The Rock and Roll Brainstorm

Maybe the title of this post should be in this list. I was challenged by the drummer in our new rock band to come up with some “name ideas” for what to call ourselves. I demurred at first, and then thought: what the heck, this could be fun.

I’m not sure any of these names will make the cut but it was interesting trying to come up with a moniker for a band that is interesting and conveys a meaning of something cool. Some of the names just came out of thin air. Some were inspired by other bands. A few came from thumbing my way through a recent edition of Wired Magazine, and searching for terms that might be interesting. A few came to my head during my son’s recent school chorus concert (OK, so I was thinking when I should have been listening).

See what you think. I put the list into both Wordle and Tagzedo just to see give the list a little oomph. Which ones do I like best?

  • Boss ‘Nova and the Overtones
  • Distortion Box
  • Ten Minutes ’til Midnight
  • The Key Hackers

band names wordle
band names tags
Peace (in the naming),

PS — Meanwhile, I also made this brainstorming idea our writing prompt over at our National Writing Project iAnthology space, and some neat names are emerging there. A few teachers have even brought it into the classroom as a writing prompt.

Why Widgets?

This is another activity in the Edublog Teacher Challenge taking place the last month or so, and the focus is on Widgets, those boxes of stuff that we attach to the sides of our blogs. I’m going to sound a bit cranky here, but I often find widgets too distracting and wonder why people go overboard with them.

I know, I use them, too. I’m guilty.

A look at my blog shows a Twitter widget, an informational widget for my Teaching the New Writing book collection, a link to my Boolean Squared webcomic site, an internal search engine and links to posts on my blog.  Arrrr. I remember the first time I found out about widgets in my blog dashboard. I went a little widget crazy. I had a whole line of things running down the spine of my blog – maps, counters, videos, etc. Later, I removed most of them. But even now, every time I see that side bar of my blog, I think: that’s just too much stuff floating around.

And I often think the same thing when I go to other blogs for a visit or a comment. Widgets can produce information overload, and when we start thinking of design elements of blogs — of what makes an online site work from the visual and information angle, and what detracts from the site — I can’t help but sometimes think that widgets are nothing but clutter that can get in the way of understanding.

And yet … having a space for static information is good, right? I guess. And it gives a blog a certain identity, too. What we choose to include leaves our own mark on our blog sites, which most of us (me) don’t code or create ourselves. We (me) use templates. Widgets can give our sites a little personality.

I do have my widgets here for a reason, and that reason is that I want to provide easy-to-access information and links to my readers.  But this morning, as I was trolling through my RSS reader, it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that I almost never actually see a blog itself. I see the feed. For the most part, I don’t even know what the blogs I subscribe to look like (for example, I went to a friend’s blog last night for the first time in who knows how long and saw that he had completely redesigned the thing. I didn’t know. Did it matter?), and so, I don’t really see the widgets either.

Maybe you never see mine, either.

Peace (in the crankiness),

Eponym Inventions: We Are What We Create

Hodgohat Music Cloud
We’re in the midst of learning all about the origins of words in the English Language and this week, we plunged our way into Eponyms (words that have someone’s name or part of their name in them.) As a writing prompt, I had them invent something (machine, food, animal, whatever) and then name the thing after themselves. They had to do a sketch drawing, with labels, and then write a brief description of their eponymous inventions.

They had great fun with the activity, and they shared out yesterday. The inventions included time travel machines, odd food snacks, writing utensils that work almost like magic, beasts with assorted parts from other animals, and the perennial homework contraption.

As always, I came up with my own, inspired by being tired of having to have headphones or ear buds on to listen to music. I always wondered: what if we could create a music cloud around our heads? Thus, the Hodg-o-Hat Music Cloud (trademarked, so no stealing my ideas, man!)

Peace (in the cloud),

What Seems Funny Now …. Online Reputations

A conversation last week with students had me revising some of my lesson planning yesterday in a way that I won’t ever regret. The conversation was about my sixth grade students and their online lives, and how the things they do now, today, might impact the things they want to do tomorrow. I know a lot of high schools are working this idea of online responsibility and reputation into their curriculum (right?) but I need to expose my students, too.

This all began as we were beginning our work with Glogster, and setting up accounts for students.  I had already done most of the legwork but I wanted to show them how to change their passwords and how to edit their profile in our closed system of our classrooms. I told them that I wanted to see only first names and last initials.

“Why not our last names?” asked one student.

Here, I went into my routine of explaining how, even in a closed online system like our Glogster site and even our Bitstrips Webcomic site, I want them to use only first name, last initial so that they get “used to never identifying who you are online.”

“What about Facebook?” this student quickly countered. A few heads nodded in the room. I thought back to a day earlier, when I was at our school’s Facebook site and noticed one of my students who had “liked” the site and read with dismay his full name (he is only 12 years old).

