The Slice of Life Challenge Begins Tomorrow

If you are looking for a way to get yourself writing every day, and connecting with a supportive community of other teacher-writers, I urge you to consider joining in the Slice of Life challenge. Now in its fifth year, Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers encourage you to reflect on a moment of your day — bring a small slice into focus, and consider it as a writer.

The Slice of Life Challenge starts tomorrow (the first day of March) and goes through the last day of March (so, you could do 31 pieces of writing). Sure, you may not write every single day — or you just might! Slicers post their links to their writing at Two Writing Teachers every day, and Stacey and Ruth encourage folks to visit the writing and add comments and reactions.

Oh, and there are prizes for Slicers! (Including a copy of my book — Teaching the New Writing). And teachers are being encouraged to consider the Slice of Life Challenge for students, too.

Learn more about Slice of Life

Peace (in the slices),


Three Tech Tools for the One-Computer Classroom


This weekend, I am heading down to Birmingham, Alabama, to give a keynote address to a conference hosted by the Red Mountain Writing Project. The conference centers around the Common Core, 21st Century learning and more. I have been asked to also lead a short session that shares out some tools that teachers in a one-computer classroom might find valuable. While I am fortunate to have access to a cart of PCs on a regular basis (though they are aging now and showing their age), I realize that a lot of teachers must make do with a single computer.

It’s difficult to fully embraced digital literacy if that is your situation.

Anyway, here is the handout for the three tools that I want to share with teachers that I think could have an impact on a classroom: Cinch, Wallwisher and Make Beliefs Comix. (I also went for “free” since I assumed paying for something would be out of the question).
Three Free Tools for the One Computer Classroom

What would you put on your list?

Peace (in the sharing),


A Little Bassman Recognition

Sometimes, my blog will get link backs that I think, who the heck is this? And why are they linking to me? Most of the time, it is some autoblogbot site, just grabbing keywords to generate traffic. This morning, though, I found a link back to a site that mentioned my old Bassman comic series. Cool. I checked it out, and the post in question is all about composer John Cage, and I had done a few strips once in which the Bassman decides to do some experimental music with some odd objects.

See the post: John Cage Lives

It’s funny to see Bassman at the post with all of the videos of John Cage and John Cage-inspired content. Bassman lives!

Peace (on the bass),

PS — oh, what the heck, here is the entire Bassman collection



Mapping out a Curriculum, Online

Atlas Curriculum Mapping

My school district is deep into a project to begin mapping out our curriculum using an online tool called Atlas Rubricon. Actually, this first year, the focus is mostly on math and then we will begin diving into ELA next year. This “backwards design” curriculum project is slated to be a three-year venture, which connects our teaching goals with the new Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks (aka, the Common Core). The plan by our superintendent to have to a district-wide curriculum map from which one can see the development of ideas and sharing of resources from whatever school you happen to teach in. (Needless to say, there are some concerns about this kind of standardization approach to curriculum development)

For the most part, I have been watching from the sidelines, since I don’t teach math. I tinkered around with Atlas a bit and helped with the math curriculum. The site is fine. Atlas is built around Essential Questions, and Learning Standards, and Skills, and Resources.  You can make direct connections to the new Massachusetts frameworks through a series of pull-down menus, which is handy. The math work has been relatively easy, since we have been using a pretty standardized math program with a strict curriculum flow.

The ELA will be much trickier, since there is no ELA curriculum program, and meshing what I do with what my colleagues teaching the same grade level in the other schools in our district are doing is going to require a lot of finessing, and collaboration. I worry that we won’t be given to the time we need to do that kind of collaboration correctly. We’ll see.

This past week, I finally dove into Atlas and began “mapping out” how I see my sixth grade ELA curriculum. I’ve mostly started my focus on literature and have been slowly fleshing out the ideas. I will say this: this kind of activity does make you think and reconsider the goals that you have in mind around lesson plans and unit development, and I struggled at times with coming up with Essential Questions (those overarching ideas) that are the foundation of the teaching. It’s been interesting, and I’m glad I finally started into it.

You can even “test drive” Atlas yourself.

Peace (in the curriculum map),


Book Review: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods

3 gregor and the curse of the warmbloods

My son and I continue to delve into the Underland with Gregor and his crew. In the third installment of the series — Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods — a plague has been let loose on the Underland (that city beneath the city) and so, yet another adventure begins as 11-year-old Gregor must find a cure to save not only his friends, but his mother as well. In doing so, he must venture into a strange and forbidding forest growing underground, with giant plants not quite as timid as they first appear and some other creatures we have heard about but have not yet seen in the books before.

Writer Suzanne Collins continues a dark allegory of storytelling here, this time around how nations sometimes develop weapons that rub up against our own morality and ethics. How far is too far?  I won’t give the story away, except to say that Gregor sees his Underland companions in a different light by the end of this novel. We are also introduced to a few new intriguing characters — two humans who have been living outside of the safe city of Regalia in exile, and we lose a few friends along the way, too.

I have to admit: I am ready to take a break from Gregor for a bit, but my son has us now starting the fourth book (which we have been warned by a neighbor friend may be the darkest book of the five-book series). We’ll see where Gregor takes us, and whether we can climb back out of the Underworld, which is becoming increasingly tense and claustrophobic.

Peace (in the world beneath),


Poetry Podcast: Unplug the Machine

There has been a series of interesting discussions going around the National Writing Project’s technology community about computer software that scores student writing. A simple request asking if anyone has any suggestions for automated grading software seems to have hit a bit of a nerve (with me, anyway) and a sharing of a poem by Kate Messner inspired me to write my own. (Hers is better, so you should read “Revolution for the Tested” by Messner).

