Slice of Life: The #Nerdlution Ends (for now)

(This is a piece for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers).

As soon as I hit the submit button with a comment for Maureen’s blog post about deep learning, I sat back and thought, Fifty Days. If anyone else were in the room, I would have high-fived them. As it was, the dog was looking at me funny, with a tilted head, but he just wanted to get fed. He didn’t realize that the Nerdlution project, which began back in early December, was officially over. I had spent 50 days visiting 50 blogs, leaving 50 comments (one comment per day, although the reality was that once I started the routine, the habit took over and I tried to leave more here and there).

I’m one of those people who can’t quite let go of a project, so even though I know more than a few friends were not able to stick with it for a full 50 days (which seemed like a lot at the start and still seems like a lot at the end), I kept at it. It became a part of how I started my morning, looking for blog posts (ideally, via the #nerdlution hashtag but those started to run out on me, so I turned to related projects as blogs to read).

My aim was to visit blogs that I don’t normally visit, and engage in a conversation with other teachers. I did leave comments but I have not had time to go back and see where those breadcrumbs of words have gone. In fact, early on, I began to worry about this — how would I backtrack? So, I began with a Diigo bookmarking group, and then started to think about how to visually capture my 50 paths to 50 blogs.

I’ve always wanted to give Symbaloo a try, so that’s what I did. I set up a site, and began adding tiles every day as I left a comment.

Check it out:

My goal now is to begin a trail backwards through the blogs that I visited through the Nerdlution, and see what happened to my words and maybe keep the conversations going and flowing. I’d rather it not be a one-shot deal. I’d like to have conversations, and for all the hoopla over the power of blogging, that’s more difficult than it seems because keeping track of comments it not seamless, no matter how you do it (email updates, etc.)

I’m happy the Nerdlution took place and I am a little relieved that it is over, as I move into a few other projects.

Peace (in the goal),

Dipping in and Diving Deep (DLMOOC)

This week, the Deep Learning MOOC began, and so I started in with the first week of possible activities. It’s an open, constructivist MOOC, so you do what you want when you want and how you want. I happen to like it when there are a few steps forward, so I took the suggestions from the facilitators to read a few pieces about Deep Learning principles to get a better handle on what the theme of this MOOC is going to be as it unfolds.

First, I read a few articles and even used Diigo’s annotation tool to make notes on this piece by Jal Mehta about Deep Learning and the Common Core, and how the two might fit even as reality intrudes on those possibilities.

Check out my notes on the article

Then, there was this video (which I have viewed before) about a student’s view of the educational system. I decided to put it into Vialogues and annotate it as I listened, and then opened it for others to add notes (I am going to work on opening up the Diigo to others, too).

Finally, we were asked to tweet out an experience of our own, as students, when we remember learning deep. I wrote about a time in high school when I collaborated with another student in Jazz band to create a jazz piece for performance. We worked together for long hours, knowing that not only would our peers (the band) be playing it, but that it would become a piece in a performance for a real audience. It was pretty intense learning. I wish I had an audio of it now.

Earlier, I had also written a piece for the Deep Learning MOOC Story Bank about another experience with my local chapter of the National Writing Project, where I spent a summer writing and learning about the teaching of writing. It is a prime example of Deep Learning PD, I think.

Peace (in the MOOC),

ReComposition: Variations on a Digital Poem

I got a bit obsessed yesterday with making variations of my poem, I Think in Ink, that I shared out as a looping Vine piece yesterday. I played around with some image apps and then, taking a cue from Terry, began to explore a site called Zeega, which is another media-combining site that is interesting to use.

Here’s how the poem came out:

I also turned on my audio recorder, taking notes as I went. These may or may not be of any interest to you. I paused in between things. It was more of a way to get me “thinking out loud.”

And here are two of the image renditions of the poem.
The first one uses an app that is a poetry wordcloud generator. I noticed that you could import an image as your background, so I did, taking a shot of my computer screen with the original poem in the center focus point.

