Book Review: The Island of Lost Maps

Miles Harvey subtitles this book “A True Story of Cartographic Crime,” which has nice evocative hook to it. Harvey’s The Island of Lost Maps is a journey into the small field of map collections, but Harvey expands his scope to look at how maps have changed our perception of the world and how the increasing value of maps has given rise to a new kind of criminal: the map thief.

The book revolves around a history of mapmaking and Harvey’s journalistic pursuit of Gilbert Bland, whose crime of map theft landed him in prison, but not allegedly before raiding many library collections with an exacto knife and pure guts. Bland then sold the maps on the market and was only caught when another library patron senses something odd about the man, sitting at the table, perusing an old map collection.

Harvey does a good job of bringing us into the world of map collecting, and of the many ways that mapmakers created visions of the known and unknown world that shaped the Explorers of Europe during the age of discovery. Where Harvey goes a bit too far is in describing his own “map making” as he tries to piece together the life of Gilbert Bland, who refused to talk to Harvey and remains, even at the end, a bit of a mystery. Harvey uses the map metaphor for his own journalistic exploration, and while that metaphor can work, he often goes a bit too far.

Still, the way maps shape our lives is a fascinating story, and The Island of Lost Maps (besides having a wonderful title) does the job of filling in some of the gaps of the field quite nicely.

Peace (on the edge of the world),

So, Is This Rhizomatic? How About This?

No teacher

Terry Elliott asked an intriguing and rather pointed question yesterday (not surprising, if you know him) in the #Rhizo15 Twitter Stream: Forget the mumbojumbo theory about rhizomatic learning.

Where can rhizomatic learning be seen in practice?


First, a definition, of sorts, by Dave Cormier:

The rhizome is stem of plant, like hops, ginger or Japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain … The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem.

I tried to get at this question from another angle the other day, with mentions of Inquiry Projects in the K-12 setting, but heck, even then, the teacher sets some guidelines and scaffolds the way forward, if only with structure. Inquiry-based learning has some rhizomatic flavors, but may not be full and true rhizomatic learning.

I wondered about the Making Learning Connected MOOC and the Connected Courses. Nope. Both were/are deeply planned in many ways, and while the invitation is to go your own way, if you desire, they are also a contained unit (6 weeks or so).

But the creation of the Daily Connect, which replicated the Daily Create (see below) emerged from a discussion on Twitter and became a collaborative brainstorming idea around ways to keep people connected with short activities. That was rhizomatic.

Push for Fun-1

I wondered about the RhizoRadio Play that a bunch of us created in the first week of Rhizomatic Learning, where a sketch of a skit on a blog post led to a global collaboration of writing and recording and publishing. Yep. That’s rhizomatic.

I started to think about the Headless DS106 course that I took last year (was it last year?) in which there seemed to be no real teacher and no real classroom. But even then, someone (Alan Levine, I think) was pulling the strings behind the screen … we had loose themes and loose tasks on a regular basis that sent us off into our own thing, like creating a DS106 radio show.

Merry Hacksters Title DS06

Ahhh, but this had me thinking DS106 and the Daily Creates. Each day, a new Daily Create is sent out and people can join in or not, share or not, connect or not. You follow your own path and your own inspiration, and can contribute ideas to future Daily Creates. You can access the entire library of Daily Creates online. And it never seems to end. The Daily Creates keep coming, day after day. I’m not sure we are teaching each other what we know, necessarily, but we are sharing what we have created in networked spaces, and inspiring imagination. I’d consider the Daily Create a rhizomatic learning activity.

So, that’s another one, perhaps.

Then I started to mull over how songs come to be adopted in the band (Duke Rushmore) that I play in. Sure, this is a non-traditional educational space — a rock and roll band — but we are always learning together. I am one of a few members who write songs for the band, and I always find bringing in a new song to the band to consider to be an interesting and challenging event.

Duke Rushmore

Just recently, another member has been working with a new song that he wrote. He had it all mapped out in his head — you play this, you play that, drums go like this, saxophone comes in here, vocals are inflected like this. He “heard” it. But reality was very different. We were all very hemmed in by his directions, and yet, we were respecting him as the artist with the vision. We tried. But. Something didn’t gel.

Then, two weeks ago, he gave up on us and almost on the song. He said, do you own thing. So, we sped the song up and began to unshackle ourselves from his vision of the song. And you know what? Over an hour or so, we began to collectively remake the song into a shared vision of music, and it was good. There was life to it. We all had a hand in the song’s re-creation, and that is making all of the difference in the world.

That’s rhizomatic learning. The roots take hold.

Peace (in the mulling),



Another #Rhizo15 Quote Parade

I did a bit of wandering through #rhizo15 blogs this morning, gathering quotes about the most recent learning question: What is the role of the teacher?

