Whistling: A #DiGiWriMo Collaborative Mystery


DiGiWriMo gave me a great excuse to try something new with my students. Because I teach three very distinct classes, I was intrigued by the idea of a collaborate project across all three. One class is all online. One is face-to-face, and the third is a hybrid of the two. I intend to write up the process and how it worked, but for now, here is the story they wrote, as they left it:


“A fish can’t whistle, and neither can I.” Sharon said that to me a million times, and now I can’t believe she’s gone. It’s funny how little things can turn into the things you remember the most. It isn’t the cases we solved together. It’s the inside stories, like her silly quotes, that nobody understands except for me. People don’t know why I’m smiling at when I look at her picture. They think I’m crazy but they don’t understand our little private jokes about pretty much everything under the sun. Like how she used to make fun of me when I ordered the Double Sumo meal at our regular Tao Min lunches. “Know your limits,” she would say. And I’d laugh and order it anyway. And take half of it home.


My reminiscent thoughts are interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. “Already miss her?” says the deep voice behind me. As I turn away from her picture, I see Lieutenant Sam Marshall, the lead detective on Sharon’s murder case. He hands me an envelope. “This is for later. Not today. But later, when you’re ready.” I peek inside and see photos, presumably from the scene where Sharon died in a bizarre head-on collision with the wall near the restaurant we spent most of our shift lunches. “Thanks,” I mutter. And I tuck the envelope in my jacket pocket.


After the funeral, I walk into my bedroom and watch my coat fall limp on the bed frame. I grudgingly gather the will to open the thin envelope and dump the contents on the bed. Pictures scatter. A car, a deployed and shriveled airbag, trunk slightly ajar, the concrete wall scarred from the drag of the driver’s side door, damage that indicated how my partner died. There are other random marks on the wall, but that’s not unusual in this part of town. Graffiti is pretty common. I’m relieved to see no pictures of Sharon’s body.


Ring. Ring. I wake up and realize I’ve slept in the clothes I wore to the memorial. “Dispatch. Code 187. Officer Castillo. Report to PB gas station on Main and Truman. Officers already on scene. Suspected homicide.” I report back, “I need a shower and my body calls for a cup of coffee before I head out. If there are officers already there, they can wait another ten minutes.”


As I pull up the yellow crime scene tape over my head, I scan the scene. I see a body hanging down from the rafters with a pool of blood on floor beneath his feet. At the moment the medical examiner’s team is preparing to take the body down. I look around. The place is a mess, there was obviously a struggle. “Eddie,” I hear a solemn voice. “Come look at this.” I walk over to Detective Marshall, who is holding a camera and pointing at a paper near the cash register. I look at the counter and see a sheet of paper with blots of red. “What in the world. What do you think this is?” I say. Marshall replies, “I don’t know. It reminds me of the blood stains on the wall where Sharon… uh…” What blood stains? I don’t remember anything but graffitti on the wall at Sharon’s crime scene. I shake my head and turn my attention back to the case at hand.


Detective Marshall snaps more pictures, so I make my way around to the corpse, now on the floor. He looks familiar – like I should know who it is. The medical team extracts an SD card from his mouth and places it in an evidence bag. “Take a look at this.” I’m handed the plastic bag and figure this needs to be brought to the station to find out what is on it.


I start the engine of my car and begin heading to the station. How did I miss the blood with the graffitti? I must have been more tired than I thought. I resolve to look again when I get home. First things first: what is on this card and why was it forced between the victim’s back molars?


The data comes back from the lab. All this information looks familiar. I remember this case. It was one that Sharon and I worked together on a few years back. The dead guy was Luis Sanchez.He had strangled one of our best coder/analysts just as we were about to break open a drug ring in town. We had Sanchez, dead to rights, until some careless idiot in the clerk’s office misfiled some pertinent paperwork. The judge had to let Sanchez off. We were furious.


As I am waiting for the pictures to come back from the PB station, another call comes in over the scanner. “Dispatch. Code 187. Officer Castillo. Report to Motel 23 on 23rd Street and Holyoke. Officers already on scene. Suspected homicide.” Again? Two homicides in one day? Our town is pretty quiet, so this is weird. Once again, I head to my car.


This hotel is old. Not exactly a place I’d want to call home, but it’s a roof and a bed if you’re desperate. The first thing I cast my eyes on is a beat up truck, resting on the chock block that’s supposed to stop a car before it does any damage to the building. Nice thought. I look in the window and see the usual mess of a laborer, complete with empty bottle of Mountain Dew…healthy.


