Digging into the Common Core


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A few weeks ago, I saw a link for an online course for educators wanting to learn  more about the writing standards of the Common Core, which my state has fully adopted and is starting to roll out this year. In fact, our school district is in the midst of learning about Understanding by Design (backwards design), curriculum mapping and more as we begin to make the shift to the Massachusetts version of Common Core.

I checked out the link and saw that my friend, Bud Hunt, was the facilitator (Check out his post about his dissertation thesis about school-based online writing and reading spaces. Very intriguing.) Yeah, I signed up.

The other night, a bunch of folks in the Writing & Common Core: Deeper Learning for All course at P2PU (Peer to Peer University) gathered together in a Webinar to chat about expectations of the course, which runs about six weeks, and began some initial discussions around topics that are on our mind with the Common Core. These included: shifting towards more information/expository writing; writing across the content areas; the references to digital media; implementation at various states; and more. It was quite interesting and is an indication of some intriguing discussions to come.

Our first assignment is an online annotation project, in which we are making comments and notes about the writing strands of the Common Core. This kind of activity is valuable, as it not only provides us with an incentive to read the Common Core deeply, but also to engage in some observations and discussions. Bud noted that most teachers don’t seem to have had a chance to really read the Common Core and spend time with it to understand it, and I agree. The annotation activity seems like a nice way in.

My own interest is, of course, for my own classroom. I am already making shifts in what I have done and what I will be doing to reflect more of the new state curriculum. But I have another new motive, too. I have been asked to help facilitate some summer Professional Development session at a local university on implementing the new Massachusetts ELA standards, and in order to do that, I need to have a deeper understanding of the curriculum expectations.

So, I’m diving in, but I am not alone. I’m grateful for the chance to be part of the P2PU Common Core group, and to learn from them and with them. And having Bud as a guide is a great start.

Peace (in the curriculum),



Podcast: My Column on Gaming and Education

Gaming Article Screenshot
I had a column published this morning in our local newspaper about some ideas on why teachers should consider video gaming as a learning opportunity. I decided to create a podcast of the column on Cinch, but the full piece is available at the Daily Hampshire Gazette website, too.

If you want to know more about my journey into gaming, you can check out my resource at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site: More Than a Game: One Teacher’s Journey into Gaming by Kevin Hodgson
Peace (in the games),

Google Honors Claymation with Doodle

It was nice to see that the Google page is dedicated to one of the pioneers of Claymation Stopmotion — Art Clokey. The Google Search site features the Gumby Google Doodle today, and if you do a little clicking around, you can discover who is hiding in the balls of clay and other odds and ends. (Hint: Clokey was the brains behind Gumby and Pokey).

We do stopmotion in our classroom, and some years it is claymation (it all depends on the time we have to do the unit). If you want to know more about ideas around stopmotion animation for the classroom, you can check out my resource site: Making Stopmotion Movies.

Peace (in the ball of clay),



Book Review: Ghost in the Wires

Kevin Mitnick is a legendary hacker who pioneered the use of phone phreaking (gaining access to systems via the phone lines) and social engineering (gaining access to codes for phreaking by chatting with engineers, secretaries and others), and while he was imprisoned for his hacking, he claims never to have done it for profit. He was in it for the fun, the thrill of the activity, and he was energized by the cat-and-mouse games that went on. He was out to prove himself to the world. But the police and FBI were soon hot on his trail, and even though he used his knowledge of the government information system to go into hiding for a time, he eventually was caught.

Ghost in the Wires is Mitnick’s tale of how he came become such a notorious hacker. It’s full of interesting technical talk about the early days of computers, the lack of security at so many sites, and the high intelligence, perseverance and creativity it took for Mitnick and his friends to worm their way through various computer networks. At times, the book is a little too self-serving, and the writing could have been stronger. I was glad his co-writer, Bill Simon, resisted too much technical talk (which Mitnick apparently wanted) because that move makes the book accessible to a wider audience.