Peace (in the words),

Being a Rhizomatic Teacher (in K-12 Setting)

I am intrigued by the idea and question that Dave Cormier poses this week (spurred on by a post by another Rhizo15 participant about giving Dave a break and posting our queries this week) about what it means to be the teacher in a Rhizomatic Learning course. He doubles down on the word course in his introduction, saying that the word still indicates a flow of learning. I won’t quibble.

This all came about because folks began wondering (in a kind-spirited way): Do we really need Dave at all? Not Dave, the person. Dave, the facilitator. In other words, wouldn’t a true Rhizomatic Learning environment run on the fuel of its own inquiry?

Lots o Daves

But then Dave asks us to consider: how do you teach rhizomatically?

Good one. (This is why we need Dave).

For me, here’s the thing: I am a sixth grade teacher in a K-12 setting, unlike many in the #rhizo15 learning community, who are in a university setting. I’m not saying they have much more flexibility than I do. They may not. But I do think there are slight differences when we consider our teaching practices.

So, tweaking his question a bit, I began to wonder: how to you teach rhizomatically in a K-12 setting? With the philosophy of wide-open learning and deep inquiry —  set against standardized testing and for some (not me, thankfully, or not yet anyway), standardized curriculum — there’s a sense of conflict in values.

But, listen, when we do classroom inquiry projects and project-based learning and even adopting the Google 20 percent/Genius Hour to our K-12 classrooms, where we give students choice and help them find direction in their inquiry/research, and then allow them room to present their findings in a variety of formats …. that’s a taste of the rhizome, right? We just call it something else.

The key here, as a teacher or facilitator, is to have the stepping stones for forward motion, to allow learners of any age to build on their own experiences and scaffold the next steps. In Rhizomatic Learning, Dave has purposely set the tone for exploration with intriguing, open-ended questions and there is room to do that in our classrooms, too.

Maybe not all year. That probably is not realistic, given the confines and mandates looming over our heads. But we can bring a taste of the rhizome into our students’ lives and empower them to do more to pursue their interests, while still meeting the standards we are required to teach them, no matter the age.

We just don’t call it Rhizomatic Learning.

Peace (in the think),


Keeping the Positive (or Trying to)

Keep it Positive

This post is about me.

But it might be about you, too.

I’ve been noticing a tendency of mine in Rhizomatic Learning that makes me feel a little off-kilter. I’m noticing that as Dave Cormier introduces intriguing concepts to be considered (this past week, it was the idea of “content”; the previous week, it was about what “counts” in learning), I find myself settling in as a critic, picking apart the idea itself with a negative lens.

For example, with “content,” I wrote a bunch of tweets and posts about how pigeonholed schools are becoming with specific disciplines, about how teaching is in “boxes” of content-area learning. When the theme was “counting,” I gravitated towards criticism of the testing industry and data collection. When the concept to be considered was about “subjective learning,” I was thinking of the cultural baggage that people bring to their learning spaces or teaching spaces.

What’s up with that? Why all the negative, dude? (that was my inner voice)

This realization dawned on me as I was writing a comment this morning at a friend’s blog post and it occurred to me that I have been looking at all these issues from the “deficit model” of learning — looking for what was wrong — instead of being active with the idea of what might work and how to make it work even better. Perhaps this default into criticism of a structure like education is human nature, made larger by our voices in social media spaces.

One of the best practices of good teaching, however, is to avoid the deficit model in our students. Accentuate the positive, and help a student find a path forward. Support them. Scaffold. Remain optimistic. It doesn’t mean I am going to suddenly get on the bandwagon for publishing companies or policy makers. There’s a limit.

But, let me strive to “keep the positive” going forward, without losing the critical element of analysis. I think there is a fine line there, one not easily tread if you are trying to say something important. We don’t want to hold back in what we say just because we are in “cheerleader” mode. I’ll be striving for some more balance in considering topics with Rhizomatic Learning. I’ll try.

Peace (in the think),

One Week In: Some Stats on RhizoRadio

RhizoRadio Stats

I was curious to see if our RhizoRadioShow (part of the Rhizomatic Learning community) was getting any play in the week since its official release (after a few days of “soft release”), and I realized that Soundcloud kicks out data on files (of course, it does), so the screenshot above is a snapshot of sorts. There’s a limit of information because I have not gone “Pro Unlimited” and I suspect that the podcast get more plays while embedded into websites such as mine. I think these are stats from listening within Soundcloud itself (but I am not sure about that).

Some basic stats of the file, which has been “live” for less than a week now:

  • 185 listens
  • 12 “likes”
  • 29 comments (including mine)

I think the comments are most interesting and continue to invite folks (that’s you, dear reader) to add another layer to the radio show with comments and annotations. When we talk about pushing into the digital writing terrain, adding text on top of a sound file is one way to be doing this, I think.

