Learning Prezi

I have heard about Prezi from a few folks and even ventured to the site once or twice, but I could not wrap my head around it. You know how it is: you have a concept of something (ie, presentations use powerpoint, which are a formal sequence of slides moving forward) and it is difficult to shake loose. Just imagine when we are old and senile!

But here in Philly, I noticed a few people using Prezi and I thought: what the heck is that! And, that spurred me to want to spend a bit more time figuring it out. So I did.

Prezi is a free presentation tool (you can upgrade for a free) that shifts away from slides and moves content onto a large virtual canvas, where you layer in text and images and other media and then create a path through the material. The picture I am including here is a simple Prezi I did for my Day in a Sentence, showing the grid and the paths between my words. You can choose different themes, although the choices are limited (I wonder if more choices come when you pay for an upgraded account?).

Once I “got it,” I became hooked, and I decided that since life is all about learning and trying new things, I would delve right in. So, I took my somewhat-boring (I can admit it) powerpoint of a presentation I am giving on Saturday at NCTE around assigning and assessing digital work by students (ie, my digital science picture book project) and created a Prezi of it instead. And I will use that on Saturday and hopefully, I’ll weave this adventure into that talk, too.

What if there is no internet connection, you ask? Good question. Prezi allows you to download a copy as a flash file and share your presentation that way. You can also embed your prezi in blogs. Here is my Day in a Sentence (which is hosted this week over at Lynn’s blog — Reduction Physics — so come join us).

My larger question: How could students use this format to create a different kind of narrative, never mind a presentation. What would it mean to be shifting through a story over a large canvas of information? How would you plan that out and then do it? (if you have examples of students doing this, please share).

Peace (in the presentation),


Philly Reflections: National Writing Project Day Two

Yesterday was the official start of the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, with long sessions in the morning and shorter ones in the afternoon. Many of the workshops were centered on developing and supporting the work at our writing project sites.

I attended an always-interesting session called Writing in the Digital Age: Learning Environments and Student Writing (which I led a few years ago myself). Here, four different teachers presented various pieces of student work — podcasting, video storytelling, voicethreaded poems, and blogging connections. We broke off into smaller groups to examine the work and have a discussion around what we saw and what we could take out of it.

The first group that I was part of was a project from Hawaii in which teacher Cathy Ikeda brought us through how her students used voicethread to publish a version of the “I am” poems that connected students to their sense of place and culture through metaphors. I loved the students that used their voice, not just typed writing, but Cathy said there are technical issues at her district (too many computers accessing the net, and not enough wireless room — making audio difficult at times). What I really liked is how she published the threads to her school website and then invited family members not only to view and listen, but also to comment and give feedback. When we talk about the affordances of the media, this is a great example. How else would you have grandma leave a message for you? (as was the case with at least one of the young poets.)

Next, I sat in with Dawn Reed, who did an amazing podcast project with her speech class around the “This I Believe” concept from NPR. We listened to a student from Germany use his voice to encourage Americans to be open to new ideas. They also published to a blog (to the world!) and expanded their ideas of audience. (Note: Dawn and I are presenting together on Saturday at NCTE and she wrote about this project — with Troy Hicks — in our Teaching the New Writing book.)

Later that day, I ventured into a workshop called 21st Century Literacy and the Graphic Novel. This was a fascinating look at how the use of comics and graphic novels can open the doors for some of our students. Presenters Bee Foster and Anastasia Betts gave us a lot to think about. Bee, in particular, did a fantastic job of showing us examples she uses in her classroom to support the deBois’ theme of “twoness” in character and adversity, race and self.

Anastasia also gave out a top ten reason list for using graphic novels in the classroom (which you can find at her website, along with the slideshow presentation and various handouts) which include:

  • It’s visual
  • It’s relevant
  • It’s manageable
  • It’s rigorous
  • It’s engaging
  • It’s positive
  • It’s 21st Century
  • It’s communicative
  • It’s brain-based
  • It’s cross-curricular

This morning, we have the general assembly — more than a 1,000 teachers and educators who cherish writing and students in one room, together — and BILLY COLLINS is the guest speaker. I can’t wait. (Gosh, he better not disappoint me, right?)

Peace (in the sharing),

Day20: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: We have more legos than I care to count. Lego heads, lego legs, lego bodies, lego … stuff. This poem was inspired by the pain of stepping on one a few days ago. They may be small but they sure do hurt.)

I stub my toe on a Lego
and rue the day we ever brought them into this house –
these tiny creatures that come alive at night
while we sleep,
only to freeze in motion when my foot hits the floor.
I wish they’d at least have the courtesy of moving
to the corner.

