If you have not had a chance to check out the Daily Connect blog that we have up and running for the month of October for Connected Courses (and which dovetails nicely with Connected Educator Month), you might want to see some of the nifty ideas being unveiled.
Today’s Daily Create is to find a blog post or tweet or some writing of someone else in your network, and use that post for creating a Word Cloud. This kind of visual sifting through someone else’s words to find an idea is intriguing, and different word cloud generators give you different ways to filtering the text. I used a basic one called Word It Out and put in a post about Network Fluency from @koutropoulos on Twitter that I really enjoyed reading.
As I look at the word cloud, I notice ideas like “nodes” and “network” and “connected” all rising to the top of the cloud. And “learning,” too, the post dives into a variety of interesting tangents around navigating networks for learning. I won’t say I learned anything new from this word cloud conversion, but it reinforced the message of the post in a visual way.
Why not give it a try? Check out our Daily Connect post today with some links to word cloud generators. Or use your own. Get connecting.
Peace (in the cloud),
“What? Another science fair story! Ahh….”
That was my son’s initial response as we started to read aloud Jon Scieszka’s new Frank Einstein and the Anti-Matter Motor. We had just finished reading aloud Science Fair, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (thumbs up) and had watched a viewing of the movie, Frankenweenie, in the neighborhood (thumbs up but an odd thumbs up).
It was just by chance that all three stories had a science fair competition at the center of the plot, but it does feel like the push for fiction for middle readers into STEM areas is falling on some common narrative tropes. The “science fair” is one of those I am seeing a lot (as is my son).
He got over his initial response, though, as we dove into Scieszka’s story of a young inventor (Frank), and his pal (Watson), creating robots who can sort of think for themselves and then a scientific energy-creating breakthrough called the Anti-Matter Motor (combine water with anti-water). A nemesis in the form of Edison wreaks havoc. The illustrations by Brian Biggs were a big hit, as they complemented the text and provides some scientific drawings of ideas in the head of Frank Einstein (My son later noted, “Did you notice that Frank and Einstein makes …. Frankenstein?”).
I hate to say it, but I wasn’t all that fond of the writing here and I found the plot development too predictable. Written in the present tense, the story never went deep enough for me. Maybe I am more critical than I need to be, even reading through the eyes of my fourth grader. Sorry, Jon Scieszka — I love the work you do to instill reading habits in young readers, particularly boys, and I notice this book sits on top of the New York Times list for young readers. My son, though, liked it well enough, and wondered when the second volume was coming out. (next year, it seems).
Maybe that’s all that matters … (or anti-matters)
Peace (in the science),
I am just starting up a mandatory graduate level course by our state’s Department of Education about how all teachers can best reach our English Language Learner students through Sheltered Immersion techniques. I won’t say I am overly-excited about the amount of work that will be expected of us in the coming weeks/months, nor am I all that thrilled that we have to use Blackboard as our LMS (hate it), but the class discussions so far have been interesting.
I’m making a leap here (and it may be a bit of metaphorical ramble, so bear with me) but the theme of Network Fluency in the Connected Courses has me thinking of some parallels of thought. Just as I am learning more techniques for helping my ELL students navigate different languages, academic content, cultural expectations and learning platforms, so too are we in Connected Courses considering the “fluidity” of learners across online spaces. Being comfortable in one space/network does not translate into being fluent in the other space/network.
This comes to mind for me as I think about watching the flow on Twitter, or in the blog roll of Connected Courses, and how intriguing it has been to watch university folks move over some of the same ground as we have done in our Making Learning Connected MOOC, yet from a slightly different angle — of syllabus design, of institutional barriers and/or support, of wondering whether pushing barriers will hurt/enhance academic opportunities. The language and discourse of Academia has a different nuance to it, and the idea of Network Fluency is not just ‘Do I know how to use this space?’ but also ‘Can I project an identity into this space that has value for me?’
Early on, I declared that I would only be observing the Connected Course. That didn’t happen (laugh track). That didn’t happen because the facilitators made me feel welcome and important to the conversations. I didn’t feel talked down to because I was “a sixth grade teacher” in the midst of university professors. A space at the table was made for me. Lurker, no more (although we wrote extensively about the value of observing from afar for learning and even about that term itself).
