Somewhere, There’s a War

4 08 2014

Over the past couple of months, I have been engaging in a Connected Learning Community with other teachers from around the country who are affiliated with the National Writing Project.  As a result of this incredible community of support, I was able to push beyond my boundaries and create digital writing that I never dreamed possible.  This Zeega piece is an example of this.

“Somewhere, There’s a War”

There were so many aspects to think about when creating this Zeega:

*Why won’t it work on my I-Pad or I-Phone when Zeega’s website said Zeega was created for a mobile device?  I spent hours trying to figure this out, and with the help of fellow colleagues Terry Elliott, Susan Watson, and Kevin Hodgson, I persevered and discovered that it only worked on my laptop when I downloaded Firefox.  It wouldn’t work on anything else.  

*Who was my audience?  Because I was making it for myself, colleagues and friends, I inserted a photo that I definitely wouldn’t use if I was showing it to my 5th grade class.  But in this case, it was a powerful statement that needed to be made for my current audience.

*How did sequencing affect the message of the piece?  By putting the repeated phrase of “Somewhere, there’s a war”, I felt like I conveyed the urgency of all the wars that are being fought by people just like me all over the United States at this very moment.  And if I followed that with a line that I wrote to make it more personal or a call to action.  Those words helped to effectively transition into the photos and GIFs.

*Who would be my resources for talking about each issue?  While we were playing with hacking over the summer, I remember one person took all of the first lines of her texts or Tweets she received in one day.  This motivated me to think about all the petitions I have received in the last seven days alone.  From those petitions, I was able to acquire most of my text for each topic.  This week I’ll get the same number of petitions, if not more.  When will the petition receivers finally listen to our voices so that we don’t have to sign our names to ten different ones regarding the same issue?  What will it take to make a positive difference in the world?

*What musical selection will go best with my focus on problems in the U.S.?  When I first decided on “God Bless the USA”, I hadn’t even heard the version that was available on Soundcloud.  It just seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk about irony with students.  How can we be proud to be Americans when we continue to allow these wars to be fought every single day in our country?  When I did hear the Soundcloud version, it was even more fitting with the recording of the news reports on the morning of 9/11.  Those are the wars we think about.  As heartbreaking as it was to relive those moments, it made me think about how people are so easily riled to do something when it comes to terrorist attacks or military wars.  Why can’t we each be inspired to do something immediately about all the other wars taking place all the time in our homeland?

*What discussions would be generated by this piece?  Irony?  Voice?  The power of images?  The impact of sequencing?  Stereotypes (for example, the African American child watching his dad getting arrested)?  To be honest, I couldn’t find any available Flickr photos of white people in America getting arrested for drugs.  How do petitions make a difference, or how can we take action on any of these issues?  What other discussions could you have with your family, friends or students about a piece like this?  Please leave a comment below. 

I spent hours and hours working on this, and while it goes beyond the 5 image story, I believe it also incorporates many of the topics we have been creating together over the past 2 months.  And I’m proud to share it with all of you.  Thanks to those who have gone before me, so that I had the technical support I needed to persevere!


“Dog Days of Summer” Using Animoto

25 07 2014

Each day my goal is to create at least one new photo story, using a different app or digital program for each.  Not only are these fun to explore for my students and their interests, I’m also enjoying discovering which ones will help me tell my own stories in the most effective ways.

Here is the 5 image story I created with the help of the Animoto App.  The drawbacks were that I couldn’t put the photos in the sequence I wanted. The title was also confusing, and for some reason, that wouldn’t go to the front.  Sequencing is essential for our students, so this is definitely a disadvantage.  Then when it asked for a cover page photo, I thought the picture would only be used for that purpose, not in the story.  So I have 6 photos instead of 5.

But I do like all the choices they give you for presenting it (I know the students will love some of the animation in these publishing choices), in addition to many different music choices (which could vary, depending on the style template you choose).  Since this was my first time experimenting with this app, perhaps some of you know tricks and tips I would benefit from.

