Views from a Digital Writing Marathon

Last week, I facilitated a Digital Writing Marathon through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Part of the intent was to invite folks from various ongoing WMWP initiatives together to play and tinker and reflect on technology.

I began by sharing the Gary Hayes Social Media Counter as a visual reminder of why we need to be at least considering the impact of technology on the lives of ours students. This sparked a discussion about the Media Lives of young people, and the important role that teachers play in helping students navigate technology.

We then moved into some collaborative writing, and we riffed off the recent #celebrateteachers concept of teachers writing about educators who influenced their lives. I really love this kind of reflective writing, and we used a simple Google Slides format to collaborate together on a single presentation. Although nearly everyone in the marathon has Google Apps for Education in their school, very few have tapped it for its collaborative power, and this activity sparked some great conversations about possibilities for shared projects and more.

From collaboration, we shifted into identity in digital spaces, and how best to help students think about how they represent themselves — and protect themselves — in various social spaces they use outside of school. I brought the group from the Digital Marathon into our Bitstrips for Schools space, and we spent some time making avatars to represent ourselves, and then shifted into how teachers might use online webcomic sites for engaging writers. Bitstrips was a hit, with lots of laughter and making.
WMWP Tech Marathon comicsWMWP Tech Marathon comics
I wrote about the next activity the other day, as a WMWP colleague led us through an activity that turned a math word problem into a Google Sheets learning experience and ended with a video essay format to check for understanding.

Wmwp tech workshop 2015We then moved into the world of coding and programming as literacy practice, and I introduced the Hour of Code and the Flappy Birds game activity that ends in the creation of a Flappy Bird game. I framed it as another way to engage students in technology in a meaningful way. This activity was sort of hit or miss, as some seemed to get bored with it or not all that interested in programming elements (whereas my students get highly engaged). Wmwp tech workshop 2015

Finally, I showed them Padlet as a place for exit tickets and reflection, and I asked them to leave some thoughts on technology and learning, and a few knew of Padlet, but many did not.

WMWP Reflection

The day went by quick, even for four hours of PD, and I think it had just enough balance of play and reflection to make a ripple in some classrooms this fall.

Peace (in the tech),

PS — here are some extension activities I put in play for them. We never got to them, but they have our website to refer back to and share with colleagues.

A Smattering of Poems in/of Public Spaces

I seem to have left a few poems scattered here and there during the week’s exploration of public space via the Making Learning Connected MOOC, and I finally rounded up a few to pull together into a single post.  Two of the poems are about the voiceless in our spaces, and the third is the hacking of a public space for art. The notion that we are all in these spaces together becomes a theme for exploration.


WeforgottenUsclmoocdonowAnd this one I shared earlier in the week: Clmooc


Peace (in poems and public space),

The Internet as Public Space 3: Talking Back to Howard

This is the third post in my inquiry around the Internet as a Public Space for the Making Learning Connected MOOC, and of course, I had to share out the views of Howard Rheingold, who has been exploring this notion for many years.

This video (which he made for one of his college courses but then shares it with everyone else) is entitled: Why the history of the public sphere matters in the Internet age.

I also invite you to talk back to Howard, via a Vialogues I have set up which allows you to annotate and comment as you watch the video unfold.

Peace (in the chatter),

Turning a Math Problem into a Video Essay

Wmwp tech workshop 2015

I was the lead facilitator at a Digital Writing Marathon yesterday, bringing in folks from various groups of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for a day of play, tinkering, making and reflection on teaching practice with technology. Our workshop purposefully dovetailed nicely with the ethos of the Making Learning Connected MOOC, too.  I’ll share out some more of my end of the entire day in a future blog post but I wanted to share out a project that my WMWP Tech Team member Tom Fanning brought to us that really had us engaged.

Tom led part of the workshop, fusing math, writing, and technology in a really interesting way. He had us creating short video expository essays to explain how we solved a math word problem using Google Sheets (ie, Excel) to solve it.

Essentially, Tom laid out a math problem (two girls walking from two ends of town need to meet … where do they meet and when?), gave us some initial data points, and then proceeded to help us learn how to use Google Sheets to solve the problem. First, we did some data analysis, and then we turned our data into a chart that provided us with a visual of where the two girls would intersect. That information then helped us answer the questions of where and when they would meet.

That was all interesting enough, particularly for the room of English and Science teachers not all that accustomed to crunching numbers and generating data charts.

Tom then had us outline a “script” in which we had to explain our answer and our process to finding the answer, and use video to capture our thinking. Tom often uses this style of informal expository video capture as part of his work around digital portfolios (he shared a video of a student walking through some math strategies). The videos are rough, no editing needed, but are a perfect way to document understanding and voice in a meaningful archived way.

Here is what my partner, Rick, and I came up with:

What I like about Tom’s project is the cross-discipline approach (math and writing and technology); the discussion my partner and I had around what we would say to explain the problem; the way the video essay element becomes a real documentation of what we had learned; and the deeper use of Sheets/Excel to really dive into the concept of formulas and data bases (this part of the lesson could have gone another hour or two, I am sure.)

Peace (solves the problem),

The Internet as Public Space 2: We, the People

The Internet Map

The Internet global network is a phenomenon of technological civilization, and its exceptional complexity surpasses anything mankind has ever created. In essence, what we are dealing with here is a huge quantity of utterly unstructured information. The Internet map is an attempt to look into the hidden structure of the network, fathom its colossal scale, and examine that which is impossible to understand from the bare figures of statistics.

The Internet Map is an interesting site that calculates the connections made of people moving between websites to create a visualization of the Internet. Sort of.

