Sifting Through Words to Find an Idea


If you have not had a chance to check out the Daily Connect blog that we have up and running for the month of October for Connected Courses (and which dovetails nicely with Connected Educator Month), you might want to see some of the nifty ideas being unveiled.

Today’s Daily Create is to find a blog post or tweet or some writing of someone else in your network, and use that post for creating a Word Cloud. This kind of visual sifting through someone else’s words to find an idea is intriguing, and different word cloud generators give you different ways to filtering the text. I used a basic one called Word It Out and put in a post about Network Fluency from @koutropoulos on Twitter that I really enjoyed reading.

As I look at the word cloud, I notice ideas like “nodes” and “network” and “connected” all rising to the top of the cloud. And “learning,” too, the post dives into a variety of interesting tangents around navigating networks for learning. I won’t say I learned anything new from this word cloud conversion, but it reinforced the message of the post in a visual way.

Why not give it a try? Check out our Daily Connect post today with some links to word cloud generators. Or use your own. Get connecting.

Peace (in the cloud),

Book Review: Frank Einstein and the Anti-Matter Motor

“What? Another science fair story! Ahh….”

That was my son’s initial response as we started to read aloud Jon Scieszka’s new Frank Einstein and the Anti-Matter Motor. We had just finished reading aloud Science Fair, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (thumbs up) and had watched a viewing of the movie, Frankenweenie, in the neighborhood (thumbs up but an odd thumbs up).

It was just by chance that all three stories had a science fair competition at the center of the plot, but it does feel like the push for fiction for middle readers into STEM areas is falling on some common narrative tropes. The “science fair” is one of those I am seeing a lot (as is my son).

He got over his initial response, though, as we dove into Scieszka’s story of a young inventor (Frank), and his pal (Watson), creating robots who can sort of think for themselves and then a scientific energy-creating breakthrough called the Anti-Matter Motor (combine water with anti-water). A nemesis in the form of Edison wreaks havoc. The illustrations by Brian Biggs were a big hit, as they complemented the text and provides some scientific drawings of ideas in the head of Frank Einstein (My son later noted, “Did you notice that Frank and Einstein makes …. Frankenstein?”).

I hate to say it, but I wasn’t all that fond of the writing here and I found the plot development too predictable. Written in the present tense, the story never went deep enough for me. Maybe I am more critical than I need to be, even reading through the eyes of my fourth grader. Sorry, Jon Scieszka — I love the work you do to instill reading habits in young readers, particularly boys, and I notice this book sits on top of the New York Times list for young readers. My son, though, liked it well enough, and wondered when the second volume was coming out. (next year, it seems).

Maybe that’s all that matters … (or anti-matters)


Peace (in the science),

Navigating Network Fluency

Network Fluency
I am just starting up a mandatory graduate level course by our state’s Department of Education about how all teachers can best reach our English Language Learner students through Sheltered Immersion techniques. I won’t say I am overly-excited about the amount of work that will be expected of us in the coming weeks/months, nor am I all that thrilled that we have to use Blackboard as our LMS (hate it), but the class discussions so far have been interesting.

I’m making a leap here (and it may be a bit of metaphorical ramble, so bear with me) but the theme of Network Fluency in the Connected Courses has me thinking of some parallels of thought. Just as I am learning more techniques for helping my ELL students navigate different languages, academic content, cultural expectations and learning platforms, so too are we in Connected Courses considering the “fluidity” of learners across online spaces. Being comfortable in one space/network does not translate into being fluent in the other space/network.

This comes to mind for me as I think about watching the flow on Twitter, or in the blog roll of Connected Courses, and how intriguing it has been to watch university folks move over some of the same ground as we have done in our Making Learning Connected MOOC, yet from a slightly different angle — of syllabus design, of institutional barriers and/or support, of wondering whether pushing barriers will hurt/enhance academic opportunities. The language and discourse of Academia has a different nuance to it, and the idea of Network Fluency is not just ‘Do I know how to use this space?’ but also ‘Can I project an identity into this space that has value for me?’


Network fluency #ccourses

Early on, I declared that I would only be observing the Connected Course. That didn’t happen (laugh track). That didn’t happen because the facilitators made me feel welcome and important to the conversations. I didn’t feel talked down to because I was “a sixth grade teacher” in the midst of university professors. A space at the table was made for me. Lurker, no more (although we wrote extensively about the value of observing from afar for learning and even about that term itself).