Think in ink

The second one uses an app that takes an image and reconfigures it as another kind of word cloud. I took a shot of me, holding an ipod, and then tinkered with the main words from the poem, and spent quite some time toying around the with settings to get the design that I wanted.

Think in Ink 2

Peace (in the poem),

Flocabulary Gets It Right: Civil Rights Hip-Hop Resource

MLK Day Dream

Flocabulary has a great musical resource available for remember Martin Luther King Jr. and honoring the Civil Rights movement. Along with the hip hop song that brings in words and imagery into the flow, the group provides a set of lyrics you can print out. Whenever I use Flocabulary and their mad rhymes, my students pay attention. The site even has a classroom view, allowing the video to come into center focus. You can’t embed the video in other sites because Flocabulary sells subscriptions (and periodically, makes resources like this one free).

Check it out.

And remember and honor the man whose voice continues to ring out and resonate with much of the country.

Peace (on this day),

Hacking Four Corners

Hacking Four Corners

Each morning, my sixth graders and I gather up for our morning meeting, which we call Circle of Power and Respect. Our routine of checking in and sharing and connecting at the start of the day is built off the tenets of the Responsive Classroom. I really like how it brings us together in a positive way, and the students are ones to lead the meeting, not me. I turn over the responsibility to them as much as possible.

Part of the routine is an activity that can merge cooperative learning with play, and we have a growing list of about 15 to 20 activities and games that we pull from. By January, some of the activities start getting a little old, so I encourage my students to mess around with the rules once we’ve learned them and hack the activities as they see fit. (Soon, I will have them design and write out rules for their own activities).

On Friday, that’s what happened with our game of Four Corners. I’ve tried to represent in a chart what happened as students began to change the rules of this rather simple game to make it more interesting. First of all, the basics of Four Corners is that one person is “it” — they close their eyes and count to ten. Everyone else makes a beeline for one of the four corners of the room, which have been numbered, and the “it” person calls out a number. Anyone in that corner is out of the game. Another round ensues. It’s elimination. The last one standing in a corner wins and becomes “it” for the next game.

On Friday, the student leader started to add corners to the game in the second round, going from four spaces to ten, and changed the entire flow of the room and the game. Then, in the third round, this student decided that only odd number corners were “in play” and again, the flow was altered as kids had to think in their heads which were odd and which were even. In the last round, the even corners were “in play.” More scrambling and thinking.

There was playful mayhem as the leader kept changing things up, taking Four Corners into new terrain for everyone. I just watched from a distance, giving some help here and there. For the most part, I was an observer of play and admirer of the nimble thinking of the students. It was all over in about ten minutes yet the laughter and sense of fun lasted throughout most of the rest of the day.

Peace (in the game),

Vine: Crafting a Video Poem That Eats Itself

Way back in June, when I first started to use the Vine app (with its six seconds of video limit) with the Making Learning Connnected MOOC, I pondered how one might conceive of it as more than a documentation of life. I wondered if there were ways to tell a story in just six seconds. I played around with Vine and created this “story” of a letter to the future. It sort of worked. I guess.

I’m still pondering Vine, it turns out, and the #walkmyworld project (of documenting our world in social media) has brought the video app back into focus because organizer Ian O’Byrne has suggested that folks use Vine as a way to do that documenting. I’ve since shared a few Vines, particularly of my house as I wander through my day. And I have kept an eye out for pieces about Vine to help me think about its possibilities. (Check out this post of Six Second Movies and there is even a Tribeca Six Second Film Fest.)

But my friend Molly Shields has been openly mulling over  how to use Vine as digital storytelling platform. Me, too. And with the expected future shift of #walkmyworld into digital poetry (in my previous post, I stumbled on the term of “video haiku” to define Vine, and I still like that way of imagining it), I had a few Twitter-based conversations with Molly about how to go about doing that.