As the developer says:

The Internet map is a bi-dimensional presentation of links between websites on the Internet. Every site is a circle on the map, and its size is determined by website traffic, the larger the amount of traffic, the bigger the circle.

Use the search engine at the Internet Map to look up countries and you quickly notice a trend: Google is everywhere. Seriously, if we open up our definition of Public Space to include the Internet (which we should), then it becomes clear rather quickly how enormous a reach Google has on the world through our search engines.

What does it say about us that we let a private, for-profit company have such a hold on the public sphere? It says we (me, too) value speed and convenience over privacy and data protection. It says that most of don’t even recognize the changed world from this vantage point because we don’t take the time to see the world this way.

But if the Internet is a public domain, or if it should be, then we all need to do more to protect that space from the encroachment and control of private companies. Are governments up to the challenge? Not likely. That just means we, the people of the world — the People of the Internet — need to be more vigilant and informed about our elected officials. We need to ask questions about privacy and Internet freedoms and more.

I also came across an interesting chart in a post the other day. It is entitled “Where the Internet Lives.” While the focus of the piece was on the visualization of who has connectivity, I kept wondering about the opposite: who does NOT have connectivity and what does that mean for the future of those places? I’m not saying the world is turning on technology alone, but lack of access should be a major concern of all of us.

Image: Ralph Straumann, Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute

Peace (and insight),

Exploration of Public Space: Chapel Falls

The facilitators of this week’s Make Cycle of Making Learning Connected MOOC are encouraging folks to use digital storytelling to capture and document the public spaces around them. I’d encourage the use of the free Adobe Voice app, which has to be one the most simple-to-use digital story apps I have come across.

Here, I took my boys (and our dog) to Chapel Falls, a remote series of waterfalls perfect for swimming and the returned home to document our fun day.

Chapel Falls

Peace (in the outdoors),

PS — this kind of Make will also be perfect for next week’s Make Cycle (hint)

The Internet as Public Space 1 (Where the Center Meets)

Each year, when I teach Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, I make sure to read the first few chapters out loud to my sixth graders. This gives them a feel for the poetic style of writing and allows them to visualize some important elements of the setting.

It also leads me to a great passage on page 7 that always sparks interesting discussions and debate among students:

Tuck Everlasting QuoteWe’re talking about public space and discourse in the Making Learning Connected MOOC this week, and my thoughts keep turning to the Internet, and the concept of the Internet as a Public Space that seems to need constant vigilance. And Babbitt’s observation of who owns the land beneath of our feet — the invisible elements of land that eventually meet together in the center — seems, in my mind, to be pertinent to the discussion of who ultimately owns the Internet — is the corporate world? the governments? or us, the people?

There is a really great and intriguing piece by Iranian activist Hossein Derakhshan that has been published at Medium. It is called The Web We Have to Save.  He writes about the changes he notices to the Internet and online discourse since he was freed from Iranian jail. Derakhshan recalls the “blogging revolution” in Iran that began to open up conversations among young people. And he and others took advantage of the Internet infrastructure to share and access information not made available to them otherwise.

quote by Hossein Derakhshan

He notes the shift in agency over the time he was in jail to the time he was out of jail, from participant to viewer of Web activities, in what he calls “the stream” of information that sites like Facebook and Instagram create for you.

Quote by Hossein Derakhshan2

But it this sentence that has stuck with me days after I read his piece:
quote by Hossein Derakhshan3And it comes back to the theme of the Internet as public sphere and who has agency and who has control and who deems what is important and what is not, and how we will experience it. See the battle over Net Neutrality and the emergence of Open Education (like the CLMOOC, by the way) as examples of how that tension is being played out in the public sphere.

I believe the Internet is mine, and yours, and all of ours, and just like that quote from Tuck Everlasting, I believe that our Internets come together as a public sphere, and whether we keep our collective strength together or let companies and corporations monetize and devalue those connections is an important question of our age. I hope I am not naive in my thinking here.

I’ll leave you with another piece from Tuck Everlasting that I think also has resonance here.  While you could read it as a counter to the idea of openness, I read it more as a call for all of us — the citizens of the Web — to be more vigilant and protective of what we hold near and dear.

tuck quote2

I am going to keep pushing on this theme this week, and I would love to know your thinking and views and opinions.

Peace (in the think),


The Ownership of Sight Lines


We’re moving into a theme of “public space” in the Making Learning Connected MOOC and the invitation to create “stories and spaces” around the notion of the “public” had me thinking of a conversation I had with a neighbor about a new cell phone tower just outside our neighborhood.

Peace (in what we see and don’t),

Mini-Movie Premiere: Escape of the Furious Three

Making Robbers on Loose 2 collage

My youngest son, age 10, wrote and directed and edited this short movie. We shot it during winter (I was cameraman) and then hemmed and hawed on the editing (we needed to shoot one last scene and never did) until recently, when I turned my computer and iMovie over to him and he did the editing. I only helped here and there and mostly, I just let him alone to edit the movie as he saw it (working around the missing scene).

The only thing I changed from the original edit is the soundtrack. He had some copyright music from his iTunes collection that I would not allow to be included in public sharing, so we composed some original music in the Garageband iPad app and used that. We’ve had lots of conversations about fair use and copyright and he is tired now of m mantra of “make your own stuff as much possible.” We kept his original edit for home use and DVD burning.

This is actually the second movie in a series that began with Robbers on the Loose. He writes the scripts on Google Docs, asking for input from neighborhood friends. Most involve chase scenes and nerf guns. He’s a ten year old boy who loves Mission Impossible.

Can you tell?

Peace (with popcorn),

PS — here is the original movie from 2012: Robbers on the Loose.