A Burr in Your Sock


Wanting to archive this discussion, as so many interesting aspects have been touched upon.

Originally posted on Thinking Through My Lens:

Today was a prickly kind of day in the SDAWP SI.  There’s something about confronting formulaic writing that sticks in your socks like those little burrs you find on weeds that seem to plant themselves in the most unlikely places.


Over the weekend we read a collection of articles about formulaic writing, thinking about why this approach to writing instruction persists, and the implications for student writing.  Even teachers who are proponents of using a formulaic approach to teaching writing still complain about the deadening experience of reading the resulting student writing.  Who wants to read paper after paper of repetitive phrasing and uninspired thinking?

I contrast that with the playfulness of this week at the CLMOOC.  This week’s make is to hack your writing.  And already on day two interesting writing is filling my feeds.  I woke up this morning to a poem by Kevin “stolen” from yesterday’s…

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Posted in Fred's

Preparing for Teachers Teaching Teachers on August 22

Something nostalgic for me about a Chemex coffee makerContinuing the reflecting process, I just had a productive Hangout with Paul Allison, brainstorming and planning for ding a session on Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) on August 22 about the 3rd Space Conference last July and our followup activities. I have plans cooking at three levels on three different timescales: immediate–this TTT session is in 10 days and my collaboration with Ed is in just over two weeks, other workshops with Ed and Bowen need to planned for the next few months; middle-term – doing a second “3rd Space” conference in May 2013 in Santa Cruz; and long term – getting a 6 or 7 figure grant for the curriculum development to bring 3rd Space thinking into the regular public school classroom (and end “testing as we know it”).

Posted in Fred's

The relevance of rigor relegates reality to “after”-school: The Third Space

I’ve been struggling, ruminating, reflecting, about the relevance of rigor, given the comment by the MacArthur Foundation representative that it’s understandable for parents to resist the idea that we are “experimenting” on their kids in the high stakes world of real school, and so creative and innovative work needs to be done in out-of-school contexts. So the excitement I feel on returning from the 3rd Space Conference in St. Louis needs to be translated into concrete opportunities for kids. 

Ed Martinez and I are collaborating on a workshop he calls Forage Species–here’s a photo of his work


and here’s Ed’s write-up, without any but minor edits from me:

an ‘Artucation’ workshop for young creators

Hosted by Edward Martinez and Fred Mindlin

Proposed for 4th Friday August 31 – 5-9 pm

Concept: This workshop is based on commitment, Intellectual curiosity, and pride in real life accomplishment. Using the Forage Species experience at MAH as a template, young artists become engaged in a single work of flying sculpture by Edward Martinez that will be hung in the cupola of the Octagon Building.

Site has been surveyed and methodology for suspending the piece is available for approval review. •

This is an engineering piece and students will help Ed figure out the geometry of a large piece of sculpture.

• Topics for a written piece could include “discussion of the marine food chain” or “the process of making technical art – what it meant to them. Students will write a short piece on the experience Friday evening. They will be brought back to help hang the piece when it is arranged with the host site.

Science Writing topics

  • • Near Shore forage species and climate change.
  • • Engineering for a large flying public art project.

The workshop: • Set up for 10 kids and have the framework of the piece one and ready to assemble. • Kids hammer fish and help attach, creating the school.

• 4 hour Running dialogue on the topic of forage species. Including information on 3 species of near shore forage species and how they support the marine food chain, cause and effect and basic geometry. The work “Forage III”

The piece itself will be approximately 8’ by 10’ – designed to fit the dome over the bar – a space roughly 20’ horizontal by 12’ vertical.

The piece will create 50-100 Anchovies to be textured by 10 kids and the artist. The piece should weigh less than 30 lbs. and install in 3 hours or less.


So I want the students as well to bring all their media tools and smarts to bear on how to document and explicate their experience, and provide some tools. For me the iPad as a camera is really intriguing, I’m not sure why. So I’m hoping to tap into the #3rdSpace Twittersation, get some tips, and share possibilities. So far Ed and I have talked about the Boys and Girls Club, Barrios Unidos, and the Teen Center that used to be by Kinkos as possibilities. 