Over the course of a typical week, I realize, I am bouncing around many networks, most with distinct styles and certain lexicons of their own. From the physical networks embedded in my school day, to the online networks whose tone shifts depending upon the platform (Twitter, etc.) and the people who inhabit those spaces with me (serious? humorous? inbetween?). The way I write in various National Writing Project networks is slightly different from the way I write in others. Sometimes, I connect in with more personal writing via Slice of Life.
We become fluent in these networking spaces by learning and participating, and with assistance of others, just as my ELL students are doing in my classroom– watching, reading signs, paying attention to cultural markers, taking chances, finding confidence and then, establishing a voice that is valued. The social capital that is discussed in Connected Courses is the connections between those in the space, where trust is the glue that holds it all together. In the Connected Courses, I trust that my views as an elementary teacher will have value. In my classroom, I hope my students trust our classroom community enough to participate and take chances with their thinking, to push the boundaries.
If those things fall apart or never quite take hold at a comfortable level in my own networks, at least I have the opportunity to leave the spaces I am part of (well, except for things like the ELL training). I mostly pack up and say, that’s not for me.
My students? They can’t do that (another difference with university folks, where students can drop out). My young students’ network/language fluency depends upon me to construct scaffolding for them, so they can not just enter the conversations, but so they can be facilitators in those discussions, too, bringing the best of what they offer to the forefront of our collective learning.
If that sounds just like the way we think about the networks we wander into out here, in the virtual spaces, then I have made that thematic leap from my classroom to my networks clear. If not, eh, sorry.
Peace (in the think),
We had a very sobering staff meeting yesterday, in which two police officers from our town talked to us for an hour about changes in the local and state policy of emergency lock-downs in our school. Our old policy was: lock the door, pull the shades, get in your hiding space, stay quiet. Wait for the police to set you free. During drills, our school seemed like a ghost town.
But now, there is no “policy,” only guidelines, and the main guideline for us teachers is this: if there is an armed intruder in the school, use your best judgement on how to react to protect your students – maybe hide, maybe run, maybe fight. I agree that having more options, in the event of something nearly impossible to consider (although, we know we need to at least consider it in this day and age), but thinking of the chaos and confusion of those moments is difficult to wrap my head around.
Which is not to say I would not be ready to do any of those options, should it be necessary. Or at least, I hope that I’d be ready. Alternatively, I hope I never find out if that is the case. One of those little doubts in my head is, what is you make the wrong choice about action? What if you run with your students into the problem when you should have stayed put away from the problem? How would you live with yourself after that?
Man, I hate that we live in a society where we even have to have these discussions of armed intruders in schools. The officers gave us an overview of Columbine, and then Virginia Tech, and then Sandy Hook. They even had us listen to some 911 calls, which I sort of wished I had not had to hear, to be frank. They shared the “lessons learned” — about barricading doors, about slowing down the event, about making decisions in the midst of confusion. They brought all of those news stories right back into focus, and I wish that hadn’t had to have been done.
How will we drill for this kind of response, in which every teacher makes their own decision? I don’t even know. All I know is that I left there thinking, In Case of Emergency, Break My Heart…..
I made a few comics over the weekend as part of the Connected Courses. It’s my way of “reading” the posts and material, searching for interesting tidbits. If you want to see real artistic interpretation in action, check out what Amy Burvall has been doing with all the Google Hangouts, etc. She has been sharing her artistic quotes in our Google Plus space and on Twitter (you might need to scroll down a bit).
Anyway …. first up is a comic to note that the Connected Courses folks are slowly but methodically expanding its facilitator ranks as the course goes on, inviting more folks into the mix to take on roles. I am one of those, although I guess I am sort of doing what I am doing (and now helping with the Daily Connect adventure that was the brainchild of others).
Second, my friend, Susan, had a hectic week and wrote about findings her way back into the Connected Courses mix. Her hook to her post was that ‘dinner was burning’ as she caught up.
