The NWP Search Story Playlist

I’ve been experimenting with the new Google Search Story creator and wanted to see how I could collaborate with folks in my network of National Writing Project folks.
So, I put out a call and got some pretty neat stories. I do notice that people struggle with the “telling a story” as opposed to connected links around a topic. In my view, it has more power when the viewer (reader) is trying to determine the mind of the person (character) doing the search queries. It reminds me a story I once wrote that only used personal checks (it was inspired by a published story that did something similar). The storytelling was more about what you leave out than what you put in. This search story idea is similar — how can you leave enough gaps in the narrative for the viewer to figure out what is going on?

Anyway, I tried to find ways to share out the stories that my NWP friends and I were creating, and Matt Needleman suggested a YouTube playlist, which made sense (no video editing on my part) and I realized that you can embed the entire playlist in a blog post, which is pretty neat.

The playlist is here, if you need a direct link: or watch the embedded videos down below.

What’s your story?

Peace (in the search),

Collaborative Drawing in Google Docs

You may be aware that Google rolled out a revamped version of its Google Docs system this week. I haven’t had time to explore all of it, but I was interested in the launch of a drawing option that would allow you to collaborate with others. So, I set up a simple picture, published it to the world and asked folks in various networks to try it out. At one time, I noticed there were about 30 people with access to the file. Not everyone added to the drawing, but it was pretty interesting.

I could see some possibilities in the classroom around shared drawing, or maybe a shared art project with someone else in the world. The tools in the drawing program are pretty limited but I think kids could still be very creative.

Peace (with the pen),

PS — Here is the video announcing the revampled Google Docs.

Ice Ice Baby: Quidditch is Coming

Tomorrow, we hold our annual Quidditch Tournament at our school, where the four sixth grade classes face off throughout the entire day (yep, all day) in a series of Quidditch matches. The kids are excited and trying to keep them focused on the classroom … a bit difficult. My team is Dry Ice and they picked their theme song to be “Ice Ice Baby,” which I realized yesterday as I was downloading it is now 20 years old. I find it funny they chose that song, which is played as they run into the gym before screaming crowds of other students and family members.

We’ve been working on art and writing around Quidditch for the past two weeks – using expository writing to explain a play on the field or descriptive writing to describe the craziness of the day of Quidditch; making t-shirts and posters for the wall; and more.

I don’t know if we will win the Quidditch Cup this year, but I do know that my class has really come together in the last few weeks in ways that they had not come together earlier in the year. That makes me a happy teacher/coach.

Peace (with the snitch),

PS — here is how we play the game:


Writing (digital) Poems with Bud

I continue to enjoy the poetry adventures over at Bud the Teacher’s blog. Bud posts a picture, a few words and opens up his space for poems. I get up, wondering what I might write about today. I’ve been using Vocaroo to record as podcasts, and Bill has followed my lead. The other day, Kelly responded to a poem of mine with a poem of hers, and then I responded — a poetic conversation of sorts.
This morning, he posted an interesting picture and suggested a mixing up, which made me think of a remix of some sort, which led to wonder about elements within the photo.

So, I fashioned a short digital poem about listening to someone practicing music and wanting to join in. I made it in a few minutes with Photostory3.

Come write with us at Bud’s place. There a seat at the table for you.

Peace (in the poetry),

Writing about Glogster

An article that I wrote about using Glogster and other online postering projects (Digital posters: Composing with an Online Canvas) was published yesterday at the Learnnc website (and also, at its companion site, Instructify). I tried to show the possibilities and also, the rationale for using an online postering site.

I hope folks find it useful.

The Glog above is part of an environmental unit that we did around the reading of the novel, Flush by Carl Hiassan.

Peace (on the posters),

Get the Poetry Flowing

IĀ  saw this note in a Twitter feed and decided to check it out. It’s an app for iPhone or iTouch or iPad(?) called Poem Flow, and it is a pretty cool system of presenting famous poems in a flowing, visual way. The basic app is free and comes with about a dozen poems, and then they charge you for extra downloads.

But here is the beauty: if you are an educator, you get the download upgrade FOR FREE. It’s definitely worth checking it out. I had nice time reading/watching some poems last night. And I noticed that on the form that teachers have to take to get the free code, there is a question of whether you might be interested in learning more about an upcoming application that allows you to create your own poetry flows. Heck yes!

You can find Poem Flow at the Apple App Store.

Peace (in the flow),

Writing Graphic Novels: Podcast with Barbara Slate

I recently had the opportunity to interview author Barbara Slate, who has written and illustrated many comics and graphic novels and just put out a fantastic new book for teaching graphic novels from the view of writing them. The book is called, appropriately enough, You Can Do a Graphic Novel. I did a review of the book over at The Graphic Classroom but I wanted to follow up with an interview (plus, I wanted to see if I could record an interview on Skype — some mixed results but mostly, it is fine).
The interview is in two sections.
In the first, Barbara talks about how she got into comics, some gender elements of the business, why she wrote her recent book and other interesting tidbits. In the second part, I asked her specifically about how to help teachers who want to bring graphic novels into the classroom as a writing activity, but don’t quite know how to begin.

