Why I’m Not on Facebook (but I am at Bill’s)

My friend, Bill Gaskins, asked for guest bloggers, and I volunteered, and then wondered what the heck to write about. I can spew all day here (sorry, readers) but it’s different when you are taking up space at someone else’s blog, particularly when it’s someone you respect like Bill. You have to have some focus.

I decided to write about Facebook and why I am a conscientious objector to the site (a bit of a stretch of those words, for sure) and so my guest post features some focused ramblings about why that is and what I may be missing over there in FB Land.

You can read my post over at Bill’s Creating a Path for Learning site. I also recorded my piece as a podcast, which you can listen to here.

Facebook and Me

Peace (in the sharing of ideas),

My 25-Word Story Collection on Prezi

I’m back on my blog as I gear up for getting back to school next week. It’s been a nice vacation away from blogging, but I have been writing and doing other things. I’ll slowly share some of those things as the days go along. One of the things I’ve been doing that has me thinking a lot is writing 25-word stories on Twitter. This idea was made know to me by Brian Fay, a colleague in the National Writing Project, and you have to tell (try to tell) a story within 25 words. The concept fits perfectly with Twitter, of course, and there is a collection of stories at #25wordstory.

I’ve written about 20 or so of the little guys. It’s a challenge to lay the groundwork of a tale but use brevity in doing so. You leave out a lot more than you put in. You have to think in terms of hints and motivations more than character development. I am hoping this kind of activity will tighten up my other writing.

This morning, I popped them into Prezi. Take a look:

Peace (in the writing),

Responsibilty, Respect in Online Spaces

Gazette Article Aug2010

Last week, I  submitted to our regional newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, which has been running a series of columns under the banner of  “The Aspire Project” around issues of bullying, respect and other issues that came out of two young suicides in our area.  One of those local young people, Phoebe Prince, has been the subject of many national publications and media, particularly since her high school tormentors used social networking spaces to target her. The other, a boy from the big urban center, who also took his own life around the same time is mostly forgotten in the news.

I’ve been waiting for someone to write about the use of online spaces for the Aspire Project. Finally, I couldn’t wait for others, so I wrote my own short essay on the topic of respect and responsibility when it comes to technology.  My attempt here is to urge teachers not to turn their heads away from these online places, and instead, use the use of these sites as a way to foster community and communication. That said, I acknowledge that it is a difficult journey for wary teachers.

Earlier this week, my column hit the front page of the newspaper, and I have received a handful of comments from parents and teachers that I see at my sons’ baseball games, and in our neighborhood, and at camp drop-off. Most are not sure what they need to be doing, nor how to enter into the conversations. One teacher noted that their school forbids most use of technology, so the possibility of online work is almost nil.

I decided to make the piece a podcast, too, and so here it is:

Listen to “Expect Responsibility, Respect in Online Spaces” (note: the podcast essay is about 6 minutes long)

I’m not pretending I have all the answers, but I do believe my last line sums up a lot about my thinking: “We need to be paying attention.”

Peace (in the reflection),

Writing a Story in Reverse, with friends


You know that movie by director Christopher Nolan — Momento — where the action moves in sequence from the finish to the start? I’ve always been intrigued by how Nolan could not only conceive such a thing, but how do you pull it off? I was reminded of the movie yesterday as I launched a collaborative story project via a site called Today’s Meet.

Today’s Meet is a backchannel site that can be used during lectures and conferences. It’s a nice design. Easy to use. Each new post in the channel moves to the top, sort of like a blog. I was playing around with it the other day and wondered if it might be possible to use it for writing a story.

The trick would be that the story would have to be told in reverse by the writers, who would have to add their next part of the narrative in time sequence before the part they are reading. In other words, if a character is eating an apple, the next part to be written would be the character getting the apple and preparing to eat it, and before that, the character expressing hunger for an apple. Everything is one-step backwards.

Which means I had to start the project with the story’s ending and then allow folks to backfill the plot. Here’s my first post, which is actually the last few lines of the story: By the time it was all over, she wondered whether the device would actually work the way it was designed. She honestly did not know.

I know. Confusing. But intriguing as a writer who likes to explore the off-kilter world of composition. And eleven brave folks, mostly from my urgings over at Twitter during the day, joined me, adding elements of the plot during the course of the day. Oh, and each post could only be the size of a tweet — 140 characters. Thanks to: Tony, Cindy, Matt, Larry, Sabi, Linda, Gail, Dennis, Doris, and Mike for coming along for the ride. Your words were magic! (and thanks to connections with the National Writing Project, since a number of our writers are part of my NWP network)

The plot of our collaborative story revolves around a woman who has been given some sort of secret device and needs to meet her friends, who are not showing up. There’s a hint of danger in the air, and secrecy. A few minutes ago, I ended the story with the first line of the story: It all began innocently enough.

As we were working on it, I was reflecting on whether this is a possibility for the classroom. I suppose, but I think the backwards-design of the story would be way too complex for my sixth graders. Their critical thinking skill levels are such that they need to see things develop in proper chronological order. But it might be possible with high school students. A few of the posts to our story seemed out of sequence, or slightly jarring to the posts around it, and the problem with Today’s Meet is there is no editing. You write, you post, you’re published. That’s tricky business for writers.