I am greeted by Detective Marshall, camera in hand. “You might want to look at this. It’s kinda creepy.” For Marshall to call something creepy is creepy itself. It must be bad. I walk into the room and see a trail of blood drops running around the bed that leads to the contorted body of Steve Lorne.  I turn to Marshall, “What the heck?” Marshall shrugs and points to the television, illuminated by static. There I see it. More blood. I take a closer look and flash back to the earlier scene with the red marked paper. The marks seem to be similar – and definitely intentional.


“Do you have any pictures from this morning?” I say. Marshall and I walk to his car and open his laptop. He loads the pictures from his camera and we both look at the images. There is no doubt. The marks are exactly the same. “The one this morning turned out to be Sanchez’s blood,” Marshall tells me. “I’m betting this one is this guy’s. I’ll let you know the minute the labs come back.” Marshall prints out copies of both blood stains and hands them to me. “See if you can figure out what these mean” he says. I nod and head back to the station, pictures in hand, and my head spinning.


This dead guy is too familiar. It hits me then. Sharon and I worked this case a year ago when Lorne killed the owner of a Japanese restaurant across town. The restaurant was famous for its Fugu – and only the most daring diners would attempt to eat it because of its reputation as a killer dish. The place never recovered from the owner’s death and closed.

I decide to take a second look at that case. Number 10020023. 23. Same number as the motel. I figure it’s a coincidence and turn back to the photos.

I’m interrupted by a call from the lab. Evidently, the Mountain Dew bottle tested positive for tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin found in Fugu. Lorne must have been feeling the burn in his mouth and the confusion and muscle weakness that precedes death when he crashed. How he made it to his room, I’m not sure, but he couldn’t have lasted long once he got there. Gruesome way to die, if you ask me.


I pull up both case files to see what could link them together besides the fact that they were our – Sharon’s and mine – cases. And both killers got off scot-free. It hits me. The way they were killed–strangulation and Fugu poison. Some weird connection to the cases in front of me. And then the blood. Something in the back of my mind tells me I’m missing something huge. The killer has to know what cases Sharon and I have worked as well as have access to those case files. The only people who would have access to that information and who have been around long enough to know what cases Sharon and I have worked are Sharon and Detective Marshall. But Sharon is dead….


Two days later, I get a call informing me of another murder. On top of the three crime scenes the station is already overwhelmed with, the death of Frank Kelly is added to the list. Kelly’s case is one we all know too well because Kelly was the reason Sharon became a cop to begin with. He killed her cousin – the whole family, actually. Kelly left the house burning, all bodies inside except for Sharon’s cousin, Barbara whose body was never found. He had stabbed the rest of the family before burning the house. I was a new cop, then, so I only know the story from the reports I read and from what Sharon told me. Sharon was always driven to get a conviction for Kelly, but he managed to keep delaying trial. Good lawyers for him, but Sharon was angry at the system for letting Kelly go on with his life while her family suffered. Her primary motivation in law enforcement was to find justice for families of victims by good police work. She may have been a jokester about my eating habits, but she was dead serious about her job.


It only takes ten minutes to get to the apartment building in this case. A quick glance tells me that this is much more violent than the other two this week. Hanging from a fifth floor window is a guy – obviously dead based on the fact that it’s only his foot keeping his body from falling to the ground. I can see from the parking lot that there is something on the window.


I run up the stairs and by the time I get there, the medics have pulled the dead guy in. Sure enough, it’s Frank Kelly. I’d recognize his ugly face anywhere – even bloodied and swollen in death. I let the medics do their thing while I look around the room. I see Marshall with his camera and he waves me over.


“It’s another one,” he says, pointing at the window. Plain as day, I see the image and I suddenly feel nauseous.


“Marshall!” I say. “When did Sharon and I take that Psych course with all the Rorschach ink blot studies? Wasn’t that just a month or so ago?”


“Yeah, why?” Marshall looks confused, but smirks at the memory of all the complaining I did about having to do the stupid course.


I pull the pictures out of my pocket – when did I put them there? I sort through until I find the two blood marks and compare them to the one painted on the window. They’re all the same. I point this out to Marshall who tells me I’m seeing too much into it and that my mind’s playing tricks on me.


