326 Words in 9 Minutes: Defeating Dr. Wicked

I had a friend turn me on to this odd site called Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die, which gives you a time period to write and then prods you forward with your targeted word count with electric cattle prods, zapping hand buzzers … well, not quite. But the site does use colored backgrounds to let you know you are staring at the screen a bit too long, and then begins to remove your words one at a time until you start typing again. At least, that’s what it did in the category that I chose — you can be more forgiving on yourself, or more harsh, too.

(There is a desktop version of this, which costs a requested donation of 10 bucks, and a modified online version that is free. I did the free online version. Some folks are using this as part of the National Novel Writing Month projects to spur them on.)

This could be a killer for some writers who stress over every word but not for me, who writes quick (too quick?) and is happy to plow forward in the draft stage. I actually found it was a neat experience to know I better get things going. I had to move my story forward, and fast, or face the wrath of Dr. Wicked, and I didn’t even know what I was going to write when I started at the site.

I wrote the first line that came to mind because I was writing early in the morning and sleep was not far away  — By night, she was wide awake .. — and began.) The story unfolded in literally the ten minutes I had on the clock as I imagined the scene, this character and a possible backstory. I threw the cat into the mix for good luck.

So, I kind of liked the experience. The site let me know that I wrote 326 words in 9 minutes, so I beat the clock (10 minute limit) and exceeded my goal (300 words). Take that, Dr. Wicked!

My Story:

By night, she was wide awake, knowing that her anxiety would not let her sleep. Her day tumbled over her, weaving some strange magic. Her cat purred at her feet. She gently moved, not wanting to disrupt him, too, with her wakefulness. He barely stirred. She felt a bit of resentment now, and poked him with her toe. The cat just rolled over, stretched, and fell back into canine slumber.

She pulled on her slippers. Her toes wiggled to create warmth. The stairs were dark, but she knew every step. The light was unnecessary, although it would not have awoken anyone. It was only her now. Her and the cat. Still, she kept the light off, feigning some sleep pattern that she hoped would eventually lead her back to bed.

The newspaper was folded up on the kitchen table. The headline was no longer visible. She reminded herself that she had done this on purpose. Yet, she could not resist. She took the newspaper and unfolded it out, spreading out the entire two pages on the table before her. She bent over the news, elbows on the table, and read it again. She searched for any clues to the real story behind the story. A former reporter, she knew what to look for in what wasn’t being said.

Even so, the story in the story remained a mystery. She ran her fingers over his headshot and thought how funny it was that he seemed so contained in that little square box. He looked younger than she remembered, and figured the newspaper had grabbed some old headshot of his from its files.

“Developer Disappears, Money Taken,” screamed the headline. She sighed, telling herself again that he would not likely be coming back anytime soon. Something brushed again her leg. She reached down and scooped up his cat, the one thing he had left behind.

“Sandy,” she murmured, scratching the creature below the chin,”I guess it’s just you and me now.”

– The End

Give it a try. If you dare …

Peace (in the fast pace of writing),
Kevin

PS — I tried to create a podcast with Cinch of my story but Cinch is having some technical difficulties, I think. If it comes through soon, I’ll add it in.

What Steve Says … it’s a cinch!

I am following the lead of my fellow NWP friend, Steve Moore, who writes that using the site Cinch for podcasting from mobile device is one way to go, and I wanted to find something easy to use for the upcoming National Writing Project Annual Meeting.

And, well, Steve was right: Cinch is a cinch to use. I don’t have a phone with apps, but I just registered my phone number and called the Cinch Line and a minute later, what I said was on the site as a podcast.

And I can embed it:

Nice!

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Mulling over the Future of Science Fairs and Glogster

Sixty four projects spread out across one giant cafeteria, with hundreds of students milling about. It was Science Fair for sixth graders at my school yesterday, as they shared their work around using the Scientific Method with display boards, games and even a puppet show.

This is the sixth year our science teacher has done the fair, opening up the learning to the entire school, and she and I had an interesting conversation about the Science Fair and the use of Glogster. I had mentioned that some teachers are moving towards Glogster for this kind of project. We both use Glogster for projects, and she intends to use it again this year.

