Slice of Life: Reveling in a Quiet Room

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Every year, for past nine years, I have looked at the March Slice of Life Challenge, and thought: I can’t do it. A Slice of Life post — looking at the small moments of the day — every single day? I have other things going on! But then, I seem to mostly do it, right through every day in March. Tomorrow will be the 10th March that I have dipped into Slice of Life with the folks and friends at Two Writing Teachers. It’s a reason to write. It’s a reason to take notice of the small moments of the world. It’s a reason to connect with others (commenting on other blogs is highly encouraged).

So, here I am on, on a regular Tuesday Slice of Life .. getting ready of the first March Slice of Life that starts tomorrow ….

We came back yesterday from Winter Break, and I returned with a cough and cold that lingered and returned from two weeks prior. It made for a long first day back, as you might imagine. I was sucking cough drops and chugging juice, and hoping my voice would hold out. It did, barely.

I also started the new week with an expected IEP meeting right at the start of the day. I had it in my calendar as being later in the day and made plans, and suddenly realizing that either I had it wrong or someone changed the time without me knowing about it had me scrambling like crazy for the substitute teacher, and that panicky sense of the day never left me.

At the end of the day, I just sat there in my chair in an empty room, taking in the quiet. It was one of those days.

Peace (in the room),


Television Review: Abstract (The Art of Design)

I only watched the first episode of this new series on Netflix, called Abstract, which is focused on design across the fields of art. I was curious to see how it might connect to some of the elements we have been talking about in Networked Narratives.

And I was intrigued by the first episode, which is about artist Christoph Niemann, whose name I didn’t recognize but whose art I certainly did, as he often does the covers for New Yorker magazine, and his views of the world — where technology and art intersect with humanity — often catch my eye. And I remembered the cover that is the focus of this documentary, too — the one which began an Augmented Reality cover, in which the viewer is immersed in the artistic New York of Niemann’s imagination.

What’s interesting here is the approach the filmmakers use to showcase Niemann’s fertile artistic mind, bringing us into the cartoony world and using “meta discussions” to show how hard it is to understand what makes an artist tick, and in fact, by trying to show the process, you ruin the artistic inspiration. Time and again, Neimann resists the filmmaker’s urge for “reality” and instead, Niemann calls for more “abstractness” and the collision of these two is often funny, entertaining, insightful.

I was most interested in the moments where Niemann talks about the creative process and his realization that working hard — doodling, sketching, trying new ideas — is the way to pave the way for inspiration to hit, but if you just sit and wait around for the “big idea” you will likely be disappointed.

I am reminded of some of what Howard Rheingold told NetNarr during his “studio visit” about how artists pave the way for possibilities, even if you are not certain yet what those possibilities are. You follow your interests, and make art because you have to make art, not because it is required. Even though Niemann works as a design artist for a living, he still tinkers with the unexpected, such as this interesting Instagram series called Abstract Sundays, where he meshes found objects with drawing and painting … just for the fun of it.

In other words, an artist has to keep working, even when the art is not. You have to have faith in the creative sparks, and Niemann’s keen observations of the world are what fuels his work, but he notes that he has to withdraw from the world in order to create his abstract versions of the world. He also talks about the “editor mind” and the “artist mind” that often comes into conflict with each other as he works independently.

The Abstract documentary is a fascinating look at the mind of an artist, and while we see him talking about and struggling with the design of the Augmented Reality cover of a paper magazine — indeed, he often wonders whether the two ideas will ever be in sync with each other — I wanted to see more of the technical aspects of how they built the cover to actually work for the reader/viewer. There’s less of that, and more of Niemann as artist, with brush and pen. Which is great, too.

I have not yet seen other episodes in the Abstract series, but I aim to.

Peace (make art),

#NetNarr Astronaut: Roaming the Underside of YouTube

from Wired Magazine


When you go to YouTube, you are often pulled into the homepage of videos that others have watched. You’re drawn by the activity of others, because the underlying algorithm suggests that the more eyeballs, the more interesting. Maybe. But what about on the other end of the spectrum? What about the videos that people post which gain no views or only a scattered few? The site Astronaut takes that idea and provides a way in, by showing you the videos with almost no views and with obscure video titles.

This is what it says on the homepage of Astronaut:

Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments.

I was drawn to that idea, of being the sole viewer of scattered videos, and such an interesting collection they were, too. Yes, there were puppy videos.

Always puppy videos:

But was also this tender video of a grandmother reading Knuffle Bunny to some faraway grandchild, using video to shorten the distance between family.

There this short shot of a machine, likely in some museum somewhere. The marble is up to something there.

And there was this beautiful musical performance to what seems to be a small audience, but whose audience now includes us:

What you quickly understand is the way that people all over the world, in all sorts of languages and visuals, are documenting their world, even when there is no real audience there for them to see. This is a view into the global humanity that you don’t see anywhere else, and it harkens back to the very first YouTube video of an elephant in a zoo (if I remember correctly).

In fact, this use of video for every documentary is the argument for YouTube as a human experience — it’s not that we expect polished productions or expertly edited videos. We still understand that the raw parts of life might be visible, and connect my life to yours, and our life to ours.