I looked back at Kelly’s body which the medics weren’t finished with yet. He looked like he took a beating and he was stabbed multiple times before he was hung out to dry. I thought back to the cases from a few days ago and Sharon’s case; they all had the blood blots to connect them, so they had to have the same killer. But either Kelly fought his murderer to his death or his murderer had some grudge against him and took it out on his body. Who could know these specific cases? No witnesses. No accomplices. I look over at Marshall again. Sharon and Marshall are the only ones who could have known about these specific cases and Sharon is dead, so that just leaves…


“Marshall,” I say, “I need to clear my head. I’m headed back to the station. Let me know if…” As I’m crossing the room my eye falls on the couch which is strangely normal-looking. On it is a book, open to reveal a highlighted sentence on page 43, “A fish can’t whistle, and neither can I.” The Tao of Pooh. I pick up the book by the corner and put it into an evidence bag and put it in my pocket. I have to think.


Once I got back to the station I make my way back to my office, stopping for a cup of coffee. Jack, one of our techs comes up and says, “Weird about the missing bodies.”  I just look at him.


“What missing bodies?”


“Well, isn’t this the guy who killed Sharon’s relatives? I remember that the cousin’s body was never found in that case. And then, of course, no one ever found Sharon’s body..er…um…right?” Apparently my face gave me away. They never found Sharon’s body? And never thought to mention that to me?


In my office, I take a deep breath and pull out the pictures from Sharon’s case. I glance through them looking for anything that might have been missed. When I get to the last one, I look more closely at the graffiti on the wall. And then I see it. A red Rorschach blot in the middle of the crazy mural of spray paint. How had I missed that before?  Upon noticing this I pull up the case

(noticing that the case ends in 43 – another weird coincidence) on my computer. There is nothing about a body in the report.  “Jack was right!” I say it aloud, even though no one is in the office but me. I call Marshall and demand to know why he never told me that Sharon’s body was missing.


Marshall replies with “you never asked”. I could punch him, but know he probably wanted to keep me out of the loop because she was my partner. Evidence was one thing, but a missing body was another, I guess. In any case, now I have four Rorschach blots in blood, three cases Sharon and I worked together, and two missing bodies. Something doesn’t add up.


I keep staring at the four pictures until my eyes blur. I hear Sharon’s voice in my head laughing during the course we took. Being cops, we had a hard time taking it seriously, and we joked around a lot. The best joke was the day we were “analyzed” and Sharon came back with a “diagnosis” of “borderline psychotic with violent tendencies”. We laughed about that for days.


I shake the memory from my head and look out the window. I see a shadow passing by and I hear someone whistling, badly.  I could swear it is Sharon. I know her walk and her attitude better than anyone else. And Sharon’s fish-whistle quote was partly funny because she couldn’t whistle herself out of a paper bag. But it can’t be her – I’m seeing ghosts. I figure I need to get out of the office.


I decide to walk a little. There’s a park by the restaurant where we used to have lunch. I’m not hungry enough for a Double Sumo meal, but I figure the air will do me good, even though it’s getting dark. I look in the restaurant window at our old table, wondering how all these cases intersect. It’s obviously got to be the same killer, but why are all the bodies there except Sharon’s and her cousin’s? Why are the dead killers’ murders so obviously connected to their crimes?


My phone rings, but the number is “restricted”. When I click answer, the voice on the end stops me in my tracks.

“Hello Eddie.”


Contributing Authors:

Sawyer Stromwall, Lisa Kawamura, Connor Horne, Anna Laarhoven, Hudson Stromwall, Ted Ingram, Danny Glenos, Bri McGhee, Laney Hall, and Charity Campbell.



Today is National Writing Day. In my world, EVERY day is a writing day, but hey, another celebration of composition is a good thing, right? So, the prompt from the National Writing Project is this:

“The National Writing Project, NCTE, The New York Times Learning Network, and the Teaching Channel invite you to celebrate writing in all its forms: through photos, film, and graphics; pens, pencils, and computers; in graphs, etchings, and murals; on sidewalks, screens, and paper. This year we are asking people in our community to share their writing life with us.” (National Writing Project http://tinyurl.com/okwb5b2)

This makes me consider the nature of writing. Once upon a time I would have defined writing far more narrowly than I do now. Writing meant pen to paper (or fingers to typewriter keyboard). But the advent of the internet and all its affordances expanded the official definition of writing beyond simple letters and text.

