Malcolm is at it again

One reading pleasure that I get is when I open up the New Yorker magazine and there, in the table of contents, I see the byline: Malcolm Gladwell. The author of Blink and Tipping Point (both of which were built from articles in the magazine, I believe) writes with such clarity and insight about a wide variety of issues, it becomes like a little journey of the mind to follow where he is leading you.

In last week’s New Yorker, Malcolm is on the trail of software that can be used to predict the success or failure of movies. It all has to do with indentifying attributes, categorizing them in certain ways and then letting the computer analyze the structure of movies. Some movie companies are now channeling movie scripts through the computer program and pressuring for changes before the actors are even hired. There is something sterile about that process, I think, but that is another post.

What I was interested in was almost an aside in the article: the use of software to help musicians and producers analyze music, using mathematical formulas based upon beat, harmony, pitch, chord progression and cadence. The software called “Platinum Blue” can pick “whether a song is likely to become a hit with eighty-percent accuracy,” according to Malcolm. The creator of the software is not interested in the songs, per se. “He cared only about a song’s underlying mathematical structure,” according to Malcolm.

This is all very interesting but then the creator of the software comments: “We think we’ve figured out how the brain works regarding musical taste.” I wonder how that can be? And if true, does this mean that we are moving towards some uniform musical taste analysis? Interesting.

The program did predict that the song Crazy by Gnarls Barkely would be a hit. I wonder if they have put Beck into their machine? (Which reminds me of a Sesame Street skit in which Bert creates a sound machine for the letter “P” and Ernie makes it explode by feeding to many letters into it — that’s what I think Beck would do to the software — cause it to implode.)
Peace,
Kevin

Action! Adventure! Illustrations!

My sixth grade students just completed a short story project using the adventure story genre to put some characters through a typical plot arc (intro-risingaction-climax-fallingaction-resolution) and we pulled out the laptops the other day to create some illustration in Paint. I wanted them to get more comfortable with the program, as we will use it later this year. Then, I moved them to Flickr for a slideshow so that parents and family members at home could see what we were doing in class that day.

View the slideshow of illustrations b1

Peace,
Kevin

Maria Gets an Award!

My good friend and cyberpal Maria Lourdes Angala, from the Washington DC Writing Project, just learned that she received an award from the TeacherFirst organization for her work with her various Weblogs, including some wonderful ones that feature the writing of her exceptional students. (Maria and I used a blog last year to connect our students through writing, podcasts and other multimedia).

Check out Maria’s site called Digital Anthology

Here is what the organization said of Maria:

Ms. Angala’s class blog, A Digital Anthology, exemplifies highly effective use of technology in support of learning. Her responses and reflections about using a blog in the classroom and on integrating technology in general indicate that Ms. Angala is a true model for her peers. Her efforts to motivate and build writing skills in her exceptional students are truly exemplary.

Ms. Angala is being recognized for actively using a classroom blog with students to facilitate student understanding of curriculum, encourage writing as expression, and promote good writing skills. We understand that she has also been providing inservice training to her teaching peers at Jefferson Junior High. You and your staff are to be commended for your support of technology as a teaching tool. Blogging is one of the hottest and most successful new uses of technology in the classroom, as witnessed by its prevalence at the National Educational Computing Conference this past summer, and your teachers are definitely in the forefront.

She also has a great personal site for teaching resources and articles about education.

Go ahead — zoom to her site.

Congratulations Maria!

My Photo

Peace,
Kevin

Areas of His Expertise: Hoboes

John Hodgman, who is now one of the cast members of The Daily Show, published a funny and slightly bizarre book called The Areas of My Expertise, which is a fake almanac of such “facts” as the history of lobster racing, the emergence of new cons such as The Pajama Man, and interesting tidbits about each state in the US, including the moveable and intangible 51st state known as Ar. (Don’t ask).

Hodgman also spends quite a bit of time (and kills a few trees with the pages he uses) on the topic of hoboes, including a list of about 700 names of famous hoboes through time and some are just laugh-out loud funny.