Using Astronaut is like flipping YouTube upside down, and seeing how average people are viewing the world through their lens, often through their mobile phones. Put on your helmet and float in.

Peace (upside down and inside out),


Making, Coding, Writing


Check out this video archive from the National Writing Project that lays out the theoretical and pedagogical connections between the Maker’s Movement, the use of code for understanding and the writing process.

How would we teach reading if our end goal was that people became strong, powerful, authoritative, engaged, participatory writers? If that was our goal, and then we saw reading, actually, the ability to access the knowledge of others as something that you do on the way to what you produce, would we think about both of them differently? And I think there’s probably actually both on the coding and the making side this notion that if your real emphasis is not on the consumption side, but on what somebody will produce themselves or with their peers, we would shift a million things in teaching.” — Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, NWP Executive Director

Peace (in the shift),

#NetNarr: Observing the Rheingold(s) Effect

Creative Chaos Theory ... follow your heart

The other day, in one of the Networked Narratives studio visits, the guests were Howard Rheingold and his daughter, Mamie. It was a crowded Hangout and we ran out of time before talking about what was going to be one of the main topics: connecting the dream-state to the art of storytelling. I’m afraid my questions about civic discourse in the age we’re in, and Howard’s long work with the Internet as Public Sphere, sidetracked us.

You can come listen in and annotate the video over at Vialogues. The conversation keeps flowing …

Netnarr GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

(A Howard gif/meme from NetNarr activity box)

Here are some observations from the gathering:

  • Howard talked about his own background, noting that the structure of school stifled him as a child to the point that he was labeled as a “troublemaker” and often got send to the art room, which was run by his mom. There, he was free to create, invent, explore. He wonders why more classrooms aren’t like his mom’s art room. Partially, I blame standardized testing, and its emphasis on right/wrong dichotomies, not open-ended problem solving and thinking.
  • Mamie worked for nine years at Google, and she talked about the culture there, and how it moved through different phases. She focused on the early “creative chaos” in which people were encouraged to follow passions, and “bump” into other’s work, as serendipity moments. That sounds a lot like some of the Connected Learning spaces where I enjoy hanging out.
  • There was a bit of pushback, or questioning, from one of Mia’s students in NetNarr, observing that the openness of the course felt a little strange, and that more structure might have eased some of that anxiety. The comment reminded me of my first grad course like this, too, and how I kept wondering, am I doing this right? I realize now, years later, how instructive that course was to my thinking and my teaching.
  • The issue of “silos” that we find ourselves in, and how to reach out beyond our comfort zone to better understand others of different political stripes. I mentioned that it feels a bit as if the promise of connected ideals has not brought us closer to together — not nurtured more compassion and understanding of the “other” — but seems to have divided us even more, creating pockets where we write and learn with those who have our same frame of mind. I wonder if the same tools that brought us here, into our echo chambers, can also help us crawl back out? Or do we need a new way forward?
  • Howard talks about “trusting your intuitive process” as we moved into the idea of tapping the inner artist, and finding ways to free yourself to create. “It’s about messing with things and seeing what happens.” — Howard. He talked about his passion for making spiderweb art years ago and now, he finding ways to use circuitry and programming to revamp that earlier art into something new. This points to being open to possibilities and going with your passions.

Thanks to the Rheingolds for spending time with NetNarr.

Peace (reaches out),


At Middleweb: A Plethora of Writing Ideas

I recently reviewed this new book — The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers by Jennifer Serravallo – and I thought it covered a lot of ground in a fairly easy-to-use format. There are a wide range of ideas for the classroom on engaging young writers. I counted about 300 ideas in here. That’s a lot of possibilities.

I wrote in my review:

Flip through the book to find a ton of great ideas — helping students engage more with their own writing process; organizing ideas for short and longer fiction and non-fiction pieces; structuring assignments for all learners, or providing structure for student collaboration opportunities.

See what you think. Read the review over at Middleweb.

Peace (in books),

Slice of Life: Even Fools Can Dream of Spring

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

A good friend of mine yesterday sent his group of pals — including me — a beautiful shot of the beach near his house as a text message. Blue skies. Sun, bright as a flashlight. Waves lapping at the shore. Sand everywhere you look. He lives just a few hours south of me, in Connecticut.

“Lovely day at the beach,” he wrote.

It felt like he was taunting me.

I looked out my back door here in Western Massachusetts, saw nothing but hills of white, and a snowman my son and I built the other day leaning left, and texted back: “Still got $%&*load of snow in our yard.”

There is still way too much snow here, although this week’s warming weather — via the same weather front that is giving him temps in the mid-50s to low 60s — will likely melt off a few more inches, and likely create more ice for us to slip on. But still, who can argue with warmer weather during February break? We might even hit 50 this week.

My son rode his bike on the bike path all the way into the town center for a breakfast sandwich yesterday. No ice on the path, he reported, as if he were a scout on patrol for the changing season and monsters were just on the edge of the horizon.

I nodded at his keen observation.  It’s way too early to be looking for flowers and I am no fool. The calendar says “February,” and I know winter ain’t done with us yet.

But even fools can dream of Spring, right?

