WMWP: Revisiting and Rethinking Assessment

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is focusing in on assessment this year as our inquiry theme, and our annual fall event — WMWP Best Practices — in October will have the focus of pushing against the confines of assessment and exploring more ways to shine a light on student learning, as opposed to data collection.

WMWP Best Practices 2014 by KevinHodgson

If you teach in Western Massachusetts, please consider joining us for what will be a great day of connecting and collaborating and sharing knowledge (plus, lunch is included). Here is the link for online registration.

Peace (in the event),

My Students as Comics

I love gathering our “comic” versions of ourselves for the first days of the school year. As my sixth grade students make avatars (and as we talk about digital representations) in our webcomic space (Bitstrips for Schools), it creates a classroom picture, with all of our comic avatars together.

Check it out:
Comic Classrooms

Peace (in the strangeness of ourselves),

Graphic Novel Review: Amulet (Book Six: Escape from Lucien)

I don’t know the epic tapestry that writer/illustrator Kazu Kibuishi has in mind for his Amulet series but I am along for the ride right until the very end. The latest in his series of intriguing graphic novels in the Amulet series — Book Six: Escape from Lucien – is another powerhouse example of storytelling, bringing us action and character development and various story threads that weave in and out.

The most difficult part? Remembering the stories in the intervening years between Amulet books. I should have read the fifth one to get my mind inside the story but instead, I jumped right in. Which is interesting in itself. Kibuishi, a gifted artist and writer, does not provide backstory. You’re in right with the first few pages, and I had that experience of my memory kicking in as I read — Oh yea, that’s who Emily is …. That dude looks familiar …. why is this character acting like this? Who is the Elf King again? Who wants to be Elf King? Oh yeah … and so on.

It would be too complex for me to give the story away in a review, but suffice it to say that Amulet is turning out to be a classic graphic story that makes other stories pale in comparison, and is a perfect series for middle school and upper elementary readers. The difficulty is the cost for the books. I suspect that somewhere down the line there will be an Amulet Omnibus. But the story is still unfolding.

This is actually one of those series that I have not yet brought into my classroom, for fear that the books will disappear from my shelves. My sons read the Amulet books regularly so I keep them at home. Sorry, kids. (Might be time to save up my Scholastic book points and get a class set, though).

Peace (in the power of story),

Five Ways Our School Year Started Out Great

The first few days of school are times when you start to learn a lot about the character of your class. Sure, kids are a bit muted as they settle into routines and try to get a sense of their teacher(s). But you can still learn a lot. This Haiku Deck is a way to reflect on our first four days together, and things we have already accomplished. I have a great class of sixth graders!

Five Ways Our Year Started Out Great – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Peace (in the five),

App Review: Comics Head

I’ve been looking for some time for a Comic creator app that has enough art to be flexible enough and yet, leave enough room for me to maneuver as a writer. It’s tricky. I found this one, Comics Head, and although I paid four bucks for it (there is a free lite version), I find I really like it for its fair amount of art and templates and variations. Plus, the homepage is nicely arranged, making it easy to find things. The use of touchscreen for writing and creating can be tricky, though.

Here are a few comics that I have made in the past few weeks using the app. If you have iPads in the classroom ( I don’t), the free version of this app might worth checking out.

I played around with one of the templates in the app, which is a “recipe” comic, and was thinking a bit of CLMOOC and other spaces.
How to build a networkThis comic was for my friend — Greg — who is raising awareness for his nephew, who has been diagnosed with a rare illness I had never heard of before, and he asked fellow social media folks to create content for the #BurpeeforBobby campaign so they could raise awareness and funds. I also donated some money to the campaign.

More Burpee comics

And I made a comic for my students, as summer came to an end.
Welcome to Sixth Grade comic

I had fun with the app.

