Digital Writing Month: The Masters are Messing with my Flow

The other day, I shared out a Google tool that allows you to have “characters” in a Google Doc “write” with each other. This video is from a related tool, in which you can collaborate with “masters” of literature – Shakespeare, Poe, Dickens, etc. Google captures the real-time writing in the document and kicks out a link. I did a videoshot of my writing with the tool and then layered in some audio reflections of the experience.

You can “view” my live document here.

Give the Google Docs Demo: Masters Edition a try

Peace (in the digital experience),

And Two Final Zombie Vs. Twitter Comics

We’re nearing the end of the Twitter Vs. Zombies virtual game that has been unfolding all weekend. I’m a little tired of being a zombie, to be honest, so I am sharing out the last two comics that I created as part of Digital Writing Month. Tomorrow, I am back to a regular ol’ human being with a regular appetite, and fairly normal tweets (although that is a judgement call on the part of my followers, who must be wondering what the heck is up with all the zombified tweets this weekend)

Digital Writing Comic14

Digital Writing comic15


Peace (in the comics),

Veteran’s Day: 25-Word-Stories

This is a revisiting of a post I did two years ago, when I wrote a number of 25 Word Stories on Twitter to honor and fictionalize the stories of veterans. (I am a veteran, too, but, thankfully, never in a war) I think the stories still have a certain narrative power to them. The one with the “maps on skin” still resonate with me as the writer.
If you are a Veteran, thank you.

vets day 25wordstories 1

vets day 25wordstories 2

vets day 25wordstories  3

Peace (in the world),


Digital Writing Month: The Zombie Factory Movie

My son was hounding me to create a stopmotion movie yesterday and so I finally agreed, after dinner, to help him get set up. As he started to talk about his “story” (which is something I require him to have in mind – a mental storyboard — before we get started so that it doesn’t just devolve into complete chaos), I realized that he was envisioning a sort of zombie-like story.

Which was a strange coincidence, because I was in the midst of playing the Twitter Vs. Zombie game (although no one in family knows it) as part of Digital Writing Month. With a couple of story tweaks, we decided to base the movie around a Zombie King and a zombie factory, and a hero who destroys it and captures the Zombie King. He was the hero. I was the Zombie King.

We got to work — using the Smoovie app software to create scenes with Lego pieces, and then iMovie to add narration and music (from Freeplay Music), and then Youtube to publish (he is very conscious already of “views” and maybe that is a topic of another post on another day, given that he is only 8 years old). I shared the final video out as part of the Twitter vs. Zombie game last night, adding our creation into the narrative mix of the unfolding game.

Peace (in the movie),

Book Review: The Mark of Athena

I want to thank Rick Riordan. When my youngest son turned eight years old, he suddenly stopped wanting me to read to him. It broke my heart because I have spent years with him and his two older brothers, snuggled up, reading books together. But he now reads his own novels (He’s in the middle of the Harry Potter series). I wandered around the house, without a listener (the dog wouldn’t sit still).

But when The Mark of Athena — the most recent book in the Heroes of Olympus series by the prolific Riordan — came out, my son came back in. So, I owe ya one, Rick.  (Plus, he has learned how to count with Roman Numerals with the book. I’ve had him tell me the chapter number for each chapter, navigating the Roman symbols in a fun way). My son and I have spent the last two weeks completely immersed in the continuing saga of Percy Jackson and his demigod colleagues, including his girlfriend, Annabeth Chase (daughter of Athena), as they continue to move towards an epic battle against Gaia and the forces of Giants who want to overthrow Olympus and destroy the world.

(A side note: I ordered The Mark of Athena from Scholastic as part of our book club. When it came in, I had the book on my desk. I had more students come over and look at it and talk about it than any other book that has been on my desk this year. One girl was so excited about it, she did a happy dance across the front of the room. But then she realized that she did not have the book yet and her parents might not be able to get it for her anytime soon. I looked at her. I looked at the book. And I lent it to her to read. She zipped through it in five days. My son, who was waiting for the book, too, was not at all happy that I had lent it out before he got a look. BUT, the teacher in me trumped the parent in me.)

