Hour of Code: A Sixth Grade Collective Infographic

I tried to keep track during the week of the minutes that my sixth graders did with the Hour of Code project. Between teaching and playing with simple coding programs and sites, we also spent a good amount of time around programming with our science-based video game design project now underway.

I used Piktochart to make this Hour of Code infographic, although I have to say outright that the total minutes are collective (all students time on tasks together) and in the end, the numbers are interesting but meaningless. The real success is that I can see we sparked interest in computers and technology this week in ways that I had not been able to before, AND lots of girls as well as boys were deep into the activities.
Our Hour of Code Infographic
Peace (in the numbers),

How I fell Off #DS106 and Bumped My Head

I’m not sure how it happened but sometime around Thanksgiving, I fell off the DS106 Headless Course Wagon Train and bumped my head. Prior to that, I was deeply engaged and deeply involved in the creative storytelling adventures that unfolded, from audio podcasting to gif creation to … well, the gamut of ideas ran far and wide. I’m still proud to be sharing out our Merry Hacksters radio program.

The headless element (no real leaders, although I would not say it was completely headless, as folks were always behind the curtain to some degree). It was an amazing experience that reminded me once again that the technology and the tools are always second fiddle to the stories we want to tell and the experiences we want to share. It reminded about the power of narrative across mediums. It was a blast.

So, why didn’t I stick with it all the way to the end?

An easy answer would be to say that life just got busy, and it did. It always does. That’s not it, though.

There was something about the turn in the headless course towards video in the final few weeks that gave me pause, and then to a gif-related project (see this great storify for more details) that took root and took hold with the DS106 friends when I turned my head to other things (like presenting at conferences), and I could not seem to get caught up again. The thread got lost.  I bumped my head. The video elements were very interesting and tapped into something I am very intrigued about (video as composition), but I soon realized that time and attention to video would be my enemy (or was that only what I thought and not what reality would be?). It also felt as if a natural cycle of an online experience had happened and the course was still running. (We noticed this with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, too.)

Again, I blinked and then I was lost.

So when notices started to come about this past week about a wrap-up event, I thought: I should take part in that and reconnect with the course and my friends there. Then this morning, reading through Alan Levine’s post about the virtual gathering, I realized: Crap, I missed it. It was last night. Drat. I appreciated Alan’s post about the event (I am a fan of pulling back the veil on the technical aspects so I read his reflection with pleasure) and it reminded me of what I most appreciated about the DS106 Headless Course: the open nature, the collaborative spirit, the sense of adventure, and the realization that there are communities of people doing amazing things and sharing them out to the world.

I had heard about #DS106 over the last few years, and even checked out the site from time to time. I couldn’t quite figure it out: was it some kind of real course at a college? Or just another place for sharing out of ideas? Or something in-between? A creative community pushing the boundaries of storytelling? Yep, to all of those, it turns out. Yep to all of that, and more. What you make of it is what it is, and for me, what DS106 was was a chance to push myself in odd directions and compose across media lines. Which I enjoyed immensely.

I absolutely adore the Daily Create, and I would point anyone to the the bank of assignments for digital storytelling as a magical place of ideas. But it wasn’t until I became immersed in the Headless Course that I understood how imagination powers our views of technology, and if nothing else, DS106 reminds us that the agency of creation rests with us, not our machines. We are the ones telling stories to make sense of the world. Our computers, and mobile devices, and whatever else comes along should be examined and evaluated through the lens of “making and creating.” Let’s make sure we hack.break.play with technology.

Have fun out there.

Peace (in the reflection),



What They Choose: The Science in the Video Games

We’re in the midst of a video game design project. I queried students about the geology/science theme that underpins their video game projects, and created this chart that breaks down the topics. It’s no surprise that Layers of the Earth gets the most attention, as it translates nicely to a multi-leveled game.
Video Game Science Concepts

Peace (in the topics),

Storifying My #Nerdlution … so far

It’s Day 12 of the #Nerdlution and each day, I have been adding a few elements of what I have been up over at Storify as a way to curate my path. I can’t do this for 50 days, so I am wrapping up this part of my curating (but will keep participating and collecting where I have been for my 50 comments / 50 blogs / 50 days at Diigo).

