Some Respect: Student Webcomics

Our school theme this month is about “respect,” which turns out to a tricky concept even for sixth graders. It’s not as concrete as our theme of “kindess” from last month. We had a long conversation the other day about what respect might look like, and then I had my students go into our comic site to create ideas around respect. Here are a few:
Respect Comic1

Respect Comic2

Respect Comic4

Peace (in the sharing),


Nurturing Teacher Voice

I had the pleasure of being a guest on a recent Teachers Teaching Teachers show with host Paul Allison, where the discussion centered on nurturing teacher voice. (On a related note, I am also a guest for this week’s show on Wednesday night, as we talk about the summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC project. Come join us).

In this TTT show, we covered a lot of ground, from the importance of balancing out the views of teachers in the political arena, to the idea of posting things anonymously versus making yourself known and the relation to teacher identity, how to encourage more teachers to get ideas published in the newspapers, and how to make a difference in your teaching world one kid, and one day, at a time. My own role was to talk about our Western Massachusetts Writing Project partnership with a local newspaper to get our teachers published, and how successful that venture has been in many ways.


Peace (in voice),

What I’ve Been Writing: Stories, Poems and Kinetic Text

A glimpse at some writing I did this weekend in between baseball games, Halloween parties, assessing student writing, and being a father.

The Daily Create at DS106 yesterday asked us to begin a story about the “sky never being the same” and I had this idea of our perceptions of the solar system being upended. This is what I wrote:

We laugh now to remember the ways in which the world made fun of Galileo for presuming that the Sun was the center of our solar system, not the Earth itself. So long, Copernicus! Who among us hadn’t gazed up at the sky and wondered at the Sun, and how that large glowing orb was keeping us all together, as if the planets were a system of yo-yos set off on an elliptical path?
We laugh now, but not comfortably, because now we all feel like Copernicus, don’t we? We who believed Galileo. We who took it for granted that the largest object in the sky must be the most powerful, the center of the action. No doubt the discovery by Charniegi will forever haunt our imaginations.
How did he see it when no one else did? What was the first spark of doubt that Galileo was wrong?
Charniegi refuses to explain, and only his diagrams are his story, and so we peruse them carefully, wondering how we missed what Charniegi saw. We translate them, talk about them, share them in all of our communication spaces.
There are always those faint lines of history where in hindsight, you realize that you made assumptions and inferences based on incomplete facts. Charniegi did not. He dove in and discovered. He inadvertently made us all look like the fools we were, believing in Galileo.
Now, we look towards Pluto — that misaligned former planet dangling on the outskirts of the solar system — in order to see more clearly. Pluto. The smallest of us really are the most powerful. The sky will never be the same again, will it?
Charniegi made sure of that.


I was also working on some poetry this weekend.

The first piece was inspired by a prose poem by my friend Brian Fay. Brian had this line “Another crease becomes a tear here” that really jumped out at me, so I crafted a poem around that idea.

The second poem was inspired by a group of us on Twitter who seem to get up early in the mornings to write and connect and share. I tossed out the idea of the Sunrise Writing Club, and that name sort of got lodged in my mind a bit. The poem that came out captured the idea of finding things to write about left over from the night.

The third poem was very different, indeed. I have some friends who were over in England for the Mozilla Foundation MozFest, working on ideas for the ever-growing Webmaker space. One friend (Peter) shared out a collaborative document with a Thimble project for kinetic/animated text. I was really intrigued by it, and worked on a poem in the space. Later, another friend (Christina) told me of an update and invited us to go back and rework the poems in the new Thimble.

I just started over new and created Improvise with Me.

What I found fascinating is that I did a bit of reverse-engineering writing. Instead of bringing a poem idea to the Thimble, and animating with the original text in mind, I went into the space with the animation in mind, and built the poem around the kinetic movements built into the Thimble page. This is not ideal for writing, but I still had fun with it, writing about the playing of jazz. (You should follow this link to the get to the kinetic text poem, and then, heck, make your own by remixing mine.)