I was somewhat familiar with his tale because I have read the WhizzyWig series of graphic novels by Ed Piskor, which is inspired by Mitnick and other early phone phreakers. The two books — WhizzyWig and Ghost in the Wires — are nice companion pieces, and give some insight into the motivation of hackers. While it is true that some hack for financial gain, most early hackers were looking for the thrill of the action, and the thrill of seeing how much they could get away with. At one point, Mitnick even compares hacking to a magic act, where the audience is in awe of what can be accomplished, but they would be stunned by how easy it is once you know the trick. Every system has weaknesses, Mitnick says, and the hacker

Look around your classroom. Notice the kids who are smart, but bored, and who can work their way around a computer or piece of technology with ease. They might be your future hackers. We need to find a way to engage those kids, too, and use their skills in creative ways. Metnick and others were always left out of the social loops, left to their own devices, and in doing so, society created this cadre of intruders. While Metnick went to jail, the story does have a happy ending — he is now a high-paid consultant for many companies seeking to strengthen their data security.

But I wonder about those kids who are not so lucky.

Peace (in the wires),


Considering Parade Magazine’s Wired Kids Article

For years now, I have cringed whenever an article on young people and technology has come out in a popular magazine for the masses, knowing that fear and negativity would be front and center. There were always the stories of online abductions, and cyberbullying, and more. The reason why is simple enough: drama sells news. (As a former newspaper reporter, I even understand the tension that the journalists feel to put the most dramatic element at the top of the story.) Technology has all too often been viewed as some massive unseen force disrupting everyone’s lives in negative ways and corrupting the minds of our young people.

But just as I have noticed a huge shift in interest and acceptance about how technology has impacted our lives with teachers in workshops in recent years, I am beginning to notice lately that articles around technology and young people in magazines seem to be more balanced and offer insights into the positive nature of the digital world, too. Take a look at this week’s Parade Magazine, which has a cover story called Today’s Kids: Born to be Wired.

The story runs multiple pages throughout the magazine and covers a lot of interesting ground — from how kids use texting more than speaking, to the impact of gaming, to what all this may be doing to the wiring of their brains. There’s a nice balance here between being concerned and being aware of the changes now taking place, and offering advice on how parents can at least attempt to navigate through it all. They don’t quite sugarcoat the issues — sexting is an issue that we need to be aware of, for an example, and talking to your children about appropriate use of technology is a key way to address it — but they also point out the ways technology can connect more people together and open doors for collaboration and creativity, too.

This balanced view in popular culture is no doubt part of the Facebook Effect, a phenomenon that we often notice with teachers who come to understand the possibilities of technology for learning in their classrooms or schools only after they are part of the social networking movement.  I appreciate Parade Magazine for giving parents a wider view of the digital lives of young people and I hope it opens the door to more conversations at home and at school about the pitfalls and the potential of technology for exploring new areas of expression, writing and connections.

Peace (in the parade),

PS — The magazine has an interesting quiz to find out what kind of “Internet Parent” you are. You can take the quiz here. I did it, and found out I am a “Prepared Parent.” The results say:

By and large, you’re quite confident that you’ve put the right measures in place to manage your children’s online behavior as they grow up—nearly all of the parents in this group had established rules for their children’s Internet usage and they were personally teaching them about the Internet. You feel that the Internet is an enhancement to a well-balanced life—the majority said their kids spent the right amount of time online. And you’re not seriously worried about the Internet and cell phones affecting your kids’ concentration or attention span, either now or in the future. About 23% of the parents surveyed in the PARADE poll were Prepared Parents.


Dreaming the Future: A Student Digital Story Collection

We finally found some time last week to have our sixth graders finish up their Dream Scenes digital stories, in which they create a short video about some aspiration they have for themselves in the future. We have musicians, writers, teachers, athletes and more in this bunch. This fairly simple project uses MS Paint, and Photostory3, and the voice of the writer. For me, the teacher, it gives me an inside look at what motivates my students, and also, it has allowed me to get a sense of the technical know-how of my students right at the start of the year.

