When the Meme Turns Serious

My Students ... meme
Someone in the Making Learning Connected MOOC community posted a pretty serious-themed meme yesterday, as part of our work around understanding memes as cultural currency. I was struck by the realization that I seem to always go for the funny bone when I make and read memes, and yet, there is something about a meme that can be strikingly serious, too, if done right.

I decided to put aside the humor for a bit and try my hand at a serious meme, which is more difficult for me than I would have thought. Serious means that I had to resist the urge to be flip and/or sarcastic, which is the heart of how I view memes. I had a small amount of writing space and the image had to tell much of the story, if the meme were to be effective.

In addition, I wanted to move away from using the meme generator sites, which offer limited choices and pull you into their system, leaving very little agency. Instead, I wanted to create the meme, all on my own, with my own image and my own text, and my own choices, with no branding on the final meme.

I don’t know if I succeeded or not in my serious meme angle, but I can’t shake the feeling of how big business is really impacting our educational system, and the sense that it is more the bottom-line of those companies than the needs of our students that is driving much of the educational reform movement. I know I am probably preaching to the choir, if you read this blog, but it still is something that sits in the back of my mind (particularly as our district is spending gobs of money on a new math curriculum by a company whose name and presence is all over the testing industry these days. It begins with a “P.” You know what I am talking about, I am sure).

So, this meme (shared above) seeks to stake out some protective ground, establishing as best as I can a philosophical wall between the business interests outside my classroom door and the students who are inside my space each and every day of the school year.

This is how I made this meme:

  • I went into my Flickr files/archives to find a picture of a student at work. This one is from a National Day on Writing event a few years ago where my students were podcasting and publishing some of their writing;
  • I used the Aviary editing tool within Flickr itself (although I had a hard time finding the Aviary link, as Flickr made some design changes to its tools in the last few days);
  • I layered in text and added a border to the original image, and tried to find a text font that seemed “meme-like” that would stand out on top of the image;
  • I struggled with the wording, and how to concisely say what I wanted to say. I knew I wanted the large font on top to say “my students” in some vein, and the “not a cog in the wheel” kept gnawing at me. I ended up with “My student writers are not cogs in your business model” with the purposeful use of “you” to direct the meme at educational businesses (as if they care);
  • I reposted the image, now a meme, to Flickr for sharing.

Peace (in the message),

PS — if you want to use my image to create your own meme, feel free to do so. The image is linked here on Flickr or you can grab it from this post.



Deconstructing the Cowbell (A Meme Exploration)

CLMOOC cowbell

Raise your hand if you know the reference to this meme? As part of our exploration of memes as cultural currency with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, I decided to use this particular meme and deconstruct it a bit. And I decided to do it in comic form.


Check out how Google Trends followed the “more cowbell” concept over time:

And also, where the phrase has cache, globally (almost entirely in the United States):

If you want to know more about memes, then you should check out the site — Know your Meme — which provides context for original references and tracks the history of particular memes. Plus, it’s a fascinating history lesson into the digital age of popular culture references, for good and for bad (many memes have racist or mean origins.)

This is just a sampling of the hundreds of variations of this meme at this one site. You can see all sorts of references to businesses, inside jokes, friends and more.
cowbell memes

Over at Meme Generator, you can even set up a Meme Generator, so if you truly want more cowbell, then go make a meme!

clmooc fever

Peace (in the meme),

Making a Mess with Memes

Clmooc meme
So, we’re going to have some fun this week with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, with Make Cycle 2’s theme on the topic of “memes.” You can read the newsletter that gives the context for memes and cultural humor, and more, and then we invite you to dive into making memes yourself.

Clmooc meme

I make a lot of memes, as regular visitors here know, but I want to try to dive in a bit deeper this week, and learn more about the ins and outs of how memes connect to popular culture, and how some memes become a secret language of sorts for young people. This is a good overview by Peter Kittle, one of the Make Cycle leaders this week.

Meanwhile, make your own memes, and share them out with the CLMOOC community.