I also enjoy looking at the countries of origin of listeners, which offers a peek at how diverse the Rhizomatic Learning Community really is, although clearly the US is most represented in listens. Of course, take a listen to the podcast itself, and you’ll hear our diversity in our accents. That’s just one of many things to love about this kind of collaborative project.

Peace (under the hood),


The Anatomy of a #Rhizo15 ‘Close Read’ Comic

wicked close reading

Allow me a brief detour here …. as some of you may know, I like to make comics as a way to zero in on blog posts and tweets in online learning adventures that I am part of. It began with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, then extended into Connected Courses, and now is part of my routine with Rhizomatic Learning. My aim is to find the anchor or kernel of idea that intrigues me, and extend it out in a visual way with a comic.

My hope is that the writers of the material don’t get offended, and I try very hard to make sure the satire or humor is not directed at the writers themselves. But humor and satire are definitely part of my intention, as is the hope that I might, in my own way, open up the doors to the power of comics as a medium of expression and to inject a little levity into some very serious pedagogical discussions.

Plus, I find it fun.

So, I thought I might walk through the process of how I found a typical post, what I discovered as I read, and how the comic itself eventually came together. I’ll use Will Richardson as my example, if only because I have followed Will for years, read and been inspired by his books, and suspect he won’t mind if I reference his blog post that led to a comic. (Thanks, Will, in advance).

Rhizo comics

Will entered the Rhizo15 stream a few weeks in, which is fine and “right on time” but that can be disorientating to the late-comer, I think, as you try to figure out, what the heck are they talking about? What can I contribute? Where is this thing going? Will’s post — entitled Learning with #Rhizo15 — was thoughtful, as usual, and centered on the difficulty of finding your footing in a “course” like Rhizomatic Learning, where there is no set curriculum map, no established center space, no direction on your learning other than what you bring to the table for yourself.

I was really intrigued by his list of things that can make an open learning experience “hard.”

Will writes:

  • It’s hard because no one’s telling me what to read or when to read it.
  • It’s hard because there’s no one text, no central collection place for ALL the associated thinking with the course.
  • It’s hard because I worry about what I’m missing.
  • It’s hard because there are no due dates.
  • It’s hard because I don’t know if I’m doing it “right.”
  • It’s hard because despite the fact that I’ve been learning online informally for almost 15 years, I still have a lot of “old school” baggage built in when I hear the “course.” (By the way, if you want a lesson in how long it takes to unlearn old habits, watch this.)

That line about “old school baggage” resonated with me and I decided that was the line that I would use to represent this idea of our expectations of a learning experience clashing with an open educational space, and how our brain seeks to make sense of something new even as the old framework creates a certain sort of tension.

So, this is the line I took from Will (and added a word — word — for context):

I still have a lot of “old school” baggage built in when I hear the (word) “course.”

I use different comic platforms at different times, but I was on my iPad and so turned to my favorite comic app called Comics Head, which gives a lot of flexibility for creating comics. I also use a site called Stripgenerator on the computer, or Bitstrips, sometimes, too. I’ve also been know to pull up Dave’s Rage Maker Comics from time to time. I guess I am all over the place, but each gives a different feel and different compositional possibilities.

With Will’s words in hand, I started to consider what the comic would look like and what I wanted to say. You see, my aim with comics is to add some of my own perspective — to riff off the original writer, where the comic is the comment.

I thought that a background of a traditional college would make sense, with someone (a stand-in for Will, but really a stand-in for all of us) at the front door, wondering where the classroom is and referencing Professor Dave. (Hint: there is no classroom, and Dave Cormier is the facilitator but he lets things go their own way). Will’s quote is plastered up on the wall, like graffiti or something. (Hide the paint can, Will). I actually struggled with where to put the text, from a design standpoint, because the background is a bit too busy. The wall seemed ripe for defacing, so to speak.

I struggled with how to represent the open quality of #Rhizo15 in contrast to the university. At first, I had student faces in the windows, heckling the visitor, like those old guys from the Muppets. I didn’t like that, though, as it felt a bit mean. I don’t want to be mean-spirited here.

Then, I thought: what if the gathering of the Rhizomatic Learning Swarm (ie, those working together in the community, with the “swarm” term coming from folks like Keith Hamon) is outside the frame of view itself, and the text boxes are calling the visitor to avoid the building altogether? We don’t ever “see” the #Rhizo15 learners .. which is mostly true, anyway. We are defined by our writing and our media in social media spaces.

I then realized that a cool juxtaposition would be the element of an elementary school — the playfulness of a playground, and the metaphor of a sandbox, and the open invitation to come join in the fun and exploration. I like that dichotomy of the friendly invitation to play and explore and the rather imposing image of the school building.  The final touch was the labeling of the building as “Typical University” to indicate how untypical the Rhizomatic Learning experience is (but should not be).

