Book Review: Dairy of a Wimpy Kid Hard Luck

Jeff Kinney continues to generate a lot of excitement with his Wimpy Kid series of books (it helps that Scholastic is “all in” with its promotion, too). The excitement is visible at school, where I have a line of students waiting to read one of our classroom copies of the new Hard Luck. And it is evident at home, where my two youngest sons wrestle over the books. It’s not unusual to see a line of Wimpy Kids books all over our couch as my youngest reads them yet again.

I finally got a chance to read Hard Luck. It has a typical Wimpy Kid storyline — Greg is feeling socially left out and must navigate the weirdos of his world — and some very funny scenes for anyone who spends any amount of time in a school building during the day (inside jokes about the change of french fries to sweet potato fries, etc.). The writing isn’t all that deep but I suspect readers of Wimpy Kid don’t really care. They’re there for the jokes and the visual puns and the “voice” of the Greg Heffley, which Kinney has honed over the years.

I read Hard Luck in a single sitting and found it to be a nice diversionary entertainment. For many of my reluctant readers, though, Kinney is often a lifeline to books, and even if I wish the stories went deeper and even as I bemoan the influx of inferior copycat books (illustrated as comics — you know what I am talking about), I am appreciative of the fact that these kids are reading, and reading out of interest.

Peace (in the kid),

Celebrating Cranks, Creativity and Community: Nominations for Edublog Awards 2013


It’s that time of year again and I have a few folks/sites that I would like to consider for this past year’s Edublog Awards. (It’s been ten years of Eddies, apparently). Honestly, the flow of information from my RSS and Twitter and other sites is so fast and furious that I don’t often keep track of where things comes from. But there are always a few sites and folks and blogs and spaces that spring to mind each year.

So …

Best Individual Blog: I’ve long been a huge fan of Larry Ferlazzo and his work around collecting and curating information, and this year, he seems to have written more about his classroom and students than other years. Larry’s work around reaching students in a variety of ways — via media and writing and analysis – has really been an inspiring thing to watch. His themes around parent engagement in schools and reaching ELL students in meaningful ways fill a gap in my own reading. Plus, his curation around content from the web is always a relief — that he has done it and not us. Thanks, Larry!

Most Influential Post of the Year: When Chris Lehman writes, I read. And his post following the NCTE conference this November was so perfect, capturing both the frustration and the promise of teaching these days. Entitled On Broken Doors and Butter Knives, Lehman reminds us (as he did in a NCTE session) that what we are doing every day has value, and that we need to rely on each other — other educators — for community.

Best Twitter Hashtag: I am still excited every morning to see what the #nerdybookclub has up and running, and I just love that there is a group of us teachers who just plain love books that can connect with each other and with authors around the love of books. And then, we bring that passion into our classroom.

Best New Blogger: Kim Doullard started up her Thinking Through My Lens to explore photography for a monthly challenge, but her blog and her lens have taken on such interesting angles. Each day, Kim uses her camera to capture a view of the world, and then writes fascinating reflections on what she sees. Plus, she often turns her lens around on her own perceptions of the world and the world of teaching.

Best educational use of audio / video / visual / podcast : I have to give a shout-out to the DS106 community, which is difficult to explain in a nomination form. It is a shell of an engaging open digital storytelling course, yet it is not a course at all. And it ain’t a MOOC, either. It’s is pure inspiration around creativity. The great thing is that anyone can get inspired and create with its various elements — including The Daily Create. With video and audio and visual and written suggestions, the DS106 community pushes the boundaries of what is possible in any classroom.

Best EdTech/Resource Sharing Blog: Sylvia Tolisano’s Langwitches Blog is a treasure trove of helpful hints, ideas and practical guides to doing things. Plus, it has a cool name. I’ve used her handouts and pointed folks her way on any number of occasions, and always appreciate her thoughtfulness around sharing.

Best Teacher Blog: Paul Bogush can be cranky. I suspect he won’t mind being called that. In that cranky blogger way, Paul not only shares out what is going on in his learning spaces — the success and the difficulties — but he is always persistently pushing back against Big Business’s influence in the educational spheres, most notably the Common Core. Paul does his research around policies and then skewers them. In the process, he reminds us teachers to be skeptical and open-minded about the flow of money and influence, and about the spaces where our young students inhabit.

Best Individual Tweeter: There are few other folks in my Twitter feed that I look forward to than Chad Sansing. Chad’s insights into the world, and his innovative practice around open technology and learning opportunities, keep me inspired to try new things and to venture forth into the web in new ways. He uses humor and insights, and humility, to extend his ideas to the world. I, for one, am always grateful.

Best open PD / unconference / webinar series: I took part in a Make/Hack/Play course through P2PU with Karen Fasimpauer as facilitator. The three week (or so) sessions allows participants a chance to explore the ethos of making and playing but I loved the reflections best of all. The course allows us to move at our own pace, shifting from real space and virtual space, sharing out the ideas that moved into projects.

