Book Review: Space Case

Imagine being stuck on a pioneering base on the moon and someone is murdered. The murderer is among you. It sounds like an Agatha Christie novel, doesn’t it? And Space Case by Stuart Gibbs plays out a bit like “And Then There Were None …” in that there is a closed setting, a murder and someone can’t be trusted.

Gibbs, whose fine sense of humor have been on display in some of his other books for young readers, is in fine form here with Space Case, as pre-teen Dashiell Gibson realizes that the untimely death of a famous scientists on Moon Base Alpha does not add up, and he is determined to get to the cause of the incident.

Gibbs plants plenty of red herrings, a must in this kind of story, and a surprising twist near the end of the novel, and Space Case really captures both the amazing idea of living on the moon and the claustrophobic element of a murderer hiding in plain site. I read this aloud to my son, and he and I both enjoyed the tale.

Peace (on the moon, baby),

Odds and Ends: From Abamao to Zzzzzzzzzzcratching

Frindle: Words from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

I’m still abuzz from this past year’s version of the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary Project. What’s that, you say? What’s a Crazy Collaborative Dictionary? It’s part of our annual exploration of the origins of words, with a project in which my sixth graders invent new words and then add them to an ongoing collaborative dictionary.

There are now more than 900 words, from over 12 years worth of students. Siblings are writing with siblings … across time. Think about that for a second. A collaboration across time. And a nutty dictionary emerges as a result, too, that completely engaged my students in the art of vocabulary creation.

Oh, and we podcast the words and definitions, too, preserving the voices of sixth graders.

So, from Abamao (The skill of tripping/falling for no reason and being congratulated for it) to Zzzzzzzzzzcratching (The act of using a zebra leg as a back scratcher), there is an entirely new vocabulary out there.

Peace (in the collaboration),

The CLMOOC Word Map

No reason for doing this other than I wondered how it would come out …

I used Word Map, which is a pretty nifty tech tool, if you use a real word. Hashtags are just confusing for the voices.

Peace (on the map),


Odds and Ends: Stuck Inside a Game Short Story Writing

game story collage

This was a fine way to end the school year – writing stories and connecting back to a running theme of the year of game design. For the last two weeks of school, students worked on writing a short story in which someone from history was stuck inside a game and the protagonist must go into the game and get them out within 48 hours. Think Jumanji as a mentor text.

My students were really invested in this story writing, working hard for days, right up until the very last day they could write, and because they were using their Google Docs accounts, it will continue for many of them right into the summer. The whole concept here was to use game dynamics as a setting element and plot device for story writing, and since we have been talking, hacking, creating games all year, it tied together some threads for the year.

Peace (in the story),

A Serious Aside on Identity and Representation

Peace Poster Collage

I hate to kill the playful mojo of the CLMOOC, which has been streaming in channels in social media spaces around the #untro — or “unintroducing yourself” by mashing up media and glitching images and smashing ideas. But in the midst of all this play, I can’t help but think about the headlines and events of the past week, and how identity in the form of flags and race are right now part of the national conversation.

Check out this interview transcript with Kanye West, who made a point a few years ago about the use of the confederate flag. As always, he went farther than he needed to, in order to generate controversy. Still, Kanye had a point — we can try to take media and mediate it for our own message.

“React how you want,” West said. “Any energy is good energy. The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way. That’s my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I wrote the song ‘New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now.” — from

So , how do we make our own messages on where we stand when it comes to equity and fairness, and to get a bit fuzzy with it, peace and love and understanding towards everyone, no matter the race or creed or religion, or color of skin. How do we make a difference when we are not Kanye, with his platform to the world? How can teachers make a difference in their own communities?

At our “end of year” ceremonies for our sixth graders this week, one of the highlighted endeavors from the past year had to do with a Peace Poster art project. This project is overseen by our fantastic art teacher each year and is part of a Lion’s Club contest to have students represent peaceful ideas on the canvas. The theme this year was “peace, love and understanding.”

Take a look at some of their work:

And take a listen to some of their artist statements:

This brings me back around to the confederate flag issue in South Carolina — the move underfoot to remove the flag from public buildings — and the purposeful killing of those nine people in the Emanuel African Methodist Church, which seems to be rooted in deep racism and violence by the perpetrator. The confederate flag issue makes clear how powerful these media symbols are in culture, how people connect and identify themselves to the world, and how fragile/powerful those connections can be. At the heart of this controversy is identity, as some people see the flag as some landmark of heritage and pride. They use the flag as a cornerstone of their identity. We even see that confederate flag around here, too, in the northeast, in liberal Massachusetts, particularly with high school students who live in some of our more remote hill towns but come into town for the vocational school. I’m trying not to stereotype here. Not every student in the remote foothills are racist and not every student with a confederate flag on their truck bumper is intolerant. But it’s hard not to see that and think, really?

