Some Thoughts on Digital Curation

digital is pinterest

I’ve been taking part in an online study group through the National Writing Project around the topic of digital writing, with the NWP’s Digital Is website as our “text.” This week, we’ve been giving some guidance to consider the importance and role of “curating” content for ourselves and our students. Being a thoughtful curator means gathering pertinent resources that, taken together, have some meaning to the one who is viewing the collection.

In some ways, teachers have always been curators, right? We seek resources and information that we can share with our students in hopes of sparking insights and education along a line of thinking or inquiry. We lead our young people into places will get them writing, thinking, shifting. We help them see the value of things (through our own lens.) Why I choose this article over that article for them to read is all about the act of curation.

But the access to information and data in the digital world has made this responsibility ever more important, it seems to me. Given the deluge of sources (some maybe not so useful) and materials, our students often have trouble navigating in a way that is meaningful. Our role as educators is to provide some intellectual framework, and we do this by curating the content. (On the flipside, curation can also be viewed as a negative by narrowing the possibilities or filtering the content, right?). Technology tools that allow this kind of curation navigation include Diigo and other bookmarking tools; Jog the Web and other Internet site “tours”; Webquests, and more.

And even Pinterest is a curation tool, of a sort. (See my board on collections within Digital Is that I find notable and notice how I was able to provide a little commentary on each, and how others can react to my comments.)

An interesting discussion we have been having in our study group is all about annotation, and how technology can provide more and more means for collaborative marking and sharing of ideas and reflections right within the documents themselves (sort of like margin notes, but saved and shared electronically, and conceived for collaboration). I have not yet done this kind of activity with my sixth graders, but with the shift towards more research-based writing under the Common Core, it makes sense to try to figure out if there are tools that might pave the way for better and more efficient research gathering for our students, who then can make the shift themselves into the role of curator.

I like the NWP study group is sparking my thinking along new paths, and new possibilities.

Peace (in the information),


Slice of Life: The River Sculpture Video Slice

Yesterday, we had our first of three days of parent-teacher conferences. What is nice about these days (other than connecting with parents, which I do enjoy) is that we have a half-day of school and the afternoon off. The weather here in New England has turned gorgeous lately and so, I was able to take my dog for a walk down to the river near my house before picking up my son from school (also, something I can do on these half days).

I took along my video camera, too, because I wanted to capture an unofficial sculpture project that a neighbor and his grandson have been doing down there, with remnants of glass and brick and odds and ends that were churned up and kicked free by the violent storms we had in late fall here.

Check it out:

Peace (in the pieces of stuff),


Digital Life Digital Poster Projects: Two Student Exemplars

Most of my students are now done, or finishing up, their digital posters that shows what they have learned about digital citizenship and living in a digital world. They are using to create their projects and most are doing a fantastic job. I wanted to share out two examples of student work that I think captures the quality and intent of many of the projects now coming to a finish.

The first one is by Charlotte.

The second one is by Elleana.

What I like about both of these is how they paid attention to design (which was part of the rubric criteria) and also relayed important information about the topics they chose to share about.
Here is a copy of the rubric:
The Digital Life Digital Poster Project

Peace (in the sharing),

Slice of Life: Hanging out with Lil Bookworm, Da Boss, Mogo and More

Yesterday, my class began their work on designing t-shirts for our Quidditch team (our name is Permafrost). This is part of a collaboration with our wonderful art teacher, and they began on their shirts with the back. Here, they put their number (which helps the fifth graders on computers keep track of scoring data – our math connection) and their team nickname. I always get a kick out of the nicknames they come up for themselves.

Of course, I have to be hip, too, to make sure they don’t sneak in something inappropriate. 🙂
Quidditch Nicknames

This word cloud captures most of the nicknames of my students. A few were still pondering this important decision. It’s all about identity, and sense of fun, when it comes to the names on the backs of their shirts. They take it pretty serious.  The funny thing is — no one really notices the nicknames when we are playing the actual game. The players are running so fast, and there is so much action, the spectators can’t even focus on the number, never mind the nickname.  So, it’s all intrinsic and internal for the kids. That’s OK.

(My favorite nickname on the list this year: Gone Viral.)

We’re still working on a symbol to represent our team and I hope we can decide that this morning or tomorrow.

Peace (in the nickname),


Slice of Life: Shel Silverstein vs. Edgar Allen Poe

We’ve been wrapping up one unit around Digital Life, and students are completing up a digital poster project, but we are inching our way into poetry, too. Yesterday, we talked about “mood” and “tone” with poetry, which is a fairly abstract idea for many of my sixth graders to reflect upon as readers. I was trying to think of a way to demonstrate a real shift in mood with poems and hit upon this idea of comparing and contrasting the writing styles of Shel Silverstein and Edgar Allen Poe.

