Book Review: Danger is Everywhere

Danger is Everywhere: A Handbook for Avoiding Danger is a nice satirical antidote to the wave of adventure books for boys and girls now flooding the market. Writer David O’Doherty and illustrator Chris Judge bring a hilarious view to the world of dangers all around us, using their foil — Docter Noel Zone — and his observation that everything is out to get you to give helpful “advice” on staying alive in a dangerous world.

I had this book recommended by a student, who told me “I have to read this. Your life depends upon it.” Oh, how right she was …

Don’t believe me?

How about now?


From the Page 9 Scorpion, to the Polar Bear Attack, to the Toilet Shark, to the Mailbox Octopus and beyond … well, you get the picture (and speaking of pictures, the illustrations here are very funny). The good docter (yes, he put an “e” in there to show he is not a real doctor) is on the case, even as he touts the eating and use of cabbage and investigates the theft of a garden gnome (Mr. Chomsky … inside linguistic joke?) from a neighbor he has a crush on.

By the end of this lighthearted help book, you will emerge as an official Dangerologist. Not that it will do much good when the Mailbox Octopus or the Piano Walrus come for you …

Peace (in the fun),


Confusion Before Clarity: Rhizomatic Learning

Into Rhizomatic Waters -- uncharted lands

Last year, I was lucky enough to make the leap into Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning project. I would not call it a MOOC. It was more a gathering of folks exploring this concept of the swirling, interconnected nature of learning experiences. Dave didn’t really provide much in the way of a curriculum. Instead, he challenged our thinking. He acted as a provocateur. His idea was “the community is the curriculum.”

Needless to say, it was intriguing and refreshingly unlike any other gathering or course I have been involved in, and many of the folks in that Rhizo14 have remained solid and strong and constant in my network of educators and thinkers for the past year.

And now Rhizomatic Learning is gearing up for 2015. I’m back in the mix, still wondering what the term “rhizomatic learning” really means and indicates, and how to make sense of something that is fairly slippery on the surface. I’d have a hard time if you and I were having coffee, and you asked, “So, this Rhizo thing, what’s that all about?”

My best bet would be, for me, it’s the confusion before the clarity. It’s an acknowledgement that not every learning experience has a linear path of understanding, and the realization that it may take you longer than you thought to get to the point of clarity. The idea of the rhizome is rooted in the belief that we need to be active in our engagement in the world, and be open to the experiences and expertise and influence of others. That we are not alone in our learning, even though we all must venture on the journey of discovery on our own.

Or at least, that’s my interpretation of it. Yours may be different.

Rhizomatic Learning, for me, in fact, still has many contradictions and many gray areas. I like that because — in some strange meta-way — it means my learning about Rhizomatic Learning is Rhizomatic Learning.

As a teacher, this whole adventure is helping me understand those students who struggle with deep concepts, who need to come in to an idea from odd angles, who may not be where I want them be when they leave me …. and yet, I still have the faith they will get there, eventually.


So, even Dave Cormier checks the oil on the rhizome, I am diving in, and playing around with the concepts. If I have learned one thing from the CLMOOC facilitation team, it is that the energy at the start — and the sense of creativity of a community or network — that defines an experience. Thus, I’ve been making memes, collaborating in music, and welcoming folks in the #rhizo15 Twitter hashtag.


And so it begins ..


Peace (in the twists and the turns),

Pew: Teens, Social Media and Implications for Learning

The Pew Research Center just released another one of its surveys of young people, seeking to gather data on how young people are using technology. As always, it is fascinating to examine the data analysis of the Pew researchers, and think about considerations for schools, particularly the often disconnect that happens between the writing/composing they do in school and the writing/composing they do outside of school.

Look at this chart:

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat Top Social Media Platforms for Teens
So many kids in so many spaces, with Facebook still at the top of the heap (despite reports that young people are leaving Facebook in a flurry). The number that jumps out at me is shown in the report before this: 92 percent of teenagers report going online at least once every single day. And 24 percent report being “constant” users of online sites during the day. As much as I am advocate for digital literacies, that number alarms me on some basic level, sparking the concerns about how online spaces are shaping social norms and social interactions.

