Digital Writing Month: Game off/Game on

Digital Writing Month game2
This really is what happened to me with my video game project for Digital Writing Month. I had begun to create a game in which I was seeking to represent some of my ideas around digital writing. I was two and a half levels into the game design when I realized: this is not working. If you have never dipped your toes into game design, the use of symbolism is important, and here, as I tried to “represent” digital writing within a video game format, it just fell apart on me.

So, I rebooted.

I deleted all of that work and sat back down with an empty piece of paper (interesting how a digital project originates from the tried and true, isn’t it?) and came up with a new idea. This one has to do with a single level, in which the letters of the hashtag of #digiwrimo would have to be navigated. Each letter would have some sort of challenge but the player would have journey through or over the letters themselves. Meanwhile, I would add a bonus level down below the main game where one could experience Twitter vs. Zombies, and also a place of collaboration with sprites helping the player through a maze.

It worked, and I am still tinkering with the game, so it is not quite ready for primetime. BUT, check out the map that the site I use — Gamestar Mechanic — has added as a feature. This new tool allows you to get an image map of the levels of games that you create. Which is perfect for sharing in this case, since you can clearly see the DIGIWRIMO letters that form the centerpiece of my game.


Peace (in the game),


Digital Writing Month: A Code-Poem Experiment

I saw a challenge over at Digital Writing Month: create a html code poem. Eh? Why not?
Here, first is the poem in raw text:

<p>Yes, I see you. Do you see me?</p>

I’m <strong>
perhaps but not so </strong>
as to <img src=> imagine
how you might be <em> listening </em> to my <i>words</i>
and yet so often fail to <a href=> connect </a> with me</a>
in these shared experiences
in a space that gets <small>smaller all the time</small>.

You may <break> my meaning into <p>aragraphs</p> and then
into words, and then into <small>bytes</small>, and then slowly reduce me <ins> the hidden me</ins> into
<li>echoes of the pst</li>
<sub>while down here</sub>, where I watch you
<sup>towering over me </sup> in my dreams,
I fade
and fall <break> apart.

You leave me <font size=”8″> feeling <font color=”blue”>blue.

And here is the poem, when converted:

Yes, I see you. Do you see me?

perhaps but not so

as to imagine
how you might be listening to my words
and yet so often fail to connect with me
in these shared experiences
in a space that gets smaller all the time.

You maymy meaning into


and then
into words, and then into bytes, and then slowly reduce me the hidden me into

  • emotion
  • thought
  • memory
  • echoes of the pst

while down here, where I watch you
towering over me in my dreams,
I fade
and fall apart.

You leave me feeling blue.

The difficult part was trying to think through what would be invisible and what would be visible in both formats, and how the code commands might inform the poem itself. I’m not sure I completely captured that, to be honest. It’s difficult to toggle meaning between two languages like that. I like it better as raw html. You?

Peace (in the code, in the poem),

Cyberbullying: An Overview and Teaching Strategies

This is my presentation from an NCTE session on bullying. My part was to have us think about the aspects of cyberbullying and to consider strategies for teachers. This was part of a larger conversation about the effects of bullying and our need to address it on many fronts. The influx of digital media in the lives of young people has the potential to exasperate and increase the ways that students get bullied — inside and outside of our schools.

I was also asked to share some resources. These are either ones that I shared in the presentation or were shared by audience members during the discussion times. I hope (we hope) these resources allow you a chance to educate yourself, your students and the families in your communities about cyberbullying by viewing prevention through the lens of learning.

Peace (in tolerance),


Digital Writing Month: A Text Message Story

A number of years ago, I remember reading an odd story told entirely in cancelled bank checks. I was inspired and created my own version of it at one time (need to find it) and this week, as part of Digital Writing Month, I thought about how we might use the format of text messaging to tell a story. I had this idea of a girl texting her parents about “losing it” – a phrase that brings up a few different connotations — and letting the message unfold until the meaning becomes clear.

Honestly, I don’t know how successful the story is. I had to add something later to the beginning, which may have ruined the flow of the story as I first told it. I am hoping the late addition added to it. But I did like how I had to think in terms of character, and medium, and the nuance of conversation in this format. It made for a tricky tale, told quickly with lots of narrative gaps. And the text message generator gave me a chance to write and kick out images that look like it really did unfold on a cell phone.