We went through the pros and cons of moving the Science Fair from a physical space of sharing to a virtual space. I later added some of my own ideas as I was forming this list.

The Pros:

  • In Glogster, the projects can be archived forever.
  • The projects can be easily embedded into websites.
  • A Science Fair would never technically end.
  • Multimedia (video, audio, etc.) becomes part of the presentation tool box. For example, a podcast of an explanation of the steps of the Scientific Method could be put right into the project itself.
  • The world would become the audience; not just our school and students’ families.
  • The “writing process” on the virtual poster is a bit more malleable and forgiving (you don’t have to rip the glue and papers off to make a change). Just drag and drop and update.
  • You can now “sort” projects together under similar themes and share them out as a package of glogs. So, all of the projects that deal with Laws of Motion, or food, could be pulled together.

The Cons:

  • There would be less student collaborative work with Glogster, at least for now, as only one person can work on a single glog at a time.
  • There would be less opportunity for the face-to-face meetings that the younger students have with the sixth grade “scientists” at the fair and less opportunity for the sixth graders to “talk” through their learning to a live audience.
  • The presenter would not feel as engaged in the presentation if they were standing physically next to the project.
  • Parents can’t “save” the student work in the attic (although, they could on a flash drive, I suppose, but it’s not the same thing, is it?)
  • The idea of a school-wide even would diminish, even if you set up laptops around the space. It’s still not the same, is it?

In the end, she decided that Glogster is not yet a good fit for her vision of the Science Fair, particularly since a big part of the learning is interacting with audience and answering off-the-cuff questions from the younger students. I agreed with her.

Peace (in the thinking),
Kevin

Front Page News: My School

Norris tiger

Normally, when your school is featured on the front page of the local newspaper, you can expect the worst. But when the headline is “How a Southampton School Teaches the Meaning of Respect,” you know some good vibes are coming your way. That was the headline of our newspaper last week as a columnist with a project dealing with bullying and respect issues in our area visited our school to see what we are doing on these issues.

“As I walked through the school’s foyer, I was greeted by a hand-carved wooden sign with ‘Welcome’ in nine languages … the philosophy of this school was clear to me in minutes — development of character is as important as development of knowledge. After all, both play equal parts in who we become,” Christine Wu wrote, near the start of the article.

She then learned about our schoolwide efforts with two different social development programs – Response Classroom and Peacebuilders. While slightly different, both programs not only make students accountable, but also find ways to teach nurturing of community, and respect for everyone around them.

She ends her piece by noting that, “I’m sure that Norris school is not free of student conflict. No school is. However, they appear to be taking positive, constructive steps to address social awareness in their school.”

Yes, to both points. And I am proud to teach in a school like mine, whether we get these kind of headlines or not. There’s a lot of positive energy, and lots of great teachers, all around me every day, and the students respond to that in kind.

Peace (in peace),
Kevin

PS — you can read the entire article here at the online site of The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

NWP Annual Meeting: Even if you’re not there, you can be there

nwpam2010Yesterday, I wrote a bit about what I will be doing when I head down to the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting in two weeks. But I know that not everyone can attend, whether you are with the NWP or not. Luckily, in the last few years, the NWP folks have been branching out ways to stay connected to the Annual Meeting work, even if you are not there.

First of all, NWP encourages all bloggers and writers who are going to post any work to use the nwpam10 tag (such as I am doing here with this post). The tagging architecture of the Web allows people to search for all work that shares a similar tag. So, using the Google Blog Search Engine, if you were to search for the tag of nwpam10, you should theoretically get access to those various posts.

Second, if you are on Twitter, then NWP urges the use of the hashtag #nwpam10, which will collect all tweets about the Annual Meeting together. I use a platform called Tweetdeck, which conveniently puts all of my hashtags into columns, so I can easily view all of the #nwpam10 tweets in one place. See what I mean: head to #nwpam2010 tweets so far.