Over the course of a typical week, I realize, I am bouncing around many networks, most with distinct styles and certain lexicons of their own. From the physical networks embedded in my school day, to the online networks whose tone shifts depending upon the platform (Twitter, etc.) and the people who inhabit those spaces with me (serious? humorous? inbetween?). The way I write in various National Writing Project networks is slightly different from the way I write in others.  Sometimes, I connect in with more personal writing via Slice of Life.

We become fluent in these networking spaces by learning and participating, and with assistance of others, just as my ELL students are doing  in my classroom– watching, reading signs, paying attention to cultural markers, taking chances, finding confidence and then, establishing a voice that is valued. The social capital that is discussed in Connected Courses is the connections between those in the space, where trust is the glue that holds it all together. In the Connected Courses, I trust that my views as an elementary teacher will have value. In my classroom, I hope my students trust our classroom community enough to participate and take chances with their thinking, to push the boundaries.

If those things fall apart or never quite take hold at a comfortable level in my own networks, at least I have the opportunity to leave the spaces I am part of (well, except for things like the ELL training). I mostly pack up and say, that’s not for me.

My students? They can’t do that (another difference with university folks, where students can drop out). My young students’ network/language fluency depends upon me to construct scaffolding for them, so they can not just enter the conversations, but so they can be facilitators in those discussions, too, bringing the best of what they offer to the forefront of our collective learning.

If that sounds just like the way we think about the networks we wander into out here, in the virtual spaces, then I have made that thematic leap from my classroom to my networks clear. If not, eh, sorry.

Peace (in the think),

Slice of Life: In Case of Emergency, Break Heart

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

We had a very sobering staff meeting yesterday, in which two police officers from our town talked to us for an hour about changes in the local and state policy of emergency lock-downs in our school. Our old policy was: lock the door, pull the shades, get in your hiding space, stay quiet. Wait for the police to set you free. During drills, our school seemed like a ghost town.

But now, there is no “policy,” only guidelines, and the main guideline for us teachers is this: if there is an armed intruder in the school, use your best judgement on how to react to protect your students – maybe hide, maybe run, maybe fight. I agree that having more options, in the event of something nearly impossible to consider (although, we know we need to at least consider it in this day and age), but thinking of the chaos and confusion of those moments is difficult to wrap my head around.

Which is not to say I would not be ready to do any of those options, should it be necessary. Or at least, I hope that I’d be ready. Alternatively, I hope I never find out if that is the case. One of those little doubts in my head is, what is you make the wrong choice about action? What if you run with your students into the problem when you should have stayed put away from the problem? How would you live with yourself after that?

Man, I hate that we live in a society where we even have to have these discussions of armed intruders in schools. The officers gave us an overview of Columbine, and then Virginia Tech, and then Sandy Hook. They even had us listen to some 911 calls, which I sort of wished I had not had to hear, to be frank. They shared the “lessons learned” — about barricading doors, about slowing down the event, about making decisions in the midst of confusion. They brought all of those news stories right back into focus, and I wish that hadn’t had to have been done.

How will we drill for this kind of response, in which every teacher makes their own decision? I don’t even know. All I know is that I left there thinking, In Case of Emergency, Break My Heart…..

Peace (please),

Comics Recap (A Weekend Update)

I made a few comics over the weekend as part of the Connected Courses. It’s my way of “reading” the posts and material, searching for interesting tidbits. If you want to see real artistic interpretation in action, check out what Amy Burvall has been doing with all the Google Hangouts, etc.  She has been sharing her artistic quotes in our Google Plus space and on Twitter (you might need to scroll down a bit).

Anyway …. first up is a comic to note that the Connected Courses folks are slowly but methodically expanding its facilitator ranks as the course goes on, inviting more folks into the mix to take on roles. I am one of those, although I guess I am sort of doing what I am doing (and now helping with the Daily Connect adventure that was the brainchild of others).

Newbies on the #ccourses Team

Second, my friend, Susan, had a hectic week and wrote about findings her way back into the Connected Courses mix. Her hook to her post was that ‘dinner was burning’ as she caught up.