Here are a few:

  • Holden the Expert Dreamtwister
  • Mr. Wilson Fancypants
  • All-But-Dissertation Tucker Dummychuck
  • “X” the anonymous man or woman
  • MeepMeep, the Italian Tailor
  • Freak Le Freak, the Freakster
  • Patrick Galactic
  • Achilles Snail-Hair, the Buddha
  • Rubbery Dmitry, the Mad Monk
  • Sung, the Land Pirate
  • Franklin Ape and his Inner Ear Infection
  • Rumpshaker Phil
  • Blind Buck and “Woozy,” the invisible seeing eye dog

Peace,
Kevin

Technology Initiative: Kennesaw Sessions

This weekend, I flew down to the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project site to take part in a series of exciting discussions about the work being done by various groups (such as the Western Massachusetts Writing Project) that are considered Technology Seed Sites. This means that we are pioneering some use of technology for professional development for our network of teachers. The NWP brought us all together to share the successes and challenges that we are facing in our work.

I talked about our Making Connections weblog project that is designed to reach out to urban and rural communities and help forge relationships with teachers in those districts, provide support for technology implementation, and get kids from very different communities “talking” to each other via weblogs. We are just about to entire Year Two of the project. You can view the report from Year One here.

In Kennesaw, however, I was able to get an inside look at what the other sites are doing and much of it is very interesting. For example:

  • Third Coast Writing Project (in Michigan) has been conducting mini-institutes around the concept of digital storytelling (which seemed to be a common strand among some of the 8 Seed Sites). They have created a cadre of workshop presenters and a task force to think through technology.
  • The Maine Writing Project has been moving away from the term Digital Storytelling and into the realm of Writing in Modern Media, which reflects a general shift towards reflection on how we are re-casting composition in our classrooms.
  • The Prairie Lands Writing Project (in Missouri) has been focusing in on technology institutes for its teachers as well as professional learning communities where thoughtful educators come together to brainstorm the integration of technology with writing.
  • The Oregon Writing Project has created a vibrant state network of technology leaders, with hopes of filtering knowledge down to the individual sites.

Meanwhile, Inverness Research has been gathering data from interviews with project leaders and they presented some initial findings to us, including:

  • There are many challenges to using technology in the schools (access, equity, etc) but the work is exciting.
  • Much work focuses on three areas: Writing with technology (genres, rhetorical context, etc); Teaching with technology; and professional development.
  • There is very little research out there to help provide the framework for what we are doing — we are in “uncharted territory,” as they put it.
  • Teacher-leaders involved in these ventures are becoming “hybrids” in that they are forging a connection between the disciplines, writing and technology in new ways.
  • And more …

Peace,
Kevin

Writely is Transformed — for good or bad?

This summer, I discovered the joys of Writely — the online word publishing program run by Google — and quickly jumped into its collaborative nature. I have been using it to begin writing a Monograph Book for the National Writing Project and I have been planning out a book about technology and composition in the classroom with two colleagues. I have collaborated on songwriting and lyrics, and used Writely in a bunch of ways.

So, like others, I was surprised to wake up one morning this week and discover that Writely had been merged into the Google family completely, and reborn as Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I already use Google calendar and have a gmail account, so it does make sense to me on some level to have all my Googleness in one zone. I also know it is not much more than an interface change (all the old features still seem to be there) and I know I will quickly get used to the new design (which my friend Troy points out is not quite as warm and friendly as the old Writely design and poor Troy designed his blog banner by using the Writely interface as his design template).

Still, some warning would have been helpful, other than the little notice the night before that said they were going to be working on Writely. Maybe they were too busy closing the YouTube deal …

Peace,
Kevin

NetDay SpeakUp

I am continuing to find ways to not only introduce technology and writing to my sixth grade students, but also to engage them in some critical thinking. For example, the other day, I showed them a funny mashed-up photo circulating the ‘net, and then we discussed Photoshop and how nothing is quite what it seems in the wired world.

