App Review: Sketch Nation Studio (for gaming)

I’ve been intrigued by Apps that provide the tools for the users to create their own video games. Sketch Nation Studio is a free app that does just that. The platform allows you to create and play original games, by using either artwork that you draw right in the app, or artwork that comes off your device, or art that you draw on paper and then take an image and import into the game.

There are several variations of platform-style games, and while the end result is not nearly as sophisticated as some of the apps you might buy for your device, it provides enough creative outlet to feel as if you have, indeed, created your own app game.  You can set the style of game, add energy boosts and enemies, adjust gravity, create backgrounds, and more.

And did I mention that the Sketch Nation Studio App is free? I don’t see any advertising on the app, in case you are wondering .


iPhone Screenshot 1
There are also options to publish the game onto the iTunes store (and the company promises to share in the profits from any sale of the game app, so I guess your game funnels through their publishing system). I’m not sure if that would actually work (yet I may give it a try just to see what happens), nor if the game app provides enough variation to actually create a game that would sell, but even sharing a game via iTunes is pretty interesting. And, therefore, I am intrigued by the potential of that opportunity for creating and publishing for my students. And I am now wondering if using this app on our school’s iPods wouldn’t be a neat end-of-year activity to tie into our earlier Game Design Unit.
Hmmm …
Peace (in the app),
PS — here is a video overview of the app

Progress Made by Young Writers, or Looking at Data

Since the start of the year, I have been tracking data regarding my students’ progress on open response questions. It’s a little convoluted because of our standards-based reporting, but there is a rubric that I developed and use all year, with a “grade” of M (meeting expectations), P (progressing towards expectations), B (beginning to show expectations), and N (not meeting expectations). I shared some mid-year data here before, and I guess I should state: the data here is only one tool that I use, and it does not address how I work individually with my students as writers, who do more than take open response assessments for me.

Anyway, here is what the data looked like in September, when very few were meeting the expectations of sixth grade. Most students, in fact, were in that progressing range, which is natural.
Literature Open Response Sept11

Here are the results of an open response from two weeks ago. Notice the large shift in categories. I also notice that I still have a chunk of kids in the lower categories, and not much time left.
Open Response may 2012

Peace (in the data),


A Nice Write-up of our Video Game Design Site

One of the curators at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site did a “review” of our website that was a reflection for a science-based video game design project.

The scaffolded nature of the website reflects the attention that the teacher team paid to the structure of the project itself.  Students reflected about the principles of video game design (both good and bad), blogged about the big ideas from their science class that would become the content world of their game (layers of the earth, mountains, volcanoes), and focused on the writing process. The multi-modal design of the site – with student and teacher videos, text, and student work examples – also reflects the teachers’ commitment to the importance of teaching and learning with a range of tools. — Kate Leuschhke Blinn

You can access our Video Game Design site here.


Peace (in the sharing),


DVD Review: Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage

“We were always overreaching.” — Geddy Lee

I can’t say that I grew up a huge Rush fan, but I had plenty of friends who were, and who would listen to 2112 religiously, and even had a bass playing friend who took on the task of learning as many Rush songs as possible. (It turned out … not too many … have you ever listened to Geddy Lee?) I am, however, a fan of rock and roll documentaries, so I took a chance on Beyond the Lighted Stage, which showcases the band through the years and how their individualism and musicianship stood them well in the face of a music industry that, as one band member say, “didn’t know what to do with us.”

There’s something to be said for bands that refuse to kowtow to a record label. I don’t know if there are enough of them anymore, although maybe the shakeup of the industry is finally leveling the field a bit. Maybe there are more bands that can tell a record company where to go when they say “we need a hit” and still survive by carving out an audience. I sure hope so.