Peace (in the meme),

Two Leftover Musical How To’s

There is never an end to our Make Cycles at the Making Learning Connected MOOC (You can enter in and make things whenever you want)  but as we begin to shift towards the launch of the second Make Cycle, I realized I had two How To projects that I never shared out, for different reasons.

boy band thimble

The first one is How To Build a Boy Band, and the inspiration for it was during a gathering of Connected Learning folks last summer, when we were chatting about the recipe for pop music (and New Direction had just started to play on our airwaves). I remixed a project via Mozilla Webmaker, creating the ways to build a Pop Band, adding in some humor (I hope).

I had planned to share it this past week and then got busy with new Makes, so scuttled it in favor of what I was working on during the week. But, as we now at the end, I decided to bring it back, in hopes that maybe someone will remix it yet again (maybe, How to Build a Girl Pop Band?) Actually, Alan Levine had once remixed it in a funny way, creating How To Build a Dog Band. Ha.

The second Make is something I created this week, entitled How To Make an Odd Song. I never shared it because it didn’t turn out the way I wanted, and I could not figure out why. Then, I realized, it become more of a showcase of me playing, and less a project to show you how to do it.

Part of the reason is that I wanted to keep the video file around 3 minutes, and skipped through some steps for the viewer to replicate the actions I am showing. The result was less than satisfactory for a How To project, which requires an unveiling of the architecture of the explanation, and I think mine failed on that account. I could not get past that kind of fail when I was thinking of sharing it during the week.

But, feel free to check it out as part of my Make Leftovers here, as I use an app called BeatForge (which costs 99 cents, by the way, and is not free, as I suggest in my video) and a small device known as the Kaossilator.

Peace (in the next Make),


Make Cycle 1 Reflection: Herding Cats with Curation

HowTo Flipboard Mag
This week has been an amazing thing to watch unfold with the Making Learning Connected MOOC (CLMOOC). I think I wrote last year about the sort of anxiety that teams of facilitators and designers of free, online courses have just before something launches, and you wonder: Is anyone going to come to this party?

Boy, they arrived, all right, and with Make Cycle leaders Chris Butts and Rachel Bear leading the way with a fantastic theme of creating “How To ….” projects, the bubbling expertise of participants came fast and furious, and a steady stream of participation rocked my email notification system all week, as updates flowed in from Google Plus, Twitter, the Blog Hub and other spaces where people are making and sharing and connecting. We know we don’t know all of what is going on, which is what makes our CLMOOC so interesting. There are many pockets of activity here, there, everywhere, and we honor that that is happening outside our field of vision, and we honor all of those who just want to lurk and hang out as viewers.

The difficult in this kind of system is: how do we even begin to curate the wonderful projects being shared out in these spaces? It’s a bit like herding cats. We struggled with this same idea last year, too. It’s part of the system of our collaborative ethos: We encourage you work to work in a “domain of one’s own” and yet, we would still love to archive and curate the work being created, as best as we can. That dichotomy is what we grapple with, rather happily, to be honest. We would not want to change it to a closed a system. Yet, this conundrum is tension in open networks, I think.

The How To projects are good example of this. With the shift in many of our states (mine included) to Common Core and a push for more expository text, these assorted media-infused How To Projects have the potential to be a gold mine of mentor texts for teachers and maybe for students, too. In our Twitter Chat the other night, I mentioned how I thought Chris and Rachel might want to collate the projects into an e-book or something, which Chris rightly responded by noting they had thought about that, but wondered: how does one even do that when the flow of projects is to furious and far-ranging and not in one place to begin with?

This idea continued to dance around in my head. I thought, maybe Diigo bookmarks as a collection? Or maybe Jog the Web? I thought about making a Table of Contents in a collaborative document, with links to individual projects. But I didn’t like any of those. They weren’t visual enough. They would not capture the magical energy of the projects. They didn’t honor the people who were knee-deep in the making.

Then I thought: Flipboard!

Why not create a Flipboard Magazine just for the How To Projects, and so, I did just that, and then spent a considerable amount of time going through our Google Plus community, adding projects into the magazine. That work reminded me of the range of projects and the vast talent that resides in the emerging CLMOOC community. Pretty amazing stuff, from tutorials on cooking, to parenting, to teaching, to so much more. And the look of Flipboard honors the work, I hope.