You have to think of the limitations: six seconds does not allow for a lot of lines of poetry. The looping effect of Vine is intriguing because it brings the end of the poem right back to the start of the poem. If you don’t consider that effect, the poem could have a jarring effect — stopping suddenly and restarting.

During the afternoon, as I was at my son’s basketball game, a poem came to me. I didn’t have paper, so I had to jot it down in the back cover of the book I was reading. I tinkered with words, trying to make it fit within the limitations and trying to make it resemble a snake eating itself — an MC Escher of a poem that wraps back on itself. I didn’t have my ipad with me, so the writing was the heart of what I was doing, even as I had a mental stopwatch in my head. The people next to me probably though I was a lunatic, mouthing the words and watching my son’s game clock to keep track of seconds. (ha)

Here is the poem:

I think in ink -
I burrow thoughts that shrink
down to the screen
when …

It turns out the writing was the easy part. Shooting the video was much more difficult , and I tried a few different ways to get at it until I decided on taking three angled shots, reading parts of the poem as I looked off into the distance. I’m not sure I like it, though. Not because of the way the video came out but because the visual lacks an important element: metaphor. I realize now that I should have lifted a small screen (iPod or something) in the last frames.


We write. We play. We experiment. We learn.

Peace (along the vines of creativity),

PS — In 2012, at NCTE, I gave an Ignite Talk about short-form writing. I wonder how it might be different now with Vine and other media apps in the mix.



On the Topic of Cheating, Learning and Deception


Classroom Cheating

Over in the #rhizo14 learning space, the topic for the first week is all about “cheating as learning,” which is a fascinating way to get started with an inquiry conversation. Imagine my surprise when, as I was spending a few days mulling over this concept, this issue of Time for Kids comes to my classroom during the week. It’s all about cheating in school.

Is that strange or what?

Now, as far as I know (and really, we don’t really know unless someone is caught), not too many of my sixth graders cheat on test and projects. But the article opened up an interesting conversation with my students about why kids would cheat (not them, of course — ahem). They articulated worries about grades, and expectations of teachers, and the need to prove themselves and keep up with friends. Even at this young age, they carry a lot of weight on their shoulders most of the time.

An interesting element of the article centered on the the areas between “cheating” and “collaboration.” Check out this great quote from the Time for Kids article:

“Teachers assume it’s independent work unless they tell you otherwise. But students assume it’s collaborative work unless you are told it is not.” — Tricia Bertram Gallant, co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do.

That was a real eye-opener for me … because I think it is true. Students are natural social collaborators (look at how they flock to social networking sites) and during work times, they naturally gravitate towards each other. Am I always crystal clear on what is acceptable for collaboration and what is not? I think so, but maybe not. It’s a matter of perception and point of view, and perhaps one person’s view of  “cheating” is not everyone’s point of view.

Video Games and Cheat Codes

We’re also wrapping up our science-based video game design unit, and what I find so interesting is that “cheat codes” is part of the DNA of gamers and gaming communities. I have a few students who walk around with magazines about how to hack Nintendo games to find Easter Eggs, gain access to hidden levels, and more. Just Google “cheat codes,” and you are bound to come up with a wide array of responses.

Gamers don’t see this kind of cheating as negative. They see it as sharing expertise, and helping others who get “stuck” in a game to succeed. But if this were the classroom, and one student was “stuck” on a test, it would not be acceptable practice for another student to hand out “cheat codes” for the test, right? Of course not.  We see this a lot with our work on our gaming site (Gamestar Mechanic) where you have to make your way through a series of Quests in order to gain experience with game design and earn publishing rights. Many students turn to classmates for advice, help and even beating levels for them. This is acceptable practice for both sides: the giver of experience and the receiver of help. But you can see where the dichotomy of ‘the world inside school’ and ‘the world outside of school’ are often in conflict for students.

Faking It on Facebook

Finally, I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book. Fakebook (subtitle: A True Story. Based on Actual Lies) by Dave Cicirelli is all about the author deciding to play a trick on friends by creating a fictional story of his life and sharing his experiences on Facebook. In this fictional life, Cicirelli quits his job and hikes west, gets in trouble the Amish and who knows what else (I am about a third of the way in).

