Comic Strips and Writing

As I was considering the writing of this post about comic strips (!), I realized that the site which I am going to talk about (called Darkgate Comic Slurper) may not be quite so legal and so I am in a bit of a quandry here. However, I am going to plow forward because I love comic strips and in the interests of thinking about the prospects of Web 2.0, this site is a good example of readers and writers can tailor content to fit their own needs.

First of all, I have always loved comics and it is interesting to watch my young sons now discover Calvin and Hobbes, and rush to the Boston Sunday Globe to read through the comic pull-out section (sample household dialogue from yesterday: Me Anything good today in the comics? Older SonNot much today. I wish they had funnier comics) This illustrated a point: There are hundreds of comics out there and we rely on the editors of the newspapers to make the choices about what we read, and their decisions are not fine-tuned to our sense of humor but to economics — how much do they have to pay the comic syndicate and how many readers will it keep?

I discovered Comic Slurper through my Bloglines RSS reader and it dawned on me that I could now create my own daily comic page with strips that tickled my funny bone. Comic Slurper somehow grabs the RSS feeds from a long list of comics, and then you decide which comics you want to view daily, and set up your aggregator reader (such as Bloglines), and every morning, there are comics that I want to read. Meanwhile, I have stumbled across a whole field of new comics that are funny that I have never even heard of before.

For example:

  • Of course, Calvin and Hobbes reruns and Dilbert
  • Baby Blues — which is a look inside a family with three kids, just like me
  • Brewster Rockit: Space Guy — which is a bizarre Sci-Fi strip (I am a sucker for sci-fi)
  • InkPen — which I am still trying to figure out but I am having a good time doing it
  • PC n’ Pixel — which is a stab at the geek in all of us
  • Sherman’s Lagoon — which is set in a lagoon with a talking shark (I think) and turtle
  • Toyzville — which features kid toys doing strange things

I guess my point is that I am in control of the comic page that I want to set up through the benefits of an aggregator and RSS feeds and by doing this, I have some power over the content and I am not held captive to the interests of my local newspaper. That is something work celebrating!


K-12 Online Conference

Everywhere I go as I wander through my Bloglines account, there is a mention of this upcoming conference, so I finally traveled to the site for the K12 Online Conference myself to see what it was about, and it seems interesting. Certainly the names of people that I admire in education and technology seem to be represented and the call is for all teachers to participate and learn from others.

Here is a blurb from the homepage:

The “K12 Online Conference” is for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice! This year’s conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30- Nov. 3 and will include a preconference keynote. The conference theme is “Unleashing the Potential.” — from

So, why not enter the conversation in the coming weeks and get involved. Who knows who you will meet and what cool ideas you may pick up?


Dogtrax Audiocast: Writing the Score

Way back in college, I studied some basic music theory and then quickly forgot most of what I learned. So much for proper education. But years later, my dad (who is a drummer and drum teacher) showed me a music composition software that he was using to design drum lessons and he thought I might be interested.

So I tinkered with it and began writing some music that was very different from other things that I was doing. With the software, I could not only layer parts but I could write everything out note-for-note and then listen to it as if a small ensemble was playing for me. All that music theory suddenly came into use. Recently, I finally got around to converting some of those songs from MIDI files to MP3, and so here is the next installment of my Dogtrax Audiocast series.

microphone Listen to Dogtrax Audiocast: Writing the Score

(A future installment will center on a few pieces that I wrote for our family’s church choir and organ, with sax and guitar as accompaniment).


Using Mixed Media to Tell a Story

I was driving to school the other day, listening to our local NPR affiliate (WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts), when this story came on about a production at a nearby arts installation studio (MassMOCA) that fuses music, spoken language and other media into one production that examines the Truth Commissions in South Africa.

From WFCR: … a new musical based on the findings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be performed. Johannesburg composer Philip Miller has created a cantata that incorporates musical composition for voice and instrument, with audio recordings taken directly from the Commission hearings — thousands of statements from men and women about the violence they experienced, witnessed, or conducted during apartheid.

The story is powerful as a story as a country coming to grips with abuse of power and socio-cultural and race relations, but the use of spoken voices from the actual commissions, combined with music, stunned me as I listened in the car and the snippets of performances reminded me of how hybrid this world can be.

