Word Clouding Out a Story

Short Story wordcloud
One of my summer goals is to work on, and maybe finish, a short story that I have been diving into as part a Teachers Write network. I’m hoping I don’t lose focus with the story, which involves a young character named Manny, the discovery of a mysterious slip of paper in a comic book, and something with a neighbor. This morning, a prompt asked he to put some of what we have written into a word cloud, just to see what words and phrases and maybe themes rise to the surface.

Now, I am getting back to my story …

Peace (in the writing),


Talking Tonight on Teachers Teaching Teachers

I am looking forward to talking with National Writing Project friend Paul Allison and others on tonight’s webcast episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers. Paul asked if I would join him to chat about some of the projects and work and play that my students did over the course of the school year, so I am going to focus a bit on our research essay/multimedia project, and then shift into video game design in the classroom.  I also hope to discuss a summer reading project that I am doing in Edmodo with a new teacher colleague out in Texas, where our students are using (sort of) a shared Edmodo space for book talk. And then who knows where the conversation might end up.

The livestream of the discussion will be over at EdTechTalk: http://edtechtalk.com/ttt tonight (Wednesday) at 9PM ET / 6PM PT. If you can join  us in the chat room there, that would be cool. If not, I will post the archived video discussion that Paul creates over here when it is live and ready.

Peace (in the discussions),



Student Work: Alternative Energy Essay and Video Game

(This is the another student sample of an essay project that ended our school year. Students wrote a persuasive essay on a science-based topic and then created a multimedia companion piece to along with the writing.– Kevin)

And his video game: Survivor

Peace (in the sharing),

Slice of Life: Spent Fireworks

(This is part of the weekly Slice of Life writing at Two Writing Teachers)

The other night, our local park held its second annual Fireworks Event for Independence Day (a little early, I know). My wife and I, and our youngest son, set up chairs at local golf course so we could watch the action in the skies while still avoiding the crowds after the event. It was a beautiful night, and the fireworks were spectacular to watch. Just wonderful. We even forgot the bugs that were pouncing on us as we waited for the pyrotechnics to begin.

I was reminded, though, of childhood, when I was living in an apartment complex where every Fourth of July would bring disparate families together, and many adults would have horded up collections of fireworks from vacation visits to New Hampshire and places down south. It would be a sort of contest between the two main wings of the apartment buildings — who could have the more spectacular displays that night? As kids, it didn’t matter who won that sort of contest — we were all winners. But what the other night brought back to me was how, the day after the fireworks at our apartment building, us kids would all get up wicked early in the morning and have our own contest: who could find the most spent fireworks. We’d scuttle around on wet grass, gathering and gathering, and then showing off what we found, even trading like baseball cards.

I imagine our parents didn’t mind. We were doing some sort of unofficial clean up duty of the neighborhood. But I still remember the lingering smell on my fingertips of old firecrackers and roman candles, and even a few unexploded ones how dead from the dampness of the night. Sometimes, we’d let them dry out, spin the paper off them, and then light the powder left behind. All out of eyeshot and earshot of the adults, of course.

This memory had me wondering about the fireworks we watched from the distance. Who cleans up the spent fireworks at the park? Is there a horde of kids coming out of the mist of dawn to gather them up? Somehow, I doubt it. It just seems like yet another childhood tradition fallen by the wayside as we “protect” our kids. Even me. It didn’t occur to me to get my sons up bright and early that next morning and scour the fields for old fireworks. I’m not even sure they would go.

Peace (in the memory),


Book Review: Pathways to the Common Core

I imagine that there is going to be a flood of books from publishers trying to get an angle into understanding and implementing the Common Core curriculum. My state is right in the mix of the Common Cores — shifts should already be happening — and our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is already seen as having expertise in the ELA components. So, I cast a critical eye on books that center on the Common Core, but I am also very interested in what other people have to say.

Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman is a shining example of how three smart educators come to the Common Core with a critical lens, shift through the expectations of students and teachers, and come out the other side with a fair, logical and open look at how to meet the objectives while still maintaining a professional voice as a teacher in the classroom. They don’t skirt the challenges, particularly around the balances needed in reading a large amount of non-fictional text next to narrative text, and the requirement for a comprehensive review of how argument and opinion is taught across the grades, and how content areas teachers must be ready and prepared to teach reading and writing, too. The authors also highlight the many concerns and fears that teachers may have about the Common Core, acknowledging the tension that “national standards” bring the table (even if the Common Core is not officially being called national standards).

What I liked is how Calkins, Ehrenworth and Lehman follow progressions of learning vertically as well as horizontally, and offer positive advice on how to meet the challenges. They have clearly done their homework here, and they highlight best practices across the board in meaningful ways. The last few chapters, which may be more for administrators than teachers, gives a blueprint on how to get conversations in school buildings and districts started, and how to support change by first building on strengths already in play and the moving outward from there.

My main criticism — and this is my own lens speaking here — is that the book barely mentions the roles that media and technology can play in the Common Core. Except for a section around Speaking and Listening, Pathways doesn’t really acknowledge the world of literacy that kids are living in, and how the standards actually open doors for collaborative writing, use of technology for publishing, and more. I know, however, that that is not the focus of this book. It was just something I noticed.

Overall, Pathways to the Common Core does what it sets out to do: explain how the Common Core can unfold, highlight the challenges that will face most teachers, and provide a potential path for bringing the standards into curriculum design.

Peace (in the reading),


Collaborative Writing with Dead Authors

(Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for this one)
I know this may be little more practical than the “cool” factor but this is .. pretty cool. Google has released an automated version of its Google Documents that allows you to collaborate with dead writers. As a story unfolds, you’ll see Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare and a few others pop into your writing, adding a phrase or word here and there, and maybe even an entire sentence. They might even remove some of your words and do a bit of editing. I found it interesting, if not a bit unnerving at times, to try to keep up with them (such as “they” are) and end up with something a bit coherent. (And I have no idea how the site actually works.)

If you want to see my document on Google, check out this link:

Read Writing with the Ghost Writers

But I also grabbed a screen capture as Google “previewed” my (our) story.


Give it a whirl and see what you can create as you write with The Masters.

Peace (in the ghostly collaboration),


Student Work: Air Pollution Essay and Slideshow

(This is the another student sample of an essay project that ended our school year. Students wrote a persuasive essay on a science-based topic and then created a multimedia companion piece to along with the writing.– Kevin)

And her slideshow:

Peace (in the sharing),

Sharing Student Work: Vegetarianism Essay and Remix Video

(This is another student sample of an essay project that ended our school year. Students wrote a persuasive essay on a science-based topic and then created a multimedia companion piece to along with the writing. In this case, this student really wanted to write and explore the idea of being a vegetarian, so I let her go with that choice.– Kevin)

For her media project, she wanted to learn how to use iMovie to remix some of her own work — a video game that she created and a Google Search Story, and then mash it together with some elements of her essay. I got her started and she did the rest for this youtube media project.

Peace (in the sharing),