Remixing Advertising Media for Gender Awareness

There’s no doubt that the Lego corporation is trying to make inroads with girls. Just look at the pink sets of pieces, and the themes that they are generating. And notice how the sets aimed at boys continue to be adventure-orientated, and mostly blue. This interesting site that I found called The HTML5 Gendered Lego Advertising Remix brings this difference to light in an interesting way. The site (which requires an upgraded browser) allows you to pull the audio from a boy or girl Lego set and put it beneath a video of a girl or boy Lego set.

What you notice is the way that music and voice is used, and color (of course), and theme. My youngest son loves Legos (as did his older brothers) but he is turned off by the girlie Lego sets. I’m not sure of the answer to how to best address gender by businesses, who after all are in the business of selling things.

The results from this remix site are pretty fascinating, I think, and provide a good insight for students to be thinking of the way they are targeted for advertising through design, theme, image and audio. I may need to try this activity with my students as part of our Digital Life unit. (Question for me: will our browsers allow it?)

Peace (from a boy),


Top Ten Things I Heard People Say About My Nerdy Book Club Sweatshirt

Yesterday was dress-down day at our school, where staff can dress casual and donate money into a fund to support families and staff of our school who might need a little extra help. Normally, I just wear jeans and a dress shirt. But yesterday, as we were about head into February break, I decided to put on my Nerdy Book Club sweatshirt. (For those not in the know, the Nerdy Book Club is an online collection of teachers, librarians, writers and others who like books. There is a blog website and a #nerdybookclub hashtag on Twitter. You can join, too. You just did. That’s how simple it is.)

I got a lot of interesting reactions to wearing the sweatshirt, which I had hoped would generate some conversation. Here are some of them — from students and colleagues.

  • What books are they reading? They don’t really have titles.
  • Nerdy Book Club? Where does that meet? In a library?
  • That’s my husband… right …. there. (points to the Nerd in image)
  • Let me get this straight. You’re all teachers. You love books. And yet, you are nerds? That’s so weird.
  • Those kids look pretty happy on your shirt, Mr. H. Must be good books.
  • I think my mom is part of that Nerdy Bookie Club. Or, she should be. She reads, like, all the time.
  • Do Kindles count for your club?
  • No offense, Mr. H, but I don’t think I’d want to be in that club. Sitting around, reading? No thanks.
  • I get the nerd part. That’s you, Mr. H. But how do books fit into it?
  • There’s a stain there, Mr. H. Looks like you spilled juice or something.

Peace (in the nerdiness),

Usernames, Passwords and … me

I designed an activity the other day as part of our Digital Life unit that centered on passwords. We watched the Common Craft video about secure passwords (which was a hit as was the one about protecting reputations online) and used a site called How Secure is My Password, and then, the task before my students was to come up with username and password suggestions for all their teachers. They had to think about what they knew about us — about what we teach and about our lives outside of school — since usernames would reflect our personality, but keep our identity hidden (this connects with our work around identity).

The passwords had to be strong — they had to use the website to make sure the password could resist hacking for at least a week — and memorable. Oh boy, they had a lot of fun with that activity. (I also reminded them to be nice to us. But they were asking more questions about our interests, and pets, and children, and more than ever before).

Yesterday, I had them go to our classroom blog site and post their recommended username and password for me. You will see some themes here: writing, teaching, ELA, saxophone, music, etc. The color “blue” is prevalent because my homeroom’s Quidditch color (yes, we play Quidditch at our school) is blue. I had fun looking over these. They had fun making them.
Mr H Username List

Mr H Password Ideas

But the real lesson, as I reminded them, is that when they are confronted with choices about usernames and passwords, they should remember our work here and come up with something that protects their identity but projects something about them, and a password that keeps their private data locked behind the virtual walls.

Peace (in the sharing),


Interviews Force Reflection on Teaching

This suddenly has become a week of getting interviewed or at least, scheduling interviews.

First, on Sunday, I had a great chat with Franki Sibberson (of A Year of Reading) for the wonderful site, Choice Literacy, about digital writing. The first part of the interview focused on how I use tools of digital media, personally, as a writer, and why, and how the National Writing Project helped nurture me in that direction (which it surely did!). Franki asked some great questions about how a teacher explores possibilities before bringing those ideas into the classroom, and how one goes about doing that. Her inquiry really had me thinking and reflecting. The second part of the interview was about student learning and how a teacher can consider the possibilities for digital composition, particularly around the gains that I see when we use technology for learning. Again, her questions allowed me to reflect, and consider what I do with my students from a different angle. The podcasts will be published at Choice Literacy sometime in the coming months. (There are some great podcasts at the site’s itunes home already.)

game interview

Then, yesterday, I sat down with a student of mine and we both got interviewed by some students in George Mayo’s class down in Maryland. They are working on a video project with the central question of “Are video games bad for you?” My student and I discussed our video game design project, and the interviews asked some really great questions about the value of gaming in the classroom. It was interesting and a great opportunity to highlight one of my students, who really dove into our game design project. The interviews are going to be playing his game and working that experience into their video project. It should be interesting to see, when it is done.