Such different poets, such different styles.

First, of course, we talked about what those concepts of mood and tone mean. I had to do a lot of guided discussions here, particularly around the ways that word choices affect mood of a piece, and how that mood is designed to impact the reader/listener. (note to self: need to expand this part of the lesson in the future).

Then, I shared out two short poems from Shel Silverstein. Many of the kids have heard of him, but not nearly as many in the past (is he fading away? I hope not). The first poem was about writing a poem inside of a lion and the second one was about a magical eraser. Both are from the collection, Where the Sidewalk Ends.  The poem about writing a poem inside of a lion sparked a lot of discussion. On the surface, you would not want to be eaten by a lion, and if that happened, the mood would be … terrifying. Shel’s poem is whimsical, about a poet trying to write the poem in the dark because he got too close to the lion at the zoo. My students could see how the poet set a tone of silliness right at the start.

I had them put Shel aside for a bit.

We then read and listened to (from an audio version) Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. It’s interesting how many knew of the poem from pop culture references, such as The Simpsons, but had not read it. Some have seen variations of Poe’s famous poem in books they have read. It’s a difficult poem to read for sixth graders, due to vocabulary and structure. I helped situate the reading a bit and then told them to pay attention to mood and tone (and internal rhymes and alliteration) as we listened to The Raven, and its constant call of “nevermore.” The discussion that followed talked about symbols of death, the sad feeling of mourning, and the eerie night visit by the giant bird that then never leaves. We talked about Poe’s word choices. It was great.

Ideally, the next step would have been for them to write two poems with very different moods. That will have to wait for another day, since we had some projects to work on. But I think the use of Silverstein versus Poe really brought to the surface how a writer creates a mood for the reader by the tone of the subject matter and choice of words.

Peace (evermore),


Beyond This Moment in Time: A Digital Poem

I was reading through the National Writing Project’s Elyse Eidman-Aadahl’s comments about digital writing over at the DML Central Blog. As usual, she has some interesting things to say about where we are, and where things may be going, and the increasingly important role that teachers have in these transitions.

Read the interview

I found myself stopping at some points in the piece, mulling over phrases and ideas,, and so in the spirit of remixing someone else’s content to create something new (I hope), here is a found poem from the article (with apologies to Elyse). I began it as a traditional words-on-paper poem, and then added it as a podcast, but then found myself trying it as a digital poem, with some powerpoint and a screencasting program. (In my old PC days, I had a nifty software program that would convert a PP with all transitions and animations into a video format for me. But alas, I have found no equivalent for the Mac.)


Peace (in the poem),


Slice of Life: A Bit of Woodsheddin’ with the Band

My rock and roll band — Duke Rushmore — has its first official “gig” coming up on Friday at a local brewpup. It’s a short gig, only two hours long, and so we are working to tighten up our two sets of music. We want to make a good impression, and we have invited the owner of another establishment to come watch us play, in hopes he will hire us, too.

Yesterday afternoon, we spent about three hours working on the songs. I have to say, I think we are as tight as we have ever been. The sets flow nicely, although we continue to make some adjustments, and there is nothing like a performance in front of a live audience to help a band find some focus.

Duke Rushmore Logo

I am the saxophone player, and a back-up singer, and we are playing one of my songs to end the night. We’re most a cover band right now, but I keep pushing for more original material. For now, we are just establishing ourselves as a rock and roll, danceable band, and I think we fit that bill pretty nicely.

Our gig is the night before St. Patrick’s Day in Holyoke, which has a huge concentration of Irish and pseudo-Irish people, and one of the largest St. Paddy Day Parades in New England. We suspect the brew pub might be packed by people flocking home for the parade (and needing a respite from being home with their family), and we have included a few mandolin songs and even renamed our original song from “Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight” to “Irish Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight.” Have you ever seen that Blues Brothers scene where the band goes into a country bar and tries to play the blues? Yeah, we don’t want that to happen to us.


We have one more practice tomorrow night, and then we are rarin’ to go!

Peace (in the rock and in the roll),

PS — if you are in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on Friday night, come on down to the Paper City Brewery from 6-8 p.m. The admission at the door gets you free beer and some rock and roll. And be kind to the band!


Cyberbullying: The Webcomics

My students are still working on finishing up our larger Digital Life Poster projects on Glogster, but as they finish, I am having them return to our webcomic site and finish up their webcomic assignment around cyberbullying. The comic follows some discussions, videos and activities around the issue of using technology to target someone, and strategies to deal with it.