I won’t give the plot away, but this book centers on Annabeth Chase more than any other demigod, and that’s a good thing. She is smart, and powerful, and she uses her wits to survive a terrifying ordeal late in the book. And the seven demigods are mostly an interesting crew. The only one who does nothing for me is Jason, the son of Jupiter (ie, Zeus) who just seems like a dud to me. A powerful dud, but still, a dud. Still, Riordan finishes the book up in a very dramatic style, sending two demigods to an unknown future (I won’t say which two) in a classic cliffhanger moment. I got to the last page and my son looked at me.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“What happens?”

“We’ll just have to wait ..” and we both looked to the back page, where the book advertises the next in the series — The House of Hades — which comes out in Fall 2013 “… for another year.”


You could say he’s hooked. Thanks, Rick.

Peace (in the adventure),


Digital Writing Month: Running from Zombies (Comic)

Digital Writing Comic14 zombie

If you are just joining me here, you may be wondering about my sudden fascination about zombies. Well, I am taking part in a weekend Twitter-based game called Twitter vs. Zombies as part of Digital Writing Month. (You can see my post about it from yesterday).  And I figure, as long a I am in the game, so, too, should the characters from the webcomic I have been creating as part of Digital Writing Month.

And so, Shirley is on the run from her friend, Dave, who has been bitten and is hungry. In this game of text and tweets, you can’t trust anyone. Not even your favorite blogger.



Peace (in the adventure),

DeComposing in the Twitter vs. Zombie Game

I can’t say I am a big fan of zombies (well, who is, really?) and I have often wondered about the ways zombies have taken anchor in popular culture. But friends in the Digital Writing Month adventure launched a Twitter-based game called Twitter Vs. Zombies is more complex than I can go into here (although you can find all the emerging rules here). It’s essentially a massive game of Twitter Hashtag Tag, and I have to say, it drew me in this weekend.

I started the game out as a zombie (no comments from the peanut gallery, thanks), and throughout the day, I tried to bite (#bite) humans to turn them into zombies, as they used various hashtag commands to escape (#dodge) and save themselves (#swipe) as a cooperative survival experience. What struck me early on is how easy it was to become immersed in a game that was entirely virtual and in text. And it was fun, particularly as folks got more and more creative with their tweets as they ventured into the imaginary landscape. Pretty amusing.

I was reminded a bit of Jane McGonigal’s theory around gaming, particularly large-scale social gaming, and how the act of play and invention brings together a myriad of people (even zombies). I wonder how this could translate to the classroom — without zombies, perhaps, but in some other vein, so that the nature of game and play would become an undercurrent throughout the day, week, or month. I think some schools have done this, and I need to do some research.

Another thing that struck me was how different this kind of game is from other games that I play — from video games, where we are mostly in the world of someone else’s imagination, to board games. Here, although the rules provided some boundaries (I got called on the carpet for exceeding my #bite ratio and it was my own fault — didn’t read the rules carefully enough), it was the imagination of the folks playing that created the “board” on which we — the “pieces” — were moving.

I admire the folks who set Twitters vs. Zombies up, and how they created not only rules set for adaption and potential flexiblity based on users comments and suggestions, but also a spreadsheet for keeping track of data. Very interesting.

Plus, I just earned another #bite for posting this blog post. Booya. I’m back in the field …


Peace (in the game),

PS — speaking of decomposing, that is also the name of the blog of my friend, Paul Oh. Maybe he’s a zombie, too?


Getting Ready for Vegas (NWP/NCTE)

This coming week, my wife and I had off to Las Vegas for the annual gathering of the tribes of the National Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English. Last year, due to budget cuts, I did not go to the annual event — the first time that I missed it since I became part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. And boy, did I miss it.

