#DigiWrimo: Unfolding Conversations in the Margins

Writing in the Margins: Annotate Troy

The CLMOOC Crowd has opened up a conversation about Digital Writing in the margins of this interview of Troy Hicks, and you are cordially invited to come on in and add your thoughts, questions, observations about digital literacies. Troy has graciously joined in the conversation, too. We’re using a tool called Hypothesis (see below on how to use it) to crowd-annotate and crowd-discuss the theme of Digital Writing and the teaching of digital literacies.

Won’t you join us?

The annotation activity is all part of the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for what used to be Digital Writing Month. Along with the Crowd Annotation, there is a call for the Alt-CV/Alt-Resume by Sarah and a collaborative photo project by Kim in which you are invited to take an image of “down on the ground” and share it out. And more activities are to come.

Here are a few tutorials about using Hypothesis that might get you started so that you can add into the conversations of the margins with Troy Hicks.

and here.

Peace (here and there),

Slice of Life: Texting Amy(Bot)

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity on Tuesdays through the year. Hosted by Two Writing Teachers, we look for the small things in life to write about. You write, too.)

I can’t help but think of Slice of Life when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal. In fact, someone in Slice of Life may have recommended her first book – Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life — and if that was you (was it you?), thank you, you. I love that book, and have read it more than a few times (which is not something I often do with books. I am a one-and-done kind of reader, unless something resonates, and then I am loathe to lose that book or lend it out to anyone).

So, imagine my happy surprise to be wandering through our city library and there before me was a brand new book by Amy. It’s called Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Just like her other book for grown ups (she writes children’s picture books, too), this one is a gem, filled with wonder of small moments and an underlying sense that this Amy is one warm and endearing person who sees the world through a lens of insight and humor. (She’s the kind of writing who bakes an apple pie and ships it FedEx .. just for being the 100th person to respond to a prompt … that’s a writer who cares about her audience).

Check out her talk about her rather impromptu collaborative project The Beckoning of Lovely

The gimmick of this book is that is a “textbook” — sections are set to resemble those college tomes of yore, titled “history” and “science” and “math” — but the writing is focused on life itself (one math equation is all about love), and Amy’s life (her remembrance of an uncle beloved by many brought me nearly to tears), and the shared essence of all our lives. Oh, and the other part of the gimmick? There are moments in the book where you are invited to “text message” with a bot set up by Amy and her friend. Really.

Texting RoboAmy

I know it’s weird but I found myself enjoying my texting with the AmyBot very much. Part of me wondered, will Amy read these texts some day? Does it matter? The responses were whimsical and lovely, and some led me to her website where I could hear her reading or see images of other readers or take a poll (I chose Curly) or … listen to her selected music as I read the last section of the book, which ended on the theme of endings, with a very creative assortment of endings of other novels.

In the midst of the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for Digital Writing Month, this kind of book – the ones that offer an invitation to the reader to engage in digital media — makes me wonder: is THIS digital writing? Even though her book is paper and bound (in my version anyway), the author’s extension and invitation to engage with our phones and on the web as we read her words, to add to a collective gathering of other readers in a community setting and to be part of the “story” that Amy is telling … that seems to have many of the hallmarks of what I consider Digital Writing. I’d love to know what you think. You can leave a comment at this post. I don’t have a KevinBot set up for this.

Here at Slice of Life, we try to do what Amy does. We see small but envision big. The moments that too often slip past our vision — those are the ones I try to write about when I write my Slice. Others do, too. What you realize that only when you start to actively notice the world, in all of its smallest pieces curving in an arc around all of us, is the point when you realize how consequential everything really is. Nothing deserves to be forgotten, but we forget so much. So much of our lives gets lost.

Amy’s books can feel at times like short-attention-theater. She brings us into a moment, and then it is gone. Poof. But the outline of her moments are small works of art, painted with a sense of kindness and wonder and generosity. How lovely is that? How much do we all need more of that? Much. We need much much more.

Thank you, AmyBot. Thank you, Amy.