Peace (as writers),


Book Review: 100 Diagrams that Changed the World

Wow. This book is a real gem. Packed with 100 diagrams that really did change the world — from the Mayan calendar to the first flushing toilet to schematic drawings of the first mobile phone — this collection by Scott Christianson really is an eye-opener to the ways that complex ideas can be explained in visual terms.

“The diagrams featured here were the end result of deep and sustained observation, experimentation, reflection, research and artistic practice that recognized — often intuitively — that interdependency of the intellectual and the creative … In the end, these diagrams are the essence of abstract thought, representing fundamentally what it means to be human.” (p.13)

And so it is, from the very page where we glimpse the Chauvet Cave Drawings (30,000 BC)  through the fascinating Marshall Island Stick Navigation Charts (2000-5000 BC) to Ptolemey’s World Map (150 AD) to sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus and Galileio that changes human perceptions of the world around them forever.  Modern ideas include the first conceptual maps of ARPNET and the World Wide Web, as well as the Apple computer that Job and Wozniak put together. Line graphs, pictogram charts, mapping systems, flow charts and more all have their origins on the map of history itself, and Christianson teases those stories out, noting how in many cases the thinkers were years ahead of everyone else.

See a slideshow of a few of the diagrams

I’m already thinking of how to use some of these diagrams in my classrooms for a reading activity. I’ll share that out some other time. For now, though, consider 100 Diagrams that Changed the World one of those books that you keep on the counters of your house or work desk for when you have a moment to be amazed. Open a page, and let it happen.

Peace (in the charts),


Makin’ and Daily Creatin’ the Open Web

Two of this week’s Daily Create for DS106 built off the theme of the Open Web, and the main assignment this week for the Headless Course was to create a story inside the web. I did share out my work around revamping some of the frontpages of large newspapers now owned by powerful men.
News Amazon Post

The other day, the Daily Create asked for a silent animation to represent the Open Web. I decided to use Stykz in between parent-teacher conferences to quickly put something together. My theme was “data needs to be free” and I did my best to represent it in this short animation. I don’t know. Did it work? I’m not so sure it did, but I got stuck for time and did the best I could. Those little green bars? They’re not candy bars. They’re data points. The circle? Not the moon. That’s the web. The stick figure? OK, that’s you. And me. And all of us.

And finally, yesterday, the Daily Create asked us to create something to represent the positive connotations of hacking. I don’t know about you but I keep shaking my head at the events around the mess of the US healthcare site. I wonder: how in the world in this day and age could a website end up such a mess? (Answer: put it in the hands of the government.) This comic for the Daily Create was designed to make fun of the “fix” process and point out some “real experts” in the world.
Maybe These are the Experts

And of course, the Open Web and Hacking is at the center of the Merry Hacksters radio show, Hack the World.

Peace (in the panels),


Peter Elbow: Cheerleading for the Common Tongue

The eminent Peter Elbow, whose work around literacy with such books as Writing Without Teachers and Writing with Power led the way to completely revamping the ways in which we nurture young writers, recently released a book about the importance of everyday speech in our literary lives. The book — Vernacular Eloquence — was at the heart of his keynote address to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s fall conference earlier this month. Elbow allowed me to videotape his talk for WMWP.

What I found fascinating is the point of how much we devalue common talk as a form of literacy, and how Elbow notes that formal education often snuffs out the phrases and pauses, and syntax, of how we talk when our guard is down. He notes, rightly, that segments of our population feel left out of the definition of “literacy” because the academic world does not value their speech.

I also enjoyed the connection Elbow made to how we “feel” our words, on our tongue and in our heart, and that when our language is at odds with those emotions and experiences, our thoughts become disjointed and inauthentic. By examining how we speak and whether we value the ways in which we speak, Elbow is hoping to show the value of the vernacular in our definitions of what it means to be writer and communicator. As Bruce Penniman pointed out during the discussion phase of Elbow’s talk, the new Common Core does put more value on the aspects of Speaking and Listening, but that all examples and references seem to point more towards formal expectations, not daily vernacular.

