Technology Boxed Me In

I’ve written about this a few times here and there, and to be honest, I am having trouble finding the right way to explain what I mean. So, bear with me here. I love using technology for creative projects. I think the digital tools that I find and play with have pushed my writing and creating in new directions. But, every now and then, I run into a wall and realize: as much as technology helps me to push boundaries, it is also limiting what I am doing. Even as I think technology is opening doors, it is also closing them. Partly this is due to the limitations of the technology I happen to be using. Partly it is my own inability to push around those limitations or abandon a project midstream when it isn’t working for me.

Let me give you an example.

I play saxophone in a rock and roll band — Duke Rushmore — and I am one of the songwriters. We’re just now moving more into original material, which I am happy about, and I have been sharing some songs with the band, and thinking of how to get back into songwriting with more energy than I have in the past few years. (I sort of took a step back). The other day, on the way home from the grocery story, a melody line and the first two lines of a song came into my head. I spent the entire car trip, working mentally on the song, “hearing” it as a soul/pop groove with a chorus all ready to go. I came home, passed the bags of food to my wife, and ran upstairs.

Unfortunately, my guitar was out of tune and a string had snapped, so I booted up a music loop program that I like to use, and began the task of “writing” the song on the computer. What happened was this: the song completely changed as a result of using the loops, and when I was done and could take a breath, I realized that not only was the song not right for the band, I had also completely lost the thread of the original groove as a result using the prefab loops. The technology had reshaped my song, and the original idea had not only been supplanted, but it disappeared completely. And oddly enough, I only realized this when I was almost done with the writing.

It was frustrating, to say the least, and I blame myself, not the technology. But the technology had a role, right? It brought to my mind the thinking of Kevin Kelly in his book, What Technology Wants, and how technology seems to be shaping our thinking more than we are shaping our technology. My songwriting experience here is a clear example for me. It’s not the first time I have come out of a project and thought, my vision was not realized — either because of the limitations of the technology or my inability to wrest control of the technology to meet my own creative needs.

I’m not sure if that makes sense or not, but it is something I struggle with. The songwriting process that I described above is just one example, although it is very concrete to me. The song that I ended up with was very different from the song I wanted to write (and heard in my head), and that is because I allowed the technology to shape the process instead of my ideas.

Peace (in the thinking),

PS — I am still thinking about what to do with the song, but here it is:


eBook Review: Bartleby’s Book of Buttons, Volume 1

I am on the hunt for interactive books on the iPad that really use the technology of the device to create a different kind of reading experience. Perhaps I err in having The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore as the ebook/Holy Grail that I compare others to, but I figure: isn’t it about time that companies push the development of interactive books in new and interesting directions? (or am I being unrealistic?). Just adding some sound to a book doesn’t make it much of an interactive experience.

That said, Bartleby’s Book of Buttons (today, I review the first volume, The Far Away Island, and another day, I will review the second volume in the series) does a pretty decent job of pulling the reader into the experience of the story. Simply put, Bartleby is on an adventure to collect more “buttons” for his book of buttons, and that leads him to Mystery Island where danger rears its head. (When I first heard “buttons,” I thought of shirt buttons, and wondered why anyone would collect those. I soon realized that “buttons” are literally buttons that you can press and make things happen. Perfect for a game, right?). The narrator’s Australian (I think) accent gives the story a different kind of “feel” to it, at least for my son and I.

The story here, such as it is, moves along at a good pace, and it’s not always obvious what the reader needs to do to advance the story. That’s not a criticism. In fact, it is a plus. You have to think, and listen, and follow clues that don’t always appear to be clues. There’s a solid mix of sequencing activities, discovery via touchscreen, and more. I’d rank The Far Away Island near the top of the some of the interactive books I have been experiencing lately (volume 2 is even better)

I suppose the challenge for developers is how to match the possibilities of the technology with the development of a good story for a wide age group audience.

Peace (in the touch),

PS — check this interview with the developers of the book:




Inventing Words; Playing with Language

We’ve wrapped up a study of the English Language along a number of lines (borrowed words from other languages, how roots interact with prefix and suffix parts, etc.) Our culmination is when students invent their own words, which are then added to an online dictionary that we have been doing since 2005. (I’ll share that link another day when I get this year’s words into place — they did the initial wiki work yesterday but I need to do a bit more).

They also podcast their word and definition. Take a listen and check out the word cloud:

Here are the podcasts of your invented words:

Peace (in the word),


We Are Our Information: The Digital Dossier Idea

I am starting to plan out a unit around digital citizenship for the upcoming Digital Learning Day on February 6. We did a longer unit on digital citizenship and digital footprints last year but I am narrowing the scope a bit this year, and focusing on information, privacy and footprints. I found this video as part of an excellent lesson plan at the Digital Learning Day site. Using a fictional person — Andy — the video tracks the information of a person from babyhood through adult. It’s eye-opening to think about, and the metaphorical concept of a digital dossier is poignant, I think.