Peace (in the tracks behind and path ahead),

A Light Covering — A Winter Learning Walk

Since the summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC, I have been trying to periodically take my camera/iPad and wander around my yard on a Learning Walk as a way to slow down, focus in and pay attention. I keep getting inspired by my friend Kim, who has been regularly blogging about her use of photography to connect with writing and reflection. A Learning Walk is more than a walk, I’ve found.

The other morning, this is what I found:
Winter Learning Walk
Yes, we have snow here in New England already. Not much, though, but the white covering on everything gives it a real December theme, doesn’t i? I realized later that I should have found my push mower, and snapped a shot of it. I’ve used it for various Learning Walk images. Darn.

Of all these, I find I like the pumpkin the best. It’s been on our front porch since early October, and the squirrels have had a feast with the seeds and insides, leaving it all hollowed out. The snow covering gives the orange a pretty mix. If you are wondering about the smiley face on the door, my son used wikistix to write welcoming words to friends who were visiting. The words have fallen and the eyes and mouth is all that is left at this point. I like the use of the reflection, too, as the centerpiece of the collage here.

Peace (on the walk),

Scenes from our Hour of Code

All this week, in between our work designing science-based video games, my sixth graders have been learning about the Hour of Code initiative. Of my 80 students, only a handful have ever done any kind of programming. Most didn’t even know what programming is.We had a long discussion about what code is and why it is important to at least understand the underpinnings of technology. In kid language, I explained the importance of understanding our interactions with technology and about having some control over what we do when we use our computers, mobile devices and more. I didn’t use the word “agency,” but that is what I meant.

I am bringing them into a site called Tynker tomorrow, but yesterday, we worked on a great introductory activity located at the Hour of Code site that uses Angry Birds (familiar, annoying pop icon) to show how to use a style of Logos programming (called Blockly) to move around a maze. The site worked fantastic with our interactive board (and the video tutorials worked well), so that I did very little other than show them the code they were writing (the site reveals the programming code underneath the moves) and hand off the pen to the next student to solve the problem and level.

They got the idea of block-style programming, very quickly,  and they were very engaged in the activity, helping each other out to solve the problem of each level. By the end of the day, we had collectively written a total of about 145 lines of code and spent a collective 6,400 minutes with programming with Blockly (80 students, 20 minutes each class, four classes). I know learning is more than numbers, but it’s still pretty cool to see it that way.

Here are a few scenes from the classroom, as we worked on both the Angry Birds activity and then moved back into programming around our video games (using Gamestar Mechanic).

Hour of Code

Hour of Code

And on to video game design …

Hour of Code

Hour of Code

A few students asked about apps that use a style of programming language, so I created this visual to share with them about the apps I have on my iPad. My son plays some of them. I have not yet checked out the Code Academy app for teaching programming, but that is on my list.
Hour of Code app collection

Peace (in the code),

Book Review: Mister Max – The Book of Lost Things

My son and I sort of stumbled on this book by Cynthia Voight by accident. We were in-between read-aloud books and my wife had picked Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things at a conference. It was the back cover that had me interested: “The trouble began with a mysterious invitation.” I read that blurb out loud to my son and he responded, “Well, now we have to read the book.”

So, we did.

The story — which lays the ground for at least one sequel, due out in 2014 — is about young Max Starling, whose parents are actors. The mysterious invitation is for the family to pack up and spend time in Kashmir as a teaching and traveling theater group. But when his parents go missing, Max is on his own (with help from his grandmother, a smart librarian who lives next door). Max embarks on finding independence, as he holds out hope that his parents are OK.