I’m involved in three different workshop/presentations in Las Vegas – one with NWP and two with NCTE. (Everything takes place at the MGM Grand Hotel)

On Thursday, I am joining some amazing NWP colleagues to present a session around Game Design for the classroom. We’re aiming to bring folks into the world of gaming from the standpoint of creation, not just playing. So, along with showing the pedagogy of game design and the connections that it can have to the classroom (along with motivation of students), we’re going to have folks doing some game design activities in the sessions. It should be a blast.

NWP: Changing the Game with Games-based Learning

1:15 – 3 p.m.

MGM Grand Conference Center, 3rd Floor, 301

On Friday, I am one of a handful of speakers in a session at NCTE around bullying. My topic is cyberbullying, and how schools are working to address online situations and how teachers can frame discussions around the larger issue of digital citizenship. My goal is to avoid the message of “the Internet is bad” and instead, show how young people need guidance on how to behave when in online spaces, both for their own safety and also for the respect of others.

NCTE: Stop the Bullying

2:30 – 5:15 p.m.

MGM Grand Ballroom, room 119, level one

And on Saturday, I am giving an Ignite talk along with a bunch of others. Ignite talks are 20 slides that change every 20 seconds, so you have go be light on your feet. While the them of the session is around professional connections and inquiry, my Ignite explores the idea of short-form writing (Twitter, updates, etc.) and how writing can change to meet the forms of the day.

NCTE: Ignite Session: Supporting Collaboration and Inquiry

11-12:15 p.m.

MGM Grand Ballroom, room 122, Level One

And on Sunday, we rest. And fly home. We reconnect with our kids. And get ready to teach the next week with a dose of inspiration from being part of a gathering of educators.

Peace (in the week ahead),


Digital Writing Month: The Audio Comic Strip


The other day, as I was working with Thinglink on a media piece about digital writing (you can still see what I did and add your own thoughts) for Digital Writing Month, I had this brainstorm of using the site to add an audio track to a comic strip.

So, I did it.

Actually, the process became a bit more complicated than I first thought. Here’s what I ended up doing, and try to view the process through the lens of digital writing. In this case, I was thinking of the audio engineering as ‘writing’ and how I worked to manipulate, and then embed my voice, was part of the compositional process. I can’t make it all visible here, but it had me thinking and working/reworking the concept I started with.

First, I decided that the comic should include an audio storyline, so that the content of the comic would coincide with the ways I was composing the piece. I decided that one of the kids would turn in a report, all as an audio file, and this would cause the teacher to struggle over ideas of traditional grading.

audio in comic

Second, I opened up Audacity. I read through the speech bubbles. I began by creating a file, and then creating a second file, for the same character, but ran into problems when I began to change the pitch with some Audacity tools — in order to give the kid a higher voice and the teacher a lower voice. After one round of recording Dave in the first frame, I could not match his voice pitch for the second frame. Ack. I went back to square one, and deleted all of my work, starting over again. This time, I made one master file with all of Dave’s speech, added the pitch change, and then tinkered with cutting/pasting editing of that one master file to create MP3 files that all had the same pitch.

I did the same method for the teacher, but here I had a little conundrum: the thought bubble. I knew that the voice should change — the voice in our heads is different from the voice that comes out of our mouth — and decided that adding some echo/reverb might aurally indicate the thinking of a character, as opposed to the talking. I think those words got a bit muddled on me. Later, I thought about how I should have tweaked that a bit more. Oh well.

After making all five MP3 files from the various speaking/thinking parts, I uploaded them into my Box storage site and grabbed the direct links. Then, over in Thinglink, where I had already uploaded the comic (which I created over at Stripgenerator and then hosted over at Flickr), I layered in links near each character’s speech, so that clicking on the little circles will bring you to the audio file.

Or, if my words were a bit too rambling and unclear, maybe this image will help, showing the path of creation.
Audio Comic Process Overview

It’s not perfect. Far from it. For example, I don’t like that a new window opens up, but I don’t see any solutions to that problem. But in the end, it was a fun exercise in the possibilities of mixing media and compositional practices using digital tools.

What do you think? Does adding character voices change the comic reading experience for you? (or are you tired of me creating comics?)

Peace (beyond the frames),