Transformed into a Robot

My youngest son has a sketchbook where he is creating a whole menagerie of robot designs. He showed he this one recently: The Daddy-o-Tron. I feel honored to have been made robotic. Notice how he gave me a side-kick robot — the Book-o-Tron.

Daddy-o-Tron Robot

Peace (with them ears),

Slice of Life: Charting the Listeners

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give


In another writing space, in which connected friends from the National Writing Project write regularly and different folks take on different writing prompt hosting each week, my friend, Fred M., posed the question this week of nurturing active listeners. Fred, citing Peter Elbow’s work, used the launching idea of: “Listening is NOT waiting for the other person to stop talking.”

It’s a great topic, and one my colleagues at school and I talk about a lot, mostly from the deficit viewpoint: “Why isn’t he listening?” or “She was staring out the window again” or “He never participates in class discussions or raises his hand.” Maybe we need to think more of, what I am doing to bring her back to the classroom? Or how I am engaging him in something he is passionate about? That’s another day, another time.

I wrote to Fred’s prompt about some story activities that I do that encourage listening skills and then started to think about a typical class. I had this idea to use one of my four sixth grade classes, and to break it down (very unscientifically) along categories of listeners.

Here is what I came up with:

A Class of Listeners

Fred suggested I share the chart back with my sixth graders and get their input and perspective. I just might do that.

Peace (I’m listening),

Slice of Life: When We Used to Fill the Book Bags

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give

I took my youngest son to the public library yesterday and it was there that I had one of those memory moments. Years ago, when all three boys were younger, I used to bring them to the library regularly, and we would spend at least an hour or so in the children’s section, reading stories, playing blocks, watching fish, and choosing books to bring home. It was not unusual for me to lug home a bag filled with 25 or more picture books. I’d drop the bag on the floor, and let the books spill out, and the kids would sit in the midst, reading or looking at the bounty of stories.

Now, when the older boys join me at the library, they go upstairs to the adult section or the video section (or the adult graphic novel section). My youngest is still content to sit on the floor, and I found him yesterday reading some Garfield books while I perused the shelves of the Young Adult fiction novels. I then wandered into the picture book area, and listened furtively as a father read a book to his toddler son. I said hello to the fish. I remembered.

Of course, we grabbed a few books to borrow but nothing like the past, and I guess that’s OK. Still, I often have those pangs of remembering how the library used to be our regular place for literacy (particularly on those rainy days), and now as I think about the three boys and their abilities in reading and writing (all very strong), I like to think that our visits to the world of books and the regular stacks of stories we brought home to read together have had an influence on them. I know that to be true (and worry about my students whose families never entered their library or brought books home or read aloud to them when they were younger.)

I’m being wistful with this Slice of Life, but I am also grateful that we live in a place that has such rich public spaces for anyone to borrow all kinds of books. Libraries remain the rich heart of literacy, and even though our visits are less frequent, I know my boys realize the library is there for them, whenever they need something to read or something to explore, and I know they value our library as much as I do. Of that, I am certain.

Peace (in the stacks),

Slice of Life: The Life Cycle of a Balloon

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Before I get into the Life Cycle of a Balloon, perhaps I should note just how odd and strange sixth graders can be. Just when I think I am weird in my own way of thinking and writing (and I am, happily), one of my 11 or 12 year olds will come up with something off-kilter and unexpected. I love that.

She walked into the classroom in the morning.

“I have half of my bus ready to root for the blue team,” she announced. Our Quidditch team is blue. Apparently, she has been rallying the troops on her bus to support our team.

“Oh?” I asked, getting paperwork on my desk sorted out. I was only halfway paying attention.

“Yep,” she said, grinning. “I promised not to tell them the Life Cycle of  a Balloon.”

That got my attention. The Life Cycle of a Balloon? Another few students had come in to the room by then. One classmate, a close friend of hers, groaned. “Not that!” the friend said, slapping her forehead in a fake dramatic move.

“What’s the Life Cycle of a Balloon?” I asked, a bit naive.

“No!” the classmate wailed. “Don’t ask her!”

Too late.