Here is mine. You can also listen to the podcast version.


Unplug the Machine

Please let me know when I can meet the machine
with the big red pen of ones and zeroes
crossing out my words that don’t meet the rubric
embedded in its main frame.

I’ll be sure to reach out my hand
so I can understand how my ideas, my words, my expressions,
just don’t fit with the expectations of the programmer –
compiling code with no view of the world that I write about …

and I’ll not-so-gently reach behind them, and pull out the plug,
so that sparks will fly, crackling and popping like my prose,
as I wait for somebody, anybody, to walk through that door
and tell me just what I have done.

Peace (in the poem),


Book Review: Distrust That Particular Flavor

I grew up on science fiction, devouring stories of space and machines, but it was discovering the early works of William Gibson in my 20s that opened my eyes and sparked my imagination on the ways in which technology and the digital world still yet unfolding at the time might become the setting and center of storytelling. Novels like Neuromancer and Virtual Light and Burning Chrome were wonderful immersions into possibilities, for good or ill. Over the years, I’ve followed and read Gibson as much as I can — some books I found more engaging than others, but perhaps that may have more to do with me as a reader than him as a writer.

His most recent book, Distrust That Particular Flavor, is not a novel but a collection of non-fiction essays and talks and magazine pieces that he has written over the years. While not nearly as strong as his fiction, the pieces in this collection give us an interesting view of Gibson, the writer, as well as Gibson, the reluctant futurist. For the novelist who is credited with coining the term “cyberspace,” Gibson has long harbored doubts about technology, and even admits to not using a computer or even the Internet for a long time (and then when he did, he discovered eBay — and that’s an entire story here). Those seeds of distrust spring up amid his early philosophy that technology would eventually create fundamental changes in culture, and his exploration of what the world would look like and how would character react to it.

What’s fascinating to me was to notice the publication dates on the pieces, and to try to place myself in the time when Gibson was writing some of these pieces. Some of articles and talks are about 20 years old now. He was thinking about what we now take for granted — all-the-time access, convergent informational flows, immersive worlds and more — before there was any reason to be thinking about it. I guess that’s what good writers do, though. And Gibson makes it clear here that while his stories might have been set in the future, the world and themes he was writing about were about the current times, and that had me trying to remember back to the storylines of the novels that captured my attention.

Distrust That Particular Flavor is somewhat uneven at times — even Gibson notes that he repeats similar themes and I found myself shuffling a bit through some of his pieces — but I always enjoy a journey into the mind and thinking, and craft, of a writer I admire, and this collection did that for me.

Peace (in the times),


Young People, Search Evaluation and Information Quality

This infographic comes from The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University where researchers examined various literature around youth and the Internet, focusing in on how young people use the Internet to gather information and assess credibility.

The study notes:

As youth increasingly turn to the Internet as a source of information, researchers, educators, parents, and policy-makers are faced with mounting challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the amount and diversity of “speakers” online, the lack of traditional gatekeepers and quality controls, and new modes of dissemination mean that youth are faced with challenging information quality judgments. On the other hand, these same shifts in the information ecosystem afford youth the opportunity to access, share, and create knowledge in entirely new ways, presenting myriad learning opportunities inside and outside of school.

Here are some key findings from the study (entitled: From Credility to Information Quality) worth noting:

1. Search shapes the quality of information that youth experience online.
2. Youth use cues and heuristics to evaluate quality, especially visual and interactive elements.
3. Content creation and dissemination foster digital fluencies that can feed back into search and evaluation behaviors.
4. Information skills acquired through personal and social activities can benefit learning in the academic context.


Peace (in the info),


Book Review: Memoirs of a Muppets Writer

Spend some time watching Sesame Street or The Muppet Show and it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are very human people behind, or beneath, those puppets. It’s also easy to lose track that behind those people with those puppets, there is also a team of writers working hard with words to keep the illusion of character alive on the stage … eh, television screen.

Joseph Bailey, who pennedMemoirs of a Muppets Writer, is one of those scribes.

His book, which seems to be self-published, is an inside look at his career with Jim Henson and the company of writers and performers who worked hard to create a unique slice of comedy that entertains (and in the case of Sesame Street, educates) with wide appeal. Bailey brings the reader into the world of the Muppets, but his own career began first with Sesame Street, and it is fascinating to see what went on beyond the curtain as writers sought to create scripts with educational goals as well as entertainment value.

Later, with the Muppets in London (where The Muppet Show was produced after all the American television stations turned Henson down), Bailey brings us into the mayhem of the studio and inside the cramped offices of the Muppet writers. He brings the folks behind the scenes to life — writers and producers and performers such as  Richard Hunt, Jerry Juhl, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson. Jim Henson also gets some of the attention from Bailey, particularly after his unexpected death. You get the sense that Bailey was consciously not writing a “tell all” about Henson, though, and sought to protect Henson’s legacy.

Bailey is a writer, and it is inside the workings of the writing mind that he brings us in this book.

In particular, there are times in the book where he deconstructs his scripts and scenes, giving us readers an inside look at both the intent, the rewriting, the humor and more, and that kind of experience is valuable. Plus, he shares some history of various Muppet characters, and how they came to be (ie, Miss Piggy, Sam the Eagle, etc.) Bailey also explains how Henson and the Muppet creators understood the medium of television in a way that many others did not, and used its elements to its full advantage.

Bailey lived and breathed the Muppet Show for many years as one of the men with pens (and earned an armload of writing awards for his work), and his memoir is a nice inside look at what that was like to be inside that somewhat crazy world as puppets took the world by storm.

Peace (inside a fuzzy puppet),