Peace (in the learning),

Making fun to make a Point

Check out this video satire of the budget cuts (thanks, Elyse). “That’s why so many of us end up in prison,” one girl says sadly to her friend, as Megan Fox tries to figure out where the teacher has gone (laid off) and why the room is packed with kids. While the video is about California’s budget woes, adjust the lens a bit for any of our states.

Peace (in the dark humor),

Tech Integration: Trying to Make Sense of It All

In my role as a technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (under the umbrella of the National Writing Project), I love to think of the possibilities for both our site and the teachers at our site. I envision blogging, podcasting, movie making, networking across many platforms, collaborative wiki writing and more. All of this would be done on solid pedagogical ground, of course, with the tool being less important than the purpose.

But reality often intrudes on this vision, and at our New England Writing Project Retreat this weekend, I once again began to doubt ideas that I have about teachers being ready to dive in. I have long thought that we were at a tipping point, but now … I don’t know. This creeping doubt does not come from the NEWP retreat itself, which was productive and helpful and a great exchange of ideas, but from a general sense that the education community has little idea about what to make of the technology that kids are using in their lives. It’s hard to explain exactly why I have pessimism when I am usually so optimistic. (It might still be echoes of our WMWP workshop around technology that we had to cancel due to lack of interest).

Paul Oh and Andrea Zellner gave a cool presentation about the Pedagogy of the Socially Networked, and it sparked some real neat discussions, but I didn’t get the sense that there was a whole lot of momentum to bring these ideas back to our sites, which is where we reach teachers, which is where we reach students. I think part of my feeling because I think most of the folks in the room don’t quite grasp the power of these connected points in our digital lives (even with the fun activity we did to map out our own personal social networks on paper). I certainly am somewhat generalizing here and everyone was trying to make some sense of the discussions.

Paul and Andrea did not sugar-coat the topic, either, making note of some of the concerns (how companies are monetizing the social networking experiences, the targeting of young people who are not yet adept at critically viewing media, etc.) while trying to show that this kind of online experience in people’s (and kids’) lives are not likely to go away, and in fact, are more prevalent than ever and will continue to be so. Therefore, as teachers, we have an obligation to understand it and, if possible, to use social networking concepts with our students. Andrea made a great point about how you could still teach the theories and ramifications of such networks, even without a computer in the classroom. (One idea: using sticky notes to denote “tags” and nodes of shared interest).

I think part of my reservation about meaningful progress is that while we, those who are deep into technology, know what might be helpful for students in our no/low-tech-experienced colleagues’ classrooms, in the end, it is 0ur colleagues themselves who need to “see the light” and take the plunge. We can’t do it for them. (Although, a strong case can be made for finding ways to partner up with mentors on this issue) And we teachers know that if someone — some expert — comes in the room and says “do it that way,” we shake our heads with frustration and resist. We need to develop our ideas ourselves for those ideas to take real root.

And the reality is that if national and state standardized testing does not reflect multi-modal writing, longer range projects with tech components, authentic language of youths, and more, than it is unlikely to get the kind of push and support that is necessary to change classroom practice. It’s a twist on the old “trickle down theory,” even though we often talk about changing education from the ground up. We need the support of principals in this endeavor.

If at all possible, I am feeling both optimistic and pessimistic, and trying to keep my mind leaning towards the possibilities, not the roadblocks.

Peace (in a head of doubt),

Being a writer in a room of writers

Last night, as part of the New England Writing Project Retreat down at University of Connecticut, a large group of us teacher-writers wandered down to an Open Mic that had been set up as part of the retreat. The room was filled with high school creative writers, undergraduate and graduate students, and us teachers in the National Writing Project. All too often, we teachers write with other teachers. It’s as isolating as being in your classroom (although the National Writing Project is a place that helps dispel that feeling). So, to be part of an Open Mic event with students reading their writing (and in one case, singing a song, and in another, performing a one-act play) was fascinating and interesting and invigorating, and my ears overflowed with amazing poems. We were all equal — writers in a room of writers.

One of the teachers with me out his poem and, looking out at the crowd of young and older faces, smiled, and said, “I thought I would be reading to a group of English teachers,” but the kids were receptive and open to all sorts of writing.

Jason, here at UConn Writing Project, helped organize the event and I appreciated this kind of mix of teachers and young writers, who were clearly as happy to have us as their audience as we were to have them. I read a poem that I wrote over at Bud the Teacher’s blog this week. The poem is still in revisionĀ  (I was scribbling on it in the seconds before I stood at the podium) but I felt like this was an audience that would accept whatever words flowed from my mouth.

Peace (in the poems),