Exploration of Public Space: Chapel Falls

The facilitators of this week’s Make Cycle of Making Learning Connected MOOC are encouraging folks to use digital storytelling to capture and document the public spaces around them. I’d encourage the use of the free Adobe Voice app, which has to be one the most simple-to-use digital story apps I have come across.

Here, I took my boys (and our dog) to Chapel Falls, a remote series of waterfalls perfect for swimming and the returned home to document our fun day.

Chapel Falls

Peace (in the outdoors),

PS — this kind of Make will also be perfect for next week’s Make Cycle (hint)

The Internet as Public Space 1 (Where the Center Meets)

Each year, when I teach Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, I make sure to read the first few chapters out loud to my sixth graders. This gives them a feel for the poetic style of writing and allows them to visualize some important elements of the setting.

It also leads me to a great passage on page 7 that always sparks interesting discussions and debate among students:

Tuck Everlasting QuoteWe’re talking about public space and discourse in the Making Learning Connected MOOC this week, and my thoughts keep turning to the Internet, and the concept of the Internet as a Public Space that seems to need constant vigilance. And Babbitt’s observation of who owns the land beneath of our feet — the invisible elements of land that eventually meet together in the center — seems, in my mind, to be pertinent to the discussion of who ultimately owns the Internet — is the corporate world? the governments? or us, the people?

There is a really great and intriguing piece by Iranian activist Hossein Derakhshan that has been published at Medium. It is called The Web We Have to Save.  He writes about the changes he notices to the Internet and online discourse since he was freed from Iranian jail. Derakhshan recalls the “blogging revolution” in Iran that began to open up conversations among young people. And he and others took advantage of the Internet infrastructure to share and access information not made available to them otherwise.

quote by Hossein Derakhshan

He notes the shift in agency over the time he was in jail to the time he was out of jail, from participant to viewer of Web activities, in what he calls “the stream” of information that sites like Facebook and Instagram create for you.

Quote by Hossein Derakhshan2

But it this sentence that has stuck with me days after I read his piece:
quote by Hossein Derakhshan3And it comes back to the theme of the Internet as public sphere and who has agency and who has control and who deems what is important and what is not, and how we will experience it. See the battle over Net Neutrality and the emergence of Open Education (like the CLMOOC, by the way) as examples of how that tension is being played out in the public sphere.

I believe the Internet is mine, and yours, and all of ours, and just like that quote from Tuck Everlasting, I believe that our Internets come together as a public sphere, and whether we keep our collective strength together or let companies and corporations monetize and devalue those connections is an important question of our age. I hope I am not naive in my thinking here.

I’ll leave you with another piece from Tuck Everlasting that I think also has resonance here.  While you could read it as a counter to the idea of openness, I read it more as a call for all of us — the citizens of the Web — to be more vigilant and protective of what we hold near and dear.

tuck quote2

I am going to keep pushing on this theme this week, and I would love to know your thinking and views and opinions.

Peace (in the think),


The Ownership of Sight Lines


We’re moving into a theme of “public space” in the Making Learning Connected MOOC and the invitation to create “stories and spaces” around the notion of the “public” had me thinking of a conversation I had with a neighbor about a new cell phone tower just outside our neighborhood.

Peace (in what we see and don’t),

Don’t Give Up: Change the System From Within

Change the system

I’ve been up and down with systems thinking all this week in the Making Learning Connected MOOC. What I mean by that is that I’ve had days where I have been playing with a systems thinking approach and other days where thinking about systematic inequities has me struggling with how to address problems that seem larger than me.

The chart above is something I made the day after being a guest on Teachers Teaching Teachers, where our topic of discussion was systematic racism and disenfranchisement. The show had an article adapted in The Atlantic from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book — Letter to My Son — that we collaboratively annotated before getting on the air. This led to a discussion about race and the impact on students, and the role we have as teachers to try to make things better.

I was honored to be in the conversation but struggled with my role as a white teacher in a predominantly white school district in a suburban community where so many of students have no reality of the world of black or Hispanic students in urban centers affected by socio-economic issues and police brutality and a political system often set up through gerrymandering to keep their communities out of power.


It’s not that I don’t talk about race and slavery and the ways in which our country is both an amazing experiment in beliefs and one that was constructed on the most heinous of ideas — enslaving others to create a strong economy. But it often feels as if those discussions are not reality for my young white students, and I need to find more ways to bring the experiences of others into my classroom. I need to extend their world from beyond our classroom walls and the boundaries of their small community. I need to do that in a way that respects my students and respects the experiences of those we talk about.