Finally, Greg wrote about his participation in MOOCs and online courses, and often he drops out. One of the lines he wrote grabbed my attention because it made me laugh.
Peace (in the frame),
If you want to experience collaborative writing, but not with live people (maybe you’re not in the mood … I don’t know), check out the Master’s Demo Edition tool from Google Docs, in which you can “write” collaboratively with famous dead writers. We shared this out today with our Daily Connect site. I find it amusing and strangely frustrating, as the writers interrupt your words with their own phrases.
Or you can watch mine unfold in this screencast.
Peace (in the connection),
There’s a reason this gem of a book is sitting on top of the New York Times book list these days. What if? (Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions) by Randall Monroe (he, of xkcd comic fame) had me laughing, and thinking, and wondering about the world in new ways. The premise is that, at Monroe’s website, folks submit scientifically based absurd questions and he tackles some of them from a scientific standpoint.
The clash of serious and absurd, and Monroe’s engaging voice and comic interpretations, makes for an incredible read. Some of the issues that he tackles here include: could you swim in a pool where they cool spent nuclear fuel rods? Or what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How about if you drained all the oceans on Earth? What would this place look like then? (interestingly enough, this is a question one of my won students asked me the other day as we were discussing the oceans. I need to bring this chapter in for her). Or, could someone really live on an astroid like the Little Prince?
Man, I could go on, but you need to get it yourself. What If? will keep you not only pondering life’s mysteries, but also pondering who the nuts are who come up with these questions (the answer: us.)
Peace (in the questions),
You want to know a beautiful sound? It’s when a classroom of young writers are given “freewrite” time and they work diligently on whatever it is they choose to write about for 20 minutes straight. And I write right along with them.
Yesterday, as I continue to mull over the themes of trust and networks and connections, via the Connected Courses, this poem began to take shape in my own writer’s notebook. I hope it captures some of the concepts in my head, about the multitude of voices coming together, the strange dynamics of online spaces, and the question of whether what we construct together in virtual space will ever really take hold beyond this “moment” that we are in.
Poetic responses, and remixed, are welcome.
Peace (in the poem),
Writing a collaborative poem in an online space is a messy, creative endeavor, and yesterday, as part of the Connected Courses, many people dropped by an open document to add to a poem that I started in the morning as part of the Daily Connect idea.
This morning, there were 192 lines written (give or take a few empty lines) and the collective piece of writing both shifts and turns in interesting directions and stays true to the focus of what it means to be part of a virtual network of people learning as we go.
Read the poem (and use the Timetable Slider to see the poem unfold in real time as the site captures keystrokes. It’s strangely fascinating to see the poem being written over time. Of course, I don’t expect you watch for 21 minutes, but you could.)
I thought it would be very cool if someone podcast the poem in a single voice, so …
Peace (in the poem),
I was invited into the planning for this idea by friends and fellows in the Connected Courses community, and I could not resist. The idea that emerged from side discussions is to create a Daily Connect, a riff on the DS106 Daily Create, in which folks will be encouraged to make connections.
I set up a simple WordPress blog — The Daily Connector — to get things going. If I had more time (or if Alan wasn’t on the other side of the world and had time on his hands), it would no doubt be fancy-shmancy. But I like simplicity, too.
So, here is the Daily Connect blog site, where we hope to post a single connection idea ever day for October (no promises, folks, but we sure will try). Yesterday’s post was about using the Connected Courses Blog Randomizer and today’s post is about collaborating on a shared poem. Come jump right in.
And if you have an idea for the Daily Connector, please please please share it with us. We’ve set up a Google Form for you to submit an idea. If we run out, we might start raiding other sites, like the band of Information Pirates we really are.
Peace (in the connect),
PS — did I mention we need ideas?
I was in a meeting with our writing project the other day, as various small leadership groups began planning out activities for the school year. One group, which is charged with outreach, intends to move deeper into some of our existing social network accounts to connect our educators together and get word out about activities. We’re working to leverage more social media.
