Slice of Life: The Rhythm of the Night

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Nature has a beauty all of its own. So, when the sleet is using my house as a drum pad all night, I can both appreciate the music of it as well as wish Mother Nature would give it a break. The drums were a mix of hard staccato beats, the wind providing an energetic pounding, and the soft jazzy brush of light tapping, almost as if somewhere, someone was playing their saxophone underneath the street light.

And still, the music played.

I’m awake now, early morning, and so can appreciate the different tones, of how sleet hitting the window sound different from sleet hitting the slanted roof over the sun room, and now those two are different from the sound of sleet hitting the basement bulkhead door.

I can appreciate it here, in my dry house, with coffee going and school just called closed. But I know the dog is going to get up soon, and I am going to have to head out into this music, feeling the drumsticks on my head and face, and the leftover sounds from the night’s jam session crunching beneath my feet. My appreciation for music might not last.

Peace (sounds like),

Curiosity Conversation: Virtual Reality Storytelling


I have known Bonnie Kaplan for more than a decade now, through our affiliation with the National Writing Project and our common interest in digital storytelling. She is an avid video documentary filmmaker, and we have jumped into more than a few projects over the years (including the Collaborative ABC Project and the launch of the iAnthology writing space for NWP-affiliated teachers).

When I learned she was just back from a course on Virtual Reality Storytelling, out in California, I wanted to chat with her, to pick her brain a bit about the potential and the possibilities of this new technology in terms of where it might lead us into storytelling down the road. (You can read her blog reflections here).

Then I remembered Scott Glass and his Curiosity Conversation ideas from CLMOOC this past summer, in which one teacher reaches out to record a discussion with another on a topic of personal interest, so Bonnie and I chatted via Hangout.

I am grateful for her time and friendship, and her reminder that stories are at the heart of any digital storytelling.

Peace (in the chat),

Bunch of Vines, Collected

Vine Collage

Vine, or the making of new Vines, sort of went kaput the other day, although I guess the 6-sec videos are still being hosted at the site, and there is something called Vine Camera replacing it.

But I am not sure.

All I know is, the other day I received an email from Vine, warning me that the deadline for using its downloader was upon us. So, I grabbed the ZIP file of all my Vines (videos and image shots, it turns out), and then thought .. now what?

I was curious to see the vids all together, and so pulled them into Animoto for this collection. It may only be amusing and entertaining for me, with context.

Peace (in little bursts),


Graphic Novel Review: Secret Coders (Secrets and Sequences)

It’s the third book in the Secret Coders graphic novel series by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes, and I admit: I am pretty well hooked. I was slow to start with this series, even with Gene Luen Yang at the helm, for some reason — maybe the interjection of coding into the story felt a bit forced at the time.

Not anymore. As the story of our young female protagonist/coder — Hopper — and her friends uncover more and more strangeness in their school, and their school’s history, the narrative behind Secret Coders: Secrets and Sequences starts to kick into gear.

Sure, there are still interesting moments when the Luen Yang and Holmes stop the reader, ask them to mentally solve some coding puzzle, but I found myself enjoying those moments more than in the first book (and the second book started to really draw me in). I think it is me, not them, that is finally getting used to being pulled into the story from time to time as a programmer.

Here, in this third book, we meet a character who seems to be the main antagonist – Dr. One-Zero, a green man who was a brilliant student long ago but underwent a personal transformation of sorts (echoes of Dr. Strange here) — and we learn a bit more about Hopper’s missing father (part of the overarching narrative), as well as the strange connection to the school (Stately Academy) itself as a former place of innovation.

The coding gets more complex here, too, as the writers’ underlying mission to show young readers the ways that coding and programming through storytelling can be used to accomplish goals is extended out even further than the first two books. The kids at the heart of this graphic story use what they have learned about coding to escape from predicaments.

There is also a neat coding puzzle left for readers at the end of the book, as a sort of challenge for readers to uncover. You need Logo to solve it but the website connection to the book gives all of the information you might need to dive into programming. And the Fun with Coding page has some downloadable activities for use.

All in all, this series is a nice fit for upper elementary and some middle school students, particularly those with an interest in computers and programming. But the inclusion of a strong and fiesty female protagonist, ample amounts of humor, and a series of challenges for the reader to consider broaden the appeal for a wider audience with the Secret Coders series.

Peace (all ones and zeroes for action and adventure),


Engaging Students (and Educators) as Citizens of the Digital Age

Jacqueline Vickery Keynote

There’s a term kicking around the new Networked Narratives course that I keep referring to and which I am curious to get to in the coming weeks: Civic Imagination. Mia Zamora hints at this a bit with her posts over at DML about the Networked Narratives course that is a hybrid between a university class and an open course (with Alan Levine), with the theme of digital storytelling.

Mia’s terminology was on my mind yesterday as I listened to a keynote presentation by Jacqueline Vickery, a professor and researcher out of Texas, during a local technology conference that I attended. Vickery’s focus in her talk was about engaging students as citizens in the Digital Age, and how adults often thwart those moves by teenagers to engage with the world through fear and intimidation. Vickery’s talk reminded me of the deep work by danah boyd, too, and how we need to pay attention to the “stories” of our young people, and help them find ways to positively engage with the world through social media and other technology/communication avenues.