Peace (in the digital),

App Review: HistoryMaps

One of the major shifts in the Common Core is the move towards reading informational texts. This includes charts, graphs, maps and more. So when I noticed this free app — HistoryMaps — I was curious. Maps can tell amazing stories, but students of course needs strategies for learning how to “read” a visual display of information. This particular app can be helpful, although you should know that its name tells you exactly what it is: a collection of historical maps (and very Europe-focused). There’s almost no text, and very little historical reference to the maps (other than some time periods).

But that lack of information is what makes this app so fascinating. What can we infer from the map of Omaha Beach from the WW II section? Where do troops land and what was the landscape like? How about Waterloo in 1815? Or the layout of the city of Paris during the French Revolution? And what did the European continent look like in 814 after the death of Charles the Great? Pull up the map and see. One of the more fascinating maps is the Map of Discovery, which shows the paths of explorers from 1340-1600.

Sure, you can probably find many of these maps with some online searching. But why bother? This free app has them all, handy and ready to be “read.”

Peace (in the map),

PS — it’s free but you have to put up with some banner ads at the bottom of the page. Just thought you should know that.

Consider Writing for Teaching from the Heart


A number of years ago, I picked up a book collection called Teaching With Fire, in which teachers wrote short essays about poems that inspired them in their work as educators. It is a great collection and very inspiring to read and think about. The voices of teachers comes through loud and clear as thoughtful writers, reflecting not only on writing but also on the craft of teaching. Now, the publishers of that book are putting together another collection called Teaching from the Heart, and the premise is essentially the same: teachers write about poems that touched a nerve for them, in their role as teachers. I invite you to consider adding your voice to the mix by choosing a poem and writing about it.

Here is the website with all the information you will need. The deadline is in March.

This part of the blurb from the site:

Seeking Submissions for Teaching from the Heart

Teaching from the Heart seeks to provide a platform for teachers and educators to speak wholeheartedly about the challenges and possibilities that teachers encounter every day in their work. We ask you to submit a brief 250-word commentary describing how a particular poem inspires you, informs your work, or provides sustenance as you negotiate the complex challenges at the center your vocation.

Importantly, this project is not just seeking poems about teaching and the classroom but poems on any topic that intersects with how you think about your life and work as a teacher. We appreciate that you may have written poetry of your own, but this volume focuses on published poems written by others that are meaningful to you.

This book will be a brand-new edition modeled on our best-selling Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach (2003) and Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead. In 2013, Teaching With Fire was named the #2 book on Edudemic’s list of 50 Most Popular Books for Teachers.

The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2013. We hope you will consider submitting an essay and poem for the book. Download details about the submission process and samples from Teaching with Fire.

Good luck. Write with your heart.

Peace (in the poems as inspiration),

Connected Learning: A Flexible Approach

I’m still learning about what Connected Learning might mean. This interview with Mimi Ito is helpful.

A new report shows how the Connected Learning approach — meeting kids needs on an individual level by tapping into a wide array of potential resources — showcases the problems facing our educational system, and proposes some ways to improve it.
Peace (in the learning, myself),

Writing Haiku in Many Directions

As you know, I have been experimenting a bit with HaikuDeck — a presentation app on the iPad — and yesterday, I decided that, well, I just had to write a Haiku poem on the HaikuDeck app. I mean, the symmetry is too much to pass up. I also decided that I wanted my haiku poem to branch out, so that each of the three lines of the poem would extend to another haiku. I used the “notes” function of HaikuDeck to add a branching poem. It did not work out exactly as I had wanted — I could not figure out how to make line breaks — but as an experiment, I still liked the whole endeavor. One of the more interesting elements of HaikuDeck is choosing an image that evokes the meaning of the lines without getting too literal.

Check out the poem — I am embedding it here but to see the three branching poems, you need to read it live at my HaikuDeck Gallery site:
Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad
Peace (along the branches),


Source Evaluation: NoodleTools Show Me

I saw this site from a tweet from Troy Hicks and I like it. This site — Noodletools Show Me — is a way of providing scaffolding to evaluate books, websites, and more through simple strategies. It’s another entry into information literacy strategies (which is a key part of the Common Core). The site is divided into three categories, so you can tailor it to the level of your students. I liked the “junior” level, as it connects a lot with some of our work around evaluation of sources. (I also note that these free tools are connected to a paid service. I am hopeful the top layer of options remains free, but you never know).

Peace (in the share),