Book Review: Best American Infographics 2014

Infographic on Infographics
I thought I would use the theme of Infographics to review a book about Infographics. The book is the second year of the Best American Infographics and like last year’s version, it is a wonderful read, chock full of amazing data representations. My infographic shows my interest level in the various articles in the collection. Not every scientific, I guess, but a good overview of what I thought as I was reading the collection (edited by Gareth Cook, with an introduction by Nate Silver).

What I like most is how surprised I am by some of the pieces, from the one where someone geotagged their cat as it wandered through their city block all day; to the way that a baseball looks for the batter, depending on the kind of pitch; to a map of every single reference to every single joke in the first seasons of Arrested Development; to the evolution of email in our lives; to the migration of birds and how the numbers are dropping; to whether a tweet was written by a human or twitter-bot. There are just too many cool infographics to even mention here.

But I did want to mention that the interactive infographics are online for perusing (Check out the drone attack/casualty chart … it will break your heart and open your eyes to the faraway battlefields).

I am also very curious about the free Map Stack tool that has been made available for anyone to use. It gets a whole page in the book, and the group that developed it got funding to give Map Stack away to journalists and others, to create data-centered mapping projects. I have no idea how to use it or why, but it seems worth the time to consider.

Peace (in the info),

Making Collaborative Audio: Soundtrap

soundtrap for collaboration
The other day, I worked collaboratively with my friends Maha, Simon and Susan to create this birthday audio for our friend, Terry. We don’t live anywhere near each other and in fact, we are all over the globe, so the challenge was how to collaborate on an audio file together.

In the past, I might have asked them all to send audio clips to me, and then I would use Audacity or Garageband to pinch them together.

But this time, in true collaboration, I wanted to have us all working on the same file, online. I chose a site called Soundtrap, and it worked almost like a charm. I added some music that I recorded in the Garageband App, with some vocals, and then the others went in and recorded their tracks. It wasn’t perfect. Soundtrap doesn’t play nice with mobile devices, and it might be Chrome-browser-specific right now. We had to do a few workarounds. (Maha had to send me a wav file that I converted into MP3 before uploading).

However, once it was up and running, Soundtrap was relatively easy to use — you can record with your mic right into the space, or upload MP3 files, or use its loop library to create sounds. It is a neat way to build a song, and I am now trying that out with some folks — laying down a bass and drum track, and let others add in loops. Hmmm.

When we were done, we could download our file as an MP3, which we then shared over at Soundcloud. But, you could also share out a public link from Soundtrap itself. Check out Terry’s song.

All in all, a good site, with some limitations. I am wondering if this would work for the classroom … I suppose if students had email (mine don’t), they could create collaborations or maybe do interviews with others (not just in the classroom, either). Some possibilities …

Peace (in the muse),

Books Reviewed: The Bone Clocks and Non-Required Reading

After a rather long winter break, we’re now really back in the swing of things (or sort of). But over break, I read quite a bit of pages in the various down-time moments and figured I should share out a few observations.

First of all, each year, I get as a present the latest edition of Best American Non-Required Reading collection. Dave Eggers has stepped down (darn it) as editor of this collection, which is pulled together by high school students, but the stories and articles in here are as strong as ever. I did miss the “short pieces” section at the front of the book, where little tidbits were shared out. That has been eliminated. But the pieces here are strong, and the fact that purchasing the book contributes to literacy programs organized by Eggers and the 826 organization makes it worth the price of admission.

Eggers is replaced here by Daniel Handler (ie, Lemony Snicket) who adds just enough snark and humor in his introduction to get the reading off on the right foot.

Second, I read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. You know, there are some pieces and passages here that will just blow you away with Mitchell’s rich writing and storytelling. And I get that Mitchell is after bigger game — of re-configuring the way we tell stories and the way we write/read fiction. He always pushes the envelope. That said, huge swaths of the middle of this lengthy novel had me wondering if I should keep with it. I did, and thankfully, the final section rewarded me again. I won’t even try to explain the story (which unfolds over time and involves a woman who gets involved in a group who  …. oh …. too difficult to summarize).

I’m waiting for the novel by Mitchell that just blows me away, and he always gives me just enough to keep hoping and coming back. I am still mulling over The Bone Clocks in my mind, so that’s saying something.

Peace (in the pages),

Sharing Our Stories

This project popped into my Twitter stream this morning — I sort of had echoes of it yesterday, perhaps – and it intrigued me. It’s a project for educators called Share Your EduStory, and its a hub of inspiration to get teachers sharing their stories of teaching. It’s designed to empower teachers as reflective practitioners and also to counter the negative stories about education that seem to dominate the headlines.

Check out the Share Your EduStory website and follow the links to how you can participate. The threshold is low. Blog when you can, link when you are able, comment and connect as often as possible. Topics for writing will be provided. Connect.

Check out Share Your EduStory

The movement reminds me of what Steven Zemelman has been doing with his site — Teachers Speak Up — and how the move to give us teachers more voice is gaining some traction. But it depends on us, the teachers, to be writers and to provide insights into our classroom experiences. There are echoes of Slice of Life, too, where so many of us write each week about moments, often in our classrooms. And with the second iteration of Walk My World on the horizon, there are all sorts of possibilities.

Let’s get writing!

