Bye, Bye, Busy, Annoying School Website

A few years ago, our principal hired a web designer to work on our school’s website. What came out of that venture was one of the annoying school websites I have seen, and it has driven me crazy for years. I get what the guy was trying to do: create a site that was kid-friendly. What he created was a mess of colors and images that are a prime example of what you should NOT do when designing a site for an organization.

See what I mean:

old norris

Among the most glaring deficiencies, in my mind, is the lack of audience. He built this for the kids. He should have built it for the parents. Students almost never have reason to visit the school website, except for the summer, when they are trying to get a glimpse of what is in store for the year ahead.

No, school websites are for parents, and the old design was the worst possible message to parents. I lobbied hard over the years to our principal, who admitted the web designer came cheap. (I won’t even go into the designer’s claim that teachers could easily update new content for their pages … if you know HTML … we might agree that some knowledge of HTML is good — see Paul Oh’s piece over at The Digital Shift — but the reality is that few teachers know what HTML is, never mind what it does.)

So, I was pleased as punch this week when our school’s website got a complete overhaul and now looks more professional than ever. It’s not perfect but at least it has potential. I don’t look at it and want to shoot the screen, as I often did with the old animal-themed one. And the audience has shifted back to parents.

new norris

Now, if we can just get classroom teachers to move on beyond using Teacher Class Pages (which reflects the early 1990s in their feel) and into the 2010s …. (actually, my colleague Gail Poulin has been doing just that, teaching a group about how to use a WordPress blog for their class site.) And maybe updating news from last year is a good start, too.


Peace (in the site and in my sight),

Slice of Life: Balloon Head

Our school held a hat day fundraiser yesterday (for a walkway near a new pavilion) and a student came in, bearing gifts of balloon hats (this is the same student I referenced the other day). I happily wore mine for most of the day. (Blue is the color of our class Quidditch team, too.)

Peace (in the hat,

App Review: Upstanders

I really wanted to like Upstanders HD, an app for the iPad that suggests it will give players the tools to stand up to bullies and not be just a simple bystander, watching the action unfold.  I was lured in by the title, of course. (Smart move, that title.) Unfortunately, it is a simple game couched with the jargon of the moment, and not only is the game not very exciting but the learning is minimal. The game professes to put players in difficult situations and have them take action. The only real action is jumping around the school, grabbing bananas and other things, and “making friends” by jumping into people, so that you have enough confidence to “stand” in between the bully and the victim.

Empowered? Not really.

I’m not sure what I would do different for a game that teaches young people how to become more than a bystander to bullying. I think it is important and I do work with my students on this topic, particularly how it relates to digital platforms. I had been hoping this game might be an extension activity. But it won’t be. It just doesn’t have enough substance for a teaching moment or, a true mark against it, the gameplay to make the game worth playing. I don’t often post negative reviews but this was one dollar I wish I had back.

Peace (in taking action),

PS — A better way to share upstanding behavior is to check out the Upstanders, Not Bystanders project and the Stepping Up Project through Digital ID website


On the Cover of the (Fake) Rolling Stone (Website)

Duker Rushmore on RS1

I decided to have some fun with the Hackasaurus X-Ray Goggles application, which allows you to layer in a hack on websites, by adding my band — Duke Rushmore — to the news feed page of Rolling Stone magazine (I am sure Jann Wenner won’t mind. Right?). In typical tongue and cheek, I created a series of news stories that poked fun at each of us in the band. If you knew us better, you’d get all the inside jokes. But I’d like to think the hacked Rolling Stone is still fun to read. I tried to make the writing I was doing in the form of short stories, thinking of the activity more as short story writing than information text. And let’s face it: humor writing can be difficult to pull off.

I didn’t leave myself out of the picture, either. (I’ve had my saxophone break apart on me before. Really. But I did not use Gorilla Glue. Really.)

Duke Rushmore on RS 2 Kevin

Logistically, the most difficult part of the hack was the images. While X-Ray Goggles allows you to change most images, you need to have the image hosted online with a .jpeg extension. We have plenty of photos online but none that were in a format that worked for what I wanted.  And we needed our own images on the site for the hack to work as I intended (as if we were really in the magazine). So, I ended up finding this site — Postimage — that hosts images, and allowed me to create thumbnails of the band.

One thing that is intriguing is that anyone can remix my hack, too (as long as you have the X-Ray Goggles button on your browser) and it would be cool to have my bandmates give it a try. (I actually rehacked my original hack to add more details to the stories that came to me later in the day, so this is final is the second itteration of the hack.) I’m not sure they will take me up on the offer, although they all loved what I had done with the hacked site.

Check out our hacked Rolling Stone webpage, and if you want the real news (which is not nearly as exciting), you can check out our band’s page on Facebook.

Peace (in the muse),


Slice of Life: Lamenting the End of Google Reader

This is for Slice of Life. Today, I mull over the news that Google will be shutting down Google Reader this summer, and it had me thinking about how RSS has become such an integral part of my information gathering around teaching and technology.

Peace (in the RSS feed),


Hackjam with WMWP

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is in the midst of a year-long inquiry around digital literacies. It began back in the fall with a running theme through our Best Practices conference, and has continued with a few inquiry sessions with our WMWP leadership team. The other day, I facilitated a Hackjam session, as a way to get us talking and thinking about the hacking and remixing culture of young people and how it might connect to school-based learning.

We began with an activity away from the computer. I call it Hacking the Writers, a version of Hacking the Poster that I did at the National Writing Project meeting (thanks to Chad Sansing and Andrea Zellner). I brought in a poster that I have of cartoon characters of famous writers (the poster is very funny in itself) and handed out sticky notes and said, add your own comments to the poster. The room got sort of silent, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But soon enough, there was a lot of laughter going on and the poster got hacked.

WMWP Hackjam2

Next, we had the privilege of having Rafi Santo skype into our meeting for about 40 minutes. Rafi has done some very interesting work around “hacking literacies” and the consideration of systems, and how to think about participatory media in a meaningful way. (We all read a piece by Rafi about hacking literacies to set the stage — you can find a link to the article here). Rafi was wonderful, helping to open up some eyes around why teachers should be considering this topic. His talk moved from social justice issues (giving power to change the media message and the issue of access) to the reclaiming of the word “hacking” as a positive endeavor to a rationale for at least understanding the technology we use on a daily basis. The topics of privacy and ownership were also featured.

My hope had been that Rafi would establish a case for why we should care, and use, hacking literacy ideas in the classroom, and he did so in a meaningful way.

Next, I introduced two tools: one was the Lego Gender Remixer, which allows you to remix Lego commercials in order to uncover marketing techniques. The other was the Hackauraus XRay Goggles, which is a hacking tool that allows you to hack websites (not really — it is an overlay) and craft new messages. We went into Education Week and hacked our own messages about teaching, and you should have heard the giggling and chatting that was going on in the room. There was excitement about some easy tools that would help students and teachers understand the larger concepts.

WMWP hack

These kinds of sessions help lay the groundwork for consideration of our classroom. I don’t expect hacking to suddenly explode in their schools. But getting situated on the possibilities, and flipping the concept to a positive idea around empowerment of student voice, is a step in the right direction.

Peace (in the hack),