After watching Beyond the Lighted Stage, you have come away with admiration for the three members of Rush (OK, so if you listen to them and think, that’s only three guys? That still remains an eye-opener for me. Or ear-opener.) Their musicianship remains impeccable, their ability to weave narrative and story into songs is a worthy goal (even if they do, in fact, overreach), and their friendship through the years is something that I find admirable. One storyline of drummer Neil Peart (who is sort of a god-like drummer to most of my drummer friends and also the main lyricist for the band) is particularly wrenching, as Peart loses his daughter and his wife within a short period of time, and in a bit of escapism from the world, hops on a motorcycle for a year of traveling and reflecting. The band came to a halt, as his bandmates worried about him. The movie shows Peart’s re-entry into the life, and into music, with the help of Rush.

Watching the documentary reminded me of a webcomic I created around a bass player in a band. The main character — Bassman — considers Geddy Lee to be a god, and starts a viral compaign to get Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think that Geddy Lee reference comes from memories of my friends, and the fanatical view of Lee as a bassman extraordinaire.


Peace (in the bass and beyond),


Choice Literacy Podcast 2: Teachers as Writers in the Digital Age

Choice literacy interview wordle

The second part of a podcast interview with Franki Sibberson for Choice Literacy is now online. In it, Franki and I chatted about the ways in which teachers can begin to make the shift into the world of digital writing …. themselves. The word cloud above captures the text of my responses, and I am happy that I talked about “think”ing and “writing” so much. I do believe that if our students and schools are going to make a solid shift into understanding technology as part of learning, then teachers need to be exploring and playing with it themselves, so that they can understand the possibilities.

Listen to the podcast with Franki at Choice Literacy: Teachers Writing in the Digital Age

And the first part of our interview was posted a few weeks ago, but it focused in on what writing in the classroom is looking like as we bring more technology into the mix, and recognize the authentic literacies of our students.

Listen to the podcast: Writing Workshop in the Digital Age

Peace (in the reflection),

PS — all Choice Literacy podcasts are also available at the iTunes store.


Book Review: Manhood for Amateurs

I am a fan of writer Michael Chabon (although I can never remember how to pronounce his name, and then when I hear it said on the radio during book interviews, I say, oh, that’s how you say it … and then I forget). I recently finished his collection of essays in Manhood for Amateurs, Chabon’s musings on being a father and a husband in this modern age. Like most of his writing, the essays here are a mix of insight, humor and circling around important themes that really resonated with me as a fellow dad and husband. (Chabon has written The Wonder Boys, The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, and Summerland, among other books).

Chabon’s childhood of comics and pop culture immersion in the 1970s, and his desire to try to balance being a supportive and flexible but not-to-overbearing father, and often feeling as that balance is never achieved, hit home with me. Even the subtitle says a lot: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son.

While not every piece in this collection is strong (if I were editor …), the majority of the essays could easily stand by themselves (and may have already done so in other journals and magazines … I’m not sure). Taken together as a collection, the writings here by Chabon are rich readings of a talented writer working to make sense of his world, even when he all too often comes up short and knows it. Still, his passion for his family, and for learning from his mistakes, is something worth noting.

I notice that Father’s Day is coming up. You may want to consider Manhood for Amateurs instead of a new tie this year.


Peace (in the learning),


Daily News: Common Core/Digital Literacy

Common Core Paper
My National Writing Project friend, Fred Mindlin (@fmindlin), is the “curator” of a daily news feed that features lots of great links and articles and resources about the Common Core, but his lens is digital literacy. He uses the site (which I also use for my National Writing Project daily news), and it automatically gathers up information about the Common Core that is in his group of Twitter friends and hashtag topics.

I often find interesting (and varied) takes on the national Common Core movement, and I urge you to consider checking it out, too. The site allows you to “subscribe” to a paper, and this allows you to get an email update every day about the news. Then, you can decide to follow the link to the paper or not. (Note: there is advertising on the news, but I use the adblock plus add-on in Firefox to remove it all from sight.)