Peace (in the story),

Hey Terry, It’s Your Birthday

Nothing like some collaborative energy to celebrate a friend, and that’s what Maha, Simon and Susan and I have been up behind the scenes for our friend, Terry, whose birthday is today. We recorded a song, and then some thoughts — all via on online collaborative audio tool called Soundtrap (I’ll share out more about it later).

For now … Hey Terry, It’s Your Birthday!

And here is a bonus that I made for him, too. A comic series about our journey into the rabbit holes of technology.

Peace (in friendship),

Slice of Life: Easing Back In

(This is a Slice of Life post, where we write about the small moments of life through a larger reflective piece of writing. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers, and you should join us.)


I saw this Savage Chickens cartoon by Doug Savage yesterday and thought, maybe it’s not just teachers and students who find the first day back after a long break sort of disjointing.


We eased back into learning yesterday in my classroom, after catching up with our holiday gatherings, mishaps and adventures. There was a sort of glazed look on my students’ faces — you know that look? They are used to sleeping in, not waiting in the frigid morning air for the bus — so I kept the pace moving along — handing back writing assignments (what did I do over break? I read student writing), introducing the concepts of Figurative Language that we now move into, and then shifted into giving them time to finish/publish their science-based video game projects.

If they were done with their video game projects, their assignment was to play other students’ games and give feedback. Lots did. It was good. We had a few “ahhhhhh” moments but mostly, we are now ready move into our learning again today.

The new year begins … now.

Peace (in the share),


Argubot Academy: Using Games to Understand Argument

At the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in November (this post has been in my draft box for a bit of time), I attended a session by a representative of GlassLab Games, which has been working in a partnership with NWP folks to develop a video game app designed to teach elements of argument to middle school students.

The game is called Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy, and it is a free app from the Apple Store. Mat Frenz, of GlassLabs, was very knowledgeabout about game mechanics, and of why games are a natural way to pique the curiosity of students. He notes that good games can be an “engagement bridge” for students to learn difficult material, and the hope for Argubot Academy is that players “will master the mechanics of argument with the same passion as mastering the mechanics of Pokemon.” The game developers build some of the mechanics and look/feel/design of the game with echoes from the Pokemon universe.

Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy has a narrative of science, as the player is on a discovery mission and is forced to create “argubots” that are powered by the strands of strong argument claims and evidence. The player asks questions, explores the spaceship and then goes into “battle” against others with their argubots, seeing if their claims and evidence is strong enough to hold up to scrutiny. A teacher account allows you to track progress of students, and it charts out where strengths and weaknesses of the individual player/students are. That is all handy information.

I played the game a bit over the summer, when it was first released and promoted via NWP and Educator Innovator, and then again during the session, as Mat gave us an overview and tour of the game itself. I know a lot of teachers in the room were excited about. I have my slight reservations. First of all, my classroom does not have iPads, so for all practical purposes, the game is not in our future. I also found the game a bit too wordy, knowing my students as I do, although when I mentioned this is conversation with other teachers in the session, they disagreed with me. So, maybe it is my own perception. I am also not sure it would engage my students over multiple sessions, although Mat shared testimonials from teachers using the app, praising it as tool for engagement.

But, don’t listen to me. Give the app a try. It’s free, and a lot of thought has gone into the development. It might just work for you, particularly as we shift into higher gear away from persuasion and deep into argument. The game might be just the hook for your students.

Argubot Academy Overview from GlassLab on Vimeo.

Peace (in the app),



Book Review: Comic Squad

I’m always a sucker for graphic story/comic collections. One of my touchstone collections is the Flight series of graphic stories that just blow me away every time I crack the cover, and I love it when my students stumble upon the Flight books in my classroom. There’s that “what’s this?” moment that many have, and then they are lugging the book from class to class, coming in the next morning with the question, “Got any more of these?”

We bought Comic Squad: Recess for my son because he is a huge Lunch Lady fan, and of author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, who is one of the co-editors and contributors to the collection of comic shorts here. My son read the collection in about, oh, ten minutes, and then I had a look. The mood and ambience in the collection is light and funny, with jokes planted on the pages between stories and a positive vibe all the way through. Love the remix/mashup page!

I liked the stories well enough, although I think they lacked real narrative depth that I like to see in this kind of book. Comics can and should push the envelope, even for young readers. It’s a wonderfully creative genre that has so many possibilities. I felt as if the stories here didn’t quite reach for the stars, and am hopeful the next collection (promised on the last page) takes a step forward. But that’s also me, being a bit too critical, perhaps. I understand this book is designed for younger readers (prob even younger than my son) and it will certainly get kids reading and maybe looking for further reading, which is part of the point of a collection like this (from a teacher’s standpoint).

And the hat nod to Nerdy Book Club in the opening dedication page? Nicely done.

Peace (in the comic),


My One Little Word for 2015: Pause

It it just me, or is the world cruising by? Last year, my One Little Word was “make” and I did make a lot of stuff over the months of 2014. This year, for 2015, I have decided to “pause” and reflect a bit more. I am one of those “dive in and let’s see” kind of people, and sometimes, I feel as if it is too much. I am giving myself this word to give myself permission to pull back.

I made this animated text over at this site, which is rather nifty.

Peace (in the word),