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Posted in Fred's

Writing regularly

The image that's displayed when Cowbird fails...

The image that’s displayed when Cowbird fails…

Just back yesterday from a week in St. Louis at the 3rd Space Conference, and I’m brimming with ideas for things I want to write about:

Men Who Wear Scarves and Cry in Public

What’s it like for birds to have monocular, binocular, and dual vision, all at the same time? How does the brain process?

The origin of “putting chin to knee,” an alta kocher doing chi gung

The importance–actually, the primacy–of being kind, and how to apply that to politics

Going from STEM to STEAM: why threading the arts back into the entire curriculum, especially the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curricula, is essential to education now

I don’t feel like I have the patience to complete even a paragraph about any of these topics, but I wanted to make the list before they slide away…

Posted in Fred's

Reviving my blogging

It’s been a whole year since I really blogged here, doing too many other things. But it feels like time to start up…

Posted in Fred's

“I will march headlong into the teeth of your blame machine…”

Links to SOS March videos:

Save Our Schools Rally For Education July 30, 2011
http://bit.ly/n4kNvk [1]

Save Our Schools: The March to the White House July, 30 2011
http://bit.ly/nCI1Ge [2]

John Kuhn, Superintendent of Perrin-Whitt School District in Texas speaks at SOS March and National Call To Action on July 30, 2011

“I will march headlong into the teeth

of your blame machine…”

http://bit.ly/nbCtc7 [3]

Jonathan Kozol’s speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011
Part 1: http://bit.ly/qMUmmQ [4]
Part 2: http://bit.ly/nlqMnG [5]

Diane Ravitch’s speech at the Save Our Schools march in DC, 7/30/2011
Part 1: http://bit.ly/mUj225 [6]
Part 2: http://bit.ly/qsMdcm [7]

Jose Vilson Rocks the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011
http://bit.ly/mUWk93 [8]

Jon Stewart’s Teacher Tribute For the Save Our Schools Rally
http://bit.ly/pk29PC [9]

Matt Damon’s headliner speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011
http://bit.ly/qF1Crl [10]

The Last Word on SOS and Matt Damon
Rewriting the Attacks on Teachers
http://on.msnbc.com/oFv3rp [11]

[1] http://bit.ly/n4kNvk
[2] http://bit.ly/nCI1Ge
[3] http://bit.ly/nbCtc7
[4] http://bit.ly/qMUmmQ
[5] http://bit.ly/nlqMnG
[6] http://bit.ly/mUj225
[7] http://bit.ly/qsMdcm
[8] http://bit.ly/mUWk93
[9] http://bit.ly/pk29PC
[10] http://bit.ly/qF1Crl
[11] http://on.msnbc.com/oFv3rp

Many thanks to Tom for posting this list on the Philadelphia Public School’s Notebook.

Posted in Fred's

Telling the computer what to do

"Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be. - Judith Gooch

There’s a blog post by Miguel Guhlin in which he says something like, “For the most part, with black and brown kids, the computer tells them what to do. Only white kids get to tell the computer what to do.”

I’ve paraphrased those lines dozens of times since, and now I’m launching the idea as a book proposal to myself. It’s also the name I’m proposing for our digital storytelling series for the coming 2011-2012 school year, and the model for that series began to emerge Thursday, when we had our first full day collaboration between our Invitational Summer Institute (ISI) Fellows and our Advanced Leadership Institute (ALI) Fellows.

Each year, for about 6 or 8 years now, the ISI takes on organizing a Spring Conference, at which each Fellow presents on the Inquiry they prepared during the summer, and ALI participants organize a Fall Conference, at which they do the same. The ISI folks attend the Fall Conference as one of their Continuity Days, and many ALI participants attend the Spring Conference, whether for personal learning or collegial solidarity, or both. So having the face-to-face meeting broadened, deepened, and personalized the collaboration we had built into the structure.

And it occurred to me as the ALI folks were outlining the topics on which they would present at the Fall Conference that I should present on digital storytelling then, and that that workshop could become a required “registration/orientation” session, the initial meeting of a DS collaborative that would carry through the 2011-12 school year. My goal is to organize a cadre of experienced digital story practitioners who will do push-in classroom visits to the teachers who sign up for the program, and those mentor/coaches and their mentees will all participate in an online forum, within which we’ll support each other as we explore implementing these ideas in the face of relentless bureaucratic, technical, cultural, and policy obstacles to authentic learning through student-centered, project-based, socially meaningful activities.

Which brings me back to my book title: “Telling the computer what to do.” The statement that most black and brown and poor students’ experience with computers in schools in our part of California, and I believe in a great many other places, is of sitting in front of screens running “drill and kill” atomized skill-based practice programs may sound hyperbolic or exaggerated, but I saw it with my own eyes when I recently did a long-term substitute job in a second grade classroom. I did manage to carve out a few hours here and there from the kids’ after-school program to stay (on my own time) and do some digital story projects, but my efforts to get PhotoStory installed in the lab and to create a school-wide digital storytelling initiative were not supported. The change that’s happened because of the catastrophic adoption of test-score-driven rote learning approaches as a result of NCLB was expressed most poignantly by a teacher from the ALI who works as a reading specialist at a “Program Intervention” school: “I remember how the kids used to line up excitedly, waiting for their turn in the computer lab, clutching their papers with the stories they were going to transcribe onto the computer. Now they just stand dully in line.” They used to tell the computer what to do; now the computer tells them what to do.

When I first began learning about computers, in 1991, it wasn’t anything about the computer itself that interested me. I was pretty Luddite, really, never having been particularly mechanical or adept with tools. But I’d heard about this thing called the internet, and I earnestly believed that enabling my Mexican-immigrant students to communicate directly in Spanish with native Spanish-speakers around the world would help to raise the prestige of Spanish literacy and motivate them to develop their skills, as well as provide a real-world context for using those skills. All of my digital explorations since then spang from that initial hunch about the power of networking – until I discovered digital storytelling.

I had a similarly revelatory instantaneous flash of insight and inspiration on first seeing the term “digital storytelling” in print, sometime around the fall of 2005. I had not then ever seen anything formally called a digital story, and had only the vaguest understanding of what the term actually meant, but I knew immediately that I would be devoting the rest of my academic career to pursuing multimodal composition.

Leslie Rule’s free introductory workshop, offered through KQED in San Francisco, was enough to get me started. I naively tried to promote the idea to the technologists at our County Office of Education, and was told that digital storytelling sounded like “too much fun.” The proliferation of buzzable vocabulary around the field speaks in part to pandering in the face of such prejudice, but also reflects authentic efforts to understand the meaning, rhetorics, and conventions of these new modes of discourse. At its core, for me, digital storytelling is about empowering our students to tell the computers what to do.

Who gets to tell the computer what to do is also a crucial question for understanding the faux dichotomy between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” and also for developing the appropriate tactics to overcome the digital divide. There was an interesting discussion thread on Kelly Tenkely’s blog about the “native/immigrant” terminology. One of the commenters, an adult who was claiming the “native” moniker for himself, lamented how “education as a whole is starting to discourage the arts and creative thinking.”

“Telling the computer what to do” has, of course, the more literal meaning: that’s what a programmer does, the ultimate authorial authority behind the machine, the software creator. While digital storytelling is way to harness the creative power of the computer age for authentic communication, and we need to give all students equal access to those capacities, we also need to give them the tools to choose high tech careers they may never have even considered of interest or within accessible range.

Another poignant story from our ISI: a teacher at a continuation high school shared how a student had articulated to her his goal: to go to prison. I had heard from another teacher at the same school about a student who listed incarceration as his goal, and was flabbergasted, and uncomprehending. But my colleague this summer had explored how her student came to have this ambition. His father and uncle had both gone to prison, and come out with marketable skills in auto body work. He didn’t know that there was an auto body class available at the local community college. He was articulating a sensible aspiration and exploiting the resources which he knew to be available.

Spreading the word about what’s possible in this world is what education is supposed to be about. We need schools where students begin their literacy experiences being exposed to the full range of opportunities a networked world affords. We need students who tell the computers what to do.

Posted in Fred's

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