Variations on a Game: Summer Ball Story Cube

hacking bball
This week, the Making Learning Connected MOOC dives into games, with a focus on the stories behind the games and all that comes with the narrative design. I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about games over the years, as I have an entire unit for my sixth graders around video game design which is the highlight for the year for many of them.

As we begin our discussions, I started to think about the game of baseball, and how a neighbor/friend/youth coach volunteers and runs an informal Summer Ball program for any kid under the age of 14 in our city. Three days a week, from July until November (some years), this friend (who would rather not be named and got mad at me one year when I nominated him for a local community recognition) loosely organizes kids (sometimes there are up to 60 kids; sometimes around 20) into the game of baseball.

But he spices it up on a regular basis, adding twists to rules and, well, “hacking the game of baseball” to make it interesting for kids, and they just love it when he calls out a rule change. He does this for a variety of reasons — to keep the kids engaged, to change the pace of play, to teach the traditional game of baseball through the lens of alteration.

My own boys have been playing Summer Ball for almost 10 years, with the youngest now the only one allowed in (cut off age is 14, when the batter is too strong for the young kids). One interesting aspect is the mix of ages of kids, where there are 8 year old kids hanging out with 13 year old kids in a very informal gathering, learning from the older kids (some good; some bad) in a way that beckons back to my own neighborhood experiences. It’s a determined move by my neighbor to get kids away from their devices and away from formal activities, and into something more natural and freeflowing. While mostly boys, there are some girls who play, too.

In that vein, I offer up this Story Cube, from a site called Slides, that allows you to construct a presentation that allows you to move around the square surfaces of an invisible project. Ideally, a circle would be best for this! But hey, you take what you can get.

Peace (on the field),

Reflecting on a Week of Meme-Making

So you wanna make a meme
What a meme-filled week we had at the Making Learning Connected MOOC! And what a range of discussions that our meme-making inspired, particularly around the concepts of cultural currency, who gets left out of the conversations, the concept of privilege, what constitutes a meme, and more.

There are still plenty of folks in the CLMOOC who are scratching their heads about all of this meme business, but that’s OK — it might be one of those topics that takes time to simmer and stew before understanding comes around. There does not have go be instant understanding when it comes to the topics in the CLMOOC.

You are so meme

I’d like to share out a few pieces that went beyond the making of memes, as I think they showcase the flavor of the discussions. Of course, you are invited to join us at any time, too.

  • Rebecca Powell started a thread of discussion in our Google Plus space about privilege and memes, and the result was a far-ranging talk of a handful of us on the theme. I like this post because it shows us questioning, pushing back at our thinking, and sharing ideas in a positive way. We don’t really come to any conclusions but, personally, I am thinking of memes in a different light right now. Thanks, Rebecca!
  • Shyam Sharma and Maha Bali collaborated on a very deep piece for EdConteXts about their work on memes in the CLMOOC, bringing together blog posts that both of them wrote during the week about cultural connections to meme sharing and meme making, and how without those cultural touchpoints, they felt left out of the conversations. This reflective stance is so important, for not only do we not want people in the CLMOOC feeling on the outside looking in, we also do not want our students to feel that way. I love how Shyam and Maha end their piece, with a call for all of us to “open our ears and eyes and hearts if we want to truly take advantage of the web of people and ideas as educators.”
  • Chris Campbell’s extension of memes into cinema and videos, and remix, is the perfect leap from one form of media (still image) to another, and I love how he shows as well as shares his ideas in his blog post. Chris’s piece sparked some great conversation within the MOOC itself. One thread of those converations had to do with sampling of music and repositioning melodies of old into songs of the new (I am stretching the topic a bit here but it is something I think about when I listen to HipHop). Music as meme? Of course!

At point during the Make Cycle, I grabbed as many of the memes that I could, and put them into an Animoto video. At that point, there were about 125 memes, and many more flowed in after the video was finished. I shared the video in our spaces and asked the questions:

  • What do we notice about the memes when pulled together as a collection?
  • What does the collection say about us as a community?

I didn’t get much response — that’s OK — but I have been thinking about it, and here is what comes to mind as I watch the video again with my questions in mind.

