Archive for February, 2016

So, I’ve been thinking about blackout poetry for quite a while. I’ve also been on my taxonomy project kick for this school year. (The taxonomy project is where I make sets of works of some kind. I have chosen to make sets of 5.) These two interests have proven to be a good combination. This time around I decided to add some other elements to the poems: embroidery, little plastic shapes made with the 3D Doodler (it’s like a hand-held 3D printer that really is better if you stick with 2D), and/or some pictures.

First up, adding in a little sewing to the poem and keeping some surrounding images from the original pages.

Photo on 2-7-16 at 1.07 PM #3

New York Panorama

Can you dance

during the week, for a few beats

it’s a time before it vanishes.


With this poem, I added the red stitching for emphasis and even added words, which I had not expected to do. However, I think it works well and adds to the overall effect.





No sheer

flirty hem

red bow

not about the


flat abs


Here statement

her choices









Then, I tried incorporating some designs made with the 3D Doodler. This first design began as an image that I made separately, but I later noticed it worked with the poem.

Photo on 2-7-16 at 1.06 PM #2


The seven story building

has been reimagined

an eccentric friend

gave you a key.

The designs in the next two works were done right on the newspaper, after some testing on other paper, and were created specifically for the poems. First up: Spotlight.

book fanatic


The book fanatic

and resident documentarian


the chief researcher















And finally, this one.

Since it is called “Ghosts: A City Below Ground” I thought I would use the grayish plastic for the 3D Doodler pictures. Then, it turned out it was also glow-in-the-dark, even better. Each building is numbered and the text in that building is to be read top to bottom before moving on to the next.


Ghosts: A city below ground


S. wearing a suit and tie,


2 feet








dig a whole anywhere.

Again, no poetry prizes here, but I really enjoyed thinking about what else to bring to the poems. It made me consider the relative merit of literal or more abstract images, design, grouping, and organization. In addition, after the first go round, I only had 3 poems with added visuals. So, having set my goal for a taxonomy group at 5, I went back to some other poems I had and consider how to embellish them. In the process, I worked on another one or two totally new poems and ditched one of the original 3. This does not represent a huge time investment, but it does represent some time spent thinking differently than I might ordinarily think. And that is something to make time for whenever I can.

So, I’ve been thinking about literature circles. I have never really done the full on everyone-has-a-job-and-the-leader-is-a-student thing. However, my YA Literature elective for seniors has students reading a variety of books for more than half the time. So, not only are the students in groups, they are reading different books. The books have some connection, but do not necessarily lend themselves to me distributing guiding questions that can be used by all groups.

Public domain image from Pixabay.

Public domain image from Pixabay. I would have a picture of my class, but they kept being silly when I tried to take a picture. Yes, they are seniors.

I decided to try to do the whole, entire literature circle deal. I was not unfamiliar with the concept, but I did a bunch of reading about it in higher grades before jumping in. I read some over view material, some specifics about jobs, accountability, etc. I decided on 5 jobs (4 of which were pretty typical or were adaptations of existing jobs, 1 was a new one that I made up and am very pleased with, if I do say so myelf) with the following descriptions:



Discussion Leader*

  • Job Description: Your job is to develop a list of questions that you think your group should discuss about the assigned section. The questions should be a mix of literal, interpretive, and universal questions. Try to create questions that encourage your group to consider many ideas. Your questions should help the group explore the important ideas and ensure that all members of the group have a chance to participate.

Literary Luminary

  • Your job is to notice and identify important passages, key words and phrases, and descriptive sections. Bring these important literary elements to the discussion and either add them as the topic arises or discuss them as a group. Try to think about passages that are important to the overall understanding as well as passages that you personally find appealing. In addition, you might notice and share vocabulary that you think is important and that younger readers might not know.

Online Organizer* (new job)

  • Your job is to pay close attention to the conversation in the discussion. Pull out the highlights, any ideas that might need to more attention, or questions that arise after the discussion. During the discussion, you might restate and try to bring clarity a part of the conversation that has been wide-ranging. You are responsible for posting a brief summary of the discussion and some questions on Moodle. When your group mates respond, you should respond to any further comments.


  • Your job is to notice, highlight, and help discuss connections between the text and yourselves, this text and other texts, and this text and the real world. This may be more difficult in the beginning of a text, but as you read more, you should see many relationships emerging. The ideas you bring to the group may be very big picture or quite specific. Thinking outside the box will be a good plan with this job.

Tour Guide

  • Your job is to help set the scene for the group. Setting is often so important in books, and we sometimes assume we know what a place looks like or sounds like. You will pay close attention to the details of place so that the group is grounded in the time and place of the text. To help imagine the scene, you might collect some images of what you imagine the setting or surroundings to look like. If there are imaginary creatures, you might find what you imagine them to look like in art. Background information that you think is important is also your responsibility.

