Adding Commentary to #Tomereaders

The other day, I shared out a video collection of quotes from a book I am reading with a few others in a project called #tomereaders. The book — Teaching Naked — examines the use of technology in university learning spaces. I wanted to move beyond just quotes, so I took that digital story project and added in a layer of my own commentary/interpretation about each quote (ie, why I grabbed it and showcased it in the first place), and republished it (with a different theme, to differentiate between the two).

Peace (in the share),

#CLMOOC Book Recommendation: The Invent to Learn Guide to Fun

Josh Burker does a fantastic job of explaining, step by step, how to create and make wonderfully amazing projects in his new book, The Invent to Learn Guide to Fun (Classroom Technology Projects). I’ve had a Makey Makey set and a Squishy Circuit set sitting in my room for almost a year now and after reading Burker’s book, I feel like this summer, I am ready to break those puppies open and get making something.

From creating an Operation Game with boxes and circuits to making animated postcards to making light wants for Glowdoodling, Burker is a patient teacher and each chapter is handy with diagrams, and photos, and detailed steps. He also introduces various technology, from Scratch to Turtle Art to Lego WeDo to TinkerCAD and more, and is clear about the level of complexity for each project.

After reading about TinkerCAD, I went in and quickly made this:

CLMOOC with TinkerCAD

I wrote a more detailed review of the book for MiddleWeb and will share it out when it gets published.

For now, let’s get making … This book is a perfect companion for the Making Learning Connected MOOC about to start this week. In fact, let’s get making, together.

Peace (in the fun),

A #Tomereaders Story of Quotes

I am reading Teaching Naked  (about how best to use technology at the university level while maintaining strong in-class connections with students) with some other folks in and out of social media spaces, and while I will be missing Twitter Chats and face-to-face gatherings, I still feel connected in my own way.

This week, I saw and shared this post about Summer Reading Challenges for students at Educator Innovator, and sent the link forward. I haven’t perused all of the projects that harness video for understanding literature, and making cool stuff.

But I thought it might be intriguing to do a digital story with quotes from Teaching Naked that I have been sticky-noting (is that a word? No red squiggle there) as I have been reading, as my version is a borrowed library copy of the book. I turned to the easiest app (and it is free) I know to make digital stories: Adobe Voice.

But I am not done yet. It occurred to me that my own voice is missing, so I am going to work on layering in some commentary in a second version of this project later this week. I’ll see how it goes. The idea is to push technology in a different way.

Peace (in the quote parade),

What Student Interactive Fiction Story Maps Look Liked

Yesterday, I shared how we are using Google Slides as the platform for Interactive Fiction stories where the writer provides choices for the reader in the narrative. The most important part of that kind of writing the planning of the story itself. It’s easy to get lost in the branches. So, students have to really think through where each and every choice will end up, and storymapping is a critical component of composition.

This is the one that I shared as a Mentor Text with students, and we looked at a few others, too, from the Make Your Own Adventures series of books.

Story Map The Bike


Check out a few of the storymaps from my sixth graders:
Interactive Fiction Story Map1

Interactive Fiction Story Map3

Interactive Fiction Story Map2

Makes you wonder what those stories will turn out to be, doesn’t it?

Peace (in the branches),

Using Google Slides for Interactive Stories

Story Map The Bike

I almost ran out of time for Interactive Fiction with this year’s classes but then found a way into this very different kind of writing and reading. I had a two-day window to introduce the concept of Interactive Fiction — the kind of writing/reading where the writer leaves choices and the reader is in control. We read Make Your own Ending stories, and do a short writing activity where small stories are written with branches, and then shift to writing longer pieces.

In the past, I have used Twine with students, and while I liked it for the way it shows the visual branches, Twine was acting funky on our laptops last year and two days would never be enough to teach a new technology tool and have them plan/write their own. (If you use Twine, check out this site for tutorials.)

But it occurred to me that they already had a tool at hand: Google Slides. And we had already done much of the groundwork earlier in the year with Digital Poetry books. They knew how to add internal hyperlinks and create a network of paths. So, we dove into Google Slides to create some Interactive Fiction stories. They are not yet done, and even as we work on another story project to end the year (more later), the Interactive Fiction project is a nice extension project for my writers who are already finishing up their short story projects.

I did share my own Interactive Story with students as an example. You play it, too, if you want.

I’ll share out some of the story maps tomorrow … they are intriguing visuals of young writing minds at work.

