Summer Learning at the P2PU site with NWP

I am aiming to participate with these two study groups this summer at the P2PU (Peer to Peer University) open course site. You come, too. Both are being coordinated with friends in the National Writing Project.

 Curating Our Digital Lives – Register Now — July 9-23rd

How do you curate the huge volume of information that comprises our daily lives, particularly as it relates to professional knowledge? And how do we help youth do the same for the purpose of personal and academic growth? Join this three-week conversation to share your experiences as we consider curation as an opportunity to gather and annotate as well as publish and share as part of a knowledge-building network.


Making Writing and Literacy Learning Connections – Register Now — July 9-23rd

If “digital” is how we write, share, and participate today and into the future, what does that mean for the teaching of writing and for learning? Join a National Writing Project study group as we explore these questions together through our own experiences and those of the NWP Digital Is community. Each week we’ll focus on a different aspect of inquiry and practice related to writing, teaching and connected learning

Peace (in the collaboration),


Making Sense of Video Game Stats

One of the many things I like about Gamestar Mechanic is how it guides young game designers to continually improve their games, even after publishing it to online spaces for an audience of gamers. The other day, I shared out my Fueling the Fuel Cell game that I made as a mentor text for my students. Since then, the number of players who have tried the challenge has gone up every day (thank you, if you tried my game. If you want to try it, follow this link into Gamestar to play Fueling the Fuel Cells). But how does a game designer know about the experiences of the players? Well, in a bid to answer that query, Gamestar Mechanic provides you with a handy “stats” page that shows how many people have started the game, how many finished the game, and how many made it the end of each level (if your game has multiple levels).

Here are the stats for my fuel cell game:
Fuel Cell game stats
You’ll notice that not too many folks got to the end of the game. That’s fine, although ideally, the middle funnel shape (shown in the guide to the left of the page) is what you are aiming for with your game. You don’t want everyone to win (too easy) nor do you want everyone abandoning the game (too hard). You want to find that sweet spot of true gamers sticking with you until the end.

When my students are coming back to revise games, after the first round of sharing, this is a page that I bring them to on their game. It’s funny how they interpret the data, though. Some are quite happy if no one can complete their game, as if it were a competition between them and their audience. Others can’t shift from a person who has spent hours creating a game and know every little square of the layout to imagine themselves as newbies to it, seeing the problems with the game from another angle. All of this is valuable for the iterative revision process of video game design, however.

Peace (in the game),

PS — another game I created and share out is Women in Science.

Media Project: Podcasts with Cinch

Two of my students decided to use our classroom Cinch podcasting app on our iPods to create a podcast version of their essays. We talked about how to condense down the ideas into a short podcast. Here is what they came up with. The first is about solar energy and the second is about two kinds of engines (two stroke and four stroke) on the dirt bikes they like to ride. In other years, we often use Voicethread to have everyone do some podcasting with this project, but we ran out of time this year.

Solar Power

Two Stroke versus Four Stroke engines


Peace (in the voice),


A Video Game Collection: Essay-inspired Media Projects

I played a bunch of my students’ video games yesterday as part of my assessment of their essay projects, which I have been writing about for a few days now (and more to come …) I decided that I would grab screenshots of some of the games made in Gamestar Mechanic and then dump those videos into Animoto, for a quick video collection.

Check it out:

You can also play one of their games:

Peace (in the games),

Book Review: The Girl Who Was On Fire

I’ve written my fair share lately about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy but I guess I am not done yet. As part of one of our Scholastic Book orders, I saw this collection of “completely unauthorized” essays about The Hunger Games called The Girl Who Was On Fire (edited by Leah Wilson). I know this is just a book marketing gimmick to sell more books, but I have been very curious about all the ancillary books that my students are reading about the book and the movie.

The first few essays didn’t interest me much, as they covered the love triangle (Katniss, Peeta, Gale) and how love becomes an enduring theme in the series. I love love, but I wasn’t all that interested in the analysis of it in the book. (Is that a guy reaction? Maybe. Most of the writers here are female, by the way. And my most avid readers of the series are girls. Why is that?)