Peace (in the frame),

#CCourse Comic: Hemmed in by LMS

Hemmed in by LMS #ccourses
This comic is just an extension of thinking about how some universities require faculty to use a certain Learning Management System and how that requirement hems in both the teacher and the learners in many ways. When  we talk about open learning systems in space like Connected Courses, this may a roadblock for many faculty.

I like how Howard Rheingold responded to my post yesterday, noting that he often pushed and pushed against these institutional restraints and then did covert online learning systems outside of the university purview. Sort of a ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ approach to open learning. I don’t know if many faculty, with lesser name recognition and clout, are willing to take those chances, particularly if they are not tenured and need to be sure to follow rules, stay in line, keep the upper folks happy (or at least, not get them angry). We need more pirate instructors. Arrr.

And that may mean using the university system (Blackboard, Moodle, whatever) but thinking through the many ways to “hack the system” to make it work for you and your learners, even as you still technically fall within the sphere of your educational institution.

Maybe change is underway, where there is more freedom for faculty to set up their own online spaces beyond the university sphere. Maybe this comic is already obsolete. I hope so. I suspect it still might be a mixed bag, depending on where you teach and the ethos of the university itself. There may be folks in the Connected Courses who follow along and think … if only. Facilitators need to be aware of them, too. (I am sure they are)

Peace (in the frame),

#CCourse Comics: Of Brudders and Domains

After listening to Jim and Howard and Alan talk about the infastructure for open learning as part of Connected Courses, I could not help putting together a few comics to poke fun.

First, the three called themselves “brudders” with the names of Embed, Click and Link (a play on Car Talk). I added a fourth brudder.

The #CCourse Brudders

Second, I support the idea of folks setting up their own domains when running a college/university course. I do wonder if universities allow that. I know, with our writing project, we’ve run into walls on this issue, of the universities requiring us to use their learning management system. Maybe that’s a question for another time (or one I might bomb into Twitter).

Anyway, I had this vision of all these URLs being created along lines of Jim’s point that our spaces are our digital identities (I agree) and how the naming of a URL and a blog space/community network is an important first step. Thus, the domain rainstorm idea.

#CCourses Domain Rainstorm


Peace (in the frames),


Peeling Back the Skin on the Infastructure

Thanks to Terry for popping the first Hangout for Connected Courses into Vialogues, so that we can contribute to discussions after the hangout (with Howard Rheingold, Alan Levine and Jim Groom) has come and gone. Here. they are talking about the concept of a Domain of One’s Own, and how someone might set up their blogging and informational systems, and more importantly: why you would do it.

(This should be embedded completely here but it doesn’t seem like it worked. Go to the Vialogue directly)
We talked about this in CLMOOC, too (inspired by these three dudes), with hopes that people will push back against established platform systems that can often hem learners in, instead of opening things up. Having your own space is a step towards defining your digital identity and presence. I know I blog with Edublogs and moving to my own domain doesn’t work for me, right now. But for folks who might be thinking about teaching an open learning system, it might make sense to host your own instead of turning to a prefab network space.

What comes to my mind is as I listened to them chat, and explain some of the technical and philosophical issues with hosting your own space(s), is the issue of agency, and whether we define our digital spaces for own our needs or adapt what we want to do to the space we are in. I find I do both, and am always toggling around in that middle space. As a teacher, though, I try to teach my young students about the nature of “workarounds” and, as Howard notes, pushing the edges of the possible to accomplish your vision. Sometimes, it fails. That’s life. You just try again and re-workaround it (yeah, not a word but it works).

The key thing here is to not let publishers and other platform creators define who we are as learners and as educators. I’m not saying I have figured it out every time (for example, I am using Edmodo right now with some teachers at an urban middle school through the Western Mass Writing Project and I am not all that happy with it. But, I am trading off “low entry” for these educators for “full functionality” for what I want to see happening. And yeah, “free” plays a role, too).

Sometimes, it takes time, and incremental footsteps, to enact change. The video here helps frame that. Come be part of the discussion.

Peace (in the system),