Independent Book-Based Board Game Design Activity

Book Board Game DesignTwo main activities are taking place in my classroom right now — we’re in the midst of a unit of independent reading (choice books with plenty of quiet reading time) and the start of our Game Design Unit. Merging those two ideas together (along with a much larger Video Game Design project), students are in the midst of designing a board game based on the book they are reading.

They won’t be building the actual game (I’ve framed it as they have been hired as game designer and someone else would be building the game itself) but are working on how a story might unfold as a game (this is how their video game project is situated — story as game/game as story). The requirements are the visuals of a game board, directions on how to play and instructions on how the game is either won or completed.

Already, some interesting projects are trickling with, with some neat ideas about how characters or plot or setting might become the central focus of a game that honors the story and maybe riffs off it in another direction. In the collage, the upper left is my mentor text — using a story I am nearly finishing, titled A Drop of Hope, which I have been thoroughly enjoying.

While every game is different, the mechanics of game design — strategy, game play, visual design — all will be central to our larger game project based off the Hero’s Journey template.

Peace (roll the dice and make your move),


Further Defining Digital Literacies: Bias, Privilege, Modalities and Learning

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE culture

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

The theme of this strand — Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions — seems to be resonating everywhere in education circles and that’s as it should be. Given that much of the US teacher population is white and middle class, but that much of the student population in 0ur classrooms is diverse and getting more diverse as the population shifts, we educators need to do more to think about bias, and identity, and cultural crossroads for communication practices with our students.

Look at these questions posed in this part of the definition:

  • Do learners have opportunities to raise questions about bias and privilege when consuming, curating, and creating texts?
  • Do learners have strategies for interrupting discourse that marginalizes people based on race, culture, sexuality, language, gender, and ability?
  • Do learners have opportunities to identify and discuss how to detect and report fake news/deliberately misleading and false information or information that promotes hate speech and violence?
  • Do learners create texts across modalities for a variety of audiences and consider how diverse groups would respond?
  • Do learners have opportunities to collaborate with people/learners from communities that hold different views/ideas/values/beliefs, life experiences, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, and economic security to address social issues that impact all of our lives?

These are important queries, and difficult at times to make happen. It really requires educators to work with others, to gather the right resources, to know what questions need to be asked (of themselves, of their students, of their communities), to push back on norms.

We grapple and work with variations of these questions quite a bit in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. All of our projects and initiatives are viewed through the lens of culture, access, equity and social justice, and one of our leadership committees is dedicated to these very topics, helping facilitators think through workshops and seminars and teaching practice.

I find it interesting that the Media Literacy/Fake News element was put into here — at first, it felt rather forced, as if the topic was an orphan looking for a home. But then, as I pondered it, I began to see the rationale, of how fake news and text distortion plays a role in how we view “others” and how it can break down the bridge between cultures and language and diverse thought.

Further, I was thinking about the concepts of connecting multiple modalities and multiple ways of writing to cultural representations and literacies — to help learners be aware of how culture impacts our ways and access of literacies, and how that might play out in digital spaces. This concept intrigues me, and I don’t think I know enough about this to comment much further. For example, the reference to “sign systems” is not clear to me right now.

But the language of the definition has planted a seed of inquiry in my mind:

How do digital platforms both limit cultural expressions through technological design and how do users find workarounds to use platforms for cultural and linguistic, and modality, interactions anyway?

Finally, I was thinking of the point about “disrupting” practices, and connected that to the work being by Marginal Syllabus last year and now this year with its LEARN project, bringing in texts and authors on topics very much connected to this strand for conversations in the margins of those texts with the Hypothesis tool.

This month, the focus is on a piece about using the novel of Miles Morales, the black Spiderman, to talk about race and education, and varying the kinds of stories and texts that we bring into our classroom. (Come join in)

Peace (thinking),

MusicMaking: She Makes a Choice (Path and Prayers)

It’s been disheartening to watch as more and more states seek to limit women’s access to health care, all in hopes that a test case will reach the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. It irks me to no end that these conservative leaders want to destroy lives under the guise of compassion, and use their religion as a curtain to hide behind. And who’s left with few choices and little support? The women. The women always are left paying the price.

I wrote this particular song some times ago both as a protest and to experiment with writing and producing a song nearly entirely on my iPad with the Garageband App.

Peace (and choice),

Twitter Analysis (part two): Write Out Over Time

Write Out Tweets Over Time

As I mentioned the other day, I have been trying to look at the Twitter activity for the October Write Out project, as much to “see” what happened and maybe to think about how we might expand the reach of the place-based partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service in the future.

I learned to use a few tools in an online course that can help us to analysis data via Twitter, and the chart above is generated from Tableau, a software program that provides different ways to look at gathered Twitter activity around hashtags. The timeline above shows activity bursts over the days of the project — which ran officially for just two weeks  but still has some tweets coming now and then.