I launched into an impromptu discussion then about the rules of Facebook (no one under 13 is allowed to have an account), about privacy issues around personal information, about safety issues, and then ended the conversation with a suggestion that any student on Facebook should consider getting off it until they are 13 and they have their parents’ permission to get back on. (I didn’t ask how many were on Facebook without their parents’ knowledge, which I am sure is a few.)

But it bugged me that I wasn’t better prepared for that discussion. And it bugged me that clearly, some parents were not having these discussions at home with their children.

When it comes to online identity, it’s clear that our kids are not even thinking about it. They jump in, explore, post and comment, create and publish — all the things that I as a teacher want to nurture — but they do it without a single thought to what they are doing, and what tiny digital scraps of themselves they are leaving behind. While some students “construct” online versions of themselves (with avatars, with profile information, etc.), I don’t believe many of them are doing it with forethought. It’s just something cool they can do, so they do do it. What we want is a reflective stance, so that they choices they make have meaning and value, and come from the concept of “this is who I am online.” For my students, this rarely happens, as far as I can tell.

So, yesterday, we spent some a large chunk of time talking about why we protect our identity when in online spaces and strategies that we can use to cover our digital tracks. We began with the safety issue — of the “creeps” who use online sites to do creepy things — and I talked about how those events will get big headlines in the news, but are in reality very rare. Which is not to say things never happen, but they are rare. My message: don’t be afraid – be cautious. Be alert. Be thoughtful.

Then, we talked about the bigger topic of Protecting Online Reputations. I could see this was something very few of my students had ever even considered — that the things they are posting today might have an impact on their lives tomorrow, or a few years down the road. I showed them the CommonCraft video Protecting Online Reputations in Plain English, which does such a nice job of addressing this issue in a balanced way. One thing I like is that the video talks about the responsibility of protecting reputations falls not only you but also on us — the circle of friends who might post a picture or video or something inappropriate without our knowledge.

A paraprofessional in one of my classes who has a son who is an athlete at our district high school explained, too, that coaches, the vice principal and others scour Facebook for the student athlete accounts, and any inappropriate pictures or videos or writing that does not conform to schools standards has been grounds for dismissal from sports teams. That drew shocked sounds from the class.

And, I noted, what seems funny today might not seem so funny in a few years, and maybe won’t be any laughing matter when they are sitting in a job interview and that joke gets pulled up on a potential employer’s screen. (I know getting a job seems far away for them at this age, but still …)

We then brainstormed some ideas for how we can protect ourselves and our reputations when we go online:

  • Come up with good passwords (I think this will be a topic for another day)
  • Share concerns with a trusted adult (parent, teacher, etc.)
  • Don’t post inappropriate content (pictures, videos, etc.)
  • Remember your responsibility to your friends when you post information about them
  • Remember that nothing is temporary (search web crawlers make archives of everything)
  • Use the “privacy” option in networking sites so that only invited friends can view your content
  • Don’t use technology (instant messaging, email, networking) to “flame” or bully others
  • Don’t use an actual image for your avatar
  • Keep your last name private

And this is important: I balanced all of this alarming talk with the positive elements of the online world. There are so many potential great things, and more on the horizon, that one should not be fearful of doing anything. But we users need to make sure that the image of ourselves, and our reputation, is something we create, and is not created by others.

I suggested a bit of homework to them: Google yourselves and see what you find. And then, do it again in six months. And then again, in another six months. Keep track of your digital footprints.

Peace (in the reputation),

Peeking Inside Reader Response Journals

We’re in the midst of an independent reading unit and this weekend, I finally got around to reading through the student reading journals. I’ve been pushing hard for them not to summarize what they have read, but to take a step deeper into reflection and make predictions, judgments, connections and more as they are reading.

While a few still can’t seem to make that next step (a predictable few, unfortunately), most of my students have used the models from earlier in the year for their reading responses. They are asking questions of the writer, wondering about the motivations of characters, analyzing setting, and connecting the stories and characters with their own lives. For me, this demonstrates good evidence of active reading.