I’ve always considered myself a writer. It wasn’t until later in life that I found an outlet in art. And the digital world expanded my horizons even more as I was able to execute my vision in spite of clumsy hands. And so, the purpose I had for writing found other expressions in photography and digital manipulations. This led to a love of blending images with words, which gave me a whole new voice with which to speak. As my understanding of writing expanded, I took my experiences to my students. I often blend art with essay, using photography or drawing or altered books to help students connect to themes before committing themselves to words.

But these revelations do not explain WHY I write.

I can, however, use these tools of photo and process and poem to express my own need to write:

Why I Write

Connections and the Twist


One of the great things about the connected learning community is the vastness of subject matter about which to write and think and create and share. I know I need to be creating and thinking constantly, and sometimes I just need to break free and do something because I WANT to do it. I enjoy learning, so my PhD studies interest me and keep me busy writing. I love teaching, so my time spent creating lessons that teach composition and critical thinking is time well spent. But then I read some of my favorite blogs or tweets by some of my online colleagues and I feel like I’m missing out on something fun.

My friend, Sarah Honeychurch, wrote about a creative challenge she was participating in about twisted pairings. Following her blog to the original source, I found Steve Wheeler, the learning technology blogger behind #twistedpair challenge. The purpose of the challenge is to put together two unlikely people (real or fiction) and explain their connection to teaching and learning. It’s similar to his #blimage challenge from last summer. (My attempt at that challenge is here.)

I relish these kinds of challenges and fully intend to steal…er…borrow this concept for use in my writing classes. Making connections – between individuals, groups, and ideas – is a critical skill in a 21st century world. For this challenge, Steve shared a list of possibilities, but none really resonated with me until I saw

Doctor Who and Snoopy

     An immortal Time Lord from Gallifrey and a wisecracking beagle from the USA couldn’t possibly have anything in common, could they? Nor could there be lessons to be learned from the pair, right? Well, perhaps. Deeper inspection may reveal connections that unite pop culture lovers from two distinct cultures and two very different points of view.

     The most obvious connection is in the imagination of the writers. Charles Schultz gave Snoopy a character all his own, and whether he was Joe Cool or the Ace fighter Pilot, underneath he was still Snoopy the beagle. Similarly, the Doctor has undergone 11 or 12 regenerations (depending on how one counts), but underneath each unique visage and eccentricity, the Doctor is the same: finding truth, fighting evil, and making friends along the way.

     Friendship is another common theme. Snoopy has Woodstock as his primary chum, but he has other friends too, including his brother, Spike, and his “owner”,Charlie Brown. The Doctor, for all his clamoring about his independence almost always has a sidekick: from Susan in 1963 to Clara in 2015. In between is a crew of men, women, and even an android dog. As Donne says, “No man is an island”, and both the Doctor and Snoopy manage to surround themselves with the companions they need to persevere. Often students, especially the introverts, try to exude a countenance of confidence when they really could use a buddy. It’s one of the reason I am so pro-technology. Twitter, Google docs, even discussion boards can give voice to the shy or struggling while giving opportunity for the more outgoing students to listen. Collaboration makes student writing and comprehension stronger.

     The real connection, however, is not in Snoopy and the Doctor per se. It is in their dwellings. Snoopy’s doghouse is fighter jet or study, depending on his need. The interior must be enormous based on the sheer number of things he keeps stored there. For the Doctor, his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension In Space) is known for being “bigger of the inside.” This concept is the connection between Doctor Who, Snoopy, and teaching practices. So much time is spent preparing for standardized tests (and now even teacher preparation programs are moving from innovation to EdTPA standardized assessment) that the imagination is too often left behind. But the human mind is “bigger on the inside” because imagination and innovation dwell there. It may be that we are instructed to educate creativity out of our children (thank you Sir Ken), but those of us who teach from a place of passion must find ways to connect that vast space of potential to real and concrete ideas and projects.

     Creating relevant scenarios is a key element to engaging imagination. Doctor Who has his conflicts thrusts upon him by Daleks, Weeping Angels, and Cybermen, among a dozen or more others. Snoopy should have a life of ease, but he creates problems for himself by engaging in flight battles or Christmas light competitions (which he inevitably wins). Teachers need to teach students to look at assignments (even the dreaded close reading multiple choice assessments)as problems or challenges or scenarios that can be outwitted with creative thinking and “smarts” rather than tolerated until over.  But how do we do that when admins breathe down our necks about test scores and even universities cry out for universality? How do we prevail against a system that strives to create a generation of Nestean Autons instead of independent thinkers? These are the challenges facing educators today. The paradigm is shifting; teachers need to regenerate into a new form with the same underlying passions and take on the Red Baron of politics in education with Snoopy-esque panache.


