Reading Video: What We See When We Watch

I am bit behind in my DS106 assignments (I know, that’s OK) and this week’s theme is all about “reading movies” by having us analyze video clips from films. I love that they shared out Roger Ebert’s classic “How to Read a Movie” piece, which really digs deep into the contextual and compositional art of filmmaking.

One of our assignments is to find three clips of scenes from movies and turn a critical eye on what we see. Here are the three that I chose and my analysis:

I have the sound off. I don’t think I need it. All of the emotion is in his face, or the lack of emotion, right? I turn the sound up and I hear him typing. Notice the long pauses? There are fewer and fewer of those in movies these days. But here, as the camera moves in closer, it has an impact. And normally, a shot of a computer? Frigging boring. But the decision around friending is a key part of this movie, and the shuttling back and forth of the lens is very effective. Music kicks in around 40 seconds, just as he leans back to reconsider what to do. Nice touch.  This is the final scene, so we get an update on how it all turned out. But is he happy?

Use of white space here. To represent emptiness inside of the Matrix. Lens spins, giving us and him the feeling of being disorientated.  The use of lens here is important. I know a lot has been written about his sunglasses here, but as a visual symbol, they are important. The viewer leans in, half expecting to see themselves in the glasses, right? I find it interesting that the props are furniture. And notice how the television is “old school” — showing the dichotomy between the ideas and the scene, and the plot that is emerging in the movie.

Short clip, mostly showing Ted Night’s arching eyebrows and wide mouth. Perfectly in tune to character. Turn off the sound, and you can still guess the tone of his language. The sarcasm drips. Not much in terms of filmmaking style but casting actors who can inhabit a character is critical for a film like Caddyshack. Not just Ted Night. Can you imagine this movie without Bill Murray? No way!

Peace (in the composition),

Book Review: Guitar Notes

GuitarNotesCVR PrePub email

This book by Mary Amato must have been written for someone like me. I am a huge sucker for novels that have a musical theme weaving into the story line, and Guitar Notes is all about the friendship between two high school students dealing with the pressures of life. The guitar notes of the title has a double meaning — not only is it the music that Tripp and Lyla begin to write together but it is the series of notes they leave for each other in the school music room as they begin to develop a deep friendship through the story.

Tripp is a sarcastic child whose mother has taken away his one treasured possession — his guitar — until he gets his grades back up. Unfortunately, he is still dealing with the loss of his father. Lyla is the perfect child, whose cello playing prowess comes from her mother, another parent who has died in the near past, leaving Lyla in the shadows of her mother’s musical legacy. A shared practice space in the music wing of their school — Tripp has the room on odd days, Lyla on even days, and he becomes Mr. Odd and she, Ms. Even — brings these two together.

There is a surprising, emotional twist near the end that almost had me in tears as I was reading quietly next to my son. If you believe in the power of music to heal and connect, then read this book. If you don’t, well, read this book, too. At one point, Lyla and Tripp as talking about songwriting as a means of understanding the world.

“I used to think that in order to write a song, I’d have to hear it in my head, and then I’d sit down with a pen and write it out in notation,” Lyla said, after Tripp has inspired her to pick up the guitar to write songs, “But your way, of just playing until you find something by accident, makes a lot of more sense. It’s like every song is a series of accidents.” (p. 154)

And Tripp has what he calls his Thrum Theory — that people are connected on deeper levels than they know.

“I think every soul vibrates at a certain frequency,” Tripp tells Lyla. “It’s sort of like each soul has a sound that is its signature — and your soul wants to feel the vibrations of this sound. I think the vibrations of my soul and the vibrations of this guitar match each other, which is why it feels so right for me to play it.” (p.206)

I mean, that is beautiful, right? I loved this book, Guitar Notes, and highly recommend it.

And, the songs that Tripp and Lyla write? The lyrics are in the back of the book and Mary Amato has recorded the songs, too.

Check out this video as she explains the process of writing and recording and sharing out the songs.

Peace (in the resonance),

Talking MOOCs, and CLMOOC

I was honored to be with this crowd of folks on Teachers Teaching Teachers the other night as we discussed MOOCs and in particular, our own Making Learning Connected MOOC from this past summer.

Peace (in the mooooooooc),

Game Review: Type Rider

So, this is one of those games that made my jaw drop because it is so beautiful, visual, and so interesting, content-wise. The IOS game is called Type:Rider and while it functions like any number of the “runner games” out there (your players move through levels by running, or in this case, rolling, from danger and obstacles), Type:Rider incorporates the idea of design and typography as its platform of play.

I know. I had trouble thinking how they would pull it off, too, but they do it in wonderful fashion. The player rolls two dots — which I believe are called “interpoints” in typography speak — through a series of levels built around different styles of fonts, and along the way, there are places to learn more of the history of the design of writing. The stories told about font development and typography, and therefore writing itself, is fascinating and the game developers give just enough of the juicy historical details to make things interesting before you had back into the game itself.


Each level consists of HUGE letters that became part of the game play itself, as you roll through rounded letters, jump over spiked points of type and move through an environment that seems perfectly scaled to feeling like a small point of font. The app suggests you use headphones for an immersive musical experience, and I agree. The music seems in sync with the style of font for each level, adding yet another element of design to the game play. And check out the background images behind the game itself. it’s another element of wonder here, with shadows and light giving the game a sense of mood.

I’ve only gotten my way through three levels in Type:Rider but I am impressed. Now, would this game be valuable to students? I don’t know. Yes, for the dynamics of play, but I suspect that interest in the history of typography might be a narrow field. Still, you would learn more than a few things about how the visual design of type impacts what and how we write, and what those choices mean to the books and texts we read.

The Type:Rider game costs $2.99 for the iPad, just so you know.

Peace (in the type),

PS — cool “behind the scenes” video of the making of the game:



Breaking Apart the Saxophone

Saxophone Construction Diagram
I am going to be writing more about this lesson around reading and writing diagrams for my blog (Working Draft) over at MiddleWeb soon, but here is a diagram that I shared with my students about the saxophone, as I modeled how to draw a simple diagram. Their assignment has been to create their own diagrams, as we talk about ‘reading’ different kinds of texts and information sources, including diagrams.

Peace (in the music),

Zero to Eight Annotated Infographic: How Much Screen Time Do They Need?

CommonSense Media just put the results of its study around the digital lives of young children, called Zero to Eight. I need time to digest it all, but the results are startling for the rise of devices we are putting into the hands of our smallest citizens and the shifts in the ways kids are using those devices (see the spike in gaming, for instance). I am still not sure if that is good or bad, but I think it clearly is a fundamental shift in the way we introduce screens into the lives of our children.

One question is what this screen time is doing to the brains of us and what role schools have in focusing the use of technology for meaning. This study is not designed to answer that questions (although I suspect there are plenty of studies underway right now). Another question sparked by the findings here remains around access to technology for everyone, and how that lack of access for some of our most neediest students will play out over time around economics and job opportunities, and the role that schools have in providing access.

It’s worth some of your time perusing the report’s findings here at this infographic or over at the CommonSense site, where the full report and the findings are available. I would also suggest viewing the response by CommonSense CEO Jim Steyer, who puts some of the findings in thematic perspective.

I created this annotated infographic in ThingLink, and I invite you to add your thoughts and links, too.


Peace (in the data),

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),