I’m not one who sees that flag that way, that it can be some source of pride of culture. It has too much history. I am more on the side of, this confederate flag represents oppression and hate and distrust. It has no place on public buildings. Anywhere. Period.

Is there a way for me, one teacher, to mediate media, as part the CLMOOC Make Cycle, to make a political point about this? To engage in the national conversation from my dining room table in Massachusetts?

I tried a few things these last few days, but all seemed to miss the mark. Either it was too overt or too mean or just ineffective in my ability to craft a message with media. My brand of poking fun through satire … it wasn’t working because the issue is bigger than that. I feel like I am failing here to use what I know, and experiment with on a regular basis, to make a point.

I am at a loss.

Luckily, Terry Elliott began a collaborative poem the other day, inviting others in to write stanzas and make a podcast (still unfolding in the mix stage by Terry) about the shooting at the “Mother Emanuel” Church. I felt grateful to be invited, as if maybe I was able to contribute something — a few written words, a few spoken words, some music — that empowered me to take a stand. I felt useful, and part of a community of others, making art to lead to some understanding. It may not resonate on the national stage. Kanye did not contribute to the poem.

But it resonates with us.

Maybe what I most need to do here, as I am doing here with this post, is to return to my students’ work on peace as something that will sustain me, and give me hope for change. Maybe what they drew and painted, and what they wrote about, is more than platitudes. Their media has power. Maybe one of my now-former students will change the world. No. Not maybe. Not one. Many of them will change the world. Maybe we all will change the world. Maybe it is in the way we collaborate and interact and seek to understand our differences and similarities — maybe that is what we can do.

Maybe we shape our identities together. Is this the fabric and thread of the first Make Cycle? Maybe we Make a Better World. Let’s get started.

Peace (in the think),


Getting All Glitchy With It

It’s always exciting when the first Make Cycle of the Making Learning Connected MOOC kicks off, and yesterday, it finally did.  The faciliators — two colleagues from the Tar River Writing Project — of the Make Cycle want to do a little twist on how we go about introducing ourselves, by bringing a sort of media mediation into the mix.

They write:

The theme this week is Unmaking Introductions. Let’s consider the ways we name, present, and represent ourselves and the boundaries or memberships those introductions create.

Among the suggestions to explore is to slice up and glitch some media. I see the use of intentional glitch as a way to upend our expectations of media, to turn the expected into the unexpected, and maybe find something new in the mix. It’s interesting because we often think of a “glitch” as something broken (like in the clip above, where her glitch is later what saves the day). But mistakes and miscues, and the unexpected are what makes life interesting.

So for this activity, I turned to a few apps to help me out, including one called Fragment that does what it sounds like — it takes apart images and reconstructs them back into unusual images. (It was free when I got it.)

I began with a photo of me and my dog. I use the handle/moniker Dogtrax in a lot of social media spaces. It has nothing to do with dogs, although I often make canine-inspired jokes. You can read more about my nickname here, if that interests you. Hey, I do love dogs. (Cats are cool, too, so no hate comments, please). And my dog, Duke .. he is pretty cool. He puts up with a lot from our family. (We feed him, so that helps).

So I took this photo of Duke and I in repose. He seems like he is thinking: Sigh, here we go again:

With dog

and made this with Fragment. I was really trying to find a ways to layer our faces in different ways and I love that Duke’s nose just hangs out on the edge of the frame on the right:

Dogtrax and his dog

and then this collage with another app. The bottom right image was done in another app, and it was another image where my eyes look up. That simple movement changes the flow of the collage, don’t you think?

Dogtrax and dog

and then I used an online site called Image Glitch Experiment suggested by Make Cycle facilitators for creating “glitch” images to make this version. The small bands of color seem to me as if there is a television set going, and the lower half of the screen — all dark — changes the composition of the image, too, giving contrast to the light.


I’ll keep exploring how media impacts identity. It’s an intriguing topic.

Peace (in the glitch),


Book Review: Letter to a Future Lover

In the end, I just couldn’t do it. Essayist Ander Monson asks, requests, even cajoles the reader of his Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries to write in his book, to add the reader’s perspective to the writer’s notes.

