Holiday Greetings

Whatever your beliefs, I hope you find peace and happiness today, and every day. Thanks for stopping by.

Peace (in the unwrapped box),


Book Review: Be Good (How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything)

If you read the New York Times Sunday magazine, you may know the name of its ethicist, Randy Cohen. He writes “The Ethicist” column, in which he answers questions along ethical lines in a tone that is humorous and erudite (he likes big words), and gives such interesting perspectives on the gray areas of life. This book — Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything — collects some of his best columns, and Cohen is in fine form here. I really liked how he gathered the pieces around themes: family, home, civics, money, technology, school and religion, and more. Each section begins with a short essay from Cohen that parses out his thoughts, and includes points of contradiction.

There’s something to be said about reading the queries of others. It’s sort of like eavesdropping. That’s why advice columnists are still so popular. And I think we often see our own personal quandaries, and weaknesses, reflected in the questions of others. That’s why Cohen collection is strong — he acknowledges our confusion, and provides an ethical path forward. In his view, our ethical decisions are ones that impact others around us, and he is careful to delineate the legal decisions from the ethical decisions. Sometimes, they overlap; mostly, they don’t.

Being good is difficult, particularly since we live in the realm of others. Cohen gives us solid advice, in an entertaining yet educational way, on as wide arrange of subjects.

Peace (and ethics),


The Art of Juggling Two Voices: Digital Is and Me

dual voices
Last week, I had the pleasure of taking part in an ongoing collaborative Twitter adventure with my National Writing Project friends at the Digital Is site. A handful of us have signed up to take on the “digital is” handle (@NWPDigital_is) on Twitter for a week at a time, sharing resources and encouraging discussions through the shared identity of Digital Is.

It was fun, but odd, too. I enjoyed diving into a few more resources at the Digital Is site (if you have not visited it, you really should — there is some amazing work being featured there on how digital media and technology are impacting the ways our students write and the way we are teaching writing) and sharing the work of NWP colleagues to a wider audience. I also kept my eye on news and articles that seemed to fit the parameter of what I imagined @NWPDigital_Is — if it were a person — would tweet and retweet about. (There’s part of my odd factor: imagining a website as a person, tweeting.)

Meanwhile, I was also tweeting with my @dogtrax identity throughout the week, and even added in a few items from my rock band’s identity (@dukerushmore), and what I realized was how strange it was to be shifting from one identity to the other, sometimes within minutes of each other, and periodically, the tweeting would overlap. Not always on purpose. In some other cases, postings of a single item by multiple accounts would happen by mistake — I’d want to tweet something specific for @NWPdigital_is and find that my @dogtrax was still in the “on” mode because it is my default, and both would get published. (I wondered, does anyone notice that I am both dogtrax and digital_is this week? No one said a thing. Then I thought, maybe they just think I am always behind both accounts. There’s this Wizard-of-Oz-feeling when you tweet out of your normal routine as a guest, I’ve come to realize.)

It reminds me of how identity is often in flux when we use digital tools, and while it is easy enough to create multiple accounts, it is not as easy to maintain individuality and voice when you have more than one “you” on the stage. Who I am in this moment of time, and who I want to be represented as to a larger audience, is a critical question. You need to experience it from time to time in order to better understand the implications for identity with your students, and then think about how to teach that skill. There’s value to being part of multiple voices (such as this @NWPDigital_Is venture. You can also see from my screenshot that I have access to our feed from Western Massachusetts Writing Project and my classroom) but in the midst of it, you can feel the pull and tug of those multiple voices, too, splintering your message in ways you don’t quite grasp until you find the time to reflect, and write.

In the vein of sharing Digital Is resources, this one by Peter Kittle — Inquiring into Distributed Identities — hits the points I am trying to make here in this post. Another — Teachers Tweeting Teachers: Building a Community of Practice through Tweeting — talks about the benefits of a shared tweeting experiment.

Peace (in the tweets),


Ignite: David Lee Finkle – Question Things

Yesterday, I reviewed a comic strip collection from David Lee Finkle called Mr. Fitz, which makes fun of teaching and standardized testing and being with middle school kids all day. So, yeah, it was right up my alley. David Finkle presented in one of the NCTE Ignite sessions in Las Vegas, using comics as his presentation. I love his David explores with his students what we mean about “writing” and “reading.”
David’s key inquiry to explore with students: When Do Stories Matter?