Dinner is Burning (as I write)

Finally, Greg wrote about his participation in MOOCs and online courses, and often he drops out. One of the lines he wrote grabbed my attention because it made me laugh.

Bye bye mooc

Peace (in the frame),


GhostWriters: An Odd Collaboration

If you want to experience collaborative writing, but not with live people (maybe you’re not in the mood … I don’t know), check out the Master’s Demo Edition tool from Google Docs, in which you can “write” collaboratively with famous dead writers. We shared this out today with our Daily Connect site. I find it amusing and strangely frustrating, as the writers interrupt your words with their own phrases.

Here is mine, and here is the link to do your own.

Or you can watch mine unfold in this screencast.

Peace (in the connection),


Book Review: What If?

There’s a reason this gem of a book is sitting on top of the New York Times book list these days. What if? (Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions) by Randall Monroe (he, of xkcd comic fame) had me laughing, and thinking, and wondering about the world in new ways. The premise is that, at Monroe’s website, folks submit scientifically based absurd questions and he tackles some of them from a scientific standpoint.

The clash of serious and absurd, and Monroe’s engaging voice and comic interpretations, makes for an incredible read. Some of the issues that he tackles here include: could you swim in a pool where they cool spent nuclear fuel rods? Or what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How about if you drained all the oceans on Earth? What would this place look like then? (interestingly enough, this is a question one of my won students asked me the other day as we were discussing the oceans. I need to bring this chapter in for her). Or, could someone really live on an astroid like the Little Prince?

Man, I could go on, but you need to get it yourself. What If? will keep you not only pondering life’s mysteries, but also pondering who the nuts are who come up with these questions (the answer: us.)

Peace (in the questions),

Inflection Points (on trust and networks and connections)

You want to know a beautiful sound? It’s when a classroom of young writers are given “freewrite” time and they work diligently on whatever it is they choose to write about for 20 minutes straight. And I write right along with them.

Inflection Points

Yesterday, as I continue to mull over the themes of trust and networks and connections, via the Connected Courses, this poem began to take shape in my own writer’s notebook. I hope it captures some of the concepts in my head, about the multitude of voices coming together, the strange dynamics of online spaces, and the question of whether what we construct together in virtual space will ever really take hold beyond this “moment” that we are in.

Poetic responses, and remixed, are welcome.

Peace (in the poem),


192 Lines of Collaborative Poetry

#DailyConnect for #CCourses

(hear the poem)

Writing a collaborative poem in an online space is a messy, creative endeavor, and yesterday, as part of the Connected Courses, many people dropped by an open document to add to a poem that I started in the morning as part of the Daily Connect idea.

This morning, there were 192 lines written (give or take a few empty lines) and the collective piece of writing both shifts and turns in interesting directions and stays true to the focus of what it means to be part of a virtual network of people learning as we go.

Read the poem (and use the Timetable Slider to see the poem unfold in real time as the site captures keystrokes. It’s strangely fascinating to see the poem being written over time. Of course, I don’t expect you watch for 21 minutes, but you could.)

I thought it would be very cool if someone podcast the poem in a single voice, so …

Record audio or upload mp3 >>
(hear the poem: )

Peace (in the poem),


Firing Up the Daily Connect

#DailyConnect for #CCourses
I was invited into the planning for this idea by friends and fellows in the Connected Courses community, and I could not resist. The idea that emerged from side discussions is to create a Daily Connect, a riff on the DS106 Daily Create, in which folks will be encouraged to make connections.

I set up a simple WordPress blog — The Daily Connector — to get things going. If I had more time (or if Alan wasn’t on the other side of the world and had time on his hands), it would no doubt be fancy-shmancy. But I like simplicity, too.

So, here is the Daily Connect blog site, where we hope to post a single connection idea ever day for October (no promises, folks, but we sure will try). Yesterday’s post was about using the Connected Courses Blog Randomizer and today’s post is about collaborating on a shared poem. Come jump right in.

And if you have an idea for the Daily Connector, please please please share it with us. We’ve set up a Google Form for you to submit an idea. If we run out, we might start raiding other sites, like the band of Information Pirates we really are.

Peace (in the connect),

PS — did I mention we need ideas?