Third, if folks are using Flickr, then there is a space there, too, for photos. Again, this happens because folks are encouraged to use the nwpam10 tag on their photos. The photos should end up here in this nwpam10 Flickr space. (Tagging is such an interesting structural device, isn’t it?).

Fourth, there is a similar tagging infastructure at YouTube, so if people tag their videos with nwpam10, then they should end up in this search query for nwpam10 at the video hosting site.

Fifth, there is another tagging space at Slideshare for folks to share their presentations from the various workshops. Again, the same tag is being used, and the search at Slideshare is for nwpam10.

Finally, NWP has been using a Posterous blogging site to make it as easy as possible for folks to report from various workshops, conferences and meetings. You can follow that work at the NWP Walkabout blog.

All of this information, and more,  is available at the NWP website, by the way. And thanks to Andrea for reminding me of it all.

Peace (in the tag to remember: nwpam10),
Kevin

My Muppet Testimonial

A blog that I follow that is about all-things-Muppets was asking for testimonials from readers about their interest in The Muppets, so I wrote a bit about my role as a teacher using puppets.

I’m lucky to be a teacher. No one will likely think it odd or strange that I have Muppet stuff all around my sixth grade classroom. (read the rest of my testimonial at The Muppet Mindset).

I also created a podcast of my piece. Take a listen, if you want.

Peace (in the world of Henson),
Kevin

The 2010 National Writing Project Annual Meeting

nwpam2010It’s that time of year again — the time when I leave my classroom for a few days to join all of my wonderful National Writing Project colleagues for our Annual Meeting. In about 10 days, we head to Orlando, Florida (same place as NCTE) and convene together to learn, discuss and debate the many intersections of writing, technology and learning. (And I am doubly lucky because my wife is joining me again this year. She is part of a NWP venture to develop curriculum for the writing-centered Common Core Standards that is being funded by the  Gates Foundation).

I am presenting with two NWP sessions in Orlando.

The first session is about how technology can help some of our rural NWP sites connect with their teachers when geographic barriers exist, and also how those teachers and their students can connect with others in the world through technology. I’ll be talking about some of the various projects, such as Voices on the Gulf, Longfellow 10, the iAnthology, and more. Although access to computers will probably be an issue for many rural teachers, there are plenty of ways that classrooms and teachers can open up the learning experience to the world.

Here’s the blurb for Providing Writing Project Access Across Geographic Boundaries:

Participants will examine solutions that provide Writing Project access and programs to rural teachers when participation is hampered by geographic barriers. Participants will analyze current practices of outreach to rural teachers, explore promising site practices and technological tools for providing access, and create a plan for making their sites more accessible to rural teachers.

I am also a presenter at the NWP Makes! session that teams up the writing project with Make Magazine for a fun, interactive session around technical writing. I’ll be walking my group through a stopmotion animation project, and then they’ll be documenting what we did. (see my sample) I think the artifacts from this session will eventually be part of a collection at the new NWP Digital Is site.

Here’s the blurb:

A special Saturday event hosted by the NWP Digital Is project’s partnership with Make magazine. Participants will be invited to explore the connections between making and technical writing through hands-on projects and shared reflection. Come to learn about the making/crafting/tinkering/DIY movement and explore connections to your own practice.

I am also attending a handful of interesting sessions as a participant.

I am going to be part of a Digital Literacies Roundtable.

In this roundtable session, multiple presenters will share a range of innovative digital practices—from multimodal composing in the classroom, to working with families to explore the digital literacy practices of youth, to being a writer and learner in virtual worlds and communities. Together, presenters and participants will use these examples to think and talk about the role of digital literacies in our lives and the lives of our students. We will participate in a shared inquiry about what digital literacies afford in terms of identity, participation, and community, and explore what it means to be digitally literate citizens today.

And I am going to be in a two sessions around gaming in the classroom.

The first session: Games for Education and Social Impact

Alan Gershenfeld is founder and president of E-Line Media, which has helped build some of the world’s leading game and digital comic franchises and which supports social entrepreneurs committed to harnessing popular media for impact. In this session Gershenfeld will demonstrate video games that can be used to tap into kids’ natural passion for play while harnessing that passion toward games that have positive social impact.