Here are some excerpts from Peter Elbow’s talk at WMWP:

Peace (in the way we speak),

What’s Cool Now Won’t be Cool Tomorrow

I hate to say this but I do remember when all my students (sixth graders) were talking up MySpace as the place to be. Today, it’s Instragram. In between, it was Facebook. Is Twitter next? I don’t even know. But this chart from the Piper Jaffray company’s survey data, as found in a post over at Slate , is certainly an interesting look at the trends of social networking spaces over the last few years.

Where all the kids going next? I suspect that “other” category is where many of my kids would put their video gaming worlds (Minecraft, etc.) as places to connect socially with others.

Peace (in the data),

Stories Inside the Web: If Owners Oversaw the Front Page

Over at DS106 this week, the theme is telling stories “inside the web,” using tools such as Mozilla’s XRay Goggles to remix websites and retell the news or information. I decided to take three newspapers and tilt the front page towards the owners, sprinkling in news and product names as if the newspapers are being used to promote products or personality. Of course, editors would never do this (right? right?) but I can remember when I worked at a newspaper, there would be some reporters and headlines editors who would discretely work in phrases and keywords into stories and headlines just for the fun of it.

So, here are my three front page hacks of The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos, of Amazon), The Boston Globe (owned by John Henry, of the Boston Red Sox), and The Wall Street Journal (owned by Rupert Murdoch, of everything related to news in all corners of the world, apparently). I find this kind of media criticism interesting, and fun, and love that I can superimpose text right on top of the real websites (I suppose they wouldn’t agree, but hey …)

News Amazon Post

News Globe Henry

News WallStreet Murdoch

What newspaper would you hack?

Peace (in the goggles),

On the (DS106) Radio: Hack the World

On Tuesday night, the collaborative radio show venture that I was part of — The Merry Hacksters — had a premiere on DS106 Radio. I represented our group during the chat with Alan Levine and Christina Hendricks. The collaborative experience was interesting, to say the least, as we worked almost exclusively off Google Docs, Twitter and Dropbox to gather ideas, share audio files and make suggestions for the show’s sequence. We never “talked” to one another, as some other groups did with Google Hangouts, etc. This project evolved over about four weeks of time, starting with an idea I had during the initial brainstorming of building off my summer experiences in Teach the Web and the Making Learning Connected MOOC, both of which honored the ethos of the hack.

It was an honor and a pleasure to work with Sally, Stefani and Lara on our Headless DS106 radio program, which we call Hack the World. My colleagues allowed me the privilege to edit the show together, stitching our voices and files into one program. I hope I did them all justice. Our theme was to explore the concept of hacking as a positive tool for change, and so, the segments include:

  • An interview collage with Chris Lawrence and Laura Hillinger from the Mozilla Foundation on their Webmaker tools;
  • An interview with young students on using Minecraft and perceptions of hacking and remixing;
  • A piece about toy hacking, tinkering and ways to rediscover childhood curiosity with Stephanie West-Puckett;
  • A feature on a German archivist discovering materials from the past and rethinking their importance;
  • A listen into my classroom as my sixth graders hack the game of chess to create something new;
  • Assorted radio bumpers and commercials.


The Merry Hacksters are Kevin (@dogtrax), Lara (@raccooncity), Stefanie (@StefanieJ2), and Sally (@swilson416)

Here are the audio files that Alan and Christina shared:

Pre Show Discussion
“Hack The World” (22:53)

Post Show Discussion

We will also be making most of the individual audio files available for folks, too, if you just want to hear a piece or want to remix the entire show in your own way. We hope that sharing will be in the spirit of our own work. Go forth and hack the world!

Peace (and remix),