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syllabus of silliness

This young man chose to story map The Landlady by Roald Dahl. Classic old lady and poisoned tea!

Ah, on my to-do list: an updated syllabus for the Computer Technology Essentials course. I put one together this summer with the foresight that it would need to be modified. As with all things new, what we expect doesn’t always materialize, and what we get is sometimes far greater than we hoped.

The current unit of study is “Documents.” I had hoped to get all the students into Google apps, but alas, because of the age restrictions I’m taking a step back and asking parents to sign their children up with accounts since many of them aren’t 13 yet. I know the method of adding them in edublogs with the +name method, but that’s not enough, and time-consuming for a single semester course.

This week we focused on mind mapping/story mapping. Of all the software and apps I looked at, everything requires potential money, were too dry, boring, and tediously requiring logins. I have login fatigue: only imagine what this generation will feel. They’ll welcome the biometrics with open arms and eyeballs, surrendering more data to the Borg.

My district, thankfully, is in the process of obtaining new software, but we can’t wait for POs and checks. I did what any smart teacher would: went low-tech. Paper, pencils, colored pencils, highlighters. And modeling.

The criteria:

  • The map had to be for a class: math, science, language arts, social studies, pe/health
    • character sketches
    • story maps
    • scientific process
    • claim, evidence and reasoning charts
    • claim, evidence, and reasoning questions
    • math processes and equations
  • It would have a central idea/topic/question and a minimum of nine other connections
  • Choose something that’s currently challenging or difficult to help make sense of it OR
  • Choose something that’s currently interesting/easy to show what you know

I asked the teachers in the building what they were working on this week, and received so much support. The students loved that I helped them make connections to CTE and their other classes. (Not to mention the mad teacher ninja skills we possess.)

After they spent a class sketching on rough paper, they drew a more finished copy on blank paper (it was tough to give up my own paper supply, but worth it). The next day I walked them through Word features: shapes, inserting Youtube videos, pictures, online pictures, etc. to recreate their sketches digitally. With writing, the process is key on the path to publication.

Some examples:

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There may be hundreds of apps and software companies trying to get a piece of the ed-tech dollars. I would ask that perhaps you talk to teachers in the classroom about the hurdles we help our students jump over to use your products. Ask yourselves the same questions my students ask: What is the point of this product? Is it helping me or getting in my way?

I’m not sure how to phrase that on a syllabus, those nuances and subtleties of creating.

Never be afraid to slow it down, stop, look up, and then move forward.

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Mind the Map.

Here is the teaching point/issue:

How do we concurrently 1. teach students how stories work (or how anything works for that matter) 2. use technology to best demonstrate concepts 3. have students practice and grow their own knowledge?

One idea: mind mapping.

There are multiple available apps, etc. for this technique. We had Inspiration in our district, but not sure if we renewed the license or not. No matter.  I know we have other similar apps on our PCs for work. Mind mapping is simply brainstorming, sketching ideas in a hierarchal visual mode, and revisable in real time. For anyone who’s done a cocktail napkin sketch, written a grocery list, or planned an essay, you’ve done a form of mind mapping. It’s finding your way, setting a course, and looking at the big picture.


There are some exquisite examples of mind maps.

Cool examples:

I looked through this file and added MindMap:


Mind Map

How to Mind Map

All mind maps begin with a main concept or idea that the rest of the map revolves around, so choosing that idea or topic is the first step. Begin by creating an image or writing a word that represents that first main idea.

From that main idea, create branches (as many as needed), that each represent a single word that relates to the main topic. It’s helpful to use different colors and images to differentiate the branches and sub-topics.

Then, create sub-branches that stem from the main branches to further expand on ideas and concepts. These sub-branches will also contain words that elaborate on the topic of the branch it stems from. This helps develop and elaborate on the overall theme of the mind map. Including images and sketches can also be helpful in brainstorming and creating the sub-branch topics.

Mind maps can be created on paper but are more easily and fluidly created on a computer with mind mapping software such as Inspiration Software®’s Inspiration® 9.

via GIPHY I got a safety message when I tried to go to this site.


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Preparations for departure…


We have one more week of school.

Laptops are being returned on Monday. (Thank goodness. I’m tired of battling the distraction.)

The students have been irritable, anxious; some who began with some growing to do, some maturity to gain, have regressed. Some have grown. That’s middle school: they have a few short weeks between now and the looming monster that is high school. (I doubt many of them have my option of hiding under a cabinet, listening to Dark Side of the Moon for hours. In the dark. With bucket headphones. And a bad haircut.)