“If we use our MySpace site …” began one of the leaders, and we all just gaped at him. It took him a minute to realize what he was saying, and then we all had a laugh. What he meant to say was our Facebook space. But it might as well have been Friendster, right?
Give yourself enough time, and the technology will change. Maybe even by the time you wake up tomorrow. But the goal of connecting with people across those networks is what is most important, and if the digital platform changes or expires or becomes untenable (or if you are a teenager, if it loses its cool factor), then search for another. Keep the focus on the “people” aspect of why we connect, not the technology, and you’ll notice a change in the way you interact with that technology.
Peace (in some musings),
About ten summers ago, in my role as technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we were setting up a blog site for our month-long Invitational Summer Institute. This was at the near dawn of blogging, and most of the participants barely knew the word, never mind the concept of online writing spaces. I was just learning, too. We were using a blogging platform called Manila, which had been graciously managed by the National Writing Project.
We decided early on to keep our Summer Institute blog closed and private, as a way to help build a sense of trust with our teacher-writers in a space that they didn’t quite comprehend. We wanted the hurdles low for writing and sharing and reflecting. We explained this to our participants, most of whom were relieved that their writing would stay private. I had the idea of taking head shots of everyone and having them all create profile pages as a sort of “get to know you” activity, and everyone agreed.
We set up the pages, which were successful, and then got down to blogging through the summer, and the online writing space was a hit with the institute. Connections were made. Classroom practices were shared. Writing was done. By the middle of the next school year, I had sort of forgotten about the blogging space. As with most summers, even now, once the institute ended, it was nearly impossible to encourage folks to keep on writing. The energy gets lost as the school year looms and our attention turns elsewhere. (which is too bad, but that is mostly the reality).
So imagine my surprise when I get an email from one of the Summer Institute participants, in a tone both angry and confused. This teacher was doing a Google search on herself, and lo and behold, she found the headshot of herself that we had posted in our private space with the promise that the content there would be remain private. She was upset and sort of panic stricken. Even then, I thought she was a tad too nervous (who would search for her image?) but I do not know her whole story (maybe she was hiding from someone) and I was just panic-stricken as the one who had told her things would remain private.
I had broken that trust and it gnawed at me.
I never did find out exactly how the image from the private site spilled into public view, but I suspect it was my own doing, not the site’s. The problem, then as now, is that once the information spills out, it was nearly impossible to stuff it back in. I did remove all the pictures from our site, and even sent a message to Google at the time (and encouraged her to do so) but I know the innocuous nature of a simple headshot would be unlikely to sway Google to move it off its search results. Months later, I could still search her name and still find her image.
I apologized more ways than I can count to this teacher. She never really did accept it, and made it clear that my role as an administrator of the site was a sacred duty, and if I promised something, then I had a responsibility to make sure that happened. Nowadays, we go into digital sites with a little more wiggle room in our expectations, I think. Facebook has done more to erode confidence in privacy issues in social media spaces than any other organization. We are both skeptical of privacy statements from companies and hopeful for the trade-offs.
Most of the participants in the Connected Courses are at the University level, and they have to grapple with the concepts of the privacy walls for their students when they move towards an open platform. If everything is open, how can a student protect their own privacy? Do they have that agency if openness is expected of them? Who is the gatekeeper? The instructor? These very complicated questions require learning about the flip-side of that question: how does one construct a positive digital footprint for yourself that will withstand the possibilities of breaches here and there? This is often one of the important points that Will Richardson makes so eloquently in his various talks and books (including the fantastic, Why School?). His line, not quoted verbatim here, is that when a high school student graduates, they should be able to Google themselves and find a slew of positive data, and our education system needs to do more to help make that happen.
For me, as a teacher of adolescents, it comes down to first making my 11 year old students even aware of the ramifications of their online lives, now and into the future, and we do an entire unit around this concept. Clearly, not enough parents are having those conversations at home with their children. To have choices, you must be made aware of the issue, and be helped along the way to be empowered. Trust between people, and between people and networks, requires awareness of the boundaries of information flow and the places where things might leak out. (Note to movie starlets: don’t take naked photos on your iPhone. Yes, it is despicable that someone hacked your account but what were you thinking in the first place?). We, as teachers, whatever the level, can’t assume our students, even if they are adults, understand this tenet of the digital age we now live in. Assume nothing.
