from a single word?

I do that.

I wouldn’t go about stealing your baby, but I might remix it a bit, changing the nature of your creative offspring to make it something new and interesting, and then, unlike Rump, I give it back to you, too. You don’t even need to speak my name to dispel the magic, and I won’t be dancing around a fire night at midnight, gloating over my plans.

Of course, one never knows.

Peace (in the tales yet to be told),

Book Review: How to Write Short

I’m tempted to write a six word book review for this one. But Roy Peter Clark’s How to Write Short (Word Craft for Fast Times) is worth more than just  few words, even if I break from some of the very suggestions Clark lays out concisely and with humor in this book about writing in the modern age of short texts.

Clark, a newspaper man who works with journalists and others on the craft of writing, covers quite a bit of ground here, giving very specific advice and mentor texts about the art of writing short, using everything from Tweets, to photo captions, to six word memoirs, to marginalia, to listing, texting and more. He is also a talented writer.

His premise is that a good writer can pack a mighty punch in just a few words, if one is careful with their word choices and sentence creations. He also notes that we live in a world where updates and short texts are coming to rule how we get and share information, and having a working knowledge of this kind of writing is a key part of being literate. Of course, Clark also warns that writing short has its pitfalls, of losing depth to brevity, and the lack of nuance. A writer has be a good writer, even if the text is small.

Clark ends each (short, of course) chapter with some helpful “Grace Notes” that offers ways for the reader to become a writer in the form or format or genre that he has been discussing, and I found these a great source of ideas for writing activities. In short (ahem), How to Write Short is a powerful advice guide, with wit and humor (although there is a bit too much of Clark talking about his friends and networks and he almost works a bit too hard to show off his charm in his own writing) that will get you thinking of how to write and how to teach writing.

The book reminded me of this Ignite piece that I presented at NCTE a few years ago, on this very topic (here, I fall into what I criticized Clark about — showing off. Sorry.):

Peace (yep),


Can We Understand Without Understanding?

Practice vs Theory

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t quite understand the theoretical or philosophical underpinnings of Rhizomatic Learning, with its grounding in the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Whenever folks in the #rhizo15 community start to reference D&G, my mind sort of begins to wander. I’ve tried to read some of D&G over time, and even enjoyed this artist’s rendition of the first few chapters of A Thousand Plateaus. Tried and got bored. Or lost.

I found this quote, which seems to be a guiding anchor as to why we are even connected D&G to learning ideas in a world in which technology is altering how we read and write and connect and publish and think and network.

… the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detatchable, connectable, reversable, modifiable,, and has multiple entranceways and exits and its own lines of flight.(see Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 21)

But, to be honest, I’ve been more attuned to Dave Cormier’s condensed idea of Rhizomatic Learning in terms of the classroom or network as an ecosystem where ideas spread through shared practice and knowledge, each node connecting to another in a way to help make everyone move ahead in their knowledge and understanding. Or that is my own interpretation of Dave’s interpretation of Rhizomatic Learning. It all dovetails with Connected Learning principles, in a way.

Or so, I believe.

My question for myself is, do I have to fully understand D&G in order to be part of the #rhizo15 experience? Am I just a faker on the outside, tossing comics into the mix like pebbles in the pond? Do I need to be “in” to engage? Will I need to spend a few hours with D&G to feel authentic and valued?

I don’t think so.

I think the #rhizo15 course, so to speak, has been designed by Dave to be open enough that anyone can experience Rhizomatic Learning on their own level, and still be welcomed into the fold. Dave might have certain ideas that spur his own questions to us, but he has never made anyone beholden to the concepts of D&G.


Terry ripped into D&G this weekend, sparking a lot of discussion at his blog site about the use of imprecise language by D&G, and the over-interpretation of theory instead of practice. I like that anyone can freely question the entire architecture of an idea and still be part of the community that grapples with the idea.

Dissent welcome.

Confusion welcome.


Peace (in a bit of a fog today),

Words as Weeds, or How to Paint a #Rhizo15 Story

rhizotale wordgarden
I took phrases from the collaborative exquisite corpse story, ala Rhizomatic Learning, and used the Language is a Virus Visual Poetry site, to “draw” a garden of ideas. It’s not as good as I had in mind, but it works to represent the idea of pieces of the story coming together to “grow” a collective story.

Or something like that.

It might just be that it is cool to look at.

Here is the podcast version of the collective story:

Peace (in the weeds),

The Story of a Species (A Rhizomatic Tale Written Rhizomatically)

Fold it

So, this was interesting .. I set up a Fold that Story collaboration within the Rhizomatic Learning community and invited folks to write within the Exquisite Corpse structure — you only see the fold above you and nothing else — and the next person only sees the fold you left, and nothing else.

Yeah, the story unfolds in strange tangents, as different writers take the story in different directions. Interestingly, there are common threads that hold it all together over the course of the 20 folded story strands, and that is no doubt a reflection of common discussion themes in the Rhizo15 community.