Much of the story involves Max solving problems — not as a detective, a label he does not like, but as a solutioneer — someone who finds creative solutions to problems, allowing him to earn enough money to live on while he ponders what might have happened to his parents. (You have to suspend reality here, as Max never goes to the police to inform them that his parents are missing. I would hope my kids would inform the authorities if my wife and I suddenly were gone.) The characters here are well-drawn, and Cynthia Voight is a writer with much talent, laying different pieces of different puzzles here and there, and then expertly pulling them together by the end, only to leave yet another mystery to untangle (thus, the sequel).

Mister Max was a perfect read-aloud and my son had a lot of questions about characters and foreshadowing, and those “aha” moments when Max figured something out. We thoroughly enjoyed the story, and appreciate how the random discovery of a book like Mister Max can light up a reading life.

Peace (in the mystery),

The Collaborative Song: Tweeting ’bout a #Nerdlution

Nerdlution song lyrics
The other day, I created a collaborative document on TitanPad (open source/free writing platform) and asked folks to contribute lyrics to a remix of Tracy Chapman’s Talking ’bout a Revolution by making it into Tweeting ’bout a Nerdlution. Over a few days, a few folks joined me and added lyrics and ideas, and then I worked (see above) to pull it together into a song. This week, during our “frozen roads day” off from school, I finally had some time to record a version of the song (no one took me up on the offer to sing it with me so I was on my own, and I apologize in advance, y’all. It’s out of my natural range.).

Take a listen:
Tweeting ’bout A #Nerdlution by Dogtrax

And here are the final lyrics:

Tweetin’ bout a #Nerdlution
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter

Well, we’ve got these personal goals in line
opening up doorways of creative invention
Making time to nurture body and mind
Sharing out our daily resolutions

Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter

All people are gonna rise up
and fight back their fears
All people are gonna wise up,
and tweet what’s theirs!

Don’t you know you better, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet
Oh I said you better share, share, share, come on and let’s share

‘Cause finally the world is starting to turn
(talking about a nerdlution)
We’re  finding different ways to connect and to learn
(talking about a nerdlution)

And we’re moving through some awkward times
always on but we feel so disconnected
yet here we are, reaching for the stars
making friends and sharing out reflections

Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter

Peace (in the collaborations),
PS — if you want to see the writing in real-time, check out this link.
PSS — I recorded this in Garageband, with a drum loop track. The guitar and keys are me, playing.

Lost Notes, Memory Tricks and the Discomfort Factor


The other night, at practice with my band (Duke Rushmore), we did something unusual. We’ve been working on some new songs for the past few weeks and as such, have ignored some of the old ones that we have always played. It’s part of learning, I guess, that we focus our energies on the present. But at practice, we decided to go back to some old songs that we used to know by heart. As the drummer kicked off the beat to the first one, I realized in a panic that I didn’t know what my first note was or how the song even began.

It was incredibly uncomfortable to feel so lost in the music.

The interesting thing is that I was not alone that night. In just about all of the old “chestnuts” that we pulled out, someone in the band — or more than one of us — didn’t know this note, or that chord, or where the break happened, or how to make the transition, or the order of the solos. We kept looking around at each other, asking: how could we have forgotten? Someone please help!

And we laughed.

But as a teacher, it reminded me something important. We take it for granted that our students are accumulating knowledge and experience, and that at any moment, they should be able to tap into the past work for the present assignment. Except, that doesn’t always happen, and we teachers get frustrated. Didn’t we already cover this? we wonder. The reality, though, is that without exposure and reminders, things get lost.

It was a humbling experience, floundering in a setting where I can usually thrive. I didn’t like that feeling, even in the company of friends who were not judging me for my missed notes, or wrong notes. My brain was working harder at retrieving information than it usually does acquiring it. I made a mental note about that process, and then got back to work re-learning my saxophone solos.

I’m still learning.

Peace (in reflection),