Robinson, K. (2006). Do schools kill creativity? [Webcast]. TED2006. Retrieved from          https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en

On Rhizomatic Learning, Virtual Connections, and Sherwood Anderson


For several weeks I have been immersed in a digital world. Coming back into a face-to-face reality has given me pause to reflect on the contrast between what is “virtual” and what is “real.”

It’s really Simon Ensor’s fault. In a Google Hangout during a conference, Simon asked someone to define “virtual buddy.”  He asked the question again on Twitter. He followed that with a blog post. And then he wrote a poem about belonging.  And so I started thinking.

The Hangout that began the process was a “between” space during the annual conference for the Association for Learning Technology, this year in Manchester, England. A number of presenters were from a virtually connected associates discussing a project called #Rhizo14. I had followed along with #Rhizo15 in connection while actively participating in #clmooc (another virtually connected community focused on learning), so I had an interest in the conference, even though I could not attend. I was introduced to the “between” Hangouts during yet another conference about hybrid pedagogy (#digped) when I was invited to participate by colleagues I met on Twitter through #clmooc. *

These “between” spaces were supposed to be a sort of “third space” for collaborative discussion about the keynote speakers at the conference. As they evolved they became a sort of debriefing for participants while the online participants (from all over the world) became sort of eavesdroppers who gleaned whatever information came through the on site players. It made me feel both connected and disconnected at the same time. When the on site players shared a single computer their conversation was often between themselves as they developed tactile relationships while the rest of us watched. When they returned to conference activities, those of us left in the Hangout tried to make sense of the information and even found ways to create our own “mini-sessions” of informal collaboration.  While I had connected with many of the participants (both on site and online) before this conference, Simon’s question made me consider the reality of those relationships beyond the words shared on the screen.

In a reflective post about Rhizo15, Dave Cormier discusses the challenges of creating a structured community in an unstructured idea (rhizomatic learning is by nature without formal structure). How can individuals belong to a community without creating a division between “we” and “them”; in this case those who had been around since the first experiment (Rhizo14) and the newbies who were just figuring out the concept? Dave writes far more eloquently than I about the conflict between Instructivism and Constructivism, but it all goes back to Simon’s original query: What exactly is a virtual buddy?

I have playing on the digital playground long enough that I no longer consciously differentiate between local acquaintances and those whom I have only met online. In many ways, I often feel MORE connected to those virtual friends because we have to make an effort to connect across time zones, geography, and cultural barriers. Underneath that, however is a common interest in how to harness the power of the internet to make education both accessible and relevant to as many people as want it. Along the way we discover other common interests: knitting, photography, Doctor Who, and other facets of life that have nothing whatever to do with education.

So are these friends “real”? And if they are, why is there a disconnect when some of them are together in a place while others of us connect from our own individual spaces? This whole new world of digital relationships and collaborations is messy. But then, new things are often messy. And not always “right”, especially at the beginning.

This idea of messy newness is a reflection of something Sherwood Anderson said to William Faulkner in June, 1953:

…America ain’t cemented and plastered yet. They’re still building it. That’s why a man with ink in his veins not only still can but sometimes has still got to keep on moving around in it, keeping moving around and listening and looking and learning. That’s why ignorant unschooled fellows like you and me not only have a chance to write, they must write…it won’t ever be quite right, but there is always next time; there’s always more ink and paper and something else to try to understand and tell. And that probably wont be exactly right either, but then there is a next time to that one , too. Because tomorrow’s America is going to be something different, something more and new to watch and listen to and try to understand; and, even if you can’t understand, believe.

(as cited in Meriwether, 2004, p. 8)

And there is the answer. Online relationships won’t ever feel “quite right”, but we must keep trying new ways to connect and eventually we will see something “different…more and new” that, even if we don’t fully understand, we can believe. In its imperfections, there is still connection. Perhaps the best part of being “virtual buddies” is the journey we are taking together into something unexpected.



