eBook Review: Why School?

I’ve long been a huge fan of Will Richardson. One of his earlier books — Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom — helped shape my own thinking about the practicality, practice and the pedagogy of integrating technology into my classroom in meaningful ways. I’ve passed that book along to many a teaching friend, and I continue to read with interest any of the blog posts and magazine columns that Richardson puts out. So, I was intrigued by his newest ebook, Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere.

Richardson writes in a clear and passionate voice in this book about the need for schools to make the shifts necessary for young people to become engaged in learning with the world and to set establish educational goals that make sense in their lives. Standardized testing? Not so much. In Why School?, Richardson keeps the message mostly positive, acknowledging the difficulties that educational leaders are having in coming to grips with the surprisingly fast pace of change in the world due to informational explosion and connectivity.  His central term and idea here is “abundance” — as in there are information sources all over the place, accessed from many different devices and points and time by many people, and it is more important to be teaching our learners how to navigate and access that abundance than it is to drill/kill them on facts that can be easily found with a simple search engine query.

“Remaking assessment starts with this: Stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a Google search.”

Richardson, Will (2012-09-10). Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single) (Kindle Locations 331-332). TED Conferences. Kindle Edition.

He makes it clear that we shortchange our children when we don’t use all available means to:

  • reach out the expertise in the world ready to help young people learn (scientists, mathematicians, etc.)
  • learn as teachers along with our students and make that learning visible
  • develop authentic activities with real goals where skills are transferable to multiple areas
  • use technology and media wisely, and for creating and connecting
  • tap into the surprisingly dense literacies of our students (ie, gaming, etc.)

There are any number of passages that I highlighted in the book, and here is one that stuck out for me because it reminds us to ignore that old dichotomy of native/immigrant, and understand that teachers are needed as never before:

“Access doesn’t automatically come with an ability to use the Web well. We aren’t suddenly self-directed, organized, and literate enough to make sense of all the people and information online — or savvy enough to connect and build relationships with others in safe, ethical, and effective ways. Access doesn’t grant the ability to stay on task when we need to get something done. No matter how often we dub our kids “digital natives,” the fact is they can still use our help to do those things and more if they are to thrive in the abundance of their times.”

Richardson, Will (2012-09-10). Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single) (Kindle Locations 169-173). TED Conferences. Kindle Edition.

Want more? You can also see the interview that Richardson did over at the blog for TED (which is a publisher of Why School?) If you are interested in what shape schools should be taking (as opposed to the shape they are taking, influenced mostly by the business community and education textbook establishment), then Richardson is someone to listen to and his message is something to think about, and act on.

Peace (in the sharing),


Caine’s Arcade and the Global Cardboard Challenge

Maybe I have been out of this loop but I had not heard of the story of Caine’s Arcade, but it is fascinating on a number of levels. First, there’s this young kid who used cardboard and odd parts to create his own arcade in his dad’s shop (Maker Movement reference). Then, there is a fimmaker who stumbles into the arcade, is fascinated by the invention of games out of cardboard and creates a documentary movie. Finally, the story goes viral, people all over line up to play and a scholarship for the boy is funded beyond belief.

And now, there is a Global Cardboard Challenge being planned for October 6 by the Imagination Foundation. Here, kids are challenged to create their own games and play out of cardboard, just as Caine did. I wonder if I can pull together something for my classes on that day — some kind of Make Game activity, and have them become part of the global activities on that day (which, I see, is a Saturday …) Or maybe I can do something with my own kids at home.

If there is one thing that schools often have a lot of it, it is cardboard, right?

Peace (in the play),



A Presentation Teaser: Digging into Digital Literacies

I’ve been doing some thinking work around a keynote address coming up around digital literacies with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I made this video as a sort of teaser, trying to lay out some ideas and flesh out some direction for what I want to speak about — which is how the digital literacies of kids can be connected to the literacies we value in school but we need some bridges between reading/writing in school and reading/writing in their lives.

Peace (in the prez),

They Need a Lesson on Flashdrives


Just when you think that a class of kids might have more technology savvy skills than the previous year, something happens that makes you realize that you had best lay those assumptions aside and go back to the basics. We’re in the mist of a digital storytelling unit right now and many of my sixth graders have flash drives. They keep pulling them out of their binders and backpacks —  multi-gig memory devices shaped like pigs, guitars, skateboards, footballs, angry birds, and just about every cute design you can think of that cost about 10 bucks — and asking, “Can I use this?” as if they have been waiting all summer for the opportunity.

I assumed that question meant they knew how to use flash drives. Wrong assumption. Most don’t have a clue. They just have the device, which we do recommend for our students but don’t require. I even have to explain how flash drives get plugged into the USB ports because the first question is often, “What do I do with this?” as they hold it up in the air.

“Plug it in the USB.”

“Which one?” is familiar follow-up question, as the student stares at the three ports on the back of the laptops.

That becomes a quick lesson in “it doesn’t matter” because the computer will figure it out.


And then just as I am about to go off to help someone else, I hear, “Now what?”

As I went through this process, with some variations, for the umpteenth time on Friday, I realized that a lesson in how to use a flash drive might be in order because I’d rather be using my time working with students on their digital stories, not walking them through how to plug in a flash drive and save to a file.


I also need to somehow remind them about saving to the flash drive AND the hard drive (although if our school had cloud storage and instant back-up ….). One student already lost her work when her flash drive crashed on her. She had only been doing her work on the flash drive, moving the files from home to school, and when her flash drive crapped out on her, her work was gone. I felt bad, although she seemed pretty resilient about it.