Here are a few comics:

Peace (in the learning),

Slice of Life: The Solar Panel Dilemma

A few years ago, when we were replacing our aging and faulty heating system in our home, we decided to spend a bit more for a heating unit that was more efficient than others but it is also one that could “easily” be connected to solar panels, should we decide to that route. For the past six months, the “solar panel energy collection” idea has been percolating on our minds. We’ve been consulting with one regional organization that provides a “neighbor to neighbor” co-operative element — folks help folks with their projects, and then the cost of installation gets reduced. It’s a great concept.

But we have come to be a little wary of the group. They have blown off meetings, leaving us hanging around waiting for hours. The quotes we received were not for the kind of system we wanted. When we chat on the phone, we are not even confident they have our files in front of them. A friend with some inside knowledge of their work on one particular site questioned the quality of the installation and the claims they had made to the homeowner. We also are not all that confident that the payback over time is what they promise.

So, we tried another route.

Yesterday, we chatted with a plumber we’ve worked with over the years, and he also does solar installations. (He also installed our heating system, so he knows it inside and out). He was surprisingly and refreshingly frank about the situation, telling us that it makes no sense right now to use solar for the home heating system but it might make sense to consider the hot water system, with a lot of caveats about savings and water use and more. He’s going to draw up some estimates for us, but … we seem to be leaning away from solar right now. It’s not often you get a plumber being so honest, and risking losing a job. I respect that in him.

To be blunt: while we want to do our part as a family to cut down on energy consumption, we want to do things primarily to save money.

We don’t have the kind of disposable income (three kids, the oldest moving into high school, college costs around the corner) to invest in things that don’t have a tangible cost savings, no matter how good it would make our “green” side feel. We feel sort of sad about this latest direction of the solar idea, though, since we did have this vision of our house with solar panels and being more self-sufficient. Maybe more tax breaks and incentives down the road will make such a project doable. Maybe not.

For now, our energies are going into more traditional upgrades of the home. The solar panels can wait.

Peace (in the sun),



The Meta-Slice about Slice of Life


(This video is me, as I was writing this morning’s Slice of Life. I used a stopmotion capture, in time-lapse mode. My eyes move a lot! I guess it must be all that thinking! It would be funny to have the camera trained on my fingers one of these days. You’d see a lot of fixin’ and backspacin’ going on. – Kevin)

We’re into the 10th day of the Slice of Life challenge over at Two Writing Teachers, and the sheer number of teachers who are writing with Ruth and Stacey and others this year is … startling.

I have been participating in the Slice of Life for the past four or five years (It’s a blur), taking small moments from our days and writing about them in a reflective way. The first year, we had about eight to 10 regular writers. Each year, it got a little bigger as the challenge took hold. But this year, it has exploded (thanks in part to the influence and impact that Ruth and Stacey have brought to the table as teachers of writing and their book, Day by Day). On any given day, there are more than 100 posts by Slicers, and some days that number has pushed up beyond 150 posts.

That’s a whole lot of teachers writing, and blogging.

I’ve been trying to carve out time to read some of the posts and add comments, just as I have appreciated that many of my fellow Slicers come here, and read and add a few thoughts to my posts. There is a real sense of a connected writing community, and audience is never more real than this kind of writing challenge.

I do get the sense that the intimacy of a smaller community has gotten lost this year, I think. In other years, I would visit a handful of bloggers whom I knew through their writing, and I had some history with them. Their stories resonated because I knew a bit about the back-stories. We created a sort of history together over the month of March. Sometimes, those stories would unfold in different ways the following year, allowing us to notice patterns in our lives.

This year, it’s different.

There are just so many writers that I am meeting someone new just about every day. I am purposely trying to read slices from bloggers that I don’t quite know. Is that a good shift? In some ways, yes. The more we widen our circles, the more we get exposed to different thinking, different teaching strategies, different writing styles. That’s a good thing.

But I do feel more like a boat on the ocean this year, rather than a raft on a lake, you know? I wonder if Ruth and Stacey feel that way, too. In the past, they have worked hard to ensure that every blogger in Slice of Life received a comment. No dead space. No writing into a voic. Someone out there was reading and reacting. I can’t imagine they can pull that off this year. They would have to take a leave of absence from work and family to do all that reading and writing.

In the end, it is heartening for me to see so many teachers exploring with blogging, though, and a few are using Slice of Life as a writing activity in the classroom. My hope is that as teachers use digital tools for writing, they are reflecting on the possibilities for their students in the classrooms. I know, I am. You, too?

Peace (in the meta-slice),