Envisioning a Digital Writing Resource and other creative ventures

I’m taking a bit of a break from blogging because I have been working on a few different projects that have me otherwise engaged. All of them are pretty exciting, I think, although for different reasons. And I continue to blog small poems/podcasts every day over at Bud’s blog site, where he is posting daily pictures as inspiration for poetry. It’s been a lot of fun and challenging, too. The poems are pretty rough but I am enjoying the ideas running through them and it is fascinating to think about photos as inspiration for writing.

This past weekend, I joined a group of other teachers in the National Writing Project to begin planning a future online space to showcase ways in which technology and writing are coming together in meaningful ways for students. This is not going to be a “how to” site, but a “why do it” and “what does it all mean” site for sharing and reflecting. The philosophy behind the concept is to design a portal and insight into projects, with reflections. The conceit is that we are “beyond the moment” of technology making an impact on learning and now we need to understand what is going on with it. The NWP is a partner with the MacArthur Foundation on this venture, so there are many exciting connections to be made with other MacArthur partners in the future.

I am working on a prototype of a resource around last year’s Many Voices for Darfur project, in which my students joined others to use technology (podcasting, images, videos, etc.) for social action. As I go back to that time, I realize now just how powerful it was for my students as they joined hundreds of others from around the world to advocate for peace in the Sudan.

Meanwhile, on a personal musical note, a friend and I are in the midst of developing an entire “song cycle” story that is a bit hard to explain, but it is a big project that tells the life of a man through the use of poetry, with songs as part of it all, as he struggles to connect with the world, falls in and out of love, and then comes to terms with life. It stretches from childhood to the end of his life. We are thinking of this as a multimedia production, although what that will look like we can’t quite say yet. It’s been a great source of inspiration to be writing the poems of this story and also, the songs. In the past two weeks, I have composed about eight new songs for this project and I can “see” the whole thing before us, even if I can’t quite articulate it yet.

So, how about you? What have you been up to?

Peace (in sharing),


The Quidditch Rap Song

Today is the Quidditch Tournament in our school. A few years ago, I wrote a song to celebrate our game and last week, I updated it, using a music loop software for the music. Then, I made a music video. Yesterday, I had all of my students listen to it and I had all 80 of them help me sing the chorus. Yeah — it was messy, but messy fun.

Here is the video and then below, you can listen to the song with my students singing the chorus:

Listen to the Q Rap with Students

Peace (in flying snitches),

Off to California for NWP

Tomorrow morning, I am off to California for a weekend technology retreat with the National Writing Project. It’s a long way to go but I bet the discussions and work will be most interesting, as I am part of a group of teachers who are working on developing technology resources through a program partnership with NWP and the MacArthur Foundation, and others. This is pretty exciting work. Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has proposed developing resources around some main themes:

  • using technology for social justice
  • using voice (podcasting, etc)
  • assessing digital media in the classroom

I don’t know what the actual resources will look like at this point (thus, the retreat) but I expect it will be a way for teachers to engage their students with writing and technology on many levels and provide a foothold for them to do so in the classroom. I am being joined by a member of my WMWP Technology Team and in California, there will be teams from other sites. It will be great to connect with them and socialize (of course) and wander around Berkeley again. The weather looks nice, too (bonus!).

Here is one dilemma: I hate bringing my PC with me. It’s too heavy and I am too cheap to buy a new one. I do have my little green XO and I think, for the first time, I am going to use is as my primary computer for a business-related trip. I wonder how it will be? I know the small keyboard will slow me down and there are other limitations, but it will also allow me to see if it can be depended upon as a real tool and not just a fun technology toy (I know it is more than that, of course).

Peace (in travel),

Writing Poems with Bud

I’d like to toss out some thanks to Bud the Teacher for giving me daily poetry inspiration with his photographs. I’ve been enjoying the experience. Here are a few poems from the past week that I have written that I still like a few days later:

Nighttime Cleaning
(listen to the podcast)

Some nights,
I’d like to hang you out to dry
with the clothes
when you come home all wet
with whiskey and beer
and laughter from your podium at the bar
while I console the kids in their nightmare deliriums
and use the remote to talk with
as the wind brings in life from the streets
through our open windows.

Oh, Golden Saxophone
(listen to the podcast)

Oh, deep moaning gold
you delight me with your voice
gentle spirits pushing up from within
blasting notes begin
to tell the story of dancing ideas
that can’t remain on the page

Your reed tastes of the forest
your keys click with rhythm
your pads hold in and let go
like a heartbeat to the pulse of time

In the hands of some, you shimmer
along the tops of the melody lines
in a freeflow improvisation tapping into something unknown;
In others, you follow the rules —
straight, narrow, perfect —
and deviate not one iota from what the composer
has envisioned.

Oh, saxophone, you are a wild beast
in my hands
and I mull the possibilities of what might emerge
when I place you to my lips
and blow the world a kiss.