But the next few sections centered on the parallels to modern reality television and the games (as well as connections to classic literature that Collins references in the books), and the use of rhetoric and “smoke and mirrors” in the politics of Panem, and how Katniss navigates those ideas to her own advantage. There’s also an intriguing essay about the science of The Hunger Games, and how maybe some of the strange things in the books (such as the genetic mutant Mutts) are not that far-fetched after all, if you consider the scope of modern science. There’s even a piece about the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress on the characters (particularly Peeta) and how those events shape a life.

Overall, it was interesting to read The Girl Who Was On Fire collection after just finishing the series, even if the book is part of a marketing campaign by Scholastic. Now, where is that copy of the parody of the books called The Hunger Pains (by National Lampoon, of all things)? That’s what I need now to lighten up the mood a bit.

Peace (in the book),



Essays, Word Clouds and Loaded Words

A few of my students tried out the use of Word It Out to create word clouds of their persuasive essays. They were intrigued by the visual rendering of their essays, and I pointed out to them the question: if someone looked at your word cloud, would a viewer know the argumentative stance that you took in your essay based on the words in your cloud? (And it occurs to me now that this should be a required part of the essay project next year .. mental note)
The first one here is mine, which I shared as an example.
Fuel Cell Essay Wordcloud
Nuclear Power Essay Wordcloud
Frog Essay Wordcloud
Chimp Essay Wordcloud
Peace (in the loaded words),


Digital Literacy and WMWP

Our inquiry theme of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in the coming year will be “digital composition” and yesterday, our leadership board and assorted members (including our WMWP Technology Team) began mapping out some ideas to keep that theme working throughout the year. Our hope is to highlight the ways that technology is impacting or changing our perceptions of writing, and how to help teachers see the change and be part of it. Here are some of the ideas we are chatting about and planning for:

  • We’ll be using the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site as our “text” for the year, using pieces there for inquiry reading and reflections;
  • One of our possible goals as a board is to develop and publish our own “resource” at Digital Is by the end of the year — this will help our board members experience the shift from users to producers of content, with a real audience;
  • Our annual conference in the fall will feature a keynote address around digital literacies, and connections to the Common Core curriculum;
  • We’re considering ways to support teachers around place-based digital storytelling ideas, with hopes of getting students across a wide range of communities to produce pieces that could be shared at a regional Digital Storytelling Showcase event;
  • And more …

It’s exciting to be on this path, and our WMWP Technology Team (we have about eight members of the team) will be the leaders of the inquiry initiative. And as it is the 20th anniversary of the WMWP site (which is quite an accomplishment), the idea of looking ahead to literacies as well as remembering our history is a balance we are striving to achieve.

Peace (in the ideas),


Search Stories as Companions to Essays

I introduced my students to Google Search Stories the other day as one extension activity for their persuasive essay/multimedia project. Many of them were intrigued by the short digital storytelling tool, and we had a discussion about why Google would provide such a tool: search queries equals profits for Google, and there was an appetite for people creating their own search stories after a famous Superbowl ad ran a few years ago. I want them to understand both sides of the equation around “free” technology.

A few of them are using the search story idea within a larger media project (such as a Glog or video project) but we are collecting and hosting them at our classroom YouTube site. Here is a playlist of the search stories, so far.

Peace (in the sharing),


The Fuel Cell Video Game Project

Fuel Cell Game Screenshot
I have a significant number of students working in Gamestar Mechanic to develop the “media component” of an environmental essay project. I have been modeling my own essay with students every day — pulling out paragraphs and making observations about my strategies — as a mentor piece, and I have been doing the same with the media pieces. My own essay is about fuel cell technology. Yesterday, I worked on, and then finished, a short video game about fuel cells that I shared with my students yesterday.

What I pointed out to them is how I used the text of the game (in the form of the introductions, rules, and even text messages within the game itself) to reflect the “stance” of my essay that fuel cells are a good idea and need more investment and research. I’ve really been pushing the ways to marry the media project with the argumentative stance of the essay, so that the two work together to create one single powerful message.

Interested in playing my video game called Fueling the Fuel Cells? Give it a try.

Peace (in the game),