Trust leverages awareness and knowledge, and when that trust is breached — as it was with me and the teacher in the story above — it can be nearly impossible to repair. That teacher never talked to me again, and I wear that responsibility and that memory like a scarf, and I think of it every time I set up an online space for young people and for teachers.
We are potentially entering the age of The Right to Be Forgotten, although I suspect it will be a whole lot difficult that some believe, particularly here in the United States. For me, as a traveler here in various digital realms, I still believe in the Right to Be Remembered, too, and I still think the positives of online interactions outweigh the negatives (call me naive, but that’s what I believe and trust in).
Peace (in thinking),
As part of an effort to create an archive of the National Writing Project for its 40th year anniversary (called OurNWP), I went into our Western Massachusetts Writing Project video archives and pulled out a few short pieces that we have done in the past few years, usually around the National Day on Writing. I love how our voices come together as teacher, writers, colleagues.
I also donated to the cause, as the effort to create the archive is slated to require about $100,000 to complete and NWP is halfway there. I gave a donation in honor of a past WMWP Director, Charlie Moran, whose work in the field of writing, and with our writing project (as a founding member), paved the way for many a great idea, and whose thinking has always pushed me forward, particularly around the ideas of digital literacy.
Peace (in the sharing),
I made this comic a few weeks after reading a piece about the physical writing process — of handwriting with pen on paper and of tapping out words on a keyboard. I am so much of a keyboard person these days, as my handwriting can’t keep up with what I want to say. But I recognize there are conflicting thoughts on this, and it had me thinking of both sides. (And in a recent Reading Teacher PLC that I am part, the advantages of learning cursive writing for dyslexic students was new to me.)
This comic, taken from conversations in the past with students and with my own ideas on the nature of writing as a physical act. Despite what the comic says, this was not a research study or anything. It’s just a comic.
How do you like to write?
Peace (in the frame),
My latest blog post over at MiddleWeb is about joining a group of reading intervention teachers for a new learning community, and how much I realized their teaching world and my teaching world come together, and don’t, and how appreciative I am of the work they do.
Peace (in the reading),
I had a good friend in an one of my very first bands (The Roadbowlers!), and when I would bring in original songs for the three of us to play, she would always be so appreciative and receptive, even if the song sucked and fell apart (more often, than not, it turns out). Susanna was just learning to play guitar but her philosophy around music making was informed by an artist she listened to a lot and admired as an artist making her way mostly independent of the record industry, Michelle Shocked (although a controversy over some of Shocked comments that were deemed homophobic would no doubt upset my friend terribly).
My friend, Susanna, would quote this line from the song, Strawberry Jam:
Yeah, if you want the best jam
You gotta make your own
- Michelle Shocked
The line resonated for her, and later for me, because it reminds the musician that you don’t need a recording contract to make music. You don’t need a manager. It’s not about the money or the fame. What you need is something that you can play on, something to sing about, maybe a porch to sit on, and then, you make your sounds wherever you are. You make your own jam because that’s the best jam there is.
I had written in my comment to him that things were going relatively smooth, even from my angle of a K-12 teacher in the midst of University folks, but expressed the wish that more of the facilitators would be more involved in social media interactions. This was not a criticism, knowing how busy folks are. It was more of an observation, and worry that the online component was seeming to replicate the classroom experience of the knowledgeable one imparting lessons (via video) as the students (us) listened.
One thing we agreed on early in our own Making Learning Connected MOOC is the concept of “no one gets left behind” — ie, no blog post or project ever sits there with no comment, and no interaction. Facilitators were active in sharing, commenting, etc. It made a huge difference to people, to know that other folks are in the mix, reading and interacting. This is not to say this is not happening. Howard, and a few others on the Connected Courses team, are doing what they can, given the feed of information flowing. I was just hoping for more. (ie, selfish me)
Howard’s response was logical: he is encouraging facilitators, who may or may not be used to social media on this scale, to dive in, and he noted, rightly, that this is the start of the fall semester for many of them, and we all know how swamped we get when things get rolling.