The second session: Building Video Games for and in the Classroom

This session, which builds on the lunchtime presentation “Games for Education and Social Impact,” will introduce specific platforms that help students and teachers alike make games to support learning in the classroom. In particular, Alan Gershenfeld from E-Line Media will introduce Gamestar Mechanic, a browser-based game specifically built on leading pedagogical research in the areas of systems thinking, 21st century digital literacy skills, and STEM learning.

And, I am going to be learning more about the upcoming NWP Social Networking Project called Going On, which is in a beta stage right now. The idea is to create a sharing space for NWP teachers.

The blurb:

NWP has developed a new social networking and social media space, GoingOn, connected to our NWP.org website. Find out how your local Writing Project site can develop its community within this space, which features blogs, wikis, and the ability to share images, audio, and video.

Plus, the keynote speaker is Donalyn Miller. I attended a workshop of hers last year as she talked about her idea around reading and literacy (she is the Book Whisperer, and author of the book with that title), and we connect on Twitter now and then. She will no doubt be fantastic, and inspirational as hundreds of NWP teachers come together for the General Session.

And I am hoping to reconnect with some NWP Twitter friends in a tweet-up that my friend Paul Oh is organizing for Friday night. So, plenty to keep me involved and engaged, and then also, of course, I’m carving out time to be with my wife. (We’re staying an extra day!)

Phew. That’s a lot going on in just a few days. I’ll be blogging about my days here, of course, and also, when I have access, putting stuff up on my twitter account (we’re going to be using the #nwpam10 hashtag for those who want to follow along).

Peace (in the magic kingdom of writing),
Kevin

Using Art to Promote Peace

GK Peaceh Poster
Each year, our fantastic art teacher conducts a project known as Peace Posters, in which students must represent the concept of peace through art. I have always loved this project because the range of work and the symbolic representation is often so creative and wonderful to see, particularly when the posters are hung all around the school.

Today, the posters are due to the art room. Yesterday, one of my students proudly showed me his poster and it really is quite detailed and intricate, showing sports all around the world. (They can’t use words — only images). I’m looking forward to seeing what others have done with their poster projects.

Peace (on the poster),
Kevin

Saving some turtles, one leaf at a time

turtle adoption nov10 (2)
I teach four classes of sixth graders and right now, two of those classes are finishing up the novel Flush by Carl Hiassen. This engaging and often-funny book centers on pollution of waters off the Florida Keys by a gambling boat and the efforts of a boy and his family to stop the pollution and protect the beach where endangered Loggerhead Turtles come to lay eggs.

We’re on a year-long inquiry around the environment, thanks in part to our participation in the Voices on the Gulf Project, and I saw an opportunity here with this book to try to do something constructive. So, we agreed that we would “adopt” a loggerhead turtle that is being cared for by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Jones Beach, Floriday.

The catch was that my students could not just go home and ask for $2 for the turtle project. They had to earn it, and the suggestion that they came up with was raking leaves (we’re in New England and leaves are everywhere right now).

The packets of information for our turtles (each class adopted one) came in yesterday and the kids were very excited. Sure, there were some jokes about “why didn’t they ship the turtle?” But overall, I could tell they were satisfied that they had some something good for the environment with this simple turtle adoption project, and it connected perfectly with our reading of the novel and our research around turtles.

Now, I’m thinking: they might need to invent a story with our adopted turtles — Andre and Gilda – as characters. Hmmm.

A Bit of Me on Glogster

We haven’t begun using Glogster.edu yet this year but we will soon. Last year, I became a Glogster Ambassador, which basically means that I am available to talk about how I use Glogster in the classroom and share out any resources that I might develop for teachers in workshops, etc. What I get out of that designation is a free upgraded account, which has been nice. (Note: Glogster.edu is dropping its number of free student accounts for teachers from 100 to 50 very soon).

The other day, we were asked to consider making a Glog about ourselves as they try to showcase some Glogster Ambassadors. So, here’s what I came up with (direct link to the Glog):

Peace (on the Glog),
Kevin