Peace (in the story),


Talking Video Game Storyboarding with New Zealand

Skyping with New Zealand: Game Design
For the second time this week, I hopped on my computer and joined a group of people somewhere else. The other day, it was as part of a collaborative keynote address in New York. Last night, it was a Skype visit to Kathryn Trask’s classroom in New Zealand (we follow each other on Twitter). Her students are learning about video game design  by using Gamestar Mechanic (just as we do) and she wanted me to chat about the elements and importance of storyboarding. I was happy to do it, although the time difference was a little strange (it was today when I talked to them last night).

As I talked with her students, I tried to emphasize a few things around game design storyboarding:

  • A storyboard is a map of ideas so you see the larger picture as well as the smaller segments
  • While storyboards do not need to include every detail, they should conceptually show a story/narrative arc
  • In game design, storyboard panels are a handy way of considering “levels” of a game
  • The act of storyboarding flips you from seeing your game as the maker to envisioning the role of the player
  • Just because you have a storyboard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t veer off when something better/more interesting comes along in the midst of design. Remain flexible

Later, I also shared a few resources that might be helpful:

It was pretty neat to jump into another classroom. Kathryn’s students asked some great questions and now, she has the challenge ahead of them to begin planning a game. Good luck!

Peace (in the sharing and connecting),


Keynote Collaboration with Bonnie and Troy at NYSCATE

lick Here for Conference Brochure

Anytime I get a chance to collaborate with my National Writing Project friends Troy Hicks and Bonnie Kaplan, I am game. So, yesterday, I joined Bonnie and Troy for a keynote presentation at the New York State Association for Computers and Technology event. But since I could not take more time off school, we used Google Hangout and I joined them virtually. I was this huge head on the wall in the conference hall, which was a little odd and made me feel a bit like Oz, you know? But it worked.

Our theme was digital writing, and how to notice and nurture the compositional practices of young people as they use digital tools to make shifts in their writing. While I assume most of the audience were technology coordinators and technology teachers (given the organization), our message was that writing is at the heart of technology, and that we need to put more agency and ownership into the hands of our students.

Bonnie shared a documentary project that she has been involved with in which video and digital storytelling are being brought down in the early childhood classrooms, giving voice and space to the stories of young learners. I talked about how to begin the year with technology (with our Dream Scenes project) as a way to set the stage for the rest of the year. And Troy not only shared a video of his own young son talking through his choices as he worked on a Wiki project, but he also brought forward two different multimodal essay projects from older students.

It was fascinating to watch us collaboratively weave our ideas together, and we used Today’s Meet as a backchannel of discussions. Troy was masterful in bringing those topics and questions to the forefront, so that the audience’s reactions and sharing became part of our keynote presentation.

Peace (in the prez),



Book Review: Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King

I know the movie Rise of The Guardians comes out soon, but I wanted to read the books in the series (Guardians of Childhood) first with my son. Honestly, I had some trepidation. Books that revisit and reboot the back stories of famous figures like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and others? Yeah. I don’t know if that needs to be done.

So I was pleasantly surprised by Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King as a read-aloud with my son. The story (which never mentions Santa Claus, ever) of the swashbuckling pirate, Nicholas St. Nick, who joins an aging wizard and a young girl named Katherine to fight off the (literal) armies of darkness under the command of the evil Pitch is a rollicking yard, moving at a quick pace with just enough magic and sword fights and mystery (and connections to popular culture’s understanding of the man from the North Pole) to keep both of us interested. It was a quick read but we were both wondering what was going to happen next.

A number of times, the writing got bogged down with over-dramatic flare, as if they were given a bit too much literary license. Luckily, it wasn’t all that often, and the action overtook the writing anyway. There is some tricky vocabulary in here for younger readers, and I had to stop a few times to talk about some words, but that’s OK — if the story draws them in and exposes them to new words, I am all for it. But I did wonder about the audience for the books. Is it the younger kids who still believe? Or is it the older kids who are hanging on to the myths of childhood? Maybe it is a little of both.

There are two other books in the series so far (with picture book star William Joyce being one of the co-writers and the main illustrator) and while I am sure I will be dragged to the see the movie soon, my son is also antsy to read the other two books in the series (the next is about the Easter Bunny and so, my trepidations rise again). Still, I was pleased with the first book, so maybe I just need to be wide open for some more magic to enter our lives through the pages of our read-aloud experiences.