So I am interested in this project called NetDay, which seeks to gauge student understanding and knowledge of the digital world as a collective research project in the month of November. Here is an overview of guiding questions the group hopes the data can help us answer:

  • WHO are today’s students?
  • HOW are your schools supporting the teaching and learning of 21st century skills?
  • WHERE are students and teachers accessing technology and learning technology skills?
  • HOW are teachers using technology for professional activities, both for teaching and for their own learning?
  • WHAT are students’ ideas and concerns about technology use for their education?
  • WHAT are teacher’s ideas and concerns about technology use and their professional goals?
  • WHAT are parent’s ideas and concerns about technology use and their children’s education?

from http://www.netday.org/speakup/

There is also an invite to have parents participante in the surveys. Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare data from parents to data from students?

Speak Up logo

Peace,
Kevin

Comic Strips and Writing

As I was considering the writing of this post about comic strips (!), I realized that the site which I am going to talk about (called Darkgate Comic Slurper) may not be quite so legal and so I am in a bit of a quandry here. However, I am going to plow forward because I love comic strips and in the interests of thinking about the prospects of Web 2.0, this site is a good example of readers and writers can tailor content to fit their own needs.

First of all, I have always loved comics and it is interesting to watch my young sons now discover Calvin and Hobbes, and rush to the Boston Sunday Globe to read through the comic pull-out section (sample household dialogue from yesterday: Me Anything good today in the comics? Older SonNot much today. I wish they had funnier comics) This illustrated a point: There are hundreds of comics out there and we rely on the editors of the newspapers to make the choices about what we read, and their decisions are not fine-tuned to our sense of humor but to economics — how much do they have to pay the comic syndicate and how many readers will it keep?

I discovered Comic Slurper through my Bloglines RSS reader and it dawned on me that I could now create my own daily comic page with strips that tickled my funny bone. Comic Slurper somehow grabs the RSS feeds from a long list of comics, and then you decide which comics you want to view daily, and set up your aggregator reader (such as Bloglines), and every morning, there are comics that I want to read. Meanwhile, I have stumbled across a whole field of new comics that are funny that I have never even heard of before.

For example:

  • Of course, Calvin and Hobbes reruns and Dilbert
  • Baby Blues — which is a look inside a family with three kids, just like me
  • Brewster Rockit: Space Guy — which is a bizarre Sci-Fi strip (I am a sucker for sci-fi)
  • InkPen — which I am still trying to figure out but I am having a good time doing it
  • PC n’ Pixel — which is a stab at the geek in all of us
  • Sherman’s Lagoon — which is set in a lagoon with a talking shark (I think) and turtle
  • Toyzville — which features kid toys doing strange things

I guess my point is that I am in control of the comic page that I want to set up through the benefits of an aggregator and RSS feeds and by doing this, I have some power over the content and I am not held captive to the interests of my local newspaper. That is something work celebrating!

Peace,
Kevin

K-12 Online Conference

Everywhere I go as I wander through my Bloglines account, there is a mention of this upcoming conference, so I finally traveled to the site for the K12 Online Conference myself to see what it was about, and it seems interesting. Certainly the names of people that I admire in education and technology seem to be represented and the call is for all teachers to participate and learn from others.

Here is a blurb from the homepage:

The “K12 Online Conference” is for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice! This year’s conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30- Nov. 3 and will include a preconference keynote. The conference theme is “Unleashing the Potential.” — from http://k12onlineconference.org/?page_id=2

So, why not enter the conversation in the coming weeks and get involved. Who knows who you will meet and what cool ideas you may pick up?

Peace,
Kevin

Dogtrax Audiocast: Writing the Score

Way back in college, I studied some basic music theory and then quickly forgot most of what I learned. So much for proper education. But years later, my dad (who is a drummer and drum teacher) showed me a music composition software that he was using to design drum lessons and he thought I might be interested.

So I tinkered with it and began writing some music that was very different from other things that I was doing. With the software, I could not only layer parts but I could write everything out note-for-note and then listen to it as if a small ensemble was playing for me. All that music theory suddenly came into use. Recently, I finally got around to converting some of those songs from MIDI files to MP3, and so here is the next installment of my Dogtrax Audiocast series.

microphone Listen to Dogtrax Audiocast: Writing the Score

(A future installment will center on a few pieces that I wrote for our family’s church choir and organ, with sax and guitar as accompaniment).

Peace,
Kevin