Peace (it’s me, world),

#DigiWriMo: To CV or Not To CV

Kevin's Unofficial CV Comic

The first invitation to create for the #CLMOOC #DigiWriMo Pop-Up Make Cycle is the concept of the Alt-CV (see Sarah’s post) — about surfacing elements of yourself not inside the “official story” of yourself. Last year, when we did a similar activity, I made the comic on top of this post that still says a lot. 

This year, I went with a fake newspaper article, covering my lost time in online spaces. If you find it, please return it.

Lost Resume

By the way, you can make your own fake newspaper article with the generator. I remembered where it is.

I also wanted to share something that I had created some time back for my friend, Laura, who is a university music professor and a fellow Connected Courses companion. She had asked in open networks for people to share, as podcasts, their stories in relation to music for an activity she was doing with her students.

Mine is about my dad, a drummer, but also sheds some light on me and where a love of music first came from. I like to think of it here in light of the alternative curriculum vitae, since music informs my learning and vice versa. But you won’t find that on my resume as a classroom teacher.

Peace (hear the beat),

#DigiWriMo #CLMOOC: Vertices, Edges and Digital Nomads

Network Analysis Study

I don’t claim to understand all of the data analysis that goes on when people research and examine all of the elements of our social interactions in places like Twitter and beyond. Here, for example, is what the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC looked like from a data analysis viewpoint.

IMMOOC Network Analysis

I grapple with making sense of it all, but it fascinates me just the same, particularly when a visual is teamed up with writing that dives into the data points. So this recently published piece by some friends in my social networking circles — Aras, Autumm, Maha B., Sarah and Dave, and Apostolos  — caught my attention.

I’m still reading it (the title alone is a mouthful: Community Tracking in a cMOOC and Nomadic Learner Behavior on a Connectivist Rhizomatic Learning Network) …. and learning the vocabulary of research.


Some of the elements explored here about hashtags and the wandering spirit of those in networked spaces in this research article certainly caught my eye. I am one of those people. And I wander around quite a bit, hoping to connect with people and picking their brains about writing, teaching and more. The insight of how hashtags are connector points makes a lot of sense to me.

Network Analysis Study

I am intrigued by the term of “nomadic learners” — those of us who skirt and toggle between open educational spaces. In fact, that term is more fluid than the “lurker” terminology that is often used, and debated in online spaces. A nomad is forever on the move, but not just transient — they stop, talk, chat, share, gather and then bring what they have learned to other spaces.

Or so, I hope.

Network Analysis Study


As CLMOOC hosts a taste of DigiWriMo this week and into next (with an open invitation to make and create and collaborate and explore), I hope we all become rather nomadic in our wanderings and in our creations, and in our connections. I’ll see you on the edge of the vertices.

Peace (on the compass of imagination),

On the Music of Butterflies

flickr photo shared by jeffsmallwood under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Dear Ron,

Thank you for asking me to remix your song, Butterfly Waltz, for your upcoming picture book, set to be published next month. I love, but am not surprised, that you are envisioning music as part of the release party for your upcoming picture book. Music and words are deeply connected in all of our conversations and collaborations over time. I know you as creative and musical, and a reliable partner in my own musical escapades.

I listened to your track of your version of your song and stared long and hard at the manuscript of music you sent along. I printed it out and carried it around with me. I wondered how I could take the music in another direction and yet, still honor you and your ideas. I played around in Soundtrap for some time, and then began to find a kernel of muse in a jazz drum beat.

Over the course of the day (as you know from my messaging to you), I wandered back and forth into the song, adding bits here and there, and ending with my own vocals, layered low into the mix on purpose. I hope you like my version of your song, my friend, and I am grateful for the musical challenge.

It occurs to me that this is personalized Connected Learning at its best — reaching out to peers in our networked spaces, finding common ground on a shared interest, creating and making something in the process, and sharing out to the larger audience. That’s why I am writing this as an open letter, Ron. It just made sense.

Good luck with your book! I am sure it is going to be a great release party next month! I am curious if others will be making music as part of your invitation, too, and what the whole collection will sound like when it is done.