And, again, here is the voicethread.

Peace (with the plastic people),


Day 19: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: Last week, our school (like most schools) held a ceremony for Veteran’s Day and I noticed how the number of veterans in attendance continues to shrink each year. I listened to one of my students play Taps on his trumpet with our music teacher, and heard another teacher explain to our entire school the meaning of Taps in ceremony. I thought of silence.)

The bugle plays
with no notes;
only silence

Here is the Voicethread with this poem added:

Peace (in the rememberance),


What we did at Digital Is … Conference

It was a pretty amazing day here in Philly with the National Writing Project’s Digital Is Conference — we spent the entire day discussing, debating and considering the emerging digital literacy movement that we are seeing reflected in the lives of our children and students.

The morning began with an overview of why we were here — the rationale behind talking about the influx of digital media in our classrooms and why it is part of the writing focus. We then broke off into smaller groups. I took part in a discussion called Change Writers, which focused on a project that connected eighth graders with fourth graders in California to research social injustice, discuss the issues via blogs and then move into positive social action as a result. Much of our talk focused in on what the students did, with the teacher putting on emphasis on the fact that it was not the technological tools, but the ways those tools were used. In this case, the technology of blogs and voicethreads opened up a large audience for students who are often left out of the conversation because of socio-economic issues.

Here are a few things I heard:

“The technology is a piece of it. But it is not all about technology … Technology allowed us to take down the walls of the classroom. They were not just writing for me. They were writing for peers, for others, and getting feedback. The got to write without that ‘red pen’ slashing through everything. They could have conversations.” — Lesley McKillop, Prairie Elementary School.

“It’s not about the technology. It’s about using technology to help students join communities. They were no longer confined (to their classroom).” — Gail Desler, Area 3 Writing Project.

Later, I presented some student digital work — a digital science picture book — to a group and due to our protocols for discussion, I had to sit silently while the room talked about what they saw in the project, what “worked,” and what questions they had. Only then could I, the presenting teacher, grab the floor and put the project into context. It was a bit nerve-wracking, particularly when I saw former NWP Executive Director Richard Sterling sitting right in front of me with colleagues Charlie Moran and Anne Herrington. And across the room was Gail Hawisher. These folks are HUGE in the land of composition. But it was intriguing to “experience” the book through their eyes and lens.

A second afternoon session brought different folks together to talk about what they had learned and observed after viewing difference pieces of student work. I took a bunch of notes, but they would not make much sense to anyone (not even me at this point). But this Wordle nicely captures the main ideas from our discussion, which focused a lot on what we view as the new definition of Writing (not everyone agrees that this is new).

But we did have some important questions that we were left with from our table discussions:

• How do adults tackle issues affecting young people that the adults have not experienced themselves?
• What is relationship between traditional forms of writing and the new forms of writing?
• Keep an eye on the haves and have-nots – Will it exasperate the difference or equalize it?
• What is “writing” these days?
• What is missing from our conversations around digital literacy: questions about rhetoric and how it works and what you need to do it well.
• Are traditional composition classes the training ground for the new media literacy?
• Are new genres developing within new literacies that are irrelevant to the traditional writing classroom?
• How does the new design – non-linear text and media – affect our views of literacy?
• Do we even know what we should be teaching when it comes to new literacies?
• How does firewall affect teaching new literacies if every step in any direction is blocked?
• Some teachers are learning along with their students – they are learning by doing it.

Finally, I attended a session down the street at the Museum of Natural History, where various kiosks of student digital work — podcasts, movies, digital stories, etc. — were on display for viewing, and then I attended an interesting forum discussion about how young people are using digital media in their lives and how are educators meeting this shift (Mostly, we are not, to be honest).

So, long day with a lot to think about and ponder.

Peace (from Philly),

What Digital Is is

It will be an exciting day today. I can tell. I’ll be participating in the Digital Is Conference here in Philly. The Digital Is Project is a new partnership between the National Writing Project and the MacArthur Foundation to explore how students are using digital tools for writing and learning. One of the larger projects still underway is an online site that documents what teachers are doing to scaffold use of digital tools in writing.

A session I am attending this morning is called “Change Writers: Empowering Students to Write for Change.”  If that doesn’t pique your interest, then you must not be a teacher wanting your students to become active participants in the world around them. One of the facilitators is my friend, Gail Desler, and I can’t wait to hear what she and the other presenters will share out about their experiences of using digital media (podcast, etc.) to explore social action projects with their students.