Dog Days of Summer  


Attempt #2

After getting an awesome tutorial from Sheri Edwards, I was able to go back and edit this to be what I had envisioned.  By adding one word for each photo, I can see this being a great excercise with out students by having them use 5 verbs, 5 adjectives, 5 nouns, 5 proper nouns…Whatever it is we are working on that day!  And if you don’t have time for them to do it digitally, then just have them cut and paste photos you’ve already copied off.  They can make a storyboard with the part of speech going before each photo, so that there are 11 screenshots (including the title).

Dog Days of Summer–The Real Thing


Exploring the Creation of 5 Photo Stories

24 07 2014

I have a lot to say about this topic as we delve into our 6th and final week for creating digital writing as a community of professionals.  For tonight, I’m just going to leave you with my first creation and the obstacles I encountered while making it.// <![CDATA[
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I was inspired by +Kevin Hodgson to try my hand at Storybird.  This took way too long, because every time I typed a word on a page, I couldn't find the toolbar that had the rest of my pages.  Does anyone have any insight about this?  I was going to try the 6 word story, but maybe people can guess what they were.  Dreams, the title, is the first word.

Dreams on Storybird
// <![CDATA[ define=function(n,t,i){var u=[],r,f;if(arguments.length===3)window[n]=i.apply(this,u);else{for(i=t,t=n,n="",r=0;r// // // //

Where have all the neighborhood games gone?

7 07 2014

Do you remember a time when all the kids from your neighborhood would get together to play a game?  Girls, boys, those of us under 10 and teenagers alike…We would all meet at someone’s house for a game of Kick the Can, while other times we would gather at the gigantic open field next to the nursing home right across the street from my house for a chance to hone our football skills.  Or maybe we invited our neighborhood friends over to play at our homes.  When I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, this was the norm.  I remember being chased back to my house by the boy who received my May Day basket.  I remember that great feeling of knowing everyone was included in the games on that grassy field.  And I remember so much more! What do you remember?  Get out a pen and paper to see how many games you remember from your youth, and play  “Name that Game” as you watch this video I created just for you.  Above all, have fun!  Hopefully, some of it will come back to you.  If my memories are different from your own, I hope to motivate you to remember your stories.  Come on back when you’re done!


Now compare your answers with the ones provided in the next video.


How did you do?  For me, I had forgotten how much we had done together as a neighborhood when we lived half hour north of Minneapolis.  When we moved to a rural town in southwestern Minnesota in the middle of my 7th grade year, the neighborhood games disappeared.  We didn’t know anyone, and no one from the surrounding blocks came to our house to introduce themselves.  Everyone in town had already known one another since they were born and didn’t extend too many hands to the new kids on the block.

When I think about how lonely it was when we left our home that was filled with neighborhood activity and moved to a place that was filled with isolation for newcomers, it reminds me of the lack of community in the neighborhoods I have lived in since becoming an adult.  For 9 years, I have lived in Northeast Minneapolis.  Throughout those nine years, I have never seen kids play with their neighborhood friends.  Sometimes, siblings will play out in the yard, but it isn’t like the days of old.  Have you noticed anything similar?  I miss hearing the laughter and screaming of kids being chased around the yard in an exciting game of TV tag.  I miss seeing all the kids come together to raise money for one of the boys in our neighborhood who had been diagnosed with cancer.  I miss feeling like a part of a community in the place where I chose to buy my home.

What is the reason for this lack of community today?  Is it simply technology taking over, so that kids today play in front of a screen instead of creating the activities themselves?  Does it depend on the luck of the draw for where you live?  In my case, we moved to a smaller town where there were kids in my neighborhood, but I didn’t discover that for a couple years.  For my dad, at the age of 10 when his family moved from their farm into a small town in South Dakota, they did play games like Kick the Can together.  His brother and sister were at least 6 years older than he was so he found kids his own age to hang out with.  Some of those kids were the siblings of my mom.  When I asked her, though, she said she didn’t remember any neighborhood games.  In a family of 8 kids, I imagine many of them were already working or taking care of their younger siblings.