Peace (choose it),

Modalities and Me and You (A Continued Conversation)


This is interesting … a conversation criss-crossing Twitter and Blogs about writing and composing … it reminds me of a conversation that Anna Smith and I conducted a few years back after we both participated in Digital Writing Month … but now it is with Yin Wah.

I am reading her latest post right now. You read it, too. As a backtrack to the story here, this all began with her asking me on Twitter about which modality I most enjoy writing in, and I responded with a blog post about songwriting, and she responded to that post with her own post, alerting me on Twitter.

We’re zigzagging here in an interesting way … You are invited to join the conversation, or just peep in … We’re having a public conversation in a very connected way.

Dear Yin Wah,

Thank you for responding to my post with a post of your own. (Oh, by the way, I teach sixth grade, not music. I’d love to be a music teacher, though. My two favorite teachers when I was a kid were my elementary and high school music teachers. I don’t know what happened in middle school but he did not have much of an impact on me, apparentely) I appreciated your writing about your own views on creativity and composition, and the ways you struggle with the various modalities. Me, too. All of us, right?

You wrote:

Powerful emotions move me a lot to write some (crappy) poetry sometimes, mostly prose. I used to want to write a play and stage it. I like singing too, but haven’t sung in a choir since I arrived in America. Theatre moves me powerfully. I paint sometimes, not enough. I doodle, not enough. I take photos, and sometimes, I can say I feel that the image is almost incredibly perfect at conveying a mood.

You also wonder:

One question you didn’t answer is a related one. In daily life, you aren’t and can’t be composing songs to sort out ideas, right? So do you think often in words without music in everyday life? Or words often appear somehow with music? Or does a tune often go on in your head?

What an interestingly-phrased question you have there, Yin Wah: So do you think in words without music in everyday life? Yes, of course, words are always pushing inside my head.

Most days, it is lesson plans and the ways I am going to engage my students in writing. How will I explain this? How will I reach that particular student? Or it is the family stuff — who is going to drive which kid where and how in the world will we get there on time, and who is making dinner …

But when I am in the midst of writing a song, or a poem, what I find is that the rhythm and melody becomes this force — silent to others but loud as heck to me — that I am unable to shake. It’s as of the piece of writing has taken on a life of its own and is forcing its way out. I have to listen to it. Maybe that is the “losing yourself” flow that you wondered about, too. It’s the demands of the writing itself on the writer. In my head, I tinker with words choices, with inflection points, with how this would sound with that and what if we added this here and that over there. I could be talking to you, in this moment, and still writing that song or poem in my head.

I realize, in writing that, that I sound like a crazy man, hearing voices and words. I suspect this is where one modality (the explanation in writing of the process of writing) fails the other (the writing of music or even poetry from the artistic sense), or perhaps it is my own limitations as a writer to fully explain how completely immersive the experience becomes.

Years ago, when I was a journalist for a regional newspaper, I used to take my breaks by walking the neighborhoods around the office, using the rhythm of the walk to write lyrics in my head. I’d sing silently to myself, trying out words and phrases. I’d quicken or slow down my pace. The sidewalks became the drum machine. Over and over and over again, I’d work it out, until the song was embedded in my brain. I would never bring a notebook. Then, I would rush back to the office and quickly try to write it all out (and if you see my handwriting from the other post, you know this is a tricky endeavor … my hand does not keep up with my mind … perhaps this is another post another day ….)

You talk about taking photographs, Yin Wah, and you wrote, “I take photos, and sometimes, I can say I feel that the image is almost incredibly perfect at conveying a mood.

I wonder, Yin Wah, how do you know when you have reached that point of thinking, this is the image I had in mind? What is your process like when using image to convey meaning? How do lenses and filters and other technology either help or hinder that creative process?

I look forward to your responses. Thank you for taking the time to engage in this discussion with me.

Peace (from here to there, and everywhere),

Teaching Naked (but keeping your clothes on)

I am in the opening stages of an online experiment by Autumm, who is facilitating a book study group across multiple media platforms, as well as some live interaction time with colleagues at her university. She’s experimenting as part of an extension of Rhizomatic Learning, of putting theory into practice. Educator/Writer (now president of Goucher College) Jose Antonio Bowen would probably call this push of juggling tech/no-tech as “naked learning.” He is the writer of the book we are reading, entitled Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning.