Frequency of Internet Use by TeensAs educators, we need to consider this as both an opportunity for teaching skills around reading and writing and collaboration, and wonder about the time spent in social media spaces. I don’t have an answer to the question: is this good or bad? It just is. Even though my students are younger than this scale, I know I need to keep this kind of awareness of online presence in mind when I think about how best to engage my students as writers and thinkers. To turn a blind eye would be counter-productive to learning.

You need to read the whole Pew report, or the summaries, but the writers of the report do a nice job of showing the growing digital divide, too, where socio-economics play a role in access and use of technology. I suspect this issue needs to be teased out even more, particularly when it comes to school policies and priorities.

It will come as no surprise that I was interested in the results around gaming and gender. I can’t say the results were surprising, with boys dominating the graphs as players. I do wonder if the kinds/genres of games would reveal different results or tease out some interesting elements of how gaming is part of the life of teenagers. I’ll be digging deeper into the report to see. (The social media chart is part of the game chart, and it, too, is interesting to examine along gender lines)Girls Dominate Visually-Oriented Social Media Platforms













For my students, I find that there is more equity in the numbers of boys and girls playing games on mobile devices, and more boys playing console games. In our classroom work, it is clear that girls play different kinds of games than boys, too, and when we work on our video game design unit, girls design games differently than boys, too (speaking generally here). The data here is another piece of information to inform my teaching.

Pew explains how they did the survey:

Data for this report was collected for Pew Research Center. The survey was administered online by the GfK Group using its KnowledgePanel, in English and Spanish, to a nationally representative sample of over 1,060 teens ages 13 to 17 and a parent or guardian from September 25 to October 9, 2014 and February 10 to March 16, 2015. In the fall, 1016 parent-teen pairs were interviewed. The survey was re-opened in the spring and 44 pairs were added to the sample.

Peace (in the data),

Playing with Animation

My students have had some fun this week (in the time after standardized testing) to make some neat stopmotion animation with  a Mozilla-hosted site called Para Para Animation. It’s simple to use, with none of the bells and whistles of more advanced animation programs. (so, that is both good and limiting).

Check out a few of their creations:


Our Quidditch Team Name

Tiger, Jumping

Soccer Goal

Peace (in the frame),

Digital Poetry: What Happened Here?


It’s quite likely I won’t do justice to my thinking but if we consider blogs as a space for reflective practice, then bear with me … I am going to try to think aloud as a writer about my latest project to take a place-based poem about walking to an isolated beach in Maine from here:

Poem draft 1

to here:


and then beyond, to here:


And also into all the strange spaces in-between … and more importantly, I want think about what we mean when we say Digital Poetry or Digital Composition, and what do digital opportunities do to the ways we compose. This is not a throw-away question. Our students are writing all the time, and doing so in interesting ways outside of school. We don’t often think of it as “writing” because it falls outside our traditional, constrained definitions of what writing is.

But they are composing with video. They are composing with video games. They are composing with mixtapes, with memes, with image altering apps. They are composing with online comics, with remixing, with screencasting. They are pushing writing beyond the paper and pen.

If our students are pushing up against the edges of composition, we should be pushing edges, too. Or at least, that’s my view. If we want to be their guide into the way people compose, we need to be writing in different spaces ourselves, experimenting with writing, and discovering the learning possibilities. This is one of those experiences you really can’t view from afar, and judge the merits of. You have to dig in and do it. You need to write digitally.

This comes with a boatload of questions that orbit around a single idea: What is digital writing? I don’t quite know, and I’ve been thinking and tinkering with it for years. There was a question early on in my poetry project in which I shared two visual versions of a draft, and someone asked (quite rightly and quite politely), Why is THAT digital writing? I made a weak argument (as I now think of it) that the two images actually framed the same words in a different light, bringing to the surface a new way to look at written words of the page. Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know.

It was only when I got past my rough draft stage (that first image above) and final draft stage (that second image above) that I began to delve deeper into digital poetry and its possibilities. Here in this stage, I argue, the digital aspects “transformed” the poem in new ways. By using the same poem as my anchor text, the use of various digital tools and apps and spaces allowed me to make something new — with echoes of the original always intact — and provide another road into understanding what writing is and is becoming.