Go read the Collaborative Story-in-Reverse(note: I had to update this as a PDF file because the Today’s Meet site expired on me.

It was a fun experiment, and I kept checking in to see where the story was unfolding towards. We never really answered crucial questions (what is this device anyway? And why such secrecy?) but I think the story is interesting to read.

Peace (in the collaboration),


Finding Pieces of the Writing Puzzle

Sometime last year, just after the collapse of my band (The Sofa Kings), I had this vision of creating something different now that I was not attached to a group. The new project would be a story of a life of a character told through freeform poetry and original songs and it would stretch from childhood to senior citizen. Although it is never named, the character suffers from a variety of Asperger’s, which makes it difficult for him to connect with the world around him.

But there is this girl ….

The poems came quickly and formed the spine of the story. I began working on songs to go with it and for some time, I was collaborating with a friend on some recordings. That didn’t seem to gell and we both abandoned the project and, except for now and then, our collaboration (on friendly terms).

I shelved the whole thing for a few months because I was tired of it and needed some space. This week, I returned to the story and began doing some recording myself, trying to lay down tracks for the 12 or so songs and recording the podcasts of the poems. I felt as if I were stepping back into an old book.

But I still foresee a narrative problem with the story. There are too many gaps. I purposely have left many holes in the life story because I want the reader/listener to have to reach and think and come to their own conclusions. But I noticed too many holes and wondered what to do. This is part of what led me to step away earlier this year.

Yesterday, I had one of those “why didn’t I think of that before” moments and realized that the voice of the girl was missing and that she could be used to shine a light from another perspective. Her story is being written in prose, as short fiction pieces.

I feel happy to have found a solution to a vexing problem and am viewing the character swirling around in my head.

Peace (in the solution),

What I think …

This post combines two pieces that I pulled together recently — one for a mini-grant proposal from a teaching website and another for the YPulse Wired Teaching Award (where I was a finalist).

For the minigrant, I was asked to write about what I think about “21st Century Readiness” and also, if I were to a video documenting my thoughts, what would it look like?

My thoughts:

Young people compose all of the time, although it often happens outside of our classroom. They are texting in short-hand language that some adults find unnerving. They are surfing the Net. They are creating and sharing videos. They are “reading” video games and navigating information, and then using that information to inform the “story” of the game. Some are on Facebook and other social networking sites. Unfortunately, many educators don’t view this world as composing and writing. They erect walls between home and school. But I see this world outside of school as a possibility for learning that we cannot ignore. If my students are to be ready for the future, then they need to understand the platforms and networks which are they use. A readiness for 21st Century means being taking a critical stance, understanding the world in the midst of technological change, and adapting in order to achieve goals and success. As teachers, we have to realize that the exact skills we teach right now might not be applicable in the future. But if we can educate our students on how to work with others (even in online spaces, beyond a physical proximity); how to use inquiry as a path forward towards understanding; how to use technology for their own means; and how to always be critical and asking questions, then we have done much to prepare them for the world they are entering. Readiness for the 21st Century means being unafraid of challenges that come with the world of digital media.

My movie idea:

My video story would begin with a bored student leaving school after a day of five-paragraph essay writing, and as soon as they hit the doors, they immediately take out some mobile device and the frame shows them composing a long message. We follow this young person around through the rest of the day (outside of school) as they use digital media and technology in authentic ways: making a video; using apps on a mobile device for some authentic purpose; composing and recording a mash-up song; etc. I imagine that the video story could also show a teacher opening up their eyes to the possibilities of what this student is doing, and turning to the student as a class leader to help develop a project that engages the class, so that the traditional writing activity (essay) is coupled with other possibilities (persuasive video, podcasts, etc.)

The YPulse Award asked us to contribute a short video on advice that we would give for educators when it comes to using technology. Here is my one-minute take on urging folks to get their own hands dirty before they bring a tool into the classroom.

Peace (in the sharing),

Making Fun of It: An App for That

A few weeks ago, I wrote up this skit, thinking it might be something we could do for the staff act at our school’s Talent Show. It didn’t work. It is too long, a bit too complicated, younger kids would have been confused .. and I had a conflict that night (compounded by my son being sick).

Still, I like the skit (and wonder if I could turn it into a comic somehow?), which pokes fun at the development of Apps for education. It’s called An App for That.

An App for That

Peace (in the play),

National Picture Book Week, book three: Remember

This is the third picture book I have made this week as part of a challenge with Paula Yoo and I was thinking of this girl under the bridge and imagined that she was dreaming of her future. The word “remember” came to mind, although it is not clear if she is looking ahead or looking back. I purposely kept that somewhat nebulous, although the last page gives some hints.

Read Remember.

Remember … on Storybird

Peace (in the books),

Picture Book Challenge, Day 2: The Boy with the Angry Stomach

I’m in day two of the National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee — that’s a mouthful, eh?)  with Paula Yoo, and again, I turn to Storybird for the art and inspiration. In this book, I imagine a storyteller (a piece of bread!) telling the tale of a young boy learning about anger. The story emerged from looking at the picture on the cover here. I wondered: what would a face in your stomach say to you? And what would the kid think? From there came The Boy with the Angry Stomach.

The Boy With the Angry Stomach on Storybird

Peace (in the story),