*All the acronyms are confusing, but much of the hybrid pedagogy/virtual connections take place on Twitter with extensions to Facebook and/or Google Plus. All of the things in which I participated were forms of MOOCs (massive open online courses) geared toward educators who wanted to explore and promote the idea of open learning. Rhizo  is based on the idea of the rhizome plant, one that sends out new growth from its roots so that the visible growth is supported by an underground structure that is interconnected. Dave Cormier is probably the leading expert in the current iteration and his ideas on the purpose of education need more thought that I intend for this particular post. DigPed is attached to the Hybrid Pedagogy journal. The Connected Learning MOOC (#clmooc) was a six-week course for educators organized mostly by professionals connected to Youth Voices. All of the hashtags are still active on Twitter.






Meriwether, J. B. ed. (2004), William Faulkner: Essays, speeches, & public letters. New York, NY: Modern Library. Random House, Inc.

Labor Day, Teaching, and Vocational Education


Once upon a time, Labor Day meant the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. That, I believe, is what the Almighty intended. Of course, with schools today starting at the beginning of August and summer not really over until the end of September, Labor Day is fast becoming just another holiday without meaning or purpose.

Perhaps it would be wise for educators to spend a few hours sharing with students the plight of the American worker at the beginning of the Industrial Age. We are horrified at the “sweat shops” we read about, but this was the common practice in this country for many years. By the late 1880s, conditions were so poor that workers, backed by the then necessary Labor Unions, staged revolts and strikes, one of which led to a clash between federal troops and protesters. Attempting to reconcile with the workers, Congress made Labor Day a national observation of the contribution of America’s working class (History.com).

In the last several years I have had numerous conversations with colleagues regarding the current push to send every student to college. I suspect this may be partly in reaction to the continuing struggle between politicians, educators, and unions. The student voice seems to get lost in the debate.  There are students who are not college bound and who should not be pushed that direction. There are some for whom vocational education is more important and more practical than college-readiness. Reasons vary by circumstance, but may include career goals in areas that do not require a college degree, a family business, or a distaste for school in general and a willingness to work up from the lowest position.  Coming from a working class family myself, I see a need for a resurgence in vocational education.

Living in the suburbs, my position is not popular. The mindset of that particular demographic is that value only comes with a college education. This thinking is wrong, and must be addressed both in the classroom and in society. In an article published on Edutopia and reprinted in the Washington Post, Mark Phillips wrote,

“We live in a society that places a high value on the professions and white-collar jobs, and that still considers blue-collar work lower status. It’s no surprise that parents want their children to pursue careers that will maintain or increase their status. This is even more evident in high socio-economic communities. And for most teachers, if the student is academically successful, this will be seen as a ‘waste of talent’ ” (Phillips, 2012).

I could not agree more.

How may students feel stigmatized because they prefer working with their hands to sitting in classrooms? How many homeowners would be completely lost without well-trained electricians or plumbers? And why do we assume that mechanics are not well-read or welders cannot write? I know a certain truck driver who writes beautiful poetry without an advanced degree. Artistry is hard to teach, but the best nail technicians and hairdressers are skilled artisans. Why must our culture belittle these choices? I was horrified to hear of a former student who chose to pursue work as a dental hygienist and was told by a school administrator that she was aiming too low. What that administrator refused to see was the passion this young lady had for improving people’s smiles and how she planned to take her skills to under-developed countries where she could help people in a tangible way. If students have dreams of practical work, then we, as educators, must both prepare them for that work and encourage them to follow their hearts no matter what the culture around them says.

This is where vocational education comes in. If students are afforded a choice between practical academics and apprenticeships or college preparatory work, they can better prepare for the futures they choose. Just because we as educators believe that higher education must be accessible to all does not imply that we should mandate it for everyone. If education is truly about the students, then they must be given the tools and the choices to dictate their own futures. All students must become literate in language arts, practical mathematics, history, and science, there is no question of that. Those skill can readily be addressed by tenth grade. Advanced studies in vocation or academics can them specialize in the fields that profit the student most.

We as educators must lead the way to de-stigmatizing vocational education. College is not for everyone; nor is vocational education. Both ensure students have goals and the tools to achieve them according to their individual skills, talents, and desires. It is time to elevate vocational education as an equally viable option to college preparation. Then we can focus on teaching students to learn for the love of learning alone, rather than crushing them all under a load of school work some neither want nor need. In becoming adaptable to student needs, we become better teachers, focused on students and whom they will become in time.