Best group blog: My best group blog is Youth Voices, which is a community of student writers from a variety of schools and global places. I am never surprised by the depth of writing and explorations, but I am always pleased with what comes in via my RSS feed from Youth Voices. It is a powerful network of inquiry, with posts that come from the heart of youth and pop culture and questions that drive curiosity.

 Lifetime Achievement: When I first started blogging and reading blogs, Wesley Fryer was writing about learning in new ways and sharing out his ideas. He’s still doing it. And I am still learning from him. His footprints are in multiple spaces these days but I always appreciate what Wesley is up to, particularly via his Moving at the Speed of Creativity (and is there a better name for a blogging space? I don’t think so.) Thanks, Wesley, for all that you do to move the world further. I hope my nomination doesn’t make you feel old!

Peace (in the reflecting),






Considering the Hour of Code project

Consider me intrigued enough to sign up. The Hour of Code project in the first week of December aims to spark interest in students and teachers in the idea of computer programming, with the aim of providing students access to code-based projects (on the computer, and off … which is a good idea). Now, I see that Gates and Zuckerberg and others are partly bankrolling this venture (and I see a whole slew of corporate partners, too), so I don’t go into this project blindly. Still, is organizing the whole thing, which puts my mind at ease a bit, since I have enjoyed their other efforts to introduce the power of writing code to more people.

The overarching message of the Hour of Code initiative is about jobs, and the future employment skills of young people. I can live with that, although my own aim when I teach simple programming is to shift my students from consumer to creator. If that opens up jobs in the future, fine. The whole reason I do a video game design project with my students is to show them what happens “under the hood” with game design. This connects to the ethos of the Make and Create. For now, what I want is empowerment for my students.

There are even a few “paper code” projects that seem interesting.

I am exploring a site to use this weekend and will report out if it seems viable. At the very least, if you sign up, you get 10 gig of storage free in Dropbox.
Peace (in the code),


shhhh …. Get Invent to Learn Kindle eBook for Free

I saw this notice in one of my many emails. Today (Friday) and then again on December 2, a Kindle version of the fantastic Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager— which gives not only an overview of the Maker’s Movement in the classroom but also, practical advice on how to get students inventing and making — is FREE.  I did a positive review over at Middleweb. You really should get this book. And it’s FREE as a Kindle download. Just saying …

3d-invent-to-learn hodgson

Peace (in the make),

Finishing up Loose Ends with Make/Hack/Play

MakeHackPlay badge
I just completed the last phase of the Make/Hack/Play mini-course facilitated by Karen Fasimpauer, and earned this nifty badge/certificate. The course had a few activities around making and remixing and reflecting, and I liked that the scale was small and doable. And fun. Karen will be running the course again in January, I believe. If you are curious about making and tinkering and remixing, this free mini-course is a great way to dip your toes into the water.

Peace (in the sharing),

Video Promo: DS106 Radio Anarchy

The Daily Create for DS106 was to create a video promo for DS106 Radio. I am still getting used to the updated iMovie, which comes with expanded “movie trailer” options. Here, I took clips from the radio-infused Air Heads and popped it into a trailer template, and created this bit of video anarchy:

Peace (in the radio waves),

Bringing Home Knowledge … Tons of Books

Books from Boston NCTE
There are many things to like about an educational conference like NCTE. Sure, the collaboration and sense of community, and shared knowledge and expertise is all wonderful. But there is also … the free books that publishers hand out in the Exhibition Hall, and this year, my wife and I took home many, many bags of free books (we drove this year so we just kept dragging bags to the car). Plus, we got a few bookmark packs, tattoes, and even a “graphic story” builder pack.

My students will love perusing the pile.

Peace (on the pages),


Notes from the NCTE Ignite Session

Ignite Collage
I had the great honor and pleasure to take part in a fast-paced Ignite Session at NCTE in Boston. Ignites are quick presentations, where the 20 slides move on a synced delay and you need be concise and in focus. Five minutes and you are done. My own Ignite presentation was about using video game design in the writing classroom. But to share the stage with Penny Kittle, Sara Kajder, Donalyn Miller, David Finkle, Sandy Hayes and others was a blast.

Here are a few notes that I scratched out on paper as I listened to the others on the stage (videos will be forthcoming from NCTE in the near future):

Sandy Hayes (who facilitated the Ignite session with the theme of Core Standards: Minding the Gaps)

  • We need more vigor instead of just rigor
  • There is room for many kinds of explorations of texts
  • “We want kids to make a difference … we want them to be doing significant things (in their lives) …”

David Finkle (Igniting Insight and Interest)

  • Using comics to define rigor, and asking students to define what that means
  • Great metaphor strategy: The Human  Mind is …
  • David loved that one of his students termed school “as the gymnasium of the mind.”
  • Many defined school as prison, box, etc.