Take a listen and see what you think.


Culture Projects

Each year, my homeroom class works in small groups to create a new culture or civilization as a way to learn about teamwork and ways that people can come together.
The students invent a language, some sports or games, and brainstorm ways their culture could be defended. They create posters and PowerPoint slide shows to present their information to the class.
Follow the links below (or click on the posters) to view the slide shows.

The Cagbmimins

The Hotheads

Purple Dragon Warlords

Purple People Eaters

The Skitzfizzlians

Soccer! Rockers


Can a Robot Play Music?

Consider this a musical diversion for me. I found an interesting article through my Bloglines aggregator that looks at a new robot being created in a lab (where else?) at Georgia Tech that can play percussive music – by itself and along with others.

Here is a quote from the article:

By combining the ability to improvise algorithmically and having different physical limitations than a human, Haile can create a novel kind of human-machine musical interaction, leading to new music. Haile’s uniqueness lies in the robot’s ability to play acoustically with a vibrant sound while combining the computer capability of utilizing complex algorithms.

There are a few video links embedded in the article to watch. It’s an interesting concept and, as a musician, I am not sure how I feel about the idea of a piece of tin and wires being created to make music.

Is it music if there is no emotion attached to the invention of the sound?


Call for Proposals: Technology and Writing

I am working with two distinguished researchers/writers in the field of composition (Charlie Moran and Anne Herrington) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to develop a book that examines how our view of teaching writing and composition is changing with the integration of technology. Anne and Charlie have looked at writing practices from a variety of angles, including writing across the curriculum and genres. Now they want to add technology to the mix.

We are looking for classroom teachers in grades 4-13 who can write about their experiences. We have just published a call for proposals in English Journal and other sources but I wanted to use my web of Blogs to get the word out, too.

Here is our Call for Proposals:

Practically everyone agrees that writing is changing, as writers compose more on screen than in previous generations. But how has this change in what we consider “writing” affected teachers’ classroom practice? In the context of emerging multiliteracies, what are teachers’ goals for their students’ learning? How have teachers revised their definitions of writing in the age of digital literacy? How are these expressed as changes in their classroom practice? And what new writing do the students produce?

The primary goal of this edited collection is to examine the ways in which teachers in grades 4 to 13 understand changes in writing, and to examine the ways in which these changed understandings are reflected in their classroom practice and in their students’ work, particularly given reductive definitions of writing now current in national and statewide testing. Classroom teachers will principally author chapters in this collection. Each chapter will include the teachers’ understandings of the ways in which writing has changed, new goals for students’ learning, and the ways in which the teacher has adapted curriculum and classroom practice to respond to these changes. Chapters would include excerpts from students’ new writing and the teacher’s criteria for assessing this writing.

Editors Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran seek 500-word proposals for chapters of 3,000–4,000 words. The deadline for proposals is January 15, 2007. Please email proposals as Word or RTF attachments to

Please consider contributing to this project, as it will inform the teaching practices of many (hopefully) others in the field of writing.



Who is this Taylor Mali?

At a workshop on creating a student-centered Poetry Cafe during this past weekend’s Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing at Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a participant told me that I just had to “discover Taylor Mali” and so I went searching for him and found his home on the ‘Net.

Taylor Mali is a slam poet, a teacher, a fast-talking preacher of words that flow from inside the soul, an advocate for education, and intense dedication to the cause of language flowing off the tip of the tongue for the old and the young … (hmmm, slipped in some of my own flow there for ya) and his strange yet very admirable mission is to use poetry to recruit teachers into public schools. He has set a mark of 1,000 teachers (he’s at 145 and tries to keep track of them via a blog).

Mali has gained some fame with his poem “What Teachers Make” and on his site, he notes how many unauthorized versions are now scattered throughout the Web, with little or no reference to the author/poet.

Am I disappointed not to have received credit for writing this poem that has inspired so many? Used to be. But the truth will always come out in the end. And if I had to choose between inspiring teachers anonymously or not inspiring them at all and, I would choose anonymous inspiration every time.” Taylor Mali

So go to his site, listen to his voice on his podcasts, read his words and, if you are inspired, buy one of his What Teachers Make pens to support the cause of the conversion of poetry, language and teaching. And if his words inspire you to enter teaching, let him know so you can be counted, too.