  • While Peter Kittle and crew did use the World Cup biting incident to spur on some modern memes, most of this collection either referenced cultural events from years past or no cultural events at all. However, someone did note that a potential lesson for students would be to take a current event, synthesize it down into a meme, and post it to a public space — which sounds intriguing;
  • Most of the reference points were American-centered in nature and do not reflect a world-view;
  • We used a lot of the meme-generator sites instead of making our own memes with our own images, probably out of ease but when you do that, you lose agency as a maker;
  • There were fewer LOL cats than I would have thought, which might reflect a generational pull of our crew. Or maybe, we are just tired of the cats. Dogs, anyone?;
  • Playing with language — syntax, purposeful errors, spelling — was relatively rare. Again, this might reflect our community of mostly teachers whose natural impulse is to not write/publish ungrammatical work, even memes that situate such errors as part of the construction of the composition (I know I feel that tension when I try to write that way intentionally);
  • You can see lots of people experimenting with what a meme is, and if you scroll through the conversations, there is still a lot of wondering about what makes a meme a meme, and ” Did I do this right?” Thus, some of our projects work as memes, and some are just artful statements on life (Is there a difference? I think so, but maybe I am wrong. This continues to be a rich source of discussion);
  • I wondered if any of our memes would go viral, beyond the CLMOOC. Not as far as I can see, but a movement to gather up a collection of political memes that take a poke at the Education Reform/Testing Industry could have legs in educational circles, if we can get our act together to make that happen.

mo money meme
(Remix your own version of this meme)

What do you think? Check out the Meme Game (which Terry Elliott shared with us) and see how many you recognize and if you recognize the context. I was solid on a few, had some inklings on some others and was clueless on the rest. Interesting …

Peace (in the viral world),


eBook Review: The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

Cover (CC BY { pranav }I am a big fan of Doug Belshaw, and his work via the Mozilla Foundation and on his own to shine a light on what it means to be a writer/composer/creator in the digital landscape. Belshaw thinks deep about what it means to be literate in this technological world, yet he offers an even eye on the world, too — being critical when criticism is needed and being a cheerleader when possibilities emerge.

Belshaw has now published an interesting ebook — The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies — that expands this thinking beyond his insightful tweets and weekly newsletter and short blog posts (with a few longer ones in the mix from time to time). He is involved in some interesting projects with Mozilla around digital literacies, including some mapping projects related to how we use the Web to learn, write, read, interact and more. What he wants to get a handle on, as do many of us, is how the influx of powerful and relatively cheap technology is changing our literate lives.

“As devices become cheaper and easier to use, the barrier to entry becomes less to do with technology and affordability and more to do with cultural and social factors. Digital literacies are not solely about technical proficiency but about the issues, norms and habits of mind surrounding technologies we use for a particular purpose.” Belshaw (45)

Belshaw’s ebook is an intriguing look  inside that shifting landscape, as Belshaw brings us on a journey to explore the difficulties of understanding digital literacies (or it is all just one larger Digital Literacy? This is one of the questions he tackles); how our sense of what has come before us in terms of literacy is shaping what is now in front of us, and maybe hampering our abilities to comprehend those changes; how memes are an interesting metaphor for the ways in which the spread of information and collaboration has taken hold in digital spaces; and how remixing content, in any of its many forms, is an act of purposeful composition that should be embraced and valued, and taught.

Belshaw helpfully breaks down his own view of digital literacies into eight main elements or lenses from which to view the digital world, and our own interactions:

  • Cultural
  • Cognitive
  • Constructive
  • Communicative
  • Confident
  • Creative
  • Critical
  • Civic

These eight elements become the threads of Belshaw’s analysis throughout the book, and I found these anchors to be useful as discussion pieces and reflective points in my role as a teacher. It certainly moves us beyond the harmful dichotomy of the Digital Native/Immigrant idea.

I  highly recommend The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies as an insightful look at how our world is in the midst of intense change, and how we can think of literacies at the heart of it all. If nothing else, put Doug Belshaw on your radar as someone to follow and learn from. The book is only available as an ebook, I believe.

Peace (in the book),


Find Your Muse: Making an Animated Meme

I’ve tinkered with animated GIFs before (most notably, with DS106) and when I saw a fellow traveler in the Making Learning Connected MOOC world sharing an animated GIF meme, I thought: I gotta try that.

So, I did. Here’s how I went about it.

First, I found a clip on YouTube that I liked (of Lisa Simpson playing her saxophone).

Then, I grabbed the url of that video and went into a site called Make a Gif, which does what it sounds like it does: it creates animated GIF files out of YouTube videos. I took just the first three seconds of the video, as the loop of Lisa playing while Homer kicks back and dreams of other things while Lisa kicks out her saxophone jams.

Then, I went into an online photo editor called EZGif, which allows you to layer in text on top of animated GIF files.

I’ve run into problems hosting animated GIF files before and I have found that if I use Flickr and grab the “original” image (not the embed code that Flickr gives you, as that will flatten the GIF down to a static image) via copy/paste, and place that original upload file directly into my blog post, it will remain animated.

The result?


Pretty nifty, eh? Go give it a try and share out what you made as part of this Make Cycle around memes. We’re moving to shift gears out of this Make Cycle but it never really ends. You can enter into the conversation with the CLMOOC whenever you arrive.

