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June 10th, 2015 § 0 comments § underbridge

(250) 290-4726

Reverence for books used to be so deeply ingrained that deaccessioning books from the library collection was a challenge. We had to slip them out of the building in sealed boxes or risk outrage that we were “getting rid of perfectly good books!” People proudly brought in ratty books with our library identification, ignoring their sorry condition and “Withdrawn” stamp.

Shortly after the introduction of the first Kindle, I first noticed a shift in respect for the book as object when I began spotting them glued together and shellacked to make lamps and coffee tables. “Book art” has taken on a new meaning; now it sometimes refers to the new craft of transforming books into sