What Human Teachers Bring to the Table

As has been my mode lately, I was watching the most recent video from the Connected Courses project in Vialogues (Thanks, Terry) with Michael Wesch, Randy Bass and Cathy Davidson with my ear towards ideas that I might use in a comic. Of course, when you have smart people like that, interesting ideas float around like butterflies.

But something Cathy articulated resonated with me. She was talking about the growth of online learning spaces, and the tension between technology opening up new platforms for learning and the value (or not) of the “teacher in the room” as opposed to a screen at your desk.

Her comment about whether teachers can be replaced had me thinking. I know she was being provocative.

#ccourses Screen TeacherI could not resist poking fun at Pearson and its far reach into so many educational circles.

Later, after I tweeted the comic out, Cathy graciously replied that she liked the comic and then forwarded me her blog post in which she unpacks this very comment in a very thorough and thoughtful way. Go read it. (not being bossy; I think it is worth your time)

I made the comment back to her that I took her point to mean that we teachers (humans form) have to take advantage of what we bring to the table, live and in person. If we don’t and if we are just replicating the droning Q/A of a computer program or the distant teacher with no personal connections to their students, then why not just automate learning? I don’t believe this, although I see the value of online collaborative learning initiatives, but I do believe that we teachers – at whatever level you teach — have to take advantage of those learners in your space and work your butt off to make it worthwhile for them to be there with you.

Otherwise, the robot overlords will arrive …
Robot Overlords and Education


Peace (in connections),


Book Review: Life Itself

I remember reading about the blogging that film critic Roger Ebert was doing as he neared the end of his life, writing with depth about art, mortality and, yes, life itself. But I never got around to his blog, alas, and then, he was gone, succumbing to cancer. His memoir – Life Itself — is an interesting read, bringing us back into his life and career in the media business and then into his struggles with cancer itself. The disease took away his voice, and most of his jaw, but not his ability to write and say what he wanted to say.

Ebert does not make his life story a sad story. Instead, he brings honesty and raw emotion to his view on what makes a life worth living, and along the way, his words teach us something about how to look at the world through films, and therefore, through art. The book is a bit inconsistent, though, and you can tell these chapters were stitched together from blog posts and musings of Ebert over the years. Still, his pieces pack a lot of power. I found more than a few similarities between Ebert’s entry into journalism to my own (covering high school sports, asked to do art reviews, etc.) but of course, his accomplishments on his own and with Gene Siskel far outweigh my own pop culture reference points.

I had bought the book for my sons, both of whom love movies and have more than a passing interest in the business, but this book is more a biographical sketchbook than a dive into how to view a movie. Which is fine. I learned a lot about Ebert as a writer and thinker, and a person, than I knew before, and I came to understand the courage of not giving in until your last breath, to know that words may still carry you forward even when all else seems dark. That, in essence, is Life Itself.

And you may know that a documentary on Ebert is now out, too, based on the book.


Peace (in life),

The Why of It

Over at Connected Courses, the push this phase/cycle/week is into the “why” of connected learning and the why of teaching itself. A lot of people are sharing out this video by Michael Wesch, who has been pushing his university students into interesting terrain around digital humanities and culture and information flow. His use of the questions of “why” and “what” and others had me thinking of the classic Abbott and Costello skit.

The why of it #ccourses

Of course, Professor Wesch’s talk is not a comedy routine. And it is worth viewing.

Peace (in the why),

Why I Teach (A Comic Response)

An inquiry question that is emerging during this cycle of the Connected Courses is “Why I teach” and a bunch of people are writing and sharing media on this particular question. It’s always a good question to ask.

I went the comic route, although I felt a bit constrained by the format of the comic. I had to limit my explanations, I found. Still, I hope I communicated the complexities of teaching young people. It will be interesting to see how my own ideas of teaching intersect with other #Ccourse folks, who are mostly university professors/teachers.

Why I Teach

Why do you teach?

Peace (in the inquiry),

Slice of Life: Darn Right, I’ve Got Homework

(This is for the Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers.)

SOL T-Shirt on Ink to the People

“So, ” he said, juggling a neon green soccer ball in his hand, “I got all my homework done.”

I nodded. “Excellent. Now you can spend the afternoon outside, right?”

“Yeah. I have a soccer game,” my sixth grader answered, and then asked: “Do you have homework?”


“Yeah. Do teachers get homework? Like we get homework?”

I thought about the staff meeting I was going to with our new principal, where she would be handing out a pile of forms for teaching goals this year and for teacher evaluations. I’d have to fill those out. I thought about how I was going to a meeting after that meeting, with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and how I needed to create a plan of action for the year for our Technology Team. I thought about the stack of vocabulary quizzes sitting on my desk.

“Yeah. I’ve got homework,” I said, smiling at him. “Plenty.”

“Too bad for you,” he laughed, as the dismissal bell rang and he raced out to his bus, balancing the soccer ball in his hand, as I yelled out “have a great afternoon” and made my way back inside on a beautiful end-of-summer/start-of-fall afternoon, facing another four hours of meetings. And homework assignments.

Peace (in the share),

A Few Six Word Webcomic Memoirs

Some students are finishing up the optional project of creating a Six Word Memoir in our webcomic space, and they are quite interesting to view. Here are a few that stuck out with me:
Sara the Writer

My_Six_Word_Memoir (1)

My_Six_Word_Memoir (3)

My_Six_Word_Memoir (2)

Peace (in six words),

The Path of a Poetic Thought

I had the pleasure of being part of an impromptu chain of poetic events yesterday, which stems in part from discussions in the Connected Courses, although all of those in this poetic chain are existing connections.

I may have gotten the very start of the poetic path wrong. I wasn’t there at the gathering, so I am interpreting from the echoes of words left as breadcrumbs from others, and I suspect there may be more to this that unfolded outside my field of vision. Isn’t that always the case anyway? Aren’t we always left to our interpretations of where an idea has begun and where it may yet end up?

So … I made a map, of sorts. Follow along, and take the connection further, if you will. We made room for you. Find an anchor and write. Make a connection and invite us in.

Peace (in the pursuit of a poetic idea),

Six Word Memoirs, Comic-Style

Six Word Memoir Comic

I have a challenge activity going for my sixth graders: create a six word memoir on our comic site. I shared mine with them yesterday, showing how narrowing the focus can give power to the idea of the six words. A fair number of kids were working on theirs yesterday, as they were finishing up another project.

Peace (in the words),

Don’t You Know, We’re Talkin’ About Our Aspirations

dream scene word cloud 2014
One of my all-time favorite start-of-the-year activities is our Dream Scene Project, in which students work on a project of their aspirations for sometime in the future. Over the years, this project has morphed from a paper art project, to a digital storytelling project, to the current form of a webcomic project.

The Dream Scene project involves students thinking of a dream for themselves, why it is important and how they are going to make it happen in life. Along with the mixed media that I introduce, this project gives me some keen insights into the minds of my students early on in the year, and sparks some great conversations about interests outside of school and where their heart is at.

I had interesting conversations this week with a student who wants to travel to Africa as a volunteer, and help fight poverty. Another conversation was with a musician who wants to write songs and sing for the world. Another is already writing her own novel and wants to be a writer (she already is!). There are two boys who want to form a technology company, and they already have a name and have begun some tinkering with their phones. A few would be happy to have a stable family and a roof over their heads.

It’s all good!

The word cloud above represents the various themes of their Dream Scenes from across four classes of sixth graders. These kids are going to change the world someday.

This is the one I shared out for myself:
Mr H Dream Scene


Peace (in dreams),