Here are a few more comics from the weekend:

Rhizo cimics

Rhizo cimics

Peace (under the hood),

PS — This comic/close read anatomy exercise is inspired by the YouShow project a few months ago, when Alan Levine and others were pushing folks to make their process and thinking more visible.

Jumping Time Zones: The Conversation Never Ends

Rhizo comic

There was an interesting discussion the other day on Twitter with folks in the Rhizomatic Learning community about the concept of “time” in an online learning environment. I hadn’t quite noticed just how important a role that time zones play in online interactions, mostly, I suspect, because in past experiences, I was in the midst of so many United States-centered educators. I lost perspective, coming from an America-centered view of the world (sorry, friends.) Rhizo15 is a real intriguing mix of people from around the world, and so time zones clash a lot.

Threads of thoughts that get started during the day often get picked up in the night.

That’s an interesting component here, how one conversation or discussion thread starts in one time zone, in one part of the world, and then leaps forward or across time to another part of the world, and there is a definite lag at times (I am just waking up. You are just going to bed.) There are also those moments when our time zones overlap.

There are definite benefits to this time zone element.

First, of course, there is the global perspectives that get pulled into the mix. It helps avoid the echo chamber effect — of hearing from others what you already believe because you run in the same circles as the same people. Mixing in with different people brings different voices, different cultural views, different ideas on learning. It’s hard to get that from your building-based Professional Development.

Second, it gives you time to think. If I write something and someone from Australia or the Middle East or Europe responds, it will likely be something I read the next day, or much later in the day. My response back also will have some “lag time” and that is a much-appreciated pause in the action — a chance to reflect before the response.

Finally, there is a distinct ebb and flow of discussions, and while some threads do seem to get lost in the mix, most get picked up and developed, and the recursive nature of the discussions is like a loop tape that you listen to, where each listen brings something new. As folks gather into the hubs of discussion (be it Twitter, blog posts, G+, or Facebook or wherever), the threads get extended over time.

I really noticed this time zone differential with the editing and collecting of files for the Rhizomatic Radio project. I kept wanting to move ahead, move ahead, move ahead … and often had to wait for others to wake up, read my notes and get me files. I had to be patient. But, you know, listen to the variety of voices in the radio show, and you come to understand how a project like Rhizo15 or even a collaborative venture like RhizoRadio can expand your field of vision, and truly make you feel like you are part of a global experience.

You just have to expect a little lag time. Even friends have to sleep …

Peace (in the zone of time),

Content-Area Whatever

Content in a Box #rhizo15

Dave Cormier asks us to consider what we mean by “content” when it comes to teaching and learning in this latest round of Rhizomatic Learning. As usual, Dave poses what seems to be a straightforward idea (oh, you mean: math, science, social studies and literacy, right?) that suddenly zigs and zags as you dive deeper into it.

Dave writes in his post:

I imagine a lone student, huddled away in a dorm room, reading sanitized facts in the hopes of passing a multiple choice quiz. The content somehow merging with the learning objective and the assessment to create a world where learning is about acquiring truth from the truth box. – Dave Cormier

And so:

Content confusion

For me, the word “content” has long become a rhetorically loaded word, attached to all sorts of professional journals and textbooks and advertising from every publishing company hoping to get either my money for their books or my words in a book review.

Content-area this

Content-area that

Content-area thisandthat


One of the more interesting elements of the Common Core push in the United States has been the shift in how we view the teaching of literacy. It is no longer the domain of just English Language Arts teachers. The Common Core demands that all content-area teachers (there we go again) be teaching reading and writing in the “content area” on a regular basis.

That, I can agree with. You?

What I have interpreted the Common Core shift to mean, and what my colleagues and I have been working on for a few years now, is how to transform literacy instruction beyond my own sixth grade ELA classroom, so that writing and reading practices are embedded in their day in all of their classrooms (math remains tricky when it comes to literacy practice, to be frank, given that the scope-sequence of our district’s math program leaves little room for deep inquiry and exploration … I know … that sucks).

An interesting ancillary is that I, as the ELA teacher, am finding more and more ways to bring social studies and science, and even some math, into our ELA curriculum as well, so that, for example, our video game design unit is science-content-based and an interactive fiction writing unit is steeped in history and archeology, and a poetry lesson (poems for two voices) is centered on math concepts and so on.

Our hope is to avoid those boxes I have above in my comic and spill the learning out. I think that elementary school teachers have more flexibility here in this weaving of subject areas, and even though my sixth grade team follows a “middle school model” of four teachers, four discipline areas, our home in an elementary school affects how we view teaching as a whole, not in parts.

But, I am still thinking about this concept of content, or maybe I am rethinking it. This is why I love Rhizo15. I can’t take anything I know for granted.

Peace (and be content with it),