Head to the Digital Literacy – Common Core News

Peace (in the core),


The Wishing Tree

(this is not our tree but an example of one)

I am so thankful for our art teacher. As our school grapples with a serious bike accident involving one of our sixth graders, many of us teachers and students have felt rather helpless about how to help the family and the student, and ourselves. But this weekend, after hearing the news, our art teacher went out and bought a Japanese Wishing Tree, and launched a project yesterday to channel our energy in a positive direction.

And now, in school, students and staff are making notes and origami cranes to our student on our Japanese Wishing Tree, which will be delivered to the student in the coming days. The tree is a way to channel some of our concerns and fears and hopes for our student and to come together as a school community in a constructive way.

I’ll be writing my note today.

Peace (in hopes),


Book Review: Catching Fire and Conflicting Thoughts

I am still reading the Hunger Game series, mostly because I keep getting spurred on by my students, who are devouring the series. Catching Fire is the second book. It didn’t quite hold me as much as the first one, but I am reminded of what I liked about the book and didn’t quite so much like about the movie: the inner voice of Katniss. That first person narrative voice is the most powerful element of the series, in my mind, and the writing in the present tense brings her fears and concerns right to the surface of every chapters. That keeps me hooked.

Here, Katniss is becoming the spark of a rebellion, and then is sent back into the games for a second time. There’s a bit more political intrigue going on, but this book feels like a second of a series of three — sort of like a placekeeper for the larger story unfolding in the dystopian world. I will be heading into Mockingjay soon, if only to say to my students: I read it. I mean, I like the books fair enough, but I see some other books in my stack I’d like to get to, too.

On a related note, there has been a flurry of editorials and letters to the editor in our local newspaper about The Hunger Games series. It began with a regular columnist, whose area of expertise for the paper has been bullying, and she came out pretty strongly against the book and movie. She cited its violence and glorification of killing. She said it has no place in the hands of young people, particularly younger children. Then, she admitted that she had not read the book.

Well … don’t shout out about a book that you haven’t read, for god’s sake.

Her editorial was quickly followed up by a stinging response that called her on the carpet for trying to cast judgments on a book that she has never even read. (Round of applause.) This writer acknowledged the violent theme, but noted that Katniss and others were trying to avoid the games and when forced to participate, mostly regretted the decisions. The writer also noted the political angle, and the Greek mythology that runs through the books. Finally, this response noted that the books are for Young Adults, or teenagers, not little children. The YA label is there for a reason.

That led to an editorial the other day from a local teacher, in response to the letter, in response to the original editorial. (OK< so I love local newspapers for allowing that kind of dialogue on the page to take place.) This teacher is well-respected in our community, and he noted:

“It is my firm belief that it is a great injustice we do our children to expose them to such violence because what it necessitates is a form of psychic numbing. Our hearts and minds are not intended to process this level of killing, let alone of children killing children, and for a young person to read such a book and to find it pleasurable there needs to be a switch that is turned off. “

I still feel mixed about my students reading The Hunger Games series, and I admit that I winced a little when I learned that our librarian had chosen the series for her sixth grade book club earlier this year. I’m no prude, I don’t think, but I know that not all young readers can distinguish the nuances of Katniss and her world (including her two love interests) as part of the larger narrative. This struck home the other day when I was in our library, and I was chatting with our librarian about something related to The Hunger Games (maybe I told her I was reading the second book) and a first grader overheard us, and said:

“I loved that movie.”

We both looked at this seven year old and then at each other, shocked. Until another first grader wandered up.

“Yeah. That movie was scary but cool.”

Yikes. The parent in both of us cringed. And I was reminded of that when I read the teacher’s editorial about exposure to violence in literature and pop culture. I don’t have the solution to fix the world, except to note that MY first grade son won’t be anywhere near The Hunger Games books or movies for quite a few years.

Peace (please),


The Path of an Idea

idea path map

Over the weekend, I participated in and watched an idea shift through various iterations and websites/platforms. It began with a viewing of a video, and ended with a podcast. This morning,  I decided to try to chart out the way the idea moved around for me, as I participated in the movement of the idea.
By the way, here is the podcast poem that I wrote:

Peace (in the path),