Here are some sentences that I pulled out of the journals:

  • A connection I am starting to make is that all things we do affect everything. (SkyClan’s Destiny).
  • She (the librarian) found him (cat) huddled up in a tiny ball, in the library book return box. When I read that, my heart sank. (Dewey the Library Cat)
  • I think the concept here in this novel are like problems in the real world, so it helps me to understand the book better. (City of Ember)
  • From what I’ve heard, Tom, the main character, may be a bit of a devious person. (Adventures of Tom Sawyer)
  • A lot of people could relate to this scene, where you get mad at someone and you say stuff you later regret. (No Small Thing)
  • I want to save this quote because it reminds me of how my dog sleeps because when he sleeps, he looks dead with his tongue hanging out. (Eggs)
  • … his name, Smoke, leads me to say that he is not a very good influence. Just by the name, the author expresses to us how he is bad. (Scat)
  • He is adventurous, like me. He is courageous, like me. He is fast, unfortunately — not like me. (Fablehaven)
  • I found an error (in the book). It says Ron’s bike is a YZ80. It says it would not start because of a dead battery but it’s a kickstart. Kickstarts never need a battery. (Dirt Bike Racer)
  • I am really getting a good picture of it in my head. (Swindle)
  • This book is giving me good ideas for my own writing (Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever)

Peace (in the reflecting),

Laughter and Chatter: Remembering Kindergarten

Kindergarten files
We had one of the funnest, most laugh-infested Circle of Power (Morning Meeting) sessions in my class the other day, as one of my sixth graders brought in a book that she and a bunch of others published when they were in Kindergarten with my colleague, Gail Poulin. (See her wonderful class blog and her own reflective blog).

My students shared, with permission of the others, drawings and stories they had either written or had transcribed. As is often the case with Gail, the stories were nicely published together. The theme for book was about “I Have  Dream” (inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.) and another packet was when one student is “star of the day,” the others write nice things about them and draw cute pictures.

Even students who did not have Gail for their kindergarter teacher had a great time with looking at the drawings, and listening to the stories, and remembering a bit about their own kindergarten experiences. It was an unexpected surprise, and we all had a good time.

Thank, Gail, for making memories that can impact us up here a the other end of the building. And thanks to the rest of our wonderful kindergarten team, too, who do such a fantastic job with the youngsters in our building. The things they do in those younger grades sets the stage for the learning we try to do in the upper grades. I know I appreciate their hard work.

Peace (down the memory land),

Eavesdropping on Norris Tech Team

The other day, I wrote a post about a meeting of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project – a sort of eavesdropping into the topics of the gathering. A few days later, I was in a meeting of our Norris Elementary School Technology Team and took some notes. Here are some of the topics we talked about. The Tech Team is comprised of our principal, our district’s technology coordinator, and teachers of various levels and disciplines in our building.

  • We spent a chunk of time talking about Facebook and pondering our school’s presence there. One of our team members created a Norris School FB site in the summer and he maintains it, but the principal wonders about the line between “official school news” and someone posting items to the Norris School FB wall, seemingly as official news (but not). I imagine a lot of schools are struggling with this. While I am not FB fan, I do see the value is connecting with the community that does use FB. We didn’t resolve much here, except to research if a post to the wall can be held in moderation before going public.
  • The last few meetings, we’ve aired some difficulties and frustrations we are having with staff members using and taking care of equipment that we do have available. Computer carts don’t get signed out; individual computer get taken off the carts; wires and cables disappear; digital cameras are scattered about. So, we are moving towards a Google Calendar system so that the sign-out process for the three computer carts (two PC and one Mac) will be all online. Ideally, this will allow everyone to know where the carts should be and when they are available. We’ll see how it works when the concept gets rolled out in a week or so. Our tech coordinator is working to provide a Google account to all staff members in the building, and then constructing shared calendars.
  • The flow of Promethean and other interactive boards into classroom is continuing but the training has not yet followed. What this means is that some teachers with boards don’t know how to use them, even in basic terms, and some have not yet even opened up the software on their new Macs (and some have not even used the Macs at all). A training session is taking place next month, led by a teacher here at our school and another teacher at another school in our district. I think we’ll be needing much more than that — I think a Mentor System is the way to go. We’re not there yet.
  • A series of workshops around using our new set of iTouch mobile devices, and the Thinkfinity site (which paid for the devices), is coming up in late March. Teachers will learn how to use the devices for at least some podcasting and publishing in the science area, as a focus. The grant also provides a stipend for participants, and they get to take use the iTouch during the time periods. We’re hoping this gets folks interested and engaged. But, we worry about use and care of the devices (see previous points).
  • The principal noted his commitment to sending our entire Tech Team to an upcoming technology conference in nearby Holyoke (with keynote speaker, Alan November). He supports the idea of going together as a group, then reflecting afterward on how we can use ideas we gathered here at our school. (This is the conference that I am sending in a proposal to for a workshop on Technology Across the Content Areas.)
  • Our tech team misses our Ning site, which we used a lot last year to connect but then abandoned because of Ning’s cost shift. I may look around for an alternative or try to get our principal to pony up the $20 for the basic Ning setup. It really made a big difference in our communication as a team.
  • Our principal left us with a little “fun homework,” as he called it. We are to come up with one interesting idea of technology that might inspire us, our school, to make a step forward. He suggested it be something neat, or fun, or engaging. I have more ideas than I can think of, but one that came up the other day is how some school districts create “virtual snow days” for students to connect with the school even when the school day is called off for weather. This appeals to me because of the lack of consistency these past few weeks, although I wonder about hurdles of implementing ways for students to work (and teachers to monitor) from home during snow days. (See article about this at The Answer Sheet.)