“I’ll redo it this weekend,” she said cheerfully.

Peace (in the basics),


Graphic Novel Review: The Hobbit

So, apparently today is “Hobbit Day,” celebrating the imaginary shared birthdays of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. In honor of this day (ahem), I figured I should get around to writing a review that I meant to write over the summer. I read The Hobbit as read-aloud to my (now) 8 year old son (and then we got bogged down in Lord of the Rings trilogy), and he completely and utterly loved the story. After we ended the book, I found a graphic novel version in our local bookstore, and my son has had it in his room every since (which is why I kept forgetting to write a review of it).

I’m pretty sure there are a couple of graphic interpretations of the classic Tolkien novel but this one by illustrator David Wenzel (and adapted by Charles Dixon and Sean Deming) is pretty well-done and faithful to the original story, while moving it all in a very visual direction. The graphic novel covers the entire story and while it is a bit text-heavy (as if everything Tolkien — see my note above about getting bogged down in Lord of the Rings), this graphic interpretation is a wonderful companion piece to the book. I’m glad we read the book first, but my son made a great transition from the power of the read aloud (his own imagination) to the graphic novel version (someone else’s imagination) and we had some long discussions about the way Wenzel envisioned characters, scenes, etc.

What I like best is that the story has remained with my son over the months because the graphic novel is such an easy interface — he connects back to the story with the illustrations. I don’t think he reads all that much of the text in the graphic novel, but that is one of the powers of the graphics — the illustrations tell the story. And now we wait for the movie to start coming out, and he has repeatedly asked if he is old enough to see it. I think it will be one of those movie adventures that the two of us (we may even allow an older brother to join us) can experience over the next few years as the parts of The Hobbit movie come out.

But for now, Happy Hobbit Day. May you go wandering into adventure every day, and still find your way home.

Peace (in all the earths),

PS — this is a pretty decent celebration post of The Hobbit at Wired Magazine.


The First of the (digital) Dreams is a Writer

In class, many students are moving into Photostory3 as they begin the recording, editing and producing of their digital storytelling project to start our year: the Dream Scenes. They have the option of sharing the final videos at our sixth grade youtube account (they are surprised that we even have a youtube account but we most certainly do). The other day, the first dream scene was completed, and it’s a dream right for my heart: she wants to become a writer, and not just a writer, but a writer of a series of books.

The Dream Scene project consists of:

  • A writing prompt that becomes the script of the story, in which students say what a goal is for themselves, why it is important and how they are going to achieve it
  • An illustration created in MS Paint (A challenge for many of them) and no clip art allowed
  • A digital story video at the end, with voice, art, music and motion

Today, they’ll have more time to work on their projects and then the plan is to wrap it all up on Monday.

Peace (in the dreams, hopes and aspiration),


Talking Common Core … with Parents

Last night, we had our sixth grade curriculum night, and it was a fantastic turnout by parents. We didn’t have a ton of time with each class of parents, as they were moving through their child’s schedule, but along with talking about the books we will be reading and the kinds of writing we will be doing and the technology we will be using, I also focused my presentation on the shifts that are underway in our state’s curriculum (i.e., Common Core).

I want parents to understand how things are changing with the Common Core and what that means for their children in my classroom.

As a parent, I don’t think our state or anyone involved in my children’s school district has done nearly enough to give me information about what the influence of the Common Core is having on the learning environments for my children, which leads me to believe that probably very little is changing and little is taking place. Which worries me on a few levels: first, given some past history, some of the teachers my children have had could use a little shake-up (sorry, I hate to talk bad about colleagues in other school districts but we have had our frustrations with mediocre teachers). Second, the state assessment is about to completely change in the next year or two, and I wonder if my boys’ teachers in even understand that. Given the nearly zero amount of information flowing from the classrooms to our home, I’d say .. I don’t think so. And finally, given the push for higher level thinking expected out of my children in school, I want to know how I, as a parent, can help my kids and their teachers with these changes.

With that in mind, I try to bring forth as much information about our own ELA shifts as possible. I highlighted:

  • the move towards more informational/non-fiction text
  • our use of more complex texts that force students out of their comfort zones
  • teaching of  advanced research skills when using the Internet,
  • the need for more and more writing in the classroom
  • the highlighted domains of argumentative/persuasive and expository writing.

In discussions afterwards, a number of parents expressed an appreciation for the information overview, and we talked as a group about what this means for their children, and how, quite honestly, we are still figuring out the right balances of these new standards. I had an interesting discussion with a dad, who remembers even to this day the high school class he took in which he read “the classics,” and he worries about the loss of prominence of fiction reading and short story writing. I assured him we would be still be working on those areas, just not as much as in the past.

Still, I tried to keep it positive, without coming across as if I drank the Common Core Kool-aid. I noted that many of the shifts are important and critical skills for people to know in the informational age, and we would do our best to bring these 11 and 12 year old students along. But I was also frank in noting that developmentally, some sixth graders are ready for those complex, critical thinking skills, and some are going to struggle mightily. My role, I told parents, is to help my students make progress long multiple lines, and I asked them to make sure they stay involved, too.

Peace (in the core),


Western Mass Writing Project Newsletter

Our writing project is shifting to an electronic format for our newsletter. It’s nothing fancy in terms of design, but is familiar in format to our folks and provides important information about what is happening around the WMWP world, including an upcoming conference (where I am the keynote speaker).
WMWP Fall 2012 Newsletter
Peace (in the news),