Peace (in the sharing),

Making Flappy Writer (a forked game)

I saw a link to a game development site called Play My Code and I could not resist checking it out. It’s pretty code-heavy (thus, the name) but it does allow you to remix/fork projects that others have created, so some tinkering with the underlying code gives you an opportunity to play and make games. Here, I took someone’s remix of Flappy Bird, added some new images, and created Flappy Writer.

Play Flappy Writer and avoid the pencils

And here is the embedded version of the game (wondering if this will work)

This site is clearly marked in Beta Mode, but it has some neat potential for those students who want to move beyond my video game design unit with Gamestar Mechanic, and who want to dive into some code-based development.

Peace (in the game),

When the Meme Turns Serious

My Students ... meme
Someone in the Making Learning Connected MOOC community posted a pretty serious-themed meme yesterday, as part of our work around understanding memes as cultural currency. I was struck by the realization that I seem to always go for the funny bone when I make and read memes, and yet, there is something about a meme that can be strikingly serious, too, if done right.

I decided to put aside the humor for a bit and try my hand at a serious meme, which is more difficult for me than I would have thought. Serious means that I had to resist the urge to be flip and/or sarcastic, which is the heart of how I view memes. I had a small amount of writing space and the image had to tell much of the story, if the meme were to be effective.

In addition, I wanted to move away from using the meme generator sites, which offer limited choices and pull you into their system, leaving very little agency. Instead, I wanted to create the meme, all on my own, with my own image and my own text, and my own choices, with no branding on the final meme.

I don’t know if I succeeded or not in my serious meme angle, but I can’t shake the feeling of how big business is really impacting our educational system, and the sense that it is more the bottom-line of those companies than the needs of our students that is driving much of the educational reform movement. I know I am probably preaching to the choir, if you read this blog, but it still is something that sits in the back of my mind (particularly as our district is spending gobs of money on a new math curriculum by a company whose name and presence is all over the testing industry these days. It begins with a “P.” You know what I am talking about, I am sure).

So, this meme (shared above) seeks to stake out some protective ground, establishing as best as I can a philosophical wall between the business interests outside my classroom door and the students who are inside my space each and every day of the school year.

This is how I made this meme:

  • I went into my Flickr files/archives to find a picture of a student at work. This one is from a National Day on Writing event a few years ago where my students were podcasting and publishing some of their writing;
  • I used the Aviary editing tool within Flickr itself (although I had a hard time finding the Aviary link, as Flickr made some design changes to its tools in the last few days);
  • I layered in text and added a border to the original image, and tried to find a text font that seemed “meme-like” that would stand out on top of the image;
  • I struggled with the wording, and how to concisely say what I wanted to say. I knew I wanted the large font on top to say “my students” in some vein, and the “not a cog in the wheel” kept gnawing at me. I ended up with “My student writers are not cogs in your business model” with the purposeful use of “you” to direct the meme at educational businesses (as if they care);
  • I reposted the image, now a meme, to Flickr for sharing.

Peace (in the message),

PS — if you want to use my image to create your own meme, feel free to do so. The image is linked here on Flickr or you can grab it from this post.



Deconstructing the Cowbell (A Meme Exploration)

CLMOOC cowbell

Raise your hand if you know the reference to this meme? As part of our exploration of memes as cultural currency with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, I decided to use this particular meme and deconstruct it a bit. And I decided to do it in comic form.


Check out how Google Trends followed the “more cowbell” concept over time:

And also, where the phrase has cache, globally (almost entirely in the United States):

If you want to know more about memes, then you should check out the site — Know your Meme — which provides context for original references and tracks the history of particular memes. Plus, it’s a fascinating history lesson into the digital age of popular culture references, for good and for bad (many memes have racist or mean origins.)

This is just a sampling of the hundreds of variations of this meme at this one site. You can see all sorts of references to businesses, inside jokes, friends and more.
cowbell memes

Over at Meme Generator, you can even set up a Meme Generator, so if you truly want more cowbell, then go make a meme!

clmooc fever

Peace (in the meme),

Making a Mess with Memes

Clmooc meme
So, we’re going to have some fun this week with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, with Make Cycle 2’s theme on the topic of “memes.” You can read the newsletter that gives the context for memes and cultural humor, and more, and then we invite you to dive into making memes yourself.

Clmooc meme

I make a lot of memes, as regular visitors here know, but I want to try to dive in a bit deeper this week, and learn more about the ins and outs of how memes connect to popular culture, and how some memes become a secret language of sorts for young people. This is a good overview by Peter Kittle, one of the Make Cycle leaders this week.

Meanwhile, make your own memes, and share them out with the CLMOOC community.

Peace (in the meme),