The graph supports what already knew — much of the activity of sharing and connecting happened in conjunction with the National Day on Writing on October 20. There was a decision to shift Write Out from the summer (the first year) to October (this year) in order to support and tag on to the work that would happen with the National Day on Writing. You can see how activity led up to the Day on Writing — we had many live Write Out events that were being promoted — and on and just after October 20. Smaller spikes are somewhat aligned to our Twitter Chats, but it would have been nice to see even more on those two Thursdays (something to ponder for the future, I suppose).

The three colors of the chart represent original tweets, tweets that mention someone else, and retweets. While we know it is easy to retweet — click, and you’re done, and maybe moving on — the fair number of original tweets and mentions indicates a nice scale of activity by engaged participants.

I find it interesting the right side of the chart, where people were/are still sharing some odds and ends — mostly images of spaces and small poems, some from students in classrooms of teachers connected to Write Out. Even this week, there were a few tweets with the #writeout hashtag.

Peace (charted out),

Slice of Life: Symmetry of the Stubborn Dogs

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)


We were dog-sitting a neighbor’s pooch the other day. It’s a small Whippet-breed — full of love and snuggles and personality. We took it outside for a walk around the neighborhood, with our dog, Duke. Ollie, the Whippet, decided he did not want to walk, and sat on the driveway, refusing to move an inch. This is not the first time his stubbornness has reared its head (and not just with us, either). We gently pulled his leash, called his name, pretended to run, used Duke as ploy (Duke was confused by this). Nothing.

Finally, my wife gave up and began walking back to the house. That’s when Ollie decided maybe it was time for a walk and now the stubbornness pulled the other way, guiding my wife back down the driveway to join Duke and I.

I thought of this yesterday as I watched a similar scene unfold in our small village. I was in my car, looking at a small boy, maybe seven years old, trying to lead an old Black Lab across the street at the walk light. The dog sat and sat and sat on the sidewalk, and I could see the boy doing his best to get the dog moving. He pulled the leash, he bent down to talk to the dog, he started to feign walking, he threw his hands up in frustration.

Finally, the dog got up, rather slowly, and began moving in the reverse direction of where the boy wanted to go, only to have the boy finally guide the dog back towards the street. But by then, the cross light had turned red red and the whole thing would have to happen all over again.

Dogs. Right?

Peace (stubborn for change),

Book Review: Typewriter Rodeo (Real People, Real Stories, Custom Poems)

Oh my gosh. This whole concept just gets me thinking and dreaming of poetry. I wrote a poem nearly every morning (I do it over here) but these talented folks set up with typewriters and write for hours, as people come up and ask for a poem on a suggested topic. The poems are just marvelous and what’s missing with the book is the sound of the typewriters in action (there should be an audio file on the cover that you can push to listen as you read.)

Here’s a video of four hours of typewriting ..

Anyhoo … Typewriter Rodeo, the book, seeks to capture the experience of Typewriter Rodeo, the experience, where the four poets — Jodi Egerton, David Fruchter, Kari Anne Holt and Sean Petrie — set up at festivals, Maker Spaces, bars and restaurants, and special events, and write poemspoemspoemspoems for people, sometimes for hours. It seems like magic. (Special thanks to my friend, Mary Lee, for turning me on to Typewriter Rodeo)

The book collection here — Typewriter Rodeo: Real People, Real Stories, Custom Poems — is full of the poems written on the fly with little more than a word or phrase, and quick connection between poet and audience — or at least, the ones they have remembered to take a picture of before the poem leaves in the hands of the requester. The four writers tell stories of their experiences as poets-on-demand (“The mistakes are free” is one of my favorite mantras of theirs), and some of the poem recipients also share stories. In fact, what emerges is how many people are surprised at how deep the poetry goes, capturing their emotions and thinking in a way that no other writing-from-a-stranger can probably do.

The result is this beautiful, crazy collection of poems — heart-felt, deeply emotional, funny and insightful, and it makes me want to set up a typewriter on the neighborhood corner and write on request, as if I could pull that off. (Hey, maybe I could! You could, too!)

Peace (poems bring it on),



Further Defining Digital Literacies: Global Connections and Intentional Relationships

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE collaborationsI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

I teach in a pretty insular community, in a classroom that is set off from other parts of the building (it’s inside the school but not near any other classrooms). It can be a pretty isolating experience, both from a teaching experience (no adjoining door to say hello to a neighbor) and a learning experience (the town is overwhelmingly white middle class suburbia).

This boxed-in mentality has often spurred me to try to find ways to connect my students to the larger world, and this section of the definition by NCTE speaks to that aspect, I think. Solving problems and pushing into shared inquiry, through help of larger connections and relationships, seems important in an ever-connected world where more and more of the work we do, and the learning we tackle, requires collaboration and teams.