And, I am working on scheduling a Google Hangout with a college class being taught by a friend who was a leader of the Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative. He wants to have his students chat with a teacher who uses digital media.

While there is a lot of scheduling that has to happen for these kind of interviews, I realize that I get a lot out of it. Questions from outsiders force us to reflect on just what it is that we are doing, and why. It forces you to move beyond a certain comfort zone and think through the rationale of why technology can enhance a learning space, or not. So, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in these kinds of forums, and I will share out the links from various interviews as they become public.

Peace (in the Q&A),


Slice of Life: The Valentine Day Dilemma

(This is part of the reflective Slice of Life feature at Two Writing Teachers. Next month, the entire month is reflective Slices of Life, with prizes and support from other writers. You should join in.)

I was watching my youngest son finish up his class Valentine Day cards. He looked a bit like Michael Jordan, driving to the hoop. His tongue was out; his eyes were narrow; his fingers held the marker as he scribbled more to his picture. He was putting a lot of effort into what he was doing … for what? So that he would have some cards to give out to his classmates, who would have cards to give to him, and all because of a greeting card holiday.

It didn’t help that his teacher sent home a class list last week. If that is not pressure, what is. And my wife and I felt the pressure, too, and urged him to finish up those cards.

I don’t know. Why push Valentine’s Day on schoolchildren? It’s not love. It’s the candy that they want. I would rather have had my son outside, practicing some basketball dribbling (he needs it, believe me) or creating an imaginary world in his tree fort, or reading a book (or having me read him a book) than making cards that will get tossed into a backpack, forgotten by tonight.

Or maybe this is just me.

I had a student in my class ask if she could bring in cupcakes today. I almost told her “no” but then felt like a Grinch or something, so I stilfled that negative impulse, and told her “yes” and she was all happy to be able to do something special for the class.  And they do love their cupcakes. Now that, I can understand and support. But the cards? Eh, leave them at home.

Peace (in the flip side),


My Pile of Books to Be Read

Kevin's Books
Over at the Nerdy Book Club, there was a call recently for photos of our piles of books “to be read.” Here is mine. Some of these have been there for a few months, but most are fairly new to the pile. I am currently reading Larry McMurty’s The Berrybender Narratives and may wander into I Walked with Giants or the William Gibson essays next. Not sure.

Peace (in the piles of books),
PS — and the video compilation of all of the Nerdy Book Club TBR books was released yesterday, too.


Student Short Story Shards

I spent a lot of time yesterday, reading through my students’ adventure short  stories. Some were fantastic; some were just OK. But all of the stories had some interesting nuggets that I wanted to be able to share out with the rest of the classes. So, as I was reading, I began to “capture” a line from every story — something interesting, intriguing. Some hint of the larger story. Then, I went into our Glogster site and created this Story Shard poster. Actually, this is the first of two that I am going to be creating (I am not quite done with all the stories.)

I like how it looks like a wall of stories, and there is something quite interesting about seeing all of these story shards together in a single place — sort of like a graffiti wall of ideas.

Peace (in the stories),


Potential Massachusetts Ballot Issue: Teacher Evaluation

I’m trying to learn more about a proposed ballot issue put forth by a group called Stand for Children (which is a national group that seeks to influence teacher evaluations) in my state of Massachusetts. The ballot initiative — entitled An Act to Promote Excellence in Public Schools — has apparently gained enough signatures to be considered by our state Legislature to be put to voters. The Legislature has not yet taken up the measure.

The ballot initiative came to my attention because two colleagues and former Massachusetts teachers-of-the-year — Michael Flynn, who teaches at my school, and Wilma Ortiz, who is part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project — have joined a lawsuit with other state educators, seeking to block the ballot initiative. Flynn has been part of a state effort by our governor to create a new teacher merit system that has a balance of test scores, administrative evaluation and more, and that system has barely begun to get put into place.

The key, as I understand it, to Stand for Children’s initiative would be to mostly remove collective bargaining from the equation, and eliminate the aspect of seniority, too. This would ostensibly free up principals to evaluate, and then rehire or freely fire, teachers who don’t meet the standards. A dismissal could be arbitrated, but (according to the Massachusetts Attorney General summary of the initiative), “In deciding whether the grounds for dismissal had been proven, the arbitrator would not consider a teacher’s seniority or length of service. ”

I can’t help but admire the use of rhetoric by Stand for Children. Who wouldn’t want to Stand for Children? Who wouldn’t want to “promote excellence in public school”? The accompanying website for Massachusetts is entitled “Great Teachers: Great Schools” and who wouldn’t want that?

I did a little research about Stand for Children. I don’t know who is backing the movement financially other than donations from the public, but the organization does seem to spring up as a PAC in various states, with similar themes as the one they are working on here in Massachusetts. (A 2010 article in the Illinois Times noted that Stand for Children had contributed more than $600,000 to political candidates, so it must have some deep pockets somewhere). According to Wikipedia, the organization emerged from a rally in Washington DC and was founded by Jonah Edelman (son of civil rights pioneer Marian Wright Edelman) and Eliza Leighton as a means to improve the lives of young people.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the developments here in my state. You might want to do the same, too.

Peace (in the news),