Teachers for change

By the end of the TTT show, our collective message of compassion and understanding of those from different experiences than we have, and the need for real conversations about the real world with all of our students, continued to resonate with me. But I was also reminded by Chris Rogers that we need to move beyond talk, and shift into action to make change to the system.

Everything might be broken, but if it isn’t teachers who can help fix it, then who?

Peace (let it be),

Feeding the Dawg: A Contraption Maker Contraption

Dang. This is fun. I learned about Contraption Maker from a friend, Melvina, in the Making Learning Connected MOOC when I was sharing out a Rube Goldberg contraption the other day as part of systems thinking (the train of ideas just keeps on rolling), and decided to give Contraption Maker a try.

Am I ever glad I did!

making the dawg

First of all, it solves my own puzzle around teaching Rube Goldberg contraptions: how to move from the visual literacy component of systems thinking and design to having students construct a contraption without spending weeks on a project? And how to move even more science, and Next Generation Standards, into our writing class in an engaging way?

Second of all, Contraption Maker folks reached out immediately to an email I sent them via the educator section of their website. Seriously, Deborah, their helpful educational outreach person, was responding not long after I sent a query with helpful advice on how to get started. And they gave me a free license. Listen: I’m not that special. They apparently are giving free licenses to teachers … and licenses for all classroom computers for students!

Say that again? Free for schools? Yes. I guess they make money when kids get hooked and want it at home, which is where a family would have to purchase a license. I’m fine with that model.

Third, I was pleasantly surprised that you can record a video of your contraption in real time and export it to YouTube for sharing out (see above). It was a great motivator for me as I was tinkering. There is also multiplayer mode.

Now, the Contraption Maker program is a software download, so keep that mind, but there is a teacher dashboard for keeping track of student progress and work, and plenty of video tutorials, and it has play modes and design modes (my focus) as well ways to go even deeper into the code design (I think … still going over it all).

Overall, thumbs up for Contraption Maker.  I found it to be a perfect way to play with systems thinking in the CLMOOC this week, too, and can’t wait to show it to students. Go ahead. Give it a try.

Go, Dawg, Go.

Peace (in the engine room),

Book Review: Teaching Naked

This is not necessarily a book I would have chosen to read on my own, as it deals with the university level and not K-12 (where I teach), but as an extension of Rhizomatic Learning “into the wild,” I have been happily following my friend, Autumm, and her colleagues in a book discussion that is mostly offline and somewhat online (Hashtag: #tomereaders).

Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of the Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by Jose Antonio Bowen examines the impact that technology is having on college students and how universities — from professors to administration — can start making shifts to meet the needs of these learners. The term “naked” (which I don’t really like as terminology) by Bowen is that the more technology instructors can use outside of the classroom  — such as podcasts, judicial use of email, Twitter/Facebook/Social Networks, etc. — the more time there can in class for inquiry discussions. In other words, the technology can replace the traditional lecture hall lecture.

Or, in another educational term, Bowen is talking “flipped classroom” — deliver the lecture outside of the classroom so that the classroom experience can be more engaging for learners. Personally, I think “flipped” can work for some students, those who are motivated to learn, but worry about this approach for disengaged students, those for whom school is just “passing the time” and watching videos of teachers or lessons or using other technology for specific learning goals outside of the classroom just would not be a priority. I wish I didn’t have those students, but the reality is: I do.

As we explore systems thinking the Making Learning Connected MOOC this week, this kind of thinking makes sense if we think our current educational system of students in the classroom, listening to lectures, is disfunctional or not reaching enough students. The reason “flipped” is an interesting idea is that it changes the learning system — moving the traditional teaching outside of the classroom with technology (videos, interactives, etc.) and puts the discovery and inquiry and collaborative projects inside the classroom time. The role of the teacher changes, in hopes that the learning space changed, in hopes that the educational system changes … for the better.

There are plenty of solid points in Bowen’s book, and I enjoyed elements of it even if very little were new to me. He provided plenty of “implementation guides” for what it might look like in the classroom itself. His emphasis is on gamification of the classroom, a theme he returns to again and again.