Peace (in the frames),

Comic Book Review: Mr. Fitz vs. the Test Score Zombies

There’s a whole series of comic strips in this book in which David Lee Finkle, himself a teacher, envisions famous writers in history getting feedback on a standardized test, with Finkle using humorous anecdotes and famous phrases from each author as the punchline. It had me cracking up early, and often, even if it was a sort of literature-junky inside-joke kind of thing. That’s OK. In fact, this entire collection of comic strips from Finkle — Mr. Fitz vs. the Test Score Zombies — is aimed right at teachers who are struggling to keep their students engaged in the age of standardized testing.

Mr. Fitz is the lead character, a teacher in middle school with a crop of oddball students. There’s no main storyline here, except the ways in which Mr. Fitz motivates his students to be passionate about reading and writing, and the ways that his teaching style often runs into administrative roadblocks. (In one series of sketches, an educational consultant arrives to give “advice” but refuses to enter a classroom with real students.)

(from Finkle’s website)

I like that there is also a fair number of strips in which students are completely immersed in a book. Finkle really captures the intense attention that a good book can provide.

(from Finkle’s website)

While I personally still love a comic called Mr. Lowe (by Mark Pett, but the comic is now out of print) because it dealt with a new teacher in a challenging classroom, Mr. Fitz shows the veteran teaching trying to make sense of the changing landscape shaped more by the leaders at the top than the students in the classroom. Finkle captures those difficulties nicely, and puts it all in perspective.

Peace (in the strip),



Letters to the Future: Breaking Glass

I have shared this out for the past few years around the holidays. It’s a story about our family tradition of writing scrolled notes to our future selves and then putting them in our glass ornaments. Sometimes (often), they fall, break and we read letters from our past. This year, we read a letter from our now-12-year son when he was just three years old, and another from my wife and I before we had kids (but one was ready to hatch).

Listen to the story:

Peace (in the tradition),
PS – I just saw how many times this podcast has been listened to since I first started sharing it. There have been 2,400 listens! Wow.



What Students Think: Does Video Gaming Belong In Schools?

We’re nearing the end of our video game design unit, and along the way, students have been writing to reflect on the experience. (Although next year, I want to give them a separate game developer’s log in order to make that reflection more consistent). The other day, as part of a series of questions and after reading two argumentative pieces (for and against video gaming), I asked them: Does video gaming belong in the classroom?

Here are some of their replies:

“I would say yes because it could inspire kids to make their own games. It may also give kids an opportunity to make a good choice, if they like games or don’t like games. But they can also be a distraction.” — C.B.

“Video games should be used in school. It would help kids with their coordination and keep their brains active while still having fun. They could also be used as a reward to kids who finish classwork. That would get kids to try a lot harder in classes. Kids need something fun to do in school, so why not video games? — K.J.

“No (video games should not be in school) because not many games are oriented towards education so it would be kind of useless.” — N.P.

“I think video games should be used in schools for many different reasons. Reason one is that students would be excited to go to cl;ass and they would get used to using technology.” — B.P.

“Yes, and no. Video games can be educational and a great way to connect with the technology of today. On the other hand, kids play tons of video games at home and maybe it would be a bad idea to add to that time (on the screen).” — A.B.

“Yes. It can help you learn and teach you many things. It also helps you learn how to use technology.” — D.D.

“I think video games should be used in schools. I believe this because kids will get a lot of knowledge and experience about problem-solving and having fun. Also, you can learn how to fail in video games because it can be so challenging.” — A.C.

“No, because some kids would be thinking about playing them 24/7 and some would not pay attention in class.” — G.T.

“Certain video games should be used in school because they teach kids how to lose and how to be patient. They might also make kids enjoy school because some kids don’t like school.” — A.N.

“I think it depends on what game it is. Games that are appropriate should be used because kids want to play games and it would be easy to get kids to learn if it were in games. But if the games aren’t appropriate, then they shouldn’t be in school.” — N.T.