This inquiry is goes to the heart of digital writing. It’s not just taking something and keeping it the same with bells and whistles so that it “looks” shiny and new. Digital writing should alter our perceptions of the text, both as the reader AND as the writer. This two-sided coin is important, as we want to think of how our writing changes just as much as the reading experience changes.

So, for me, when I created a Soundscape story with no words at all in the file, yet words imposed as floating comments; or made a digital story, juxtaposing text and narration with image and music; or when I reframed the words of the poem as art; or when I found a new poem inside the old poem and asked the reader to click the button that dropped words out of sight — these were all decisions that I made to make something new (or at least, attempt to do so).

If you buy my argument (and you may not), then what are the implications for the classroom?

For me, this kind of experimenting — of taking a poem for a walk — allows me to experience possibilities for my students as writers/composers. I am my own guinea pig. I can see that the remixing with Thimble would take time and lessons around coding. I can see that the digital story app would be great to use (if we had iPads). I can see that the site that allowed me to twist words into a shape … we can do that. Using Notegraphy app for a polished-looking final copy? Yep. Introducing soundstories and podcasting? We’ll be there soon enough.

And here, I have my own mentor text to show students (who saw me writing the first draft with them and who have seen the final version that I shared the following day but have not yet been shown the extended remixes). Digital writing not only transforms my own writing process, but it also has the potential to transform my teaching practice as well. The hope is that it may transform my young writers, too.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey of poetry and reflection. I’d love to know your thoughts on what digital writing is, and isn’t. It’s a term still very much in flux.

Peace (in the poem),

Digital Poetry: An Ocean of Words

This is the final iteration on a theme — the final riff on a single poem over almost 10 days time. I’ll do some reflecting later (and I have been curating my poem’s development) … but for this last sharing out of my poem about a walk through the woods to get to the ocean in Maine, I used a few word cloud-ish techniques.

The first two, via apps on my iPad, become merely word clusters. Interesting to look at and certainly pretty to see, I guess, but not much agency in the creative element. I tried to add an invisible ocean wave to the second one (see it?) but it didn’t work the way I had hoped.

This one uses an app called CloudArt, sort of like Wordle for the mobile device.

Walk to the beach

and this one uses an app called Visual Poetry.

Walk to the beach

The second project, which uses an online program called Visual Poetry (not to be confused with the app of the same name) is a bit different, as it allows you to drag words into shapes across the screen, and so I decided that a winding path leading towards the ocean made sense. It’s very visual. The colors looked more vibrant at the site and sort of got flattened when I created the image file. Interesting.


Peace (in the words),


Book Review: My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)

My son and I took a chance on this for read aloud based only on the title. Death. Adventure. He was hooked. (He is a 10 year old boy). And My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp was a fine choice for our read aloud time, as it is funny, hyperbolic look at living in the time of lumber camps and Lumberjacks and how a boy is missing the father he never knew, so he searches the camp for another one.

DeCamp liberally uses hyperbole to tell this tall tale, but for me, it was the voice of the narrator — Stanley Slater — that comes through as a confused kid, a bit curious about the world, and trying to navigate that shifting space between childhood and manhood while surrounded by strong women working to keep the family together. It’s not easy for Stan.

My son got tired of the “I’m a whiz at …” phrase that Stan says quite a bit (he’d be quite the expert if everything he said was true) so I began to replace the phrase with others (Sorry, Alison).

I loved how she let Stan’s inner thoughts sneak out as mumbles that other characters would hear, as it makes for some hilarious interactions. And while Stan does not get what he wants (he never finds his father, who has abandoned the family, and he does not get to join the river run of logs), he does discover some things about life and some loose ends get tied up by the end of the novel that indicates that Stan and his mother will be OK, even if his “evil” Granny is still in the picture.

My Near-Death Adventures is a fun read-aloud, and I almost forgot to mention one of the more interesting elements of this book. DeCamp uses the scrapbook idea to very funny means here, showing Stan’s collection of cutout images from magazines, complete with Stan’s doodling on the pictures, so that there are visual jokes to go along with the text. It is quite effective.

Peace (in the adventure),