Vickery (who has a book coming out called Worried about the Wrong Things: Youth, Risk and Opportunity in the Digital Age) noted that her research comes from observing young people interacting with technology. Many adults — parents and teachers and public policy makers — often react without taking the time to understand the underlying issues, or what is really taking place between youths when they connect.

“This narrative (of young people not in control and falling prey to the dangers lurking everywhere) … ignores what they are doing with technology,” Vickery said. “We often hear young people’s technology use pathologized .. (ie, web junkies, addiction, etc.) … as if they have no sense of agency of what they are doing, as if they are just passive users of technology.”

TIE Conference

Vickery laid out some tenets of helping young people see themselves as Citizens of the Digital Age (see image above), where social interaction across the technology is a vital component for participatory media and connections, for the betterment of the world.

She asked, rather rhetorically, if schools were doing enough to teach students about use of technology, from the standpoint of:

  • Civic Engagement
  • Emotional Growth
  • Social Justice
  • Equity

Probably not, in my estimation.

And this brings me back around to Mia’s reference to the term of Civic Imagination, and it has me wondering how we help students envision a better world ahead of them, and then how to turn that imaginative yearning into reality through awareness, information, agency and engagement with the world. This is the whole underlying premise of Connected Learning, by the way.

Vickery didn’t dispute that there are places where young people need help and oversight from adults to navigate the tricky waters of technology, but overall, she remains positive about the choices and the actions of young people.

“There are many ways to connect students with digital media, to see themselves as agents of change and active citizens,” she said, near the end of her talk. “If we view young people as agents of change, then we as adults can help them.”

Peace (here and into there),


TIE Proposal: Making Interactive Fiction

I am pitching this idea on Interactive Fiction Writing at the Technology in Education Conference in Western Massachusetts as part of the “unconference” part of the, eh, conference today. So, if my ideas gets accepted, you are probably here. If not accepted, you are still here. Welcome. Now, how about making a playable story?

There are many posts here about Interactive Fiction and digital writing, if you are interested.

Peace (in every direction),


#NetNarr: Can Data Help Us Tell a Story?

Data Storytelling

Terry Elliott shared this Ted Talk out, via Vialogues for annotation, and I really appreciated the ways that Ben Wellington uses storytelling as the frame for using data in meaningful ways. I am following Terry into an online course about data storytelling for journalism (he is in there, to learn more about teaching his university students and I am in there … because I am curious about data as the means for crafting stories), in hopes it might dovetail into the concurrent open course around Networked Narratives.

I have no idea how those two ideas will merge together, and yet, it seems like there might a fit for finding ways to use information around us in the real world to craft stories about or in the digital world, with all of the nooks and crannies of collaboration and creativity that #NetNarr might provide (it’s hard to say, since the course has only just sort of started).

One of the central tasks in the first post for #NetNarr is to define storytelling, since #NetNarr is hovering over the concept of Digital Storytelling, in the vein of DS106. My initial, non-Google-it, response is that storytelling is the act of making sense of the known and unknown world through layered compositional practices (talking, writing, using media, etc.) That sounds awfully academic to my ears as I read it quietly. Or, how about this: A good story entertains while also informs the reader/listener/player about the larger workings of the world.

Still working it out. Meanwhile, check out Ben Wellington.

Here is Terry’s Vialogue version, and he invites you to join in an annotated conversation about this juxtaposition of data collection and storytelling as a means to make sense of the world. Daniel Bassill, Wendy Taleo, others and I have already jumped in with Terry. You come, too.

Peace (make sense of it),

Slice of Life: Rally at the Rally

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

There’s something powerful being in the midst of thousands of people, rallying for a cause. This weekend, my wife, older son (on his way back to college) and I joined in with about 6,000 other people on the public space of Boston’s Fanueil Hall, beneath the statue of Samuel Adams, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren fired up the public fight to try to save health care from the Republicans now in power in Washington DC.

Rally in Boston

It was my son’s first political rally as an adult, I think, although his campus is surely a hotbed of political activity these days. He has always been more Libertarian/contrarian than Democrat, so I am not sure what he got out of it. But he was yelling and clapping, too. For me, listening to Warren, and other guests at the podium, had an energizing effect, and there is a feeling that this anger and distrust of the GOP is not an isolated activity.

“Repeal and Run is for Cowards.” — Elizabeth Warren, on the GOP’s move to repeal with no known plan to replace health care coverage for millions of people.

Rally in Boston

Whether it becomes a movement of resistance will be seen, I guess, but I was heartened by Warren’s rhetoric and I know, from watching her from afar as my senator, that she is and will be a thorn in the side of Trump. Just being a thorn is OK, for now, but I also hope that something constructive can emerge that brings us together, and not more deeply apart, as a country.

Rally in Boston

Peace (mixed with resistance),

Flocabulary Gets It Right: Civil Rights Hip-Hop Resource

(This is a post from the past that seems worth re-sharing today. — Kevin)
MLK Day Dream

Flocabulary has a great musical resource available for remember Martin Luther King Jr. and honoring the Civil Rights movement. Along with the hip hop song that brings in words and imagery into the flow, the group provides a set of lyrics you can print out. Whenever I use Flocabulary and their mad rhymes, my students pay attention. The site even has a classroom view, allowing the video to come into center focus. You can’t embed the video in other sites because Flocabulary sells subscriptions (and periodically, makes resources like this one free).

Check it out.

And remember and honor the man whose voice continues to ring out and resonate with much of the country.

Peace (on this day),