But I just could not bring myself to write inside a book that I had borrowed from the library. It was inter-library loan, for goodness sake, shipped from another library an hour’s drive away just to allow me to read it. Writing in the borrowed book seemed to fly in the face of some unwritten contract. Although, if you think about it, a library book has a larger audience. Still. I don’t own the book. All I could think about was some imaginary librarian frowning at my marks inside a borrowed book.

Instead, I did the next best thing: I wrote some pieces on sticky notes and stuck them into various pages of Monson’s book. It’s the same, adding removable notes. But maybe this will start a trend. I even left my Twitter handle on the notes. Maybe my note to a future reader will boomerang right around, and fly back to me with a response, and we will have Ander Monson to thank.

More notes

Speaking of Monson and his book, I really loved this collection of essays about reading and books, and the interactions between reader and writer. Monson hooks his ideas around artifacts that has he has found in books and libraries, from notes on an old catalogue filing card to scribbles on the margins to scraps of paper once a bookmark, filled with writing. From there, Monson takes off in free-ranging essay style, examining what reading means to him, and to us.

Note to letter to future lover

Interestingly, each piece in this collection was originally left in the books the essays were about. That’s the “letter to a future lover” that the title refers to. Can you imagine opening up a book and finding a folded essay by Monson waiting for you? Can you imagine how many of those essays will never get read, ever? Many of the books that he examines are dusty and unread, sitting on the shelves of university libraries for decades. There’s something intriguing about that whole notion, right?

More notes

This is my note to you, reader, about leaving notes for an unknown reader, inspired by a writer who writes about writing notes to other readers. What will you write?

Peace (going round and round),

A Day of Making Media

We’re still a day away (maybe less by the time you read this) before the first official Make Cycle with the Making Learning Connected MOOC kicks off into gear (but you can join in when and where and however it fits your interest and schedule). Yet the Google Plus space and the Twitter hashtag (#clmooc) are alive with making, sharing and connecting.


It’s infectious, this creative energy that emerges from the CLMOOC. So even though I have some school work to be done and my son had a little league championship game, I still made time during the day to make some stuff. (I admit: I never got around to cutting the lawn.)

I began the morning with some remixing of a project by Greg, using a Star Wars scrolling page via Mozilla’s Thimble. I invented a whole fictional collective called The Ninja Poets. I don’t know where that concept came from. But now it exists. Become a Ninja Poet.

Ninja Poets


(Click on image to go to remix)

And then I took a screenshot of the CLMOOC map, which has about 200 folks pinned on it (some fictional pins, too, which is neat), and created a meme.


And then I thought, what if we remixed the map itself with some visual filters.


Terry began a collaborative poem, and I saw the invite to join in on Twitter. It’s a poetic response to the shootings at Emanuel Church called It Was As If … It took me some time to figure out a way into the poem, so deep was its theme and tone. I made some offshoots, links from the main hub, writing of writing poetry in the midst of loss. And I saw Terry wondering if the collaboration could be transformed into a spoken poem with music.

That got me into Garageband, trying to see if I could craft a somber soundtrack.

And yet, this all had me wondering: are new folks already overwhelmed? Riffing off a blog post from Joe Dillon, and channeling some concerns from Sheri Edwards, I made and shared out this comic, acknowledging some folks’ confusion and offering out a hand of friendship.


See you on the CLMOOC.

Peace (in the make),

PS — by the way, if you are wondering about the principles that ground CLMOOC, check out this site about Connected Learning. It informs and anchors the CLMOOC.

From Tweet to Poem and the Spaces In-Between

The drawing of this Constellation Conversation continues … as I engage in discussions about modalities and writing and mediums of expressions with Yin Wah and Anna, ping-ponging back and forth across these spaces.

I took a line from Yin Wah’s latest post, surfacing an important idea, which I agree with as a writer.

YinWah Quote

And then I decided to do some “line lifting” to build a poem around this concept of hers.


Notice how her writing piece influenced mine …. and how a tweet became a blog became a quote became a poem … and where does it go from here? Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere. Maybe you take the thread and extend it a bit further. Or not.

Peace (in this whatever it is we are doing),


Get Up And Dance (A Staff Act)

Talent Show 2015

At this year’s school talent show, I suggested the staff learn the song Shut Up and Dance, but change it to Get Up and Dance, and so we did. The other night, teachers packed the stage. I played the bass on the song, and I had to learn my part via YouTube (Thank you, YouTube).

Other teachers coordinated the whole thing — t-shirts, balloons, kazoos, etc, and it was a blast. Kids loved it when teachers left the stage to dance in the audience. I was tethered to my bass amp, so I stayed on stage.

Peace (in the chords),