What do you think the reason is for this dwindling idea of neighborhood games?  Those are some of my best memories, and I worry that our current and future generations will be missing out on all the fun I got to experience those precious 12 years I lived in towns that valued community.

My Interlude

7 07 2014

What an amazing weekend! I had planned on writing daily posts on games and play.  However, my parents  invited me to attend the 40th anniversary celebration for “A Prairie Home Companion” just over the river from my home in Minneapolis.  So for three days, instead of writing about playing games and being playful, I was engaged in it from dawn ’til dusk each day.  From playing trivia with cast members’ Sue Scott and Tim Russell to watching the playfulness that existed between the performers who came from around the world, it was a beautiful experience.

I even played a little game of Hide and Seek, even though I was the only one who really knew I was playing it.  You see, Iris DeMent was one of the musical guests, and she has been one of my favorite song writers and performers since my college days.  While I would check the sides at the bottom of the stage every so often, she was nowhere to be found.  By now, I’m sure you’ve guessed that Iris was hiding and I was seeking.  Although I saw every other performer walking freely around the campus, she eluded me every time.  Finally, after last night’s show, I was determined to find her.  As much as I love Garrison and APHC, Iris was the real reason I had committed to a three day event.   I was not leaving until I  could connect with this woman whose music had gotten me through some pretty tough times.  After an hour of me literally running back and forth from one side of the stage to the other while she did her best to hide, I finally caught up with her.  As I called out her name and waved at her, I must have been quite the sight in my dress, breathing heavily with my cheeks flushed and eyes glowing from the triumph of winning the game.  I did it!  I found her!  I got to meet this sweet woman whose voice always brings a smile to my face, tears to my eyes, and love to my heart.  I got to have her arm wrapped around me as she came out for a picture, and I got to hear her compare me to her niece, whom she said was beautiful, like me.  In fact, if you look at the photo, we really do look like we’re related.  That was the perfect moment, and I couldn’t have asked for a better win.


The other highlight of my weekend was watching this family from Maine dance off to the side of the stage.  Here they are connecting with one another as The Wailin’ Jennys perform Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers”.


Bringing People Together

3 07 2014

Do you remember the period in history when you couldn’t play a game on a computer, a digital notebook or your phone?  If not, then you’re pretty darn young.  Lucky you!

But if you’re like me, born around 1970 or earlier, then you probably have some pretty fond memories of the games that brought you together with your family and friends.  Not only were these games fun, but they were often the highlights of people coming together.

What was the best memory I have of our family reunions on my mom’s side?  The games!  Jewish poker (obviously, we lived in a time Bill Maher would describe as “politically incorrect”), dice games, card games, Bingo, cribbage and even softball. In the mid 1970s, I can still picture my mom’s 7 brothers and sisters with their spouses seated around the gigantic kitchen table, drinking coffee or a can of beer, with my grandma by their side.  Us kids would grab a Coke and take a seat wherever we could find one, laps included.  What I enjoyed the most was hearing the family stories that were shared throughout the games, knowing that the storytelling was much more valuable than the games themselves. However, the games represented the gateway to the stories they loved to share.  With that big of a family, there were so many to tell!  Lying in bed with my cousins each night, we could always hear laughter as the adults continued to play their games late into the evening and reminisce about the good old days.  If only I had known back then how much meaning those stories would have for me later in life, I would have been recording each and every one of them.  Just to hear their voices again would be a gift.