Then he made the comment, which has stuck with me for days. He said:
What it is, is up to us.”
– Howard Rheingold
In true Connected Learning fashion, we make the connections that matter to us and we build our networks and communities that are meaningful to who we are and where we are going. We sustain us. His small sentence reminded me again that waiting around for validation by the “teacher in the room” goes against the very grain of Connected Learning.
Thank you, Howard, for reminding me of where the learning starts. If you want the best jam, you need to make your own.
Peace (in the think),
You know now the New Yorker has its caption contest each week? How about one for the Connected Courses? I’ve taken a screenshot of a Blackboard LMS I am going to be forced to use as a student for a state certification program, and added a few, eh, bugs.
Your task? What’s the ladybug saying? You can either leave it as a comment to this post, or add it on Twitter with the #ccourses hashtag, or share it elsewhere. If you are adventurous, you can even layer in your caption/dialogue into the original but that’s not required. Just have fun with it. That’s what’s required.
Peace (in the funny),
PS — already got a few to share …
I had the pleasure of being asked by Melissa Techman, a guest-co-editor of the September/October 2014 edition of the Knowledge Quest journal, to write a piece about educator advocacy. My aim was to share some of the work that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has done with regional teachers around getting published in local newspapers and to showcase practical advice on how to hone a message that is both positive and focused on supporting teachers in the classroom.
My piece — Advocating Advocacy: Raising Voices to Make Change – did not make it into the paper version of the Knowledge Quest magazine (darn, and we get it at home, too, as my wife is an administrator and a librarian) but the piece is available as an online exclusive for viewing and sharing. I owe a debt to my networking friends Steve Zemelman and Menoo Rami, who answered some of my questions about work they do to support educators in finding their voice through writing. And I need to give a a shout-out to a local teacher, Michele Turner Bernhard, for allowing me to use her story as a teacher-writer as my lead-in to the piece.
You can find the article through the American Library Association website or just go here to the article itself, as pdf file. And it is always worth checking out Steve’s Teachers Speak Up website for what he has been up to. And for inspiration, read Menoo’s book, Thrive.
Peace (in the raising of the voice),
One of the main things that gets me interested in online learning spaces is the possibilities for collaboration. All too often, it seems that the online experience is little more than a replica of the offline experience: the presenter speaks or shares, the audience listens and nod head, and then writes independently, a few folks comment and then … radio silence. (That seems like a topic for another blog post, another day.)
As I did with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, I wanted to spark some writing with other folks, so I set up what is known as Folding Story and invited people in to write with me. A folding story is when you write collaboratively, but you only see the part of the story directly above you, not anything earlier. (It’s a version of the Exquisite Corpse idea). And you have a set amount of space to write, before sending the fold forward to the next person. I’ve done this with paper with my students (a huge hit) and then found an online space called Fold This Story, which works great for online collaboration.
So, this weekend, I set the story in motion for the Connected Courses, with the somewhat provocative title of “You Call This a Course?” and then I began spreading the invitations through the Connected Courses network. A bunch of folks jumped in, and the story soon took off. For most of the story, it kept to the theme of connections. At the end, it veered into zombies. That’s a folding story for you.
Curious about how it came out? Here it is, as a pdf.
And, as I did with CLMOOC, I decided to read aloud the story as podcast, to give it a consistent voice and just to let you/me hear the story unfold in audio. It’s up there in Soundcloud so feel free to remix the heck of it, if you want.
I have not yet used the Fold a Story site with my students, but we will be diving in this year. I wonder how the stories will unfold …
Peace (in the colored threads of collaboration),
I’m enjoying the project over at Connected Courses in which folks are writing and creating media on the topic of “why I teach,” because it gives everyone a point of reflection. As I wander in and out of projects, I see a lot that connects us together, regardless of the level in which teach: engagement by our students, enjoyable learning experiences, a sense that we are making a difference in the lives of others.
Why do you teach? Add your piece to the collection.
Peace (in the share),