Day 25: 30Poems 30Days (The Digital Path)

(Poet’s note: It’s hard not to come away from an exciting conference around technology and writing and not be influenced by the work and talk around you, and so I was after our recent National Writing Project meeting. But I still have questions as we think about young people in this age of digital tools. I don’t think the world has sorted itself out yet. That makes things both exciting and confusing, don’t you think? So, this poem tries to capture that, and what better way than via a digital tool.)

First, the poem:

will all this lead?
All these digital paths
pushing us in different directions
so that we can’t see the forest
for the trees
and therefore, we have no idea
what we have gotten ourselves into –
never mind getting ourselves out.

Then, the Prezi:

Peace (on the path),

Using Webcomics Across the Curriculum

Today, I am a presenter at our school’s Literacy Conference and the only nod to technology. I am doing a session around using webcomics across the curricular areas. I’ll be bringing folks into a ToonDooSpaces site to play around and see the possibilities themselves. My task for them is to create a comic that explains an idea in math, or science, or social studies.

I am also excited because two of my students have agreed to co-present the first part of the workshop with me. They are going to give a little tour of our webcomic site and talk about how they use it and what they like about it.  I like bringing the student voice in the mix.

Here is my presentation:

Peace (in the frame),

Day 24: 30poems 30days

(Poet’s note: This is a longer poem than usual and one that I am not quite sure it works. It is inspired by a reading of the book The Numerati, which looks at how math and data is becoming more and more important as we move more of our world online. The phrases of Buckets, and Barnicles, and Butterflies stayed with me.)

In a book about data and how numbers are becoming us
as we become the math, if you can imagine such a thing,
the concept of “barnacles” and “butterflies” and “buckets” filled my head:

Buckets are us —
all of us put into digital piles by the Numerati
based on interest, habits and exploration —
I’m happy to make room in my bucket for you
if you share my routines and my algorithm.

Barnacles are some of us —
those of us who scour the Sunday news for coupons
and search for the deals so that they can pull
a daytime heist at the store in plain sight of the
anguished managers who wish to scrape them off the sides
of the cashier line.

Butterflies are some of us, too —
those of us who wander about, never showing allegiance
to a brand, or a store, or a product, just simply
an unreliable beauty moving down a wayward path
of unpredictability.

I thought about my classroom —
about who stands in which bucket:
Who is clinging to every word to know “exactly” what to do
to get the best grade possible
but never taking a chance for fear of failure;
or who it is who barely gets a glimpse of the ground
while up in flight of their own imagination
with nary a concern for anything other than the flight.

And me?
I stand here with a net filled with holes
as the ship gets weighed down
and is pushed hard into the iceberg of standardized testing.
And you can bet my bucket is full
with teachers just like you.

Listen to the podcast of the poem.

Peace (in the numbers),

Poetry on the Front Page

A local columnist at the regional newspaper did a nice piece last week on the 30Poems in 30Days fundraising challenge. Bob Flaherty (a novelist in his own right, by the way, with Puff) emailed me a few questions while I was away and then he checked out my voicethread and used some of what we talked about in his article.

It’s great to see the art of writing poetry on the front page of a newspaper.

Here is just the intro and then the section with me, but you can read the entire article either online at the Daily Hampshire Gazette or with this pdf link that I created.

Peace (in the news),

Day 23: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: if  you have ever been away from home for any extended period of time, than no explanation is necessary.)

Home is where I left it
when I left it behind —
there behind that blade of grass,
those tall oak trees,
the rose bush drooping by the fence,
the laughter inside the walls.
I never saw a sidewalk more welcoming
than the one I saw that led me back home.

Listen to the podcast of the poem.

Peace (in the arrival),


Day 22: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: Sometimes, the writing of songs comes easy. It’s as if the song were there in the guitar and just needed a doorway out. Other times? Not so easy. Those are the days when I seem to have lost the key.)

Six strings humming
on a melody
with me strumming
in hopes that a song will fall
into my lap
and write itself.

You can listen to the poem in my voicethread.

Peace (in the poems),

Burned out by Conferences

I am ready to leave Conference City behind … but when I get home, I am right back into another literacy conference at my school. Oh well. This morning, we had a standing room-only crowd for our presentation at NCTE on Assigning and Assessing Digital Writing. There were about 100 people in the audience and they seemed to get a lot out of the conversations we had, which spring from our book Teaching the New Writing (and the publisher told us that they are about to head into the second printing of the book, which is very cool because that means people are using it as a resource).

My part of the presentation centered on a digital science picture book project with my students. I am embedding my prezi presentation here but you can also view resources and materials from our presentation at a Google Sites that we set up, instead of killing trees with too many handouts.