Infinity Feelings
(listen to the podcast)

The blue hue of swirls
forces my hand –
I must admit:
longing inside me where the facade crumbles —
the only voice is mine
and it only knows truth.

i am the white blanket
(listen to the podcast)

i am the cold:
the chill that comes with spring;
the frost that covers you
so that you lay quietly dormant,
expectant for release,
only to be told to wait, wait, wait;
i hesitate,
knowing that once the snow has melted,
the ice removed,
you will come into your own without me
and our roles reversed — i will be gone,
no longer necessary —
and that, i cannot even begin to fathom
beneath this white blanket
we share together

I hope you find time in your days to write or read poetry, and not just this month but throughout the entire year.

Peace (in poems),

A poetic vacation for Day in a Sentence

I am off to California this weekend for a technology retreat with the National Writing Project, and I have a nutty few days ahead (we play Quidditch tomorrow!) so I am giving Day in a Sentence a little poetic vacation. Why poetic? Because I am hoping some of you may venture over to Bud the Teacher’s site, where he has been posting interesting photographs every day to inspire poems from his readers.

I urge you to take a look and add your own poem this week in lieu of Day in a Sentence. Sure, make your poem your day in a sentence if that makes sense for you. Write a poem. I know you can do it.


Peace (in poems),

The role of the Guest Presenter

Today, I am out of my classroom in order to visit a local college just a few communities over. I am scheduled to give a few presentations to prospective teachers on the merits of Digital Storytelling. It’s quite an honor to be asked (and my principal deserves kudos for giving me the quick green light to accept the offer), and there is the added bonus that I am presenting at the same college where I attended my own teaching certificate program that led me to where I am now (after 10 years as a newspaper reporter and then two years staying at home as a dad).

I wish we were in a computer lab today because my presentation, of course, has us building a digital story project, but I guess we will do it as a class collaboration. The theme of the digital story we will build is “Beyond the Curriculum” and the idea is to talk about all the other learning that goes on in schools beyond the set curriculum. Maybe I am thinking of this because our Quidditch Tournament is just a few days away, but as I was looking through my classroom photo files, it became clear that kids are learning in all sorts of ways and not just seated at their desks.

I’ll be showing the prospective teachers Photostory3 and then Voicethread — if time allows.

Peace (in the classroom of teachers),


Home Movies: The Squop

I blogged a few weeks about the movie that my son was making. Well, I helped him finish it this weekend and it is a hoot. It is all about an imaginary creature called The Squop that first allegedly eats our cat and then our youngest son. He even wrote lyrics to a song based on We Three Kings for his cast of animated Pea Detectives that we all sang.

Meanwhile, we decided to set up a blog for him to showcase the movies he has been making. Check out Crazy Cartoonz.

Peace (on video),

Blogging Across the School District

Next year, my students leave the comfy confines of our elementary school to attend the big regional middle/high school. For some, this transition causes much worry and concern. They wonder about lockers, about bullies, about the food, about getting lost in the building, and more. (Funny — it’s the same worries I had when I was going into middle school).

Last year, a teacher at the high school and I talked about finding some ways to use technology to allow my students to ask his older students questions about the transition to the bigger school and connect them together some way.  We are both teachers in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project network, which made our collaboration all the more easier to get moving along.

This week, we got the project off the ground. We’re using a WordPress blog and his tenth graders began some introductions, and then my sixth graders did some responding and questioning (such as, in which class do you dissect the rat?).

We’re hopeful this blog will help ease the transition, but also open up doors for more collaboration among them as writers. I know my pal, George Mayo, is about to launch the SPACE online magazine again this year (see last year’s version), focusing in on poetry and multimedia verse, and I can see using our shared blog space for some collaboration and review before publication.

It’s exciting to be using technology not just for global projects, but also for local projects. And I had a great time remembering many of my former students who are now in that tenth grade classroom, remembering their sixth grade year.

Peace (in connections),

Making Math and Science FUN

One of my neighbors — a high school student who sometimes babysits for us — and his friends recently won a top prize in a competition with the National Math and Science Initiative for the music video they created that celebrates math and science, in a goofy geeky way. I get a kick out it, and they did a fine job with the production.

Check it out:

Peace (in numbers),

Teaching the New Writing (book project)

It’s been a long, long road but the book collection on writing with technology, and assessment, is about to be put out by Teachers College Press. I am a co-editor with two esteemed colleagues — both well-respected college professors (one now retired) in the field of literacy — and also I am a writer of one of the chapters (on digital picture books).

The book collection, due out in May but now advertised in TCP materials, is called Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom.

It was about 2 1/2 years ago that they approached me about the idea of the book collection and that began an interesting adventure of seeking contributors, weeding through submissions, editing and proofreading, and writing, of course. Our hope is that the book provides some focus for how to not only institute technology into a writing curriculum, but also, how one can balance the creativity of student work with state assessments (not easily, we conclude).

Cynthia Selfe provided us with this nice quote:

“One of the beauties of this collection is that it explores multimodal composition and assessment across levels of schooling, demonstrating that elementary, secondary, and collegiate teachers work best when they share understandings. Perhaps most importantly, this book reasserts a value on innovation and creativity within composition classrooms.”
Cynthia L. Selfe, Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University

I’ll write more when the publishing date is upon us.

Peace (in publication),