*each groups must have someone in this job

Then, I shared the following description of Group Expectations (Adapted from David Chung, Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District which was adapted from Literature Circles by H. Daniels):

Group Expectations

Intellectual Courage

  • Take risks
  • Respectfully challenge others
  • Actively participate
  • Think “outside the box”

Intellectual Leadership

  • Lead by being a role model for others
  • Take the initiative
  • Be prepared
  • Help others with learning

Intellectual Humility

  • Practice Scholarly behavior
  • Do not steal others’ opportunity to speak, think, learn

Intellectual Assertiveness

  • Use evidence to support your ideas
  • Defend your thoughts
  • Use multiple resources

Group Rules


  • Show courtesy, consideration, and respect at all times
    • This is not the same thing as agreeing with people


  • Everyone contributes
  • Everyone listens


  • Use your time wisely to ensure all participants share their area of focus
  • Refocus when necessary


  • Come with ideas, but be ready to change them


I asked students to fill out a summary and rate themselves and the group after each discussion.

So far, we are a work in progress. For the first go, each group had 3 literature circle discussions. Some groups struggled to have meaningful, in-depth discussions. Given that the books themselves are not necessarily as challenging as usual, it can lead students to think that discussions should be more simple too. Anticipating this, I tried to model the level of discussion that was possible in our whole class conversations on our first book, which we all read together.

The discussion leaders generally came prepared with some questions to discuss. So that job is getting done. The online organizers also were pretty solid once they got the hang of not just summarizing but of trying to extend the conversation as well. The other jobs need attention. Connector, tour guide, literary luminary all were done with minimal effort. I shared my sense of being underwhelmed with the contributions from those folks, comparing it to a pot luck where the host does a lot, but everyone comes with something. I reminded the students that coming to the party empty-handed is not cool.

When I read over the summaries of the discussions, I felt better about the experiment even though I have to say that the discussions could stand to be more substantive. I’m so glad I asked the students to reflect on their experience in literature circles as I would not have predicted many of their responses. A number of students commented that they were getting better at having these independent discussions. One group was reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which is written in verse, and their discussion leader wrote:

During our first conversation we simply discussed the summary of what we read the night before. This wasn’t very effective because we didn’t analyze the book as much as we should have. We learned from this and every member in our group came to class with 1-2 poems that they wanted to analyze. This enabled us to have more productive discussion. This let us spend more time on the content rather than just searching for specific pages and quotes to analyze.

That is some solid reflecting and adjusting of strategy.

Other students, who were reading Hush also by Jacqueline Woodson, wrote:

Everyone came with their own ideas prethought, which helped overall discussion.

We have improved in a sense of answering the questions that arise while we are talking about the novel. We have become comfortable with posing questions to each other and answering them to the best of our abilities. Also, we have become more adept at our individual roles, which contributes to a better group discussion.

One student simply said:

I think we understand the dynamic of having a thoughtful conversation way better than we did before.

At this point, I am staying the course. There is plenty of room for improvement in this, but the students are also new to the format. As we begin another book group book (either The Crossover by Kwame Alexander or Monster by Walter Dean Myers) I plan to share back with students some of the comments they made about the literature circles format. Because we have a several more books with which to perfect this format, we’ve got enough practice time. I’m counting on big improvement.

So, I’ve been thinking about how spending a few hours in the MakerSpace does wonders for my general sense of well-being.

The other day I went up there first thing in the morning to check on a 3D print I had started the previous afternoon. Since I am co-teaching a minor course, Digital fabrication, in the space, I try to print the designs between class meetings. On the day in question, I honestly don’t even remember if the 3D print turned out or not. I’m sure I got a few more student designs going on the other printers. My plan had been to leave by 9 am at the latest and get back to my office. However, at 10:15  I was still there. I had the lasercutter/engraver working on a couple of patterns in several different materials. Then, I noticed how interesting the cut out pieces were and the design created by the holes in the pieces of wood and plexiglass. There are easily 2 other posts about the actual work I was doing.

lasercut pieces

My focus in this post is about the time. I can totally justify the time I spend in there. I need to become more familiar with the tools in the space, and there’s really no way to do that other than by using them. So, I’m now comfortable changing the filament on both types of 3D printers; I can take apart parts here and there to clean out the nozzle on the Polar3D printers; I am getting to know some of the idiosyncracies of the printers; I unclogged the CubePro the other afternoon after quite a bit of this-ing and that-ing (so satisfying! It’s like undoing knots); I am getting better at trouble shooting, knowing when to suspect the printer, when to look at the file. This does not even begin to make me an expert. I’m also getting the hang of the lasercutter. I have realized that moving the bed up and down impacts the cut dramatically; I am a wiz at moving the laser to a good spot to cut repeated objects out of the same piece of material; I’m learning to look for any warping in the material and tape down anything I can; I’m making progress with scaling the cut or raster; I have tried cutting and rastering all sorts of materials, including orange peels and chocolate. Adobe Illustrator and I are not what I would call friends, but we are getting acquainted and taking it slowly. Again, all this knowledge that I have gained does not make me an expert in this either.