One thing we did was to have the audience view both the science book and listen to Dawn Reed’s students’ podcasts and come up with criteria for evaluating some digital media. Then, we looked at a third piece and tried to make sense of it based on some of that criteria. Our hope is that the process of coming up with ways to examine a piece of digital work from an assessment angle will help teachers.

From that session, we wandered over to the Teachers College Press booth to sign some books but no one asked me to sign their book there, so we just stood around, blocking traffic. I tried to grab some good book swag but I couldn’t find much. Where did all the free crap go?

Later, I did one of the NCTE Tech to Go sessions. My focus was on using webcomics and I had a nice little crowd. I showed them some options, some student samples and then had a few folks working on creating their own comics at the kiosk (Thanks, Stacey and Ruth!). It was a bit of a strange situation, with me standing there chatting with a computer monitor and folks just milling about. But I think I sparked some interest in a few teachers to try out a few sites.

Here is the Comic website that I created as a resource for folks. Use it and share it as you wish.

Peace (in the reflection),

Day 21: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: This poem comes from the parent in me watching my sons go out the door to school or play. We live in a very safe neighborhood, as far as that goes, but I still worry. And the metaphor here is about me and them and the world, I guess.)

I’m not afraid to say
that every time they walk out that door,
I worry.
If only I could tie a string to their belt,
harnessing them to me
so that I could gently tug them back
when I miss them.
But out they go, tucking my fears into their backpack,
forgotten in the moment of play.

Here is the Voicethread of this week’s poems so far:

Peace (in calming the fears),

National Writing Project, day 2

This morning, we had our huge gathering of teachers at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting come together into one crammed room (more than 1,000 strong). It’s always amazing to look out at that sea of fellow teachers and know we are all connected with our teaching and writing.

NWP Executive Director Sharon Washington told us about her own writing and sharing experience with one of the NWP Summer Institutes (OK, so it was our Western Massachusetts Writing Project) where she sat in with a writing response group in action during a visit to the the site. She shared a children’s story she is writing and admitted to being nervous.

“I took a deep breath and started to read … and I felt accepted,” Washington noted, touching on the community of writers and teachers that comes together during the Summer Institute. “My experience is not unusual. It is reflected … across the network.”

Washington explained the importance of the NWP ideals by sharing out the mission statement and vision statement, which reflects writing in the digital world as well as being grounded in the traditions.

Our Mission

The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.

Our Vision

Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. The NWP envisions a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world.

Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins was the guest speaker. As expected, he was funny and deep and insightful with his poetry, reading a variety of poems that touched on teaching, writing and kids.

I loved this quote by Billy Collins this morning:  “Usually, I don’t know where I’m going (with a poem) when I begin.” The poem creates itself and he follows along with the inspiration, he said.

In response to a quest, Collins explained how different poetry, with its freedom, is from prose, which requires exact meaning.

“Poetry’s a bird. Prose is a potato.” — Billy Collins

Now, I am off to dinner with a large group of Tech Friends.

Peace (in reflection),

Meeting Billy Collins — really!

I just had the pleasure of shaking hands and chatting with the wonderful Billy Collins — who will be speaking to the entire National Writing Project assembly in the next hour. Andrea, Aram and I (thanks to Aram for pointing him out) let Billy Collins know how much we love his poetry and we talked briefly about teaching poetry in schools and whether teachers in the NWP wrote poetry themselves (or, he asked, were we a small minority? We — he called the three of us poets, which we are but still … Billy Collins ackowledged it for us.)

For the record, he was very gracious and did not seem to mind being interrupted by us three writing teachers. I think. Who can tell, really? But it was worth it.

I called my wife to let her know. “I Met Billy Collins,” to which she quickly replied:  “Did you tell him that your loving wife bought you a Billy Collins book for Christmas last year?”

Gulp. Nope. Sorry, honey.

But I did once write a poem about Billy Collins, or about being inspired by Billy Collins’ poetry. This was back when I was starting a OnepoemPerMonthforaYear project.

Talking Billy Collins Blues

November 2006

I called on Billy Collins last night
And he asked me outright if I was disturbed
To which I replied,
Yes, slightly, sorry for the intrusion
but how do you write a poem

every month for a year
And where do I look for lost words

— the ones I have misplaced with time?
Billy slipped me a piece of paper when we were done

And disappeared
leaving me alone with nothing much but that paper.
I could just make out some red ink scribbles

and a few doodles
when I held that thin skin of a tree up to the light
and let the paper become a translucent buffer

between me
and the muse.
I held Billy Collins in my hand for hours,
nursing him

like the last drink of the night when daylight is looming,
afraid to even look
because if it did hold the key

then my search would be over
and why write poems after that?
So I crumpled Billy up

and tossed him into the street bin
(apologizing profusely for being so impolite)
and I chased my own shadow all the way back home
in the darkness of memories.

And that’s when I really began to write.

Peace (in the poems),