Come check out our CLMOOC How To Magazine on Flipboard. As more projects roll in, I will be adding them into the mix. Curation is as important as creation, and our CLMOOC community is hopefully the richer by seeing the larger picture of all of our projects merged together.

Peace (in the flip),

PS — Here is a Storify collection of the wide-ranging, informative Tweet Chat we had this week, with Chris and Rachel leading the way and Karen gathering up the tweets. Tweets are in reverse-chronological order, just so you know.



How To … Diagrams from Student Writing

It really is by chance that one of my students’ last writing assignments (but not the very last — they are finishing up a short story projerct) was an expository piece, or a How To Do Something paragraph. I say “by chance” because the first Make Cycle of the Making Learning Connected MOOC is all about creating a How To Do Something project.

Along with the writing, my students had to diagram out the sequence of the steps of whatever it was that they were showing us how to do. The results were pretty interesting (and came on the heels of doing some fun work with Rube Goldberg Machine drawings).

I grabbed a bunch of diagrams and popped them into Animoto.

Peace (in the share),


How to Get On Your Boogie Shoes and Get People to Dance

Here is another project for this week’s Make Cycle for the Making Learning Connected MOOC. We don’t expect folks to do more than one, but it is neat if they can. I had this idea for a How To .. for music-related things, and this Haiku Deck is about how to rock the house and get people to dance.

How To Rock A Show And Get People To Dance – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Can you tell my band — Duke Rushmore — has a gig coming up? It’s next Friday, at a local brewery, where they open up the main floor, hire a band, give out free “samples,” send patrons home with free beer, and let the party rock for two hours before the whole thing shuts down. It’s an odd gig, but hey, it’s a gig!

Hey, if you live in Western Massachusetts, come on down to the Paper City Brewery next Friday night. If you don’t live in Western Massachusetts … CLMOOC Road Trip!

Peace (in the boogie),

#CLMOOC Make: How To Make a Snarky Flowchart

Making a Snarky Flowchart
I admit. I’m partial to flowcharts that explore odd ideas, and inflect humor into the choices. Some of the best ones that I come across these days are on the back page of Wired Magazine, and if appropriate (which is not always), I put those flowcharts up on a closet door in my classroom so that my students can read them. You should see them gather around, following the paths of decision-making.

There are all sorts of things going on when you compose/write a flowchart. You have to imagine a “conversation” with the “reader” who needs to make choices about which way to go. But you also realize that every reader will ultimately follow all of the paths, too, if only to figure out where things might have gone. The questions have to be written in an engaging way. You want to draw the reader in.

So, I decided that for the first Make Cycle of the Making Learning Connected MOOC, in which the them of the cycle is to create a “how to do something” project, I would create a flowchart that would explain how to create a snarky flowchart. Snark is hip on the Interwebz, and another difficult writing activity. If you go to far with snark, you lose the reader (no one wants to be made fun of) because you insult their intelligence. If you don’t go far enough, the snark loses its … snarkiness, and thus, the appeal. I’m not sure I found the middle here, but I tried.

This is how I went about making this flowchart (in the CLMOOC, we try to lay bare the process of making as part of our reflection):

  • I began with a simple sketch on paper, knowing that my topic would be How to Make a Snarky Flowchart. I worked on some basic questions only, knowing more would come as I created the real chart;
  • I opened up the Draw.io app in Google Docs (it’s one of those add ons you can know install). This app is designed for flowchart creating, although the artwork is very simple and rather boring;
  • I dragged boxes, arrows and text into my flowchart project, trying to keep it to one page for easier viewing. Flowcharts work best when it is all in front of you, the whole crazy map of choices;
  • Readability is key, so you don’t want too many lines zig zagging all over the place, and it helps if a few of the “loser” choices point together towards a single box. Working on the right text for that shared box took the most writing time, it turns out. It needs to be generic enough for multiple arrows and yet, still have a message;
  • I then exported the flowchart from Draw.io (the file is now in my Google Docs, by the way) as a jpeg file and uploaded it into Flickr;
  • Then, I wrote this post which I am writing right now and added the image and my bulleted points that I am writing this very moment in this very blog post, so I guess I better stop typing …. now … right now … stopping

What would you explain how to do? Come join the CLMOOC. It’s never ever too late to jump on in.

Peace (in the flow),