I Believe …in writers

Have you listened to NPR’s This I Believe series? Isn’t it wonderful to listen to the voices and (on the website of NPR) read through these very personal essays that focus in on a strand of belief from a range of people — some famous, and some not.

I was thinking about this the other as I was driving to school and caught Bela Fleck reading his essay entitled “Doing Things My Own Way.” Fleck is an amazing musician who has staked out some independent turf as a banjo player with a wide range of styles, dancing precariously sometimes between jazz, pop, country and world music. In the essay, Fleck talks about the impact of his grandfather on his own thinking styles and about how focused he has been on reaching into the musical voice inside of him even as he moved away from all sorts of traditional expectations of a banjo player.

“I believe in living with and giving into my obsessive side when it serves the music. I believe in doing things my own way.” — Bela Fleck

Inspired by Fleck, I have been working on my own This I Believe essay, which focuses on the belief that even the most reluctant of writers have something important to say and the path to finding that voice is critical.

microphone And so, here it is: I Believe … in Writers

And this all makes me wonder how to bring this format of belief into the classroom and create student-centered audio essays.


PS — A text version of the essay can be found here.

I Believe … in Writers

(inspired by This I Believe series on NPR)

This I Believe …
By Kevin H.
(listen to the audiocast version of this essay)

I believe there is a writer in all of us. Sometimes the torrent of words strikes like a bolt of lightning and the thoughts and narratives shift and move so fast and so furious that our pens and keyboards can barely keep up with our ideas. Other times, the writer in us remains hidden, dormant just below the surface, as if waiting for some magical moment to suddenly appear and take shape.

As a sixth grade writing teacher, I have noticed how often it is that my boys, more so than the girls — if I can speak in very general terms here —  keep that internal writer removed from the public view, either consciously or unconsciously. The internal voice for many of these 11 and 12 year old boys is locked down and unaccessible. Not just to me, either, but also to them. I tussle with them throughout the year, encouraging them at every step of the way and showing them creative paths they had not seen before, alternatives to expression. I challenge them to move beyond the violence that seems to dominate their writing. I have come to see the death and destruction in their stories as a reflection of the narrative of the video games they play on the televisions in their bedrooms; the online communities they take part in, such as Drunescape; and the movies they watch on the big screen. I wrestle with pop culture, too, and I don’t always seem to be winning that battle.

Perhaps it is the fear of their peers that feeds this reluctance to write anything of deep meaning, even in what I consider — at least — to be a safe classroom where writing and sharing is honored as part of our community. Try as I might, there remains a stereotype of a writer in their young minds — the stranger tinkering with words. The loner. The outsider.

Other times, though, I worry that some of my boys have experienced such deep pain and trauma in their lives already, even at this fragile zone between childhood and adolesence, that they can’t abide by giving up any part of themselves for fear that this emotional release will become ammunition for others. For some, showing interest in anything is a dangerous proposition that has been used against them by adults in their lives. And they learn quickly how to protect themselves, too, as best as they can, and the emotions that form the heart of important, and truthful, personal writing is often on the list of disposable items. Feelings can be dangerous, and writing, after all, is all about feeling.

I often see myself reflected in them, in their downturned heads and distant eyes. It was not until I was in my first year of college — far from home, lonely, with a pencil and a blank notebook in a small dorm room — that I really began to write with anything resembling importance to myself. It was only then that I began to use words to get below the surface of the turmoil that plagued my own childhood. Those poems, some of which later became songs and some of which are stored in a protective case, were a literary lifeline for me. The act of writing became a sort of personal redemption, allowing me to traverse beneath my outer protective layer and get at the small child still living inside me. Writing was important. And this is the writer I try to bring to my classroom each day — the writer with passion for language and expression.

My hope, the guiding belief that remains in me every single day when I walk into my classroom, is that a seed of some sort is being planted in my reluctant writers and that with time, they will eventually find an inward path to their own true selves, no matter what the world outside of my classroom may be telling them. I believe in them, most of all. I believe in them as writers.