Two things really struck me:

  • Much of what Bowen writes about to engage college students – writing to learn, peer feedback, inquiry questions — is the heart of what is being done in elementary classrooms already. It makes me wonder where the threads get lost for that kind of learning. And it makes me think, this is the impact of standardized testing on students, particularly high school students.
  • The gap that Teaching Naked fills makes evident how far removed many universities are (or were, as this book is now three years old) when it comes to understanding technology and digital literacies, and learners. You can sense Bowen chastising his university fellows for being stuck in the old “lecture” mode of college teaching and for university administrators for not realizing the shifts underway, and making changes to meet the needs of modern learners.


I had an opportunity earlier this week to video chat with Autumm and Matt, who are running the book talk, and we focused in on the idea of “transformation.”

I’m glad I read Bowen’s book, and I have been happy to engage in various online conversations and sharing in the #Tomereaders hashtag. It has given me some new insights into a level of teaching that I don’t often inhabit (although being with the National Writing Project opens a lot of doors to conversations across disciplines and levels).

Peace (in the teaching),


Riffing Off Rube: How to Break the Internet

Riffing off RubeTalking of “systems thinking” has some people stymied in the Making Learning Connected MOOC this week. That’s OK. Pushing people to think different about the world is part of the learning process. Even though our world is built upon systems, we don’t often make those systems visible or even wonder about it.

I was thinking of how to engage more people in making a system more visible and have fun with it and then it dawned on me: Rube Goldberg Machines. You know Rube Goldberg Machines, right? They were crazy contraptions designed out in the old days of Sunday Comics by Rube Goldberg that remain hilarious to read, even today.

He was a master at visual humor but even his stories that went along with the contraptions are examples of concise writing and humorous twists in the end. I use Rube Goldberg examples with my sixth graders as a way to teach them how to read visual information and how to write out an expository drawing of something.

Check out Rube Tube for some amazing videos.

The key concept is that each Rube Goldberg contraption is a system, where one thing causes another thing to happen, all as a chain of events leading to something strange and weird. It’s cause-and-effect in service of a laugh.

My drawing above, done in the app Comics Head, is how to break the Internet. My hope is that my CLMOOC friends might dive into designing their own Rube Goldberg contraptions as a way to explore systems, with the hashtag #ruberiff in social media spaces. You can draw it out on a napkin, use only art, or use only writing.

Come #ruberiff with me this week. Make something funny.

Peace (with Rube), Kevin

PS — I created this one for DS106 a few months back .. don’t try this at home … Hat on Yer Head #ds106 #dailycreate

Considering Broken Systems: Katrina Blows In

I write songs, and often, I try to make commentary on the world around me (or inside me). When I read about the call for this week’s Make Cycle around systems thinking, I found myself struggling to push past game design from last week, where I also thought about systems design.

What came to mind as I re-read the CLMOOC post from our friends at the San Diego Writing Project was political systems, and how often they are broken. I was reminded of this last night as I was reading through and annotating A Letter to My Son by Ta-Nehisi Coates, as part of a Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast on race set for tomorrow (Wed) night. That piece in Atlantic, which is an excerpt from a new book, is a powerful reminder of how many of us are disenfranchised and removed from the systems of power and politics.

All this brought me back to thinking about songwriting, and I was reminded of when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and beyond, and how the storm laid bare the neglect and poverty of so many people, and how the system failed them in the time of greatest need. In the aftermath of Katrina, I wrote a song — Katrina Blows In — that tried to capture what I was seeing. My previous band recorded it, and then that band fell apart, so the song has sort of been left off to the side.

But I still think of it as song about a system that failed, and the underlying theme of people reaching out to help each other when the system does not work.

Katrina Blows In

Peace (in the storms),

Looking Past the Screen

Screen timeA friend in the Making Learning Connected MOOC did an interesting art/media activity … her daughter had given her a nifty birthday card of a woman in a dress, but the dress was cut-out, allowing you to see the world through the folds of the dress. You hold up the card, and while the frame is the same — the woman, smiling — the layer beneath the flowing skirt is whatever you hold the card up against.

Check out Wendy’s post to see the images.

I saw that and thought: how simple and how amazingly cool, and then decided, I need to give that a try. So I did.

I made a drawing of a computer, and cut out the screen, and then decided to make a commentary on seeing the world beyond the screen. It’s a reminder of the beauty of the world all around us (ironic, I know, in that I am sharing the idea on your screen).  This is a collage of some of the images that I ended up taking.

Real screen collage

Give it a try. See what happens. The results are pretty interesting, I think.

Peace (in the view),