Peace (in the north),


Digital Writing Month: Compose the Web

Using Thimble

I really enjoyed a session at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting called Composing the Web, which began with a neat “toy hacking” activity and then moved into exploring the Mozilla Foundation’s suite of tools for remixing and creating content on the web. Using one of the activities on Thimble (a webpage creator of sorts), I created this quick “shout out” project using a claymation video my son and I had made.

What I like about these tools is that it puts more agency and understanding into the hands and fingertips of users (ie, our students) and can make clear the underlying code structure of our media-saturated world. Use Hackasaurus Xray Goggles, for example, and you can make visible the coding strategies of a website designer, AND then remix it for yourself. Thimble allows you to create and publish a website in minutes, and the new Popcorn video system is a robust video editor that opens the doors for all sorts of remixing content.

Which brought up a long discussion about copyright, ownership of content, and more in our session. In the end, there was some agreement (I think) that these tools are part of what digital literacy is about, and that we do a disservice to our young people if we don’t find ways for them to understand and use the web for creation. I don’t think we all agreed on all points, though, and that points to continued confusion over the remixing/hacking world in educational circles.  (I am not clear, either).

But I am going to be bringing these tools into my class as part of a unit I am starting around media criticism — using Xray Goggles to hack a news site and then maybe Thimble to create an alternative news site, and then maybe even Popcorn video editor to annotate a news video. The ideas are still unfolding here ….

Anyway, here is a link to my Thimble-created site: Yo! I’m Creating Claymation!

Peace (in the hack),

Teaching Media Criticism without Cynicism with Three Cups of Tea

We started what could unfold as an interesting unit yesterday around media criticism. Our work will revolve around the reading of Three Cups of Tea, which we read a few years ago but then abandoned when the controversy erupted last year with a 60 Minutes investigative report on Greg Mortenson and Jon Krakauer’s scathing Three Cups of Deceit book. We’ve decided to revisit the book with our sixth graders for a number of reasons:

  • It’s non-fiction (or is it?) and we need to be exposing full-length non-fiction to our students
  • It provides a platform to cast a critical eye on the publishing process
  • It allows us to talk about hero worship, and potential and pitfalls of that trait in our culture
  • It allows us to re-examine the nature of lying
  • It allows us to see how one person can still make change in the world, if they have passion
  • It allows us to not only look at Mortenson, but also the media’s response to Three Cups of Tea in light of the controversy

In short, a reading of the book in light of the controversy is a foot in the door to teaching media criticism on multiple levels — from the writing/publishing of the book (Mortenson defends the “truth and lies allegation” by blaming the use of a ghostwriter and publisher); to the slippery slope of retelling of false events and facts in support of the larger ideal (he raised a lot of money to build schools in places in the world that require our attention but rarely get it); to the genre of investigative journalism and the fairness of those kinds of reports; to the media portrayal and our own perceptions of the Middle East (ie, everyone must be a terrorist).

Yesterday, I showed my class the 60 Minutes piece but first, we had a long discussion about fiction versus non-fiction, and where the “truth” resides in writing a book, and whether a writer as a “literary license” to tweak with the facts in order to tell a good story. It was an amazing discussion that unfolded differently in all four classes, and yet, it went deep into our conceptions as readers and our expectations as readers to be sold a true bill of goods. If it is non-fiction, my students said, they want it to be true. Otherwise, they do not trust the messenger (ie, the writer).

We also talked about our school, like many others, raised and donated a few thousand dollars to Mortenson and his organization via the Pennies for Peace program. Almost everyone raised their hands when I asked if they had contributed to Pennies for Peace when we ran it at our school. A fifth grade teacher who organized the coin drive also took a group of students to see Mortenson speak, and they met him personally, handing over the check from our school. In other words, my students have a vested interest in this story.

Today, we will be looking at an interview Mortenson gave to Outside Magazine to rebut the charges against him and his foundation — The Central Asia Institute — so that we get his own voice into the mix, and begin talking about how to make sense of the various sides of an issue.

The trick for me as the teacher is to avoid teaching cynicism here. What I want are critics — young people with eyes wide open to the world of media and information, and the development of internal filters around what they read and what they view on screens (for example, many students ripped into 60 Minutes for not working harder to bring on supporters of Mortenson to rebut the claims against him, although they did try to contact him and even ambushed him at a book-signing event.) If all I have done at the end is nurture cynicism, then the time has been wasted.

Peace (in the cups),