Cicirelli’s observations of creating this fake world that real people believe is happening (it’s on Facebook; it must be true) are very poignant, as he mulls over when does this kind of cheating of other people’s beliefs in him go too far and what does it say of him, the writer, as he creates this real-time social-networking digital story. It’s a fascinating experiment that he undertakes, using trust of friends and families as a storytelling device (and being dishonest about it.)

Peace (in that gray area of life),

Having Fun with Flowcharts

I’m relatively new to the idea of Open Learning, where technology has opened up new and expanded spaces for people to engage in their passions without the traditional four-wall structure. (And, some critics would say, without the same rigor, too, although that would be a source of intense debate, I suspect.) To me, open learning is a way to dip into topics and communities and go as deep as you want or need or desire, with personal goals guiding you forward. This is not for everyone, obviously, and I toggle back and forth between how engaged I want to be.

The thing is, I keep meeting incredibly interesting people in Open Learning environments who stretch my thinking and push me in new directions. We need that in our lives — folks inside our learning trajectory who show us new paths to pursue and new ideas to consider and new schematics from which to observe the world.

All that is to explain that this is suddenly, for me, the reason of a bunch of projects that I am participating in. As a way to navigate my own thinking, I created this flowchart the other day. It is meant to be fun, and was as a much a scaffold for my own thinking as it is for anyone else. Seriously, if you need to use my flowchart to figure out Open Learning, you might be looking in the wrong direction. <ha>

I shared out the flowchart (which I created in Google Drive) on Twitter (my real hub of online spaces) but then, I realized if I used ThingLink, I could put in links to the communities being references. Plus, as I worked on the links, I realized I could add a bit of humor, too. (ie, the moo and the door and more).

Peace (in the chart),

Book Review: Nick and Tesla’s High Voltage Danger Lab

Check out the cover, right? It’s pretty cool. This book — Nick and Tesla’s High Voltage Danger Lab — is co-written by a science teacher (‘Science Bob’ Pflugfelder) who brings the ethos of Making, Learning and Exploring right into an unfolding mystery story with the two siblings — 11 year-olds Nick and Tesla — tinkering in their role of childhood detective. The story involves the two kids coming to live with a nutty uncle for the summer, only to discover something odd going on in a nearby house.

Curiosity, and a desire to recover a failed rocket, drive the story forward. And while the plot is fairly predictable for this kind of novel, there’s plenty of humor and action to keep the reader engaged. What makes this book particularly cool is not just the way that science and experimentation and engineering are brought into the story (the kids build things to help them solve the mystery) but that the step-by-step schematic plans and drawings for all of the experiments and devices are written right into the book itself. (Note to self: my son wants to build his own electromagnet now).

I think this book would fit in nicely with a shift towards Maker Spaces in our schools, connecting stories to engineering, and back again. There’s even a good site for teachers and parents, with some downloads and videos (and I see another book is being  published, too.)


Peace (in the tinkering plotline),

My Day as Infographic: #Walkmyworld

My Day as Infographic

As I wrote the other day, I am curious about how to use visual infographics to tell a story. Here, as part of the #walkmyworld project, I decided to map out a typical day of mine (time spent where) and create an infographic of my day. I used an app on my iPad for the creation of it and rounded up and down a bit on the times to make them whole numbers.

I also tried to use artistic design to create the face (although I now realize the mouth is frowny because of the way the arrow points. My days are not normally frowny). The sleep element I put off to the side because it felt like that state of mind is different than the waking state of mind (and the focus was on the day). If I had more space, I might have broken down the “other” a little more in specifics.

But overall, I like how it came out, though, and the reflection points to just how much time I spend in school on a typical week day. Obviously, weekend would be different. (Maybe a different infographic).

What would your day look like?

Peace (in the data),