History.com Staff (2010). Labor Day. A&E Entertainment. [Weblog] Retrieved from  http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day.

Phillips, M. (2012, May 29). Why should we care about vocational education? Edutopia. [Weblog]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/vocational-education-benefits-mark-phillips.

You can go your own way, but…


There is always one.

One student who pushes back against anything new. Another one who just wants to “do school” and get it over with.  Still another one who has no interest in my beloved ELA content.

Short of calling in my friend’s herding dog, how can I engage those students who want to go their own ways?

I believe the best way to engage students in through story. Not necessarily writing fiction, but living and sharing their own personal stories through the literature we read, the current events we address, and the multiple modes we employ.

Every student has a unique story, and the ELA classroom is the ideal laboratory for exploring identity as it is revealed by story and how that connects to the greater world, both present and past. It’s why I love teaching Frankenstein. The opportunity to connect science, ethics, and philosophy captures almost every student. Their opinions come from their own backgrounds, and the deeper we get into the book, the more they begin to see that literature has teeth and allows multiple interpretations. (I’m thinking I may put Waiting for Barbarians with Frankenstein for my AP class. Ask the question: who are the real barbarians and who is the true monster? That could be fun.)

Over the next few months I intend to ponder the power of story and how to tell each one. Language and story are inter-related, but how does one influence the other? What is the best way to herd wayward students into the fold of critical thinking and effective communication?

The story shall unfold.

(Thanks for Simon Ensor and Steve Wheeler for the #blimage challenge.)

National Parks #clmooc Make 6



The fiWEB20150730_122355_20138025332_onal project for the Connected Learning MOOC (#clmooc) took us to explore the National Park system as an open public space. Georgia has a plethora of National and State parks along with Heritage sites, Historical sites, National Monuments, and National Recreation Areas. I chose to explore a new-to-me park in Lithonia, Georgia. Arabia Mountain is an exposed granite monadnock still relatively unaltered by humanity. There was once a quarry there, but it is long shut down and the machinery removed. Because it is not heavily promoted and the signage is less than obvious, few people walked the mountain while I was there. (Granted, it was midday in July, and the 95 degree temperature may have had something to do with the solitude.) Still, it was easy to imagine early settlers and Native Americans hunting and living here. It is vast and rugged, but upon inspection, harbors all sorts of microscopic life and plants that manage to thrive without much soil. The views from the summit are beautiful, even on a hot and hazy afternoon. Buildings and roads are invisible, so it feels remote and isolated.

WEBArabiaMtn-38 WEBArabiaMtn-43 While I enjoyed my trek, I had to consider how I could incorporate this Make into a classroom scenario.WEBArabiaMtn-49

 Science and math might be natural fits: micro-biology and ecology are obvious, and geometry students could calculate the pitch of the mountain or determine the weight of granite slabs. Literature requires a little more creative stretch to incorporate. However, upon reflection, I see a number of ways to justify a National Park field trip for an English classroom. There is the historical value of oral storytelling, which was the tradition of the first inhabitants of this land. The area was also home to a community of freed slaves (the area bordered three different plantations) that became a prosperous town through the mid 20th century. NPR did a story about the Flat Rock community in 2008. Blending the Park with this history affords students the opportunity to write a historic retelling of the community or of fictional residents. This allows the students to research life in a specific era, a particular setting, and a historic climate about which little is known. Story is a key element of preservation, although it requires careful study blended with critical and creative thinking. As research, this is far more difficult than the “encyclopedia report”  many students do, but the benefits of learning curation from multiple sources ultimately proves practical well beyond the high school years.

WEBArabiaMtn-53 Research fulfills a number of standards in the Common Core requirements, but there are opportunities to use a visit to the Parks as impetus for creative writing. Many American authors wrote about nature (Jack London comes immediately to mind), and short stories featuring the land may inspire students to dig a little deeper into their own psyche or philosophies. Poetry may also emerge as a way to capture the vast beauty of the Parks.  A haiku or tanka (even a sonnet) poem embedded into a photograph blends creative thinking, art, and a structured form that touches the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy.

WEBArabiaMtn-80-Edit2In any education, National Parks are a treasure to consider, and many of them are accessible enough to encourage all students to visit, even if a school field trip is not allowed. Arabia Mountain is off the Path system of DeKalb County, a free to use paved greenway designed for pedestrians and cyclists. The Arabia Mountain website offers a number of ways to see the park.