What all this does is make me a learner-a learner of totally new stuff, not just a little new. It has been so exciting and energizing. I can tell that I have reached a tipping point. I know enough to be independent, and I know enough now to feel confident trying more, which will let me learn more. Our MakerSpace leader has encouraged those of us who use the space to just do/try/fix things, but I am someone who needs to feel she has a bit of know-how before leaping in too far. I’m leaping.

As with my foray into graphic novels, I have spent time on this MakerSpace learning. A lot of time. In big chunks. I have had support and encouragement. I have talked with all sorts of colleagues about ideas for creations. My Advice station/New Year’s Maker idea continues to progress. At this point, I have more plans, and bigger plans, than I could complete in a year of solid work. (I have a tendency to plan bigger than my skills would suggest is wise. It’s one of my most endearing or frustrating qualities; you choose.) Again, my question returns to how we make time for students to do this kind of learning, beyond sports which does get big chunks of time. While I am sure the students are quicker learners than I am at this point, even they need more than a few minutes here and there. We know that learning takes time and practice that doesn’t always happen in 48 minutes segments.

Public domain image from Pixabay

Public domain image from Pixabay

So, I’ve been thinking about graded discussions all school year. It’s been a success overall.

When I surveyed my first semester group about it, some of them did not like it, but for the most part they were positive. Plus, I think it’s more reasonable to say “today I’m grading your participation” rather than have it be a vague overall sense of participation for the semester.  This way, it’s about your participation in this event, which is legitimately hard for some students, but also legitimately assessable. It doesn’t become a grade that supposedly reflects your performance all week/month/semester, when I as the teacher have not been taking notes on that and am going to give an impressionistic grade that is not necessarily very objective.

So, back to the new semester. I have started my YA Literature class. This section is still small, but we are now at 14 students, 3 of whom were in my Truth and Fiction class last semester. We had our first graded discussion a week or so ago. As usual, I gave out the topic to be discussed in advance (although I do wonder about who is looking at the online assignment sheet), set up the room to be one big table, got my note page ready, and we started.

This group moved at a statelier pace, which allowed for a bigger variety of voices to be included right away. There weren’t really students who dominated. Two of the quieter students from last semester joined in more this time. I am wondering about this. Was the pace better for them? Did they like feeling like they knew the ropes? What should I learn from this?

In this discussion, there were three students who had not participated after 20 minutes or so. I was sitting next to one of them and had already nudged him a time or two with no luck. Once the conversation seemed to have pretty much played itself out, I asked if anyone who had not spoken up had anything to say. The other two quiet students added a brief something; my neighbor did not.

Some students want/need/expect that teacher response to their comments, and I got the sense that there were a few sitting around the table who were not sure what to make of this exercise. Therefore, at the end of the discussion, I gave some overall thoughts and reiterated my reasons for not participating. I reminded them that I wanted this to be a discussion that was not dominated by me and was not about responding to me. I also stressed that it was not that I was not interested, rather there were many times I would have loved to join in, but bit my tongue on purpose. I got the feeling that some students needed to hear this again. I saw several nods after I explained.

Again, I would say that for most students this was a successful experience. One of my returning students guided the discussion back to our stated topic when it wandered too far. I don’t think he would have done this had he not been familiar to the format. I appreciated it. I think it speaks to the fact that he internalized some of what I was pushing the students to do last semester. And, it was a great model for others of taking ownership of the level of discussion. Those who did not participate were not as ready as some of my previous quiet people in terms of having notes ready etc. I think with this group I will have to continue to remind them to look at the assignment sheet for the topic and to come prepared with some things to share.

Many of the topics for these discussions have been fairly big picture. One of my goals for this semester is to have these discussions be on more specific topics so that we can get to more detailed references to the text.

Onward and upward!


So, I have been thinking about my new year maker idea, because progress is happening!

As you may recall, the plan was to make an advice station with an old rotary phone and Makey Makey. The idea was that a student would pick up the phone and hear a brief audio clip containing a bit of advice. My plan was to record words of wisdom from a range of community members. As you may also recall, I was not in possession of the skills necessary to make this work, but I had convinced some other folks it was a good idea.

Well, there is clear progress. So far, @Mr_Fornaro talked to the students in our Python class and one of them accepted the challenge of writing the code to randomize the audio file that gets played. The code has been written and is working.

@Mr_Fornaro has been working on getting the Makey Makey connected to the phone so that picking up the phone completes the circuit. In addition, he has got an audio file actually playing through the handset. Things are in a bit of disarray at the moment, but in a good way.