Later, I am presenting some student work at a roundtable discussion. My piece is a Digital Science Picture Book and there is an entire protocol for folks to examine the work and think about it as a piece of digital composition. It’s a little nerve-wracking, I guess, although there is no real reason to be nervous about it. They’re all friends, right? I’m sure the conversations will be interesting and give me some outside insight into what my students are doing when they compose with these tools.

Tonight, I signed up to attend an event called The Power of Youth Voice: What Kids Learn When They Create With Digital Media. It is taking place over at The Academy of Natural Science and that, too, should provide a real interesting take on what is happening with students composing with various media, for various purposes, for a variety of audiences. Neat.

Peace (from Philly),


Day 18: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: This poem came from a conversation that I had with someone about how kids can use Magnetic Fridge Poetry for writing, as I was lamenting that my new Interactive Board led to the removal of my chalkboard, where I often would stick magnetic words for students to play with. Oh well. Then, I thought about what it would mean to “lose” a word from a set and what if that word were love?)

The missing word
from the fridge
is the Love Magnet
and I wondered where it had gone
so I went searching:
Under carpets;
Inside cupboards;
Behind curtains;
Between cushions;
until I was so exhausted that I collapsed in bed
and discovered “love” right where I had left it:
Beneath your pillow – right beside me.

Here is the Voicethread, if you want to hear my voice.

Peace (in the finding of love),

More thoughts on Literacy for All Conference

This morning’s keynote speaker for the Literacy for All Conference was dynamic. Lester Laminak is a tour de force storytelling and he wasted no time in bringing us on a journey into the Wizard of Oz, playing all the parts, singing (repetition is key to learning, he reminded us) and dancing. While it was enjoyable (he was without notes), Lester slipped into teaching mode — reminding us that, like the journey to the unknown Oz, we must remember that our students must also be centered on a message of Home, the Mind, Courage and the Heart. And us, too. The teachers.
He asked us, provocatively, “What is your Oz?” and ventured to ask: “Is what you do in your classroom tempered by the heart that beats in your chest? Do you care?
It sounds schmaltzy on the screen, but it hit a nerve with us in the audience. At least, it did in the seat where I was sitting.
Lester then read through his own Declaration of A Dream for Schools and urged us as educators to become a more forceful voice in setting the agenda for school in our country and not let politicians and government officials set the agenda for the next ten years. “Use your literacy. Don’t just teach it. Use it,” he half-whispered, half-shouted from the stage.
At one point, Lester said teachers must also stop talking so much in the classroom and listen. “Let the babies speak,” is how he phrased it, and I held on to this phrase for much of the day, finally letting it form the opening of a poem.

Let the babies speak, Lester
says in that accent of his — eyes afire —
and voice clothed in such urgency that I sit
on the edge of my seat.

Today, I open my eyes
to their voices again and feel them
pushing in through the cracks of the window pane
like spring airm rustling after a closed-up winter —
fresh and strange and full of something wonderful.

The only other session that I attended (before hitting the road for the airport) was on Guided Writing, led by Lori Oczkus. She is a literacy coach and works with many schools around writing. I found her engaging and fun, if a bit too fast with her overhead sheets (yep, most presenters at this conference were still shuffling around folders of laminated sheets). Here are a few things I took from her session:

1. Use what she calles “cool tools” — which are just motivational concepts beyond writing on a piece of paper. She talked about using hand gestures to signal the kind of “start” a writer uses (such as the pantemime of a paint brush for using a description). Cool tools engages the interest of young writers, she said.
2. Use drama and acting during the writing process. Have students act out scenes as others read their stories. Give life to the words on the page. I like that and used to do it more than I do now. I don’t know why. Thanks Lori.
3.Integrate poetry throughout the entire year. Don’t wait for Spring! She showed how students use short poems to show knowledge of non-fiction text and how to move a piece of fiction in new directions with poetry. She put the emphasis on free-form poetry, and if you read my poems, you know she was talking my language.
4. Center specific lessons on how to start and end stories by looking at many sample texts.
5. Use what she calls a “Live Rubric.” This is a set of colored papers with words like Dialogue, Description, Action and other ideas that the audience holds up as a reader reads their work, giving visual clues to strengths and weaknesses of a piece. I love this idea.

All in all, the Literacy for All Conference was decent, not great. One of the organizers slipped me a note after we had been talking, asking if I might submit a proposal for next year. I guess we’ll see. I don’t have too many laminated files (ha).

Peace (in RI),