Sincerely and Peace (’cause I always end in peace),


#DigiWriMo Book Review: The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music


This book — The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music (A Fresh Look at the Art of Hip-Hop, from Old-School Beats to Freestyle Rap) by Paul Edwards — is wonderful mix of research, insights by Edwards, and voices of oral histories by many rappers and artists on the Hip-Hop scene, talking about influences and origins of the music and culture.

The history of rap angle didn’t uncover much new for me (but I still enjoyed it), as I am interested in the music as an art form. I did appreciate all the elements of the research that Edwards has done into how the music is made (and was made, as things have changed over time with the emergence of technology). Many of the musicians here talk about the past production of hip-hop, of scouring records for beats and bass and then finding ways to isolate sounds, pulling them together to form the backbeats.

In particular, the use of Flow Diagrams by rap songwriters was something I had not come across before. Some rappers use Flow Diagrams (of various sorts) create columns for rhymes, and move across the columns as they rap. This allows for intentional internal, double-word and other kind of rhyme patterns. In the book, some rappers talk about setting up these kinds of charts as ways to use rhyme for rhythmic elements — words as beats and off-beats. I love when the process of writing is exposed like that.

(This flow diagram comes from a Genius page about a Pharcyde song. The annotated page is from Edwards.)

Interestingly, much of the discovery of how to use samples from other tracks was often accidental. A rapper/DJ/producer tries to do this, only to discover that. They were smart enough to have their ears open at all times for opportunities, and when mistakes happened that sounded good, they took that and ran it with. The early days, it was not about the money (as it seems to be today), but about pushing the art-form into new terrain, and impressing others on the scene.

Of course, litigation for using unlicensed sounds made the old-school way of remixing sounds nearly impossible, so the collage-like, layered production work that went into albums like Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys (and the Dust Brothers production team) or landmark tracks by Run-DMC, NWA and Eric B & Rakim might never be replicated now (without huge financial support from a company on the licensing side).

But I figure this … there are still plenty of people making tracks and creating new sounds on their own, and it is likely that those tracks are finding paths to listeners. Like so many businesses, the music industry is being upended, or has been upended, by technology and social media. While that may have diminished the field of music listening to some degree (it’s a time when all radio stations seem to be owned by corporate interests, and radio DJs have no say over what is being played, the landscape becomes rather hum-drum .. radio that I listen to here is nearly identical to radio that you listened to there), it has also opened up doors for more intimate connections to more niche bands and musicians in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.

I also wondered about the connections to what we think of as Digital Writing, and now remix and a new lexicon of song/writing construction might fit under that umbrella. It raises the question: when is writing a song a form of Digital Writing? Is it? It seems to me that Flow Diagrams and borrowing snippets seems to have interesting ramifications about language.

Edwards, whose book bio calls him “the Aristotle of Hip-Hop Poetics,” does a fine job here of exploring the historical perspectives of hip-hop music but he seems to conclude that its best days of innovation are far behind it, now that hip-hop is the touchstone of pop culture and a cash cow. I don’t quite agree, or maybe, I have faith that innovation is happening — even if many of us don’t see it. I just hope we can eventually hear it.

Peace (sing it),

It’s a Good Day to Slow Down: Ok Go’s The One Moment

Take time today to slow down and savor your friends and family on this holiday (in America).

Check out this new video from the band OK GO that does just that. It also connected to a campaign called Walk Her Walk, sponsored by the Morton Salt company, which seeks to make a difference in the world through support of advocacy and community-based work. Well. OK. Sort of odd to have band connected to that but the five groups the company is already supporting seems to be doing good work in the world.

And the video is awfully cool.

And the band writes about the song, which is the soundtrack to the company campaign:

The song “The One Moment” is a celebration of (and a prayer for) those moments in life when we are most alive. Humans are not equipped to understand our own temporariness; It will never stop being deeply beautiful, deeply confusing, and deeply sad that our lives and our world are so fleeting. We have only these few moments.”

And here are the notes on making the video, which I always enjoy reading about.