Peace (in the sharing),

Images and Multimedia: The Teacher Challenge

I seem to have fallen behind a bit with the Edublog Teacher Challenge, but that’s the beauty of online work — there’s always another day. I’ve missed two of the activities: thinking about how we use images on our spaces and thinking about how we embed media into our sites.

First, I use images as a partner to text, mostly, but this is something I have been rethinking or at least, wondering about. Am I using images with blog posts for the way it looks or for the way it means? I’d have to admit: it’s all about the visual. I guess that’s not that unusual or all that bad, but given this age of multimedia, am I doing enough thinking and reflecting around why I use a specific image and what message does it convey?

This had me thinking a bit about Bud the Teacher’s annual month of poetry picture prompts, in which he posts an image and asks folks to be inspired to write a poem. Each morning, I found something unusual and would let the image spark some words and thoughts, and then I would write. I love how that visual element really got to the heart of creative inspiration.

Here’s an image he posted about refrigerator art:

magnetic poetry

And here was the poem that he inspired for me, looking at some art of my young son on our fridge (Creative Commons License photo credit: surrealmuse):

Oh, Luke, how could you
flash that light saber at your father like that,
there, with your stick arms and fat head,
drawn from some innocence yearning for conflict
and placed right next to the phone numbers
of people whose numbers we should remember anyway.
Luke, you’re not going anywhere anyway,
not with that magnet stuck to your head,
and I hope you don’t mind sharing your space with a report card,
a few coupons,
a reminder or two,
and that flier for a summer camp.
Space has become a cluttered place, Luke, and you’ll have to make do
until the Force of gravity releases you.

The next Teacher Challenge activity was all about embedding media, which I do quite regularly. I am always trying out things and sharing my process as best as I can here at my blog. I figure learning is an adventure, and the more I can reflect, the more I know about what I am doing. Media such as videos and interactive applications are becoming more and more portable, allowing us a chance to engage our readers in different ways. There is also a wide range of skills that go into creating a multimedia piece, and embedding them into our blogs gives us wider publication.

Since we’re on the poetry kick, I figure I would embed a Voicethread that I had created when I did a 30 poems in 30 Days project a few years ago, and asked folks to add thoughts or comments.

Peace (in the kickstart),

Words Are Like Puzzles

We’re starting up our unit on The Origins of Words and this week, we worked on the idea of breaking down and rebuilding words based on their prefix, suffix and roots. The aim here is as much about where words come from as giving my students some strategies for deciphering unknown words. “Find the root,” is the mantra I have been giving them.

And then we had some fun, pulling together prefix, root and suffix parts to create words that sound sort of real but are not, and then using the definition of the “parts” to come up with a  definition of the word. We called this activity “Jigsaw Words” because I want them to envision the pieces like a puzzle of meaning.

I then went around with my little voice recorder and all students shared out a word they had created.

Take a Listen to our Jigsaw Words

Peace (in the parts),

Working on a Workshop Proposal: Tech Across Content Areas

Two members of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Technology Team and I are working on a collaborative proposal for a technology conference that is coming to a nearby city in the spring. We’re sort of scrambling because the deadline looms for proposals (it’s my fault, thinking I had a conflict and now realizing that I don’t).

The conference is called The First Annual Technology Conference and Exhibition, with keynote speaker Alan November (worth the admission right there, I think).  The conference seems  a little bit too commercial/vendor heavy (if the website is any indication) to me, but we’ll see how it goes. The conference is sponsored by a group with educational ties (Technology in Education Partnership), and I have been asked by two different folks (one is the head tech person at our school district and the other is part of the New Literacies Initiative) to consider submitting proposals.

Our idea is around the topic of Technology in the Content Areas, as Tom has done work around creating digital portfolios for his math students, Tina has done digital storytelling with her journalism students, and I have done digital science picture books with my students. While our focus is on technology across the curriculum, I am hoping we spend a fair amount of time around assessment and alignment with standards, as our state is moving quickly into the Common Core, which I think opens more doors for media and technology use in content-area classrooms.

What’s nice is that the three of us did most of this work for the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site, so our work can be accessed during the workshop (they promise free wireless for participants) as a way to begin our conversations.

We need to get our proposal in in a few days, and then we’ll see what happens. I like being part of a team making a pitch for a workshop, and the three of us work well together (we’ve done technology summer camps before).

Peace (in the proposal),