Peace (sunny and mild),

Book Review: Best American Infographics 2016

I have a few favorite books that I put on my “wish list” each holiday season, and Gareth Cook’s Best American Infographics has been there since he started the collection a few years ago. Sure, we’re living in the world of Infographics now — with charts and maps and data grids everywhere you look — but there’s something about the story underneath the cream of the crop that makes this kind of curated book a joy to read.

And it is a joy. Visually, certainly, as the graphics here in Best American Graphics 2016 are wonderfully diverse and artistically rendered. But also, the short pieces that explain the rationale and the reasoning behind the visualization of the data bring to light how we can “see” the world different when we put it at another angle.

Interestingly, the opening pages to the book were a familiar sight to me – those of the postcards in the Dear Data collection, which I was in the midst of reading when I received the Infographic collection. We’re using Dear Data as inspiration for a postcard project now in the CLMOOC postcard club.

Other interesting data stories here that caught my attention here included Flowing Data’s What Americans Do All Day? (demonstrated by clusters of activity based on times of the day);’s Human Toll of World War II (with its devastating reality check of the impact of war); FiveThirtyEight’s How to Hack Science (which shows how skewed data can show you want you want to see); Kevin Ferguson’s The Essence of a Western (in which he distills entire movies into a single frozen frame of light and shadows); and Atlas Obscura’s Literary Road Map (literally, a map tracking routes from famous American road-trip books, like On The Road.)

And there is the stunning A Galaxy of Trees by Nature. Wow. Three trillion trees are on earth. This map sought to show them all on a map visualization. Wow.

Some of the Infographics are online interactives, and some are just static points in time. Another interesting tidbit: the entire cover design of the book itself is an infographic, too (by designers Mark Robinson and Thomas Porostocky) so that you can unfold the cover and see an infographic wrapping up the book about infographics.

Sometimes, data can be a beautiful thing to behold. And read.

Peace (beyond data but not beyond visualization),

Entering the Realm of Minecraft: A #NetNarr Adventure

I can’t say I am utterly unknowledgeable about Minecraft, but my basic understanding comes from the excited chatter over the years of my sixth grade students, particularly during our video game design unit, and my youngest son. It’s often confusing chatter to an outsider like me, with a vocabulary and a flow all of its own.

Whenever I have tried to jump into Minecraft, I have quickly gotten lost and felt aimless. I could always see the potential in collaborative World-building — and there are amazing examples of how educators are using Minecraft to connect with learning — but now I realized that what I needed were: goals with a interesting hook, a knowledgeable guide to keep me alive and a crew to hang out with.

My Networked Narratives colleague, Keegan (ie Crazyirishman7, there in the corner of the video), provided all three, by setting up a Minecraft Realm server space and inviting NetNarr folks into an exploration of a new world. I joined in, along with Terry G. (“the Annihilator”), and we spent about 90 minutes watching the sun rise and set at an alarming rate, as we began to build a home before the zombies came, with a bed to regenerate ourselves; a garden for food that Terry farmed with gusto; and a mineshaft where Keegan and I began to seek out ore and then diamonds.

Keegan, an educational technologist at the university level, clearly knew what he was doing. Terry and I clearly did not, as I scrambled to learn how to swim and walk and run and turn, and I kept a little command cheat sheet that he had sent us right at my fingertips. I’ve never been more grateful for fake torchlights and lanterns than I was yesterday.

But that’s how expert-novice relationships work, and that’s how the Connected Learning theory comes into action with immersive experiences like this. We dove in, made mistakes, died a few times, re-spawned, and had a steady hand following Keegan, who was generous and patient with us. I know a whole heck of a lot about Minecraft now than I did 24 hours ago, even with lots of reading about it. I even ended up with a Diamond Pickaxe, after using the crafting device that Keegan set up. Apparently, that’s a good thing to have.

Keegan also set up a livestream of our adventures in his Twitch Channel (a new experience for me) to share our experiences with the larger NetNarr community (more Connected Learning in action) and we used an app called Discord to be able to “talk live” amongst ourselves as we explored Minecraft. Keegan has since migrated the Twitch video to YouTube (where you can see me as Meatballlol5, which is my son’s avatar all suited up like Deadpool, since I borrowed his account to play with my NetNarr friends, much to his amusement. He even dropped a Minecraft Hacking book at my side while playing, as if that would help me. Thanks, kid.)

Keegan also cut up the video into themed pieces at his blog, and that is probably the best way to get a sense of what we were talking about and doing.

Since the Networked Narratives course is centered on a concept of Digital Alchemy, Keegan’s plan for the Minecraft World space is to move into “magic potions” and crafting of “elements,” as a way to explore the notions of Alchemy in a Worldbuilding Space. I find that intriguing, and watched as he wrote out our “goals” on the walls of the house we are building. He gave me a sign to play with, too.

Our next step is to find a common time to go back to our world, and maybe invite a few more folks to come along with us (I’d say, connect with Keegan on Twitter and let him know). I’m intrigued by the possibilities of us building a world of magic, and then thinking about how storytelling might evolve from the mix and flow of immersive open-ended gaming experiences like this.

Peace (until the sun goes down),