As the years passed by and our “official” family reunions dwindled, there was one holiday where we still kept the tradition of games alive:  Thanksgiving!  Somehow, for more than 30 years now, we have continued to maintain the tradition of starting off our day together by playing Bingo.  People travel hundreds of miles just to get there by the time the first number is called.  The caller, Uncle Jim or my dad, still wear their turkey shirts just for the occasion. Although moving this family event further north has decreased the number of people who used to gather at my house for many years in my hometown of Luverne, Minnesota, it still motivates each year’s attendees to get to my cousin Deb’s house in Inver Grove Heights before the first Bingo game begins.  It’s fun to observe what happens as the kids (like me) have gone on to have kids of their own.  Now it’s my cousin’s kids and my brother’s kids who are super excited about playing for a prize.  While this game doesn’t allow for much talking (or you’ll miss the numbers, which could lead to your demise…and with all of the prizes at our disposal, it’s imperative to pay attention), our other remaining tradition does.

The cribbage tournament is at the other end of the day, when aunts and uncles have fallen asleep on the couch in front of the football game.  Others are washing dishes or wiping off the counters, while a few may be sitting at the dining room table sharing their pictures on their I-Pads.  Although this is the trickiest part of the day to get to, especially because it’s so late in the day,  it is also the most fun.  There is a certain thrill to be able to say you are the cribbage champion in our family.  To have your name proudly displayed in the winning bracket on the paper plate that has been used by my Dad to document the games since the beginning of time…now that is a sign of respect.  And when we look at it, we remember stories, some about the living and others about our loved ones who have passed away.

My Uncle Tom and my dad taught me how to play cribbage.  So even though Uncle Tom passed away way too young, his memory lives on in each and every tournament. Beating him was like winning a gold medal at the Olympics!  And then someone else recalled the year they knew Uncle Jim # 2 wasn’t doing too well because he kept making mistakes during his championship game.  Although all of our stories aren’t happy, they share a rich history of our family coming together.

What family traditions do you have with playing games?  Has it brought your immediate or extended families closer together?  Have their been times when a game brought you closer to someone in your family that you really didn’t get along with very well?  Or perhaps it separated you even further?  What was the importance of these games in our lives, especially when we didn’t have electronics that could potentially keep each person at a gathering isolated the entire time?  These are questions to consider as we continue to gather tools that tend to isolate kids more and more from connecting with others.  As we revisit our past and think about the present, we can learn from a wise father who once explained, “And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word… Tradition.”


Being Playful

2 07 2014

Games surround us everywhere we go.  From the time we are born until the day we die, we are engaged in games and we may not even realize it.  Games may be prescribed with instructions like Boggle or Monopoly, and they can be playful activities we create ourselves. No rules, no boundaries, the sky’s the limit!

When I was 7 years old, I remember my dad, brother and I played a game we invented called “Alligator”.  My dad would hide beneath the red, white and blue beanbag we had in our basement.  As my younger brother and I apprehensively inched closer to the beanbag, we would hear the first growl of the alligator.  Jumping back, we’d hold hands, take a deep breath, and tiptoe closer than we did the first time.  “ROARRRRRRRRR!”  The beanbag moved this time and out crawled my dad who waddled on 4 legs toward us, with the intention of catching us for a delicious dinner.  While on the one hand, my brother and I were terrified that the alligator would awaken from his slumber and catch us.  On the other, we held our breath as we tried to escape from this dangerous creature who would tickle us when we were captured.  Now that was fun!  And the only things we needed for the game was a beanbag, an alligator, and anyone who wanted to tempt the alligator to retreat from his cave.  Oh, the joys of simplicity!

As I reflect on this, I think about the role of play for my dad. He took on the role of an alligator and was actively engaged from the alligator’s perspective. My brother and I took on the roles of the 2 kids who were out on a walk and were surprised to find an animal we had been taught to fear. There are so many things that could’ve been done with this simple game. The roles could have been swapped. We could have talked about rules and if we needed them. There’s the idea of point-of-view or perspective. But yet, there is nothing wrong with just having fun either, and that’s exactly what we did. I can already tell there is going to be a lot of sharing this week on my part, as I become engaged once again in my professional blog that I began a few years ago. As a teacher on disability, I was surprised to see that I hadn’t posted anything on this particular blog since 2010. So I am very excited to get back into the world of blogging, and it all starts here!