So, I present to you: our story. I decided to create an audio narration, and while it would have been neat to have all the writers record their own parts that they wrote and then piece those audio together, I don’t have the time to do that. (Anyone want to do that? I am game to read my parts again.)

The Story of the Species- A Rhizomatic Adventure

Peace (in the folds of the story),

PS — Curious about who wrote what? Here is a link to a version that has names attached.

Of Podcasts and Poems for Voices and A Knot of Ideas

Warning: This is one of those posts where I don’t have any clear ideas of where I am going to end up. I am thinking as I am writing. Writing as I am thinking.

Poems for Two Voices 2015

Anybody know how to …” a voice called out in the classroom.

I do. Be right there.

I watched from another part of the classroom, as one student got up from their project, walked over and showed another how to add the loop browser into Garageband.

How do I ….” another student called out.

Let me show you. I figured that out when I …

Again, I am nearly completely removed from the discussion. One student calls out for help. Another steps up to share their knowledge. This was yesterday, in class, as my students are learning how to use Garageband (only two or three of my 80 students had ever used it) to record podcasts of their poems, which are “poems for two voices.”

Poems for Two Voices 2015

I’m thinking of all of the work going on in the Rhizomatic Learning community these past few weeks, right into this week’s current theme, as posed by Dave Cormier, of “rhizomatic learning as an invasive species.” I’ve appreciated Terry Elliott continuing to remind us to find and notice and share out rhizomatic practices in the field, to help make the move from the theory of the tangled roots of learning to what it might look like in the classroom.

Poems for Two Voices 2015

So, these “poems for two voices”? They are a tangled woven root system in themselves. Designed to be read and performed, the poet weaves the words in and out of the two voices, often pulling phrases into conflict and then in harmony with each other. Ideally, the two topics are related but different enough to create tension.

For 11 and 12 year olds, even at the end of our sixth grade, writing “poems for two voices” is critical thinking challenge, and not only in the crafting of the words. The physical writing, of leaving gaps in the poem for the other voice to fill, required me to teach them how to make and use tables. That seems pretty basic, no doubt, but if you have never created a table before or used a table before in a word document, it’s something new to be discovered.

Add the element of podcasting, and a new software experience (Garageband), and suddenly, the level of learning gets extended even further, and this is where (as indicated by some of the exchanges above) that I noticed what rhizomatic learning sort of looks like in small moments of my classroom. I have purposely tried only to show my students the basics of Garageband, and given them time to play and tinker before moving into the recording of their performance of the “poems for two voices.” Sure, it would have been easier and simpler to use some other voice recording tool, or to have given detailed Garageband instructions.

But it is a wondrous thing to watch what happens when everyone is struggling to get their head around how to add new tracks, record different voices, add vocal effects, and layer in a musical loop soundtrack underneath the poems, and to observe what happens if the teacher is purposely (they don’t know this) standing back, offering only minimal support.

You know what happens?

They help each other. They turn to others. They play and figure things out, and then share that knowledge in a very informal way. One helps another. That person helps another. Someone discovers something “cool” and a crowd flocks around to learn how to do it, too, and then that leads to something else, and suddenly, the classroom is alive with experimentation. Or, learning.

I am always surprised, and saddened, when so many students say they “hate writing poems” and it is mostly a result of being forced to write in strict styles, particularly rhyming poems, that don’t allow students to feel free and experiment with language. This “poem for two voices” (and we even read together a very complicated “poem for four voices” that blew their minds) is so unlike anything that they have experienced, that it opens up new possibilities for how we merge writing and technology and creativity together.

What’s my role in this podcast activity, as teacher? Of course, I am there to help those students who just can’t seem to figure it out, for whatever reason. I guide them. I call over others. And my role is to put the experience into a context of learning, of helping them see the entire process from above after spending time deep in their little recording world.

My co-teacher and I were having a conversation in class yesterday, as we watched this unfolding. We were talking about changes in expectations this year with a new principal and her push to make the standards we are teaching more explicit and preferably posted each day (we are not yet required to do that but I suspect it is coming), and how some teachers are struggling to figure out how to find that balance between their experience in knowing what engages students as learners and offering proof that it connects to standards.

We looked around the room, as podcasts were being recorded, with students in headphones speaking into computers and remixing media. There was laughter, and sharing, and teams working. I noted that while the learning on display here touched on writing and speaking standards, my main goal was to enrich their knowledge of technology and keep the push alive to get them composing their own content, making the shift away from passive consumer. There’s no explicit standard for that.

But there should be.

I know the phrase of “invasive species” has a negative connotation (something foreign snuffing out the native species), but if we think  in the positive of learning something new and sharing it with others as a way to create impact, and maybe root out some shared knowledge, by suffocating old ideas, then this kind of media poetry activity is on target.

Peace (in the knot),