She smiled at me, and then, in a quick, rhythmic voice with a lilting tone of “now you asked for it,” she went into a memorized sing-song verse about a blue balloon found by a balloon man, who blows it up and ties a string to it, sends it skyward where it gets hit by an airplane, falls to the Earth (but not before hitting a passing bird), gets found by another balloon man, who blows it up, ties a string to it, sends it skyward, into space, where it hits a satellite ….

“Oh,” I say, as she keeps going on and on, looking at me directly. Her bus-mates agreed to support the blue team as a way to get her to stop repeating her story. She was still spinning her tale as I realized this. Still, the story unfolds.

“See?” her friend says. “Now you’ve gone and done it.”

At that, though, she stopped the story and smiled even a bigger smile.

“And that,” she said, with a little bow, “is the Life Cycle of a Balloon” and then erupted into giggles. I had to laugh, too. Even her friend, exasperated as she was, smiled.

Peace (never pops),

Book Review: The Everything Store

I’ve been reading a selection of books about the wave of technology companies dominating our landscape, mostly as a way to better understand how they came to be and who are the people behind the ideas. So, Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon fit that theme nicely.

Amazon (or should I say, as the company always insists?) is an amazing story of one man, with a grand idea, who is slowly but methodically enacting his vision of a one-stop online store for anything. Jeff Bezos and his organization is also characterized as being pretty ruthless in its practices, using its power to wield more power against smaller and bigger companies, at least according to Stone. It sees a market. It takes the market.

I won’t go through a full review of Stone’s book here, except to notice on interesting thing, as a writer and a teacher of writing.  (And to note, Stone has come under fire by Amazon folks for way he describes the company, but I found it pretty balanced in both praise and criticism.)

There is an intriguing section in the book where Bezos orders an edict to his managers: no more Powerpoints in meetings. Instead, Bezos requires all of his managers to write narratives of their plans for their divisions, and each meeting starts out with a shared reading of those narratives. Stone says that Bezos believes that writing is a way of thinking, while Powerpoint is a glossed-over version of explanation. The reaction from his staff is mixed and miffed, now that they had to recall all of the writing skills they learned back in school for real life.

You think Bezos ever attended a National Writing Project Summer Institute?

Even if you don’t admire Amazon for its size and scope, or maybe even Bezos for way he runs his company, you have to admire him for understanding the potential of an idea, and to put it down into writing as a way to better understand it.

Peace (in the store),

Slice of Life: Did Kentucky Win?

(This is a Slice of Life post, as facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. Lots of educators are writing about the small moments of their days. You write, too.)
March madness 2015

Did Kentucky win?

This is the question I woke with in my head this morning, and I am sure it will be the first question each of my boys will ask when they come down to breakfast.

We’re deep into the start of March Madness in our house, each with our brackets. They are all athletes, so they get caught up in the college basketball fever. Even the dog has a bracket. He chooses teams based on which closed fist he smells when presented with a match-up. The boys have a bet around whomever gets the most wins gets the dog on their bed for an entire week, instead of sharing him night by night. I don’t know what the dog gets if he wins (peace and quiet? Extra kibble?).

We saw a few upsets already, but nothing that took my bracket down yet. Yet. The Kentucky game was on too late for us for a school night,  with a start around 9:40 p.m., but this weekend, our television will get more playing time than it has all year (we don’t watch a lot of TV in our house).

Yes, Kentucky won.

Peace (in the bracket),

Slice of Life: Shuffle the Cards and Make Stories

(This is a Slice of Life post, as facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. Lots of educators are writing about the small moments of their days. You write, too.)

kevin 2 storyteller cards pic

I recently wrote a piece for my Working Draft blog over at Middleweb about using a fun, new way to get my students to write stories. Storyteller Cards. They’re pretty nifty and strange, and perfect for sparking interest from my young writers. At the time, I had just introduced the cards to some students, and asked them for suggestions.

Each card has information: a character in a setting, with an object, doing something. Other bits of information along the edges of the cards include a mood, a season, a letter and a playing card suit/number.