My two sons experienced at least one fantastic real-life voyage in their lives, away from the tedium and mediocrity–one went to France for his senior trip, and one to Costa Rica (with his dad). But most kids don’t have access to trips outside of their own apartment courtyards. Many are riddled with anxiety they can’t name for fear of being disloyal to their hardworking parents and the guilt for feeling envious of how the media portrays summer. If I can tell them one thing before they go: it’s a lie. We make our own magic.

Some folks encourage boredom for kids, with advice to privileged parents to “let” their kids be bored. And though I see where this advice is coming from and would be cynical of me to think it comes from a place solely of privilege, in a way it does. Many of my students have plenty of chances to be ‘bored’ simply because the expectations in summer include watching siblings, cleaning. They do not include safe rolling parks to gaze up and imagine cloud shapes, nor long hikes in local national parks with sturdy REI hiking boots and toxicity-free mosquito repellent.

Boredom is not the same as drudgery. Boredom leads to flow. Creative constraints lead to production (a paradox, but yes, giving oneself boundaries encourages creativity, not dampens). Drudgery leads to despair and anxiety. So how do we sell students, no matter their status or privilege, think and grow their brains, breaking out of drudgery chains?

Idea List:

  1. Get a notebook. Use the composition notebook I gave you. Clean up your notes, and annotate what you thought about.
  2. Make a list of 50 things you want to do this summer.
  3. Have a dance party.
  4.  Think of a problem or conflict you have, and brainstorm ways to solve it using math, science, writing, drawing, etc.
  5. Keep five blog/websites handy:
  6. Give yourself a ‘creative constraint’ such as no phone or another electronic device for one hour, and
  7. Learn origami. Learn how to tie a Windsor knot. How to serve proper British tea.
  8. What do words like ‘colonialism, social justice, imperialism, etc.’ mean?
  9. Come up with a new exercise routine.
  10. Learn about another religion, country’s history, or why a news story may have impact
  11. Find three old black and white ‘film noir’ films to watch — what do you notice? Does the absence of technology affect the plot? How? Ask a lot of what if questions.
  12. Start a book club with one or two friends, or join Goodreads.
  13. Learn about Japanese bookmaking.
  14. Make your own Illustrated Interview about yourself, or one of the members of your family

 Even if you don’t have access to a computer over the summer, you can and should sketch this out on paper first.
What else? Any other ideas you can share would be most welcome!
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Made from scratch.

Owl Announcement

Hear ye, hear ye: I’m going to make stuff this summer.

Make a mess.

Make do.

Make it work.

Make peace, not war.

You get the idea.

I’ve been playing with Pixelmator, and having a grand time. I told my husband last night that it reminds me of what I loved about being a printmaker during my BFA days: repetitional visual mantras, deconstructing, layering, and chemical, and now digital, accidents that create something uncontrollable and unexpected. These are what I love about printmaking. I miss the lithographic stones, the acid baths of metal plates, and the cool, damp sheets of good paper. And I am in good company: I was the original fangirl of Albrecht Dürer.

(If it was wrong to have a crush on a 15th-century artist, I don’t want to be right.)

I’m moving classrooms, again. This is a good thing. The classroom I moved from is very large, and while that would seem like a benefit, it would be if I was team teaching, but challenging when the media station was tethered to the front. It didn’t quite become the studio/workshop atmosphere I wanted, and I’m not sure why. But knowing how important that is to students I’ll be more intentional in the new space. My sons were helping me move yesterday–the younger one and his friends doing the heavy lifting, and my older son helping organize supplies, papers, etc. He couldn’t understand why I kept so much stuff. To the untrained eye, half-used construction paper and old calendars may seem like hoarding. But students love to personalize their things:


So, keeping supplies at the ready is a must. I’ll be cleaning out physical and digital spaces, clearing of social media clutter, curating and pruning pages. I took pictures of anchor charts and signs that need to be recreated, and recycled the old. I’ll share what I can on Instagram and Pinterest.

One thing I don’t want to make is myself anxious or unhappy. I’ve been pretty down about politics lately. We watched “Where to Invade Next” by Michael Moore last night, and…this is odd…but I feel surprisingly hopeful again. Maybe it’s because I can make edits/cuts from scenes and we can have discussions that mean something: why don’t we get an hour for lunch? Why aren’t we taught nutrition? Why do we serve doughnuts for the ‘free’ breakfast? Why do we feed children full of starches and sugars, and then wonder why their health deteriorates? Why do we assign homework? Why do we have a deathpenalty? Is the school-to-prison pipeline another means of slavery/indentured servitude? Is our mission to make informed citizenry? Yes. I believe so. We want to make change: then shut up and do it.

Make it so.



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