Here are some Dream Scenes that we have featured on our class YouTube Account and our classroom blog, The Electronic Pencil:


Peace (in the dreams),


Lessons Learned from Whitewater Rafting

We had a beautiful day yesterday as we took our 80 sixth graders on a day of rafting. We’ve now done this trip about eight years, but still, every year is an adventure. I was thinking on the long bus ride home of some of the big picture lessons  I learned from the experience.

  • Nothing stays the same. This was evident on the river, which was hit hard by storm Irene. The water volume changed the river in many ways so that what we thought of as familiar now seemed strange and odd, with echoes of the past. Life is like that, too — a mixture of expected routine and unexpected surprises. The river was still beautiful, but the power of Mother Nature was on view everywhere we went.
  • It’s good to get out of school. The rafting trip allows us teachers to bond with kids in a way outside the classroom setting. I can’t stress enough about how important this really is. I am thinking of one student in particular, who is so quiet and struggles in my ELA class. On the raft, they were a whole different kid. Exuberant, funny and all smiles. I only see glimpses of that child when we are writing and reading. Here, this student’s personality was on full display.
  • On the raft, I eavesdrop quite a bit. They sort of forget the teacher is there. Yesterday, my 11 year olds started to talk about Facebook and how all the kids on the raft, except one, have their own Facebook accounts. I bit my tongue (the 13 year old rule) and watched the face of the one kid who was left out of this conversation. We’ll do our own technology and networking in class this year, but the sense of exclusion was real. The other kids did not make it a negative situation at all. But one student talked about how she was going to share some of the photos, and tag folks. Except for the one student not on Facebook. What struck my mind is … the power of Facebook at this young age unsettles me.
  • One of our aims is to get kids on the rafts to connect with others outside their normal friendship circles. I watched two students form a nice bond together on the raft. They knew each other but were not really friends. But on the river, they worked together, played together. They may not become best friends after the trip, either, but they will always have this adventure to fall back on when they interact. That’s a powerful thing.
  • Boats can be “war boats” or “peace boats” when it comes to dowsing other boats with water (with buckets and paddles). It’s fascinating to watch how a boat decides if what it will be, and how that designation might change during the course of the day, too. There’s a lot of negotiation that goes on. The United Nations would be proud.
  • Maybe I say this just about every year, but we have a great class of kids. As the lead organizer, I am always worried about behavior and safety on this kind of trip. I should know better. They show their true colors, and they did. Teamwork, friendship, helpfulness, support, encouragement and more were all on display throughout the entire day. It’s another way to remember what a fantastic group of students we have. Truly.

Peace (on the river),


“Policies Don’t Teach Kids” — Jim McDermott, part one

We taped the keynote address given by Jim McDermott to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s Best Practices Conference. The theme of the conference was on Massachusett’s transition to the Common Core curriculum and Jim’s talk was about how people teach kids, not policies on paper. Jim’s role in developing the current curriculum, and assessment tools, gives him a valuable perch. He also served on our state’s Board of Education, so his insider knowledge goes deep. He was funny, engaging and thoughtful as he used his own experiences in the classroom with difficult students to demonstrate how teachers can reach students as learners.

This is Part One of the keynote. I’ll share Part Two tomorrow.

Here is a quick bio of Jim McDermott:

James E. McDermott, Ed.D. , clinical educator and assistant professor at Clark University, is a former Massachusetts State Teacher of the Year who has taught English, Writing, Drama, and has coached championship teams in baseball in a career spanning 34 years working with urban students in grades 7 through 12.  He is Co-Founder and former Co-Director of the Central Massachusetts Writing Project, and for seven years served as the English Language Arts Liaison for the City of Worcester during which time he led the task force for developing an articulated k-12, portfolio-driven curriculum.  He served as a leading member of the Massachusetts State Curriculum Framework and Assessment Development Committees.

Professor McDermott has presented numerous workshops locally and nationally.  His focus is on creating classrooms that engage all students as thinking and feeling human beings through using low stakes writing to help even the most at-risk students to think deeply and to understand rigorous content.

In 2010, Jim was appointed as the first teacher to the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education.

Peace (in the talk),