Peace (in slowmo),

#DigiWriMo: Sculpting Stories with Sound

Making Sound Stories

My sixth graders are in the midst of creating Sound Stories — small stories that are built for audio, with sound effects being the driving force behind the writing and then learning how to use Garageband as the tool for sculpting stories. I wrote about this last year, too, for my column at Middleweb.

The basics: They have a list of known sound effects that I have pulled from the Garageband loop library. They choose five to seven of those sounds on the list and write a small story, with those sounds embedded or embellishing their story. They record their story on Garageband, and edit in the sound effects.

There’s a lot of excitement in the air this short week before Thanksgiving. They do enjoy using Garageband and using what are called Foley Sounds (side note: check out this cool site where a professional Foley Sound expert challenges us to figure out the sound), even though I purposefully give them only limited instructions. I want to see if they can persevere and figure things out, and turn to each other for help. Mostly, they are fine, but you can almost visually see the lines between those students with learned helplessness (they ask for help before even trying to figure out how to solve a problem) and those who just need a push forward, and space to figure it out, into resilience.

I’ll try to see if I can post a few of their sound stories another time. Here is the one that I made last year, which I shared with them as a mentor text.

Peace (sounds like this),



Slice of Life: Dreams May Come (but perhaps not sleep)

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our day. You are invited to write, too.)

You still have no idea why … but Sunday night turned into Monday morning … and there was no sleep to be had. You drifted in and out of that strange stasis – not quite dreaming and not quite awake. You were somewhere in the middle of the real world and the imaginary world, and your mind would not easily shake free from one or the other. It was stasis.

You didn’t worry at 11 p.m. There was time. At midnight, you still thought: sleep will come. At 1 a.m., you wondered if something is nagging you (it’s not the election anymore .. that’s your daytime worry now), and you come up short with an explanation for the sleeplessness. Thinking only worsened the sense that you were awake instead of in slumber.

Staring into darkness at 3 a.m., you realize how much you really, really miss the depths of REM sleep, and how long the day before you is likely going to be …. a day back with classrooms full of kids gearing up for the holidays, after three days off the following week for a teaching conference, and there is just no way you are calling in sick today … and then, your mind drifted a bit.

You closed your eyes, hopeful.

You fool, you.

And yet, somewhere between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., you did disappear for a time. Or you thought you had. At that point, your tired brain was no longer sure of anything. It’s possible you just couldn’t remember what happened the minute before this one, and it felt like sleep. You didn’t wake up refreshed. How could you? But you were thankful that there was some lost memory respite from the foggy shadows of the long night, where all you were doing was wondering.

Peace (the next day),

PS — Last night, you were fine.

Book Review: Lincoln’s Spymaster (Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye)

So, I realized the only way I really knew the Pinkerton name was through visuals of the Pinkerton ‘goons’ busting up labor riots with force and violence in the late 1880s and early 1900s. That’s part of the Pinkerton story, of course, but the origin of Allan Pinkerton as the first “spymaster” for the federal government during the Civil War is fascinating.

Samantha Seiple explores Allan Pinkerton and the origins of his detective company in Lincoln’s Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye, using plenty of rich primary sources to bring to light how undercover operations helped Lincoln’s efforts in the Civil War, not to mention Pinkerton’s thwarting of at least one or two assassination attempts on Lincoln’s life before John Wilkes Booth did the awful deed after Pinkerton left the government.

Seiple brings us right into the cloak and dagger operations, as well as showing how Pinkerton built up a business of spies that eventually led to the formation of the Secret Service and then the FBI. The use of primary images really helps show the reader the time and place of the stories woven here.

Plenty of rough characters come into play, too, from Rebel Rose Greenhow, during the Civil War, to Jesse James and his gang of bank robbers in the era after the war. Pinkerton is shown here as smart, tough, stubborn and dedicated to his job, at all costs. His own sons took over the company and helped steward it into a large investigative firm that is still around even today.

I suspect this non-fiction book will appeal to some of my students, and the storytelling is solid and informed. Pinkerton’s techniques of “tailing a suspect,” going “undercover,” and placing informants into enemy terrain are the stuff of spy stories, and most of these were first used in real life by Pinkerton and his detectives.

Peace (no longer undercover),