This is an image from the Storyteller Card site: An Anatomy of a Card.


Yesterday, I pulled out the deck of cards for all four of my classes and we created a story-writing game of sorts that engaged my sixth graders so much, they were leaving the class asking when we could write again.

This is how we played:

  • Everyone gets two cards, face down. No looking.
  • We all flip one card together, spend a few minutes examining it (lots of excitement when this happened), and begin a short story with that character and some information from the card.
  • We write for 7 to 10 minutes. Keep writing.
  • Then, we flip the second card and add a new surprise character into the story underway (this flip kicks in the giggles and sharing with friends and “what is this?” comments all over the room)
  • Write for another 10 minutes.
  • Share out stories.

Ideally, the third step of this “game” would have been to trade your card with someone next to you, but we never got there. This activity engaged my students and also provided a nice creative break from our Parts of Speech unit and open response prep work that we are doing as we eye our state tests on the horizon.

My co-teacher, seeing the engagement of our writers, made the astute observation:

What if the state test was all about this kind of writing?

What if? As if.

Peace (in the cards),


Slice of Life: I Got a Rock in a Box

(This is a Slice of Life post, which is part of the daily writing challenge facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give

When I got home from school yesterday, a package was waiting for me. I thought maybe some publisher had sent some books for me to review and then I saw the return address and thought, did I win some Slice of Life prize that I didn’t know about?

You see, it was a package from my good friend, Stacey Shubitz, who is part of the Two Writing Teachers team of teacher/writers. I ripped it open and found … this inside.

Cool. A rock with a message that keeps getting sent forward to other people. Yes, it is part promotional gimmick to spread the word of a new book about teaching students to be Upstanding citizens of the world through inquiry and decision-making but I like the main author (Smokey Daniels), I like the message, and I like the way something in the mail connects us to others. And I know just who I am going to send the Upstander rock forward, too, and why. They will be surprised (unless they are reading this right now.)

Peace (in the standing up),

Walking Portfolio for #Walkmyworld

I know there are a few more learning events for Walk My World (including the last one around heroic myths and the current one around the Story of Us) but I had pulled together a sort of digital portfolio via ThingLink as a way to capture the projects I had been doing since the start. I like using the visual, with links, although it does not leave room for post-project reflections without cluttering up the page.

Oh well. I am also keeping a Diigo Outline that I can share out another time. That might give me more reflective room to write. For now, I hope you enjoy a walk through my work and tinkering.

Wondering what Walk My World is?

The #WalkMyWorld Project is a social media project in which we share and connect online at Twitter using one hashtag. Groups of learners across the globe are connecting and sharing for 10 weeks using the #WalkMyWorld hashtag. — from 

Peace (in the composition),

Slice of Life: It’s Quidditch and We’re Cold Fusion

(This is a Slice of Life post, which is part of the daily writing challenge facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Quidditch Cold Fusion 2015

Well, some of those who read my blog regularly (thank you) or who read it as part of Slice of Life (thank you) know that March brings Quidditch to our school, and this year is no exception (although it almost did not happen due to reverberations of funding cuts at our school – that’s another story).

Yes, we play Quidditch at our school, a version first created by students more than 10 years ago and adapted over time by our gym teacher, sixth grade team and of course, input from other students over that time. The Quidditch Tournament takes place next month and right now, we are in the midst of deciding class names.

We go through a pretty elaborate nominating process and then voting process. The image above is a screenshot from the voting process (there was some panic in the classroom that The Elsinators would get the top spot.) This year, when all was said and done, my class voted on Cold Fusion for their team name. We’re the blue team, so they always seem to lend towards cold and ice. Cold Fusion is a theoretical idea of creating a contained explosion that creates energy at room temperature. So, yeah, good name for a Quidditch team.


They begin working on t-shirts in art class today, are brainstorming symbols for our team, and making brooms in library, and we have read a chapter from the first Harry Potter novel to connect them to the book, and we will be doing various kinds of writing. I’ll be writing more about our Quidditch for Middleweb, I think.

For now, fuse the cold and create some energy. We are Cold Fusion!

Peace (in the game),