Penny Kittle (Book Love: Building Reading Lives that Last)

  • “The difference between readers and non-readers is that readers have plans.”
  • Put more books into the hands of students
  • Build stamina as readers, and then depth and complexity will follow
  • Literature “is a powerful force about life.”
  • Talked about her Book Love Foundation — which raises money and creates libraries for classrooms

Kevin Hodgson (that’s me!) — (More Than a Game)

  • Gaming has taken over all our devices
  • Moving young people away from just consumers (players) and into the role of creators of video games
  • Connections to writing process and design process (iteration)
  • Engagement and audience — publish for other gamers to play
  • Gamestar Mechanic — teaches game design and provides space to play, build, publish

Troy Hicks (To Produce and To Publish Writing: Infusing Digital Writing through the Common Core)

  • Student writing has not circulated very far in the past (teacher’s desk, trash can, refrigerator)
  • Digital writing opens up audience and modality
  • References to technology in Common Core, but very limiting in nature
  • Create, Share, Repeat
  • “It’s not about the technology. It’s about the audience and purpose.”

Andrea Finkle (It Could Be Verse: The Lack of Poetry in the CCSS)

  • Common Core provides “teacher discretion” around poetry
  • Poetry is getting lost in new standards
  • “Words and play” — the heart of poetry
  • “Rhyme can enhance understanding”
  • Uses pop culture — commercial jingles, etc. — for seeing poetry in the world

Scott Filkins (Performance Assessment: Making the Reading Process Visible)

  • Notes the “four corners” idea of the Common Core — limiting
  • Annotating text, and using personal experiences, allows students to be “co-stars” of the text
  • Visible thinking strategies
  • Annotations “give us something to dig into.”

Zenatta Robinson (Make it Pop!)

  • Use pop culture (television, movies, music) to spur student interest
  • “Where’s the opportunity for creativity?” in the Common Core
  • Non-fiction, high-interest news websites about pop culture “hook students”
  • “Give students an opportunity to use pop culture” in schools

Sara Kjader (Pedagogies of the Possible)

  • Longtime tech adapter/ still learning
  • It’s not the tools that are important
  • Emergent technology use provides “ways for us to do our work better. That’s the pedagogy of the possible.”
  • Curate/Reflect/Annotate/Share
  • “My students read and write the world.”

Sarah Brown Wessling (Reading in Liminal Spaces)

  • Liminal spaces are the “thresholds” in between (ambiguity)
  • “We live in these places because we believe in books … we believe in the stories of our learners, the stories of our schools.”
  • These gaps provide opportunity for scaffolding
  • Where students struggle is where the learning takes place
  • “Where we see a gap, I often see a space” for growth

Donalyn Miller (Dead Presidents and Whales: Engaging Students with Nonfiction Texts)

  • Non-fiction is often “not the books that students often read.”
  • Genre avoidance
  • But non-fiction is “rich text that engages kids.”
  • Use good non-fiction for book talks, read-alouds, mentor texts and paired up with fiction
  • “Kids need lots of opportunities … so we need to weave non-fiction into their reading lives.”

I’ve linked as many Twitter accounts as I could find to presenters, and suggest you might want to follow them.

Peace (in the ignition),

Book Review: I am George Lucas

My wife came home from a Librarian’s Convention with the observation that publishers have now gone completely overboard on non-fiction books. I suppose that is the case (thanks, Common Core!). It’s not a bad thing to have some solid non-fiction but her impression is that good fiction titles have suffered as a result.

I Am George Lucas is part of that growing non-fiction trend aimed at elementary students. Particularly, boys. The biography (not autobiography, oddly enough, given the title, which is misleading. While Lucas provides a quick opening introduction, the rest of this short book is a standard biographical account of Lucas) is a quick read, aimed at third and fourth graders. There’s not a lot of meat in these bones, so to speak.

But for those interested in the life of the man who envisioned Star Wars and Indiana Jones and a few other classic movies (I’m not sure American Graffiti will ring in the heads of young readers), this book does the trick of hitting the key moments of Lucas’ life, growing up with no real focus until college, when he realized that he wanted to make movies. We see his partnerships with Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg, and others, that opened doors for Lucas that would otherwise have been shut.

You come away from the book with a sense of not only the vision of Lucas but also the drive and courage to stand up to Hollywood at times (he could have used some more outside voices for editing the most recent batch of Star Wars movies, in my mind, but critical views of his movies are almost nonexistent here). I like that they show how Lucas is using his wealth to push filmmaking forward and his work around philanthropic issues, such as education.

I am George Lucas is not a classic, but it is readable and informative.

Peace (in space),