Sharing, Learning, Exploring: WMWP Tech Event

If you have been the main organizer for a technology-infused event that brings together people you want to bring together, you know know how much stress goes into it. You wake up early that morning and think: nothing’s going to work today. The Internet will be down. The computers will be funky. People will get lost and won’t show …..

WMWP Tech Shot
That was me, yesterday morning (earlier than I want to say), as we held our Western Massachusetts Writing Project event that focused in on pop culture, technology and writing and the Common Core standards (now adopted by our state). Everything was perfect, though. The host school — West Springfield Middle School — is a fabulous facility, with three adjacent spaces that we used; almost everyone who signed up, arrived (and then some); our high school students who we brought in as our keynote speakers were fabulous; and the participants (about 25 people plus about 8 WMWP presenters) felt as if they could have used a few more hours exploring the themes and sites we shared with them.

Our technology team at WMWP led the event, with presenters coming from our ranks, and we explored the literacy in the lives of our students outside of school, the impact of technology on learning, and then breakout sessions took place for social networking (with Edmodo), digital storytelling (with Animoto and Voicethread), and gaming (with Gamestar Mechanic). Lots of people wanted the digital storytelling session, so we had some juggling to do, and it reminds us that teachers are looking for writing to be the very center of student work. There is high interest right now in digital storytelling, and free tools (which is what we focused on). We also made connections between our event and the national Digital Learning Day that just passed.


Our keynote speakers were from an organization called Video Vanguard (part of a Youth Action Coalition), and the two high school students were articulate and passionate and insightful about the ways that young people use media and technology. They shared a video project they recently completed in which they traveled to New York to observe the Occupy Wall Street movement, and focused a video on gender inqualities in the workplace. They interviewed people on the streets, and edited it into a powerful 5-minute video. It was full of researched information, and point-of-view, and video composition. What a great piece of art to share.

And it set the tone for the day, too, particularly when the students urged us teachers to “pay attention” to our students, and to find out what they are doing by forging personal relationships with them. Make connections, they told us, and ask questions. “Personal connections. It makes a difference,” Katie said.

Peace (in the sharing),



Book Review: RT, Margaret and the Rats of NIMH

Well, my son and I finished up our read aloud of the NIMH series with the third installment — RT, Margaret and the Rats of NIMH by Jane Leslie Connly — and while it was enjoyable, I didn’t feel it held quite the same power as the first two (and nothing compares to the first one). It may be that introducing humans as the main characters instead of animals took away some of the magical qualities of the story. Or it may be that the plot device — two kids lost in the woods, rescued by the rats, have to keep the secret — just didn’t have quite enough conflict to keep the novel going as much as the other two did.

That said, my son loved it. He is quite sad that the series is now over, and we both chewed over some of the mysteries left unexplained in this third book – where has Nicodemus gone (he is nearing death in the book and has a “journey” that he embarks on) and where have the rats gone (when the kids take adults to Thorn Valley, the rats’ home is deserted and more).

Still, jumping into the world of the rats and their adventures, and concerns, is highly entertaining and this third book still keeps that part of the story alive, and allows you to think about rats in a different way. It also makes you wonder about those scientists in their labs, using rats and mice for experiments. At one point, my son said, “I don’t like the people in this book. Only the rats.”

But RT (real name: Artie) and Margaret as fine as characters, too, undergoing character changes as Margaret learns to be a bit more self-reliant and less harsh with the world, and Artie (who starts the book out as as a sort of “mute” child) begins to find his voice, and (in a nice touch) begins writing the story of the rats with a crayon on the wall of his closet, so that it won’t be forgotten.

Peace (in NIMH),


Photo Opp: The Duke Rushmore Band

My rock and roll band — Duke Rushmore — is now gearing up to get gigs, and we have a few possibilities. But they want a photo. So, we took a few of the other night. We don’t look too bad! (That’s me, in the back, with the hat on and the saxophone in hand).
Duke Rushmore 2
Here is a video from our live performance last year. We’ve gotten a lot tighter since then.

Peace (in the rock and the roll),


Teaching Design and Digital Composition w/Glogster

Yesterday (as part of Digital Learning Day), I brought all four of my sixth grade classes into for the first time, and as expected (from past experiences), they loved it. They love the possibility of embeddable media, they love the clip art, and they love the colorful options of theme and “stickers” and more. But before they could even get their account information, we had a long discussion about “design principles.” For many of my students, this kind of thinking is new, although when we began to talk about Apple and its products, something clicked for a lot of them.

I began by explaining some of my own thoughts around design, with an emphasis on web design.

  • “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it”
  • Don’t make random decisions about your design – be thoughtful in your choices
  • The way colors look together is important
  • Images and video should be partners to text
  • Be consistent with your theme (background, text, images, multimedia, etc.)
  • Simple design is always better than complicated design

I then showed them my Glogster project (which I had shared with them the day before, as they knew they were going to be working on a Glog related to their short stories). I asked them to pick apart my thinking. Why did I choose what I chose, and how did those choices connect to my short story (which I had read aloud to them last week)? It was great. They noticed many of the elements that I wanted to notice.

Then, I shared this following Glog with them. I took the same text but purposely went anti-design. You should have heard the “whoahs” and “I can’t read that” and “yikes” that accompanied the first look. Then, again, I asked them to break down what I did NOT do when it comes to design choices. We talked about colors, about busyness, about lack of theme, about no connection to the original text.

I think they got it. Or most of them got it. Check out this project which a student began in class and then completed at home. I would say that it shows pretty decent design principles, don’t you?

Peace (on the Glog),


We’re Glogging Our Way on Digital Learning Day

It’s Digital Learning Day!

I am bringing my students onto for the first time this year, but we will be using the digital poster site quite a bit as the year progresses for projects around multimedia writing in ELA, engineering explorations in Science, and a history poster in Social Studies (and who knows, maybe some graphing in Math). What we will be doing today is talking about “design principles” and then, they are going to working on a Glog that connects with the Adventure Short Story they just completed yesterday. Their Glog will focus on:

  • Summary
  • Protagonist/Antagonist
  • Setting

I want to keep it simple, and doable, but also, I didn’t want them to being a random project, either. Yesterday, I shared the Glog that I created for my own short story so they could envision what I am expecting. They also received a brainstorming sheet to gather ideas, so that today, we won’t have to worry about what is going to be written — just how it will look.

Peace (on Digital Learning Day!),