The phrasing of “technology allows a wider range of voices to be heard” resonates with me, for I fear I don’t do this nearly enough, often to the detriment of my students’ experiences in the larger world. That said, past projects like Voices on the Gulf and Youth Radio and current projects like Connecting the Coasts (where my students in Massachusetts have been sharing and connecting with California friends via Flipgrid) have opened doors for some relationships and connections, pulling my sixth graders into something broader than the town they live, in progressive Western Massachusetts (although the town I teach is very conservative, an outlier in our area).

The definition talks about helping learners find voices different from their own, and perspectives different than their own, and this can be another sort of challenge. I often felt as if the Letters to the Next President project — while incredibly powerful in the way it brought writing and argument of high school writers to the surface in an array of important topics — did not do justice to the conservative voices of youth, that the platform had an overwhelming progressive vibe to it (which resonated with me and my views, perhaps, but seeing it through young writer’s eyes who has opposing views, it could be daunting). This is not a criticism of the work done by facilitators of Letters to the Next President — they worked hard to surface many diverse voices.

This surfacing of ideas in online spaces, in particular, is always a challenge — how to teach young people to be strong in opinions, and civil in their discussions –how to be persuasive in their arguments but open to other points to view. Heck, this is not just a challenge for young people. This is the challenge for all of us these days.

Anyway, I appreciated this part of the defining of Digital Literacies, for it forced me to reflect again critically on what I am doing, or am not doing, and what I have done, and can still yet do, better — both within my classroom itself, and by connecting my classroom to the larger and more diverse world beyond.

Peace (opening doors),

Twitter Analysis: Digging Deeper into Write Out (part one)

Collage of WriteOut via GephiThanks to my friend, Sarah H, I took part in a three week online course around social media data analysis, and also with huge thanks to Sarah, she had been collecting Twitter information from the start of October’s Write Out project (connecting educators and students to place-based writing, and to the National Day on Writing), and she shared her files with me to use in the course.

I’ll share more some other time about the in-depth observations that I made, but the course itself revolved around three main tools for data analysis — TAGS, which can gather tweets into a spreadsheet; Tableau, which digs down into that data for more in-depth analysis of who was doing what, when, and with whom, etc; and Gephi, which can visualize nodes, clusters, connections and more. (The image above is a collage of some of the views I created with Gephi, to observe the interactions off the main hub of activity).

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by exploring some of these tools, but the course — called Social Media Analytics, offered through FutureLearn — was very helpful, in the ways they had us looking at the larger picture of social media landscapes (mostly Twitter, since others — like Facebook — are closed off from most analysis tools) before learning, systematically and step-by-step, how to set up and use Tableau and Gephi.

Personally, I found Tableau to be more useful than Gephi for the inquiry I was doing — which was based around my own questions of making visible the interactions that took place during Write Out and reflecting on ways to expand the reach of Write Out next year.

A handful of us, who already knew each other from other projects and connections, also created a private back-channel in the CLMOOC Slack, where we could share and ask questions of each other. I found that helpful for the beginning of the course, in particular.

I’ll write and share more later …

Peace (in the data stream),

Book Review: Tubes (A Journey to the Center of the Internet)

Andrew Blum’s journey to the center of the Internet, as he calls it, begins when a squirrel nibbles the wires of his house, shutting his online access of. This event sparks a years-long journey of curiosity to figure out how the wires all connect, and how data flows through the physical space of the world.

In Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, Blum brings us along with him. It’s a pretty fascinating ride, if a bit technical at times, as he researches, investigates, and visits some of the main hubs of the dispersed Internet, from data centers to undersea cables to spaces below buildings in urban centers to isolated rural places — all forging different kinds of connection so that when I hit “publish” on this blog post and you click to read what I wrote, the data flows rather seamlessly (or so it appears) through fibers, wires, and yes, tubes of light.

There are moments where Blum geeks out a bit too much for my tastes, but I understand why he goes into such descriptions about routers, packets and fibers. What I was more interested in is how he frames the flow of information with the physical aspects of the world — the way we can imagine data moving along the contours of our Earth, and the ways in which those same contours provide barriers of access, too.

Overall, though, Tubes gives the reader a fuller sense of the digital world — sparking some appreciation for the original design of a distributed networked space and for the rather fragile elements that make up what we mostly take for granted. Some hubs are monumentally important, and yet, as Blum describes them, neither as secure as one would expect nor as reliable as they could be.

I really appreciated these final thoughts of Blum, who seeks to humanize his research, and ground it in the world we live in, not the virtual one we imagine when we use our technology.

“What I understood when I arrived home was that the Internet wasn’t a physical world or a virtual world, but a human world. The Internet’s physical infrastructure has many centers, but from a certain vantage point there is really only one: You. Me. The lowercase i. Wherever I am, and wherever you are.”

— from Tubes by Andrew Blum, page 268

Peace (flowing through us all),