“I totally think video games should be in school because writing with a boring, old, useless pencil is plain junk, but when you add technology and video games into the learning, it makes classtime much more fun and for the people who don’t like the video games, they could just bring their own pencil.” — K.R.

“Yes, I think video games should be used in school, but only ones that help learning and teach things, of course. Video games can inspire people to do things in life.” — H.M.

“No. Video games can be bad for you, and are addictive.” — S.M.

You can see the wide array of ideas here, which I think are reflective of personal choices, experiences and the two pieces that we read about the pros and cons of gaming.

Peace (in the sharing),


Digital Conversations: Responding to Anna Responding to Me

Anna Smith and I have started up a cross-platform conversation about what it means to write and compose in the digital world. This stems from our participation in Digital Writing Month. We wanted to continue, and nurture and model, how discussions might unfold about the idea of technology, by using technology, and documenting the experience (including how we are making our end of the conversation). I started it off with a video that talked about a time when I realized that technology and digital media was affecting my view of writing, and Anna responded the other day with her own video. (You can see the entire threads of the conversation as blog posts at the National Writing Project Digital Is site.)

I decided to add another layer to how I wanted to respond to her, so I took her video and popped it into Vialogues, which allows you to comment at different parts of the video. We’re inviting you, and everyone else, to be part of our conversation, either at the Digital Is site or at the Vialogues, or at either of our blogs (Anna’s blog is here).

Here is the embedded Vialogue:

Peace (in the chatting),


Gaming Theory and Vocabulary Study

WW Game Challenge


We’re trying an experiment today with our students to try to use game theory to encourage them with their vocabulary study work. As some of you know, we are in the midst (and nearing the end of) a unit around video game design, in which students are designing and publishing video games with a science/geology twist. But we’ve been talking and writing about game design and gaming from any number of angles — from hacking, to rewriting rules, to prototyping, and more.

My co-teacher (he’s a man of big ideas) wondered if we could design a classroom game challenge to make vocabulary a little more exciting this week, particularly as we near holiday vacation. Traditionally, tomorrow is the second Friday of our vocabulary unit, and they would be taking a comprehension quiz. But tomorrow is also our last day to work on gaming projects before the break, and it is the deadline, so we want to skip the quiz and allow game design time.

So, we have designed a classroom challenge, in hopes that it will allow them to show understanding and allow us to excuse them from the quiz. Here’s how it will work:

  • The class will be divided into four groups (each group will have four to five students)
  • Each group will be given three of the 15 words from the week
  • Individually, they need to first use their group of three words in a good, comprehensive sentence (we work on this a lot)
  • As a group, collaboratively, they need to choose the best sentence for each word
  • On our whiteboard, I will pull up a video game that I made in Gamestar Mechanic (see screenshot) that will ‘randomly’ draw words as our hero runs into elves and fairies, and each group shares out their sentence from the word that gets “released”
  • The teacher gives the sentence a 1 or a 0, based on quality of sentence, and if a 0, then the other groups in the classroom have a chance to add to the sentence to make it better (this is not a competition against each other, so helping each other is part of the fabric of the game)
  • The game keeps getting played as more words get released (screenshot again) until all 12 words have been shared in sentences
  • If the class gets the full 12 points (every sentence earning 1 point), then: no quiz tomorrow. If less than 12, quiz. (I think we call that the motivating factor in game play).

Oh yeah, and we’re gaming the system as teachers, too, since our aim is to get the class to 12 as much as to give them more fun experiences to use the words from this lesson as much as to avoid the quiz on the last Friday before holiday. Now all we need is a snazzy name for the game …

Peace (in the gamification of a lesson),


Thank You for the Edublog Nomination

This is a little late in coming (sorry) but I’d like to thanks the friends and folks who had taken the time to nominate my blog for the Edublogs Awards (Teacher blog category) this year. I always appreciate that folks hang out with me here and read what I share, and offer up comments and criticism,, and then some of you go the extra mile with that kind of nomination … it is very humbling. That I didn’t win is beside the point in my mind (which meanders anyway). Thank you. Thank you so much.

Peace (with appreciation),