Photo on 2-5-16 at 9.26 AM

So, yesterday evening I sent out the following email with the subject line of  “do you have good advice for students?” (who could resist reading that?):

Hello colleagues,

A group of us are working on an installation that will allow students to pick up an old rotary phone and hear some words of wisdom. If you have some favorite piece of advice, we would like to include that in our installation. The advice will actually be spoken by you. Here is what you can do, swing by my office some time and we will record you, which should take about a minute and a half. 

We are hoping to have voices of many adults in the Shipley community. Please be in touch if you would be willing to be recorded. I can also come to you with my laptop to record.

Thank you,


p.s. You can also send me a .wav file (not an mp3). 

I sent this message at 5:27pm on Thursday and got my first reply at 5:32. We are a prek-12 school, and I have had replies from teachers in all divisions as well as non-teaching colleagues. My favorite response so far:


So I am now the collector of good advice (file that under duties to be defined later). I love this title. I’m looking forward to hearing what people share and to seeing the students interacting with the installation. It will still be a bit before our target space is available, but I’m getting excited. Time to plan the sign/invitation/surroundings.

So, I’ve been thinking about the graphic novel Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimistriou with art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Dona and graphic novels in general.

I read the book last year when my school library got it and put it in a prominent position on the graphic novel shelf. The title alone was intriguing and knowing I was going to be teaching a course called Truth and Fiction meant I was double intrigued.

I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels in the past few years for a few reasons. First, my personal kids like them and I like to read what they read so that we can talk about what the same book. Seriously, there are very few more satisfying dinner table conversations than when we are all talking about a book we love or don’t love. Next, the graphic novel genre is not one I know well, and I am trying to fix that. I’ve been reading some that are aimed at the middle school crowd, some aimed at the older kids, some commentary, and some that just have good cover art. I will admit, I am more influenced than I probably should be by a good cover. One group I have not read a lot is the classic superhero graphic novels. I have Watchmen on my desk, staring at me, watching me, while I read other books. (I recently watched the ThugNotes video on it, and I’m ready to give it a solid attempt. Soon.)

In addition, I am a fan of books that integrate drawing and graphics into a story even if you might not look at them and say graphic novel. For example, I LOVED Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness. Another book I noticed on the library shelf at school. This is totally the way my brain works when it’s spinning. Some information, some story, a great image, some art, some potentially random connections and leaps of logic. Finding an author who speaks your language is exhilarating. On the other hand, The Collected Works of T. S. Spivet, although highly recommended by NPR librarian/reviewer Nancy Pearl had a lot of potential with side notes and maps of all manner of things and events, but somehow it didn’t work for me.

Back to Logicomix. Reading it has made me unwilling to read mediocre graphic novels. By that I mean graphic novels where I can’t tell the characters apart because one angry young man looks just like every other angry young man, and they are all in a band together playing angry music. Sigh. I am not the target audience for that book. I have also discovered that I do not appreciate marching through row upon row of same sized rectangles. I may have set my standards too high, but I blame Logicomix again. The interesting and thoughtful paneling layouts added to the story.

Before the winter holidays, I read a pair of graphic novels about the development of the atomic bomb. Having seen a review of the newer Trinity by Jonathan Fetter Vorm, I was interested in checking it out. One not very flattering review mentioned the older Fallout by Jim Ottaviani so my school’s librarian got them both for me through interlibrary loan. I love having a library at my place of work. Have I mentioned that before? It is seriously fantastic. Both books are about the Manhattan Project and therefore have many of the same people in them. In addition, both are in black and white. Even with these similarities the books differ in style, story, and concept. Fallout has a lot more surrounding events and a longer timeline. Trinity is a more straightforward narrative with some helpful science explanations to help the reader. I enjoyed them both and did not feel that Trinity was a poorly done remake of Fallout.

Then over winter break I read the charming Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, author of the Lumberjanes series. Nimona is a wannabe supervillain sidekick. She is pudgy, has some anger issues, doesn’t run around in the equivalent of a swim suit, and ends of sidekicking for a super villain who may or may not be more good guy than bad guy. Totally lovely. My personal kids had already read it and had somehow neglected to tell me that I should do the same.

I am slowly working my way to some comics and have recently read a collection of issues of Chew, a series from Image Comics where the main characters have food related superpowers. Weird and not for the squeamish, but I’ll be reading more.

Anyway, I think the point here, if there is one, is that this relatively new-to-me genre is one that I am actually starting to understand and appreciate. I have put in some time to get here, and it has been worth it. Do students get to have this experience? Do they get to decide to take on something of their choosing, about which they know very little, and just keep going on their own, changing direction, altering their course, ultimately reaching some level of understanding they can articulate for themselves?