Goodreads Teaching Naked

I’m through the first section (The New Digital Landscape) and am participating in the book group mostly via Twitter, and I guess my blog here, and in my own little world on Goodreads, where I am using the comment section to make notes as I go along in the book. I’m a bit mixed on the book so far. I think the title and his labeling of “naked learning” — the face-to-face time between instructor and learner that is enhanced by technology that students are already using and knowledgeable about in their non-school lives — is purposefully provocative and geared for search engines. Hey, I may be wrong about that, but I think that thought every time I see his naked phrase.

On the other hand, Bowen’s push for university professors to make the shift into technology as a way to engage students is right on the mark (even if he often couches his push on professors with the call of using “graduate assistants” to monitor the media flow).

… technology has shifted the nature of the classroom. Learning now happens in more mobile, customized, and varied ways. We need to consider how we can advance student learning by thinking equally about learning environments inside and outside the classroom.” (Bowen, p. xiii)

I am not far enough into the book to give an in-depth analysis, nor am I teaching at the college level. So I am not the ideal audience, but there are plenty of ideas that are already resonating with me as a teacher and as a professional development facilitator.

But I like that Bowen acknowledges and validates the lives of learners outside the institution itself, and provides handy and accessible “Implementation” guides that walk the reader through ways to use Skype, Facebook and Twitter or setting up a virtual seminar, or even the nuts and bolts of establishing a protocol for communicating with students in various social media spaces.

I’m moving into the section section of the book — Designing 21st-Century Courses — and it will be interesting to see if he explores the tension between closed LMS systems that most universities require, and which are about as unauthentic spaces as you can image, versus open learning system, like Rhizomatic Learning or CLMOOC. I was telling Autumm that I looked in the index and there is no reference to MOOCs at all. Which is odd. (Note: the book came out in 2012 and Autumm think she saw a reference to MOOCs in the book itself)

More to come …

Peace (says the Emperor),

A Rhizomatic Knit (A Gift from Sarah)

I received a package in the mail the other day, all the way from Scotland. One of my connected friends, Sarah, had knitted me a winter hat, with a sort of Mobius Strip theme to it. Air mail packages from Scotland do not come every day, and it is a testament to the power of connections in Rhizomatic Learning that she would take the time to knit me a hat and then send it across the pond to me.


I used Vine to “unpackage it” (Did you know there are whole YouTube communities around watching people open packages? Seriously. It’s a bit strange. But I figured, this is my chance.)

I love the hat — the knit and the color — and will definitely wear it when winter rolls around here in New England, USA. And I appreciate that Sarah worked it with her own fingers — those same fingers that play her ukulele on some of our collaborative songs — and she even found a rhizomatic-style greeting card (how’d she do that?) to send with a note to me.

Thank you, Sarah. I love the hat and appreciate the friendship and cherish the connections.

Peace (on our head),

Slice of Life: I Wore My Sticker (Less Testing/More Learning)


(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers in which bloggers examine the small moments of life for larger reflection.)

less testing

Yesterday, many teachers in our state of Massachusetts wore the sticker I am showing here in the picture. It’s part of a larger week-long effort by the Massachusetts Teachers Association to push back on the demands of standardized testing. The slogan of “Less Testing/More Learning” is an indication of the push, as our MCAS and now PARCC testing takes up more and more of classroom learning time — both in preparing students and in the actual taking of the tests.

I had a lot of students ask me about it, although one of my colleagues noted that our audience of students and teachers for the stickers we were wearing was rather insular — the schools in which we teach where exasperation with high-stakes testing already runs high.

But still, it was the notion of pulling together as a teaching community with a single message about caring for our students as learners in this age of data collection. And here I am, writing about it to an even larger audience.

Peace (and making it stick),


A Requiem for Popcorn Maker



Another remix tool getting carted away. Mozilla recently announced changes to its whole Webmaker suite of tools, as they shift from web-based activities to mobile-based activities, and as a result, Mozilla is shutting down Popcorn Maker, an innovative and valuable remixing tool for video and media. Sure, it has always been a bit quirky, but Popcorn Maker has been a site that I have used with students and with teachers, to introduce to the concept of remix as a shift in literacies.


So, with the deadline approaching for pulling the plug on popcorn, I had to make one more project: A Requiem for Popcorn Maker. It maybe my last bit of Popcorn.

Interesting aside: In 2012, my oldest son took part in a free filmmaking camp at our public access television, where they were piloting the first iteration of Popcorn Maker with youths, to see how it would be used and test it out on a real group of filmmakers. I remembering thinking, what is this? You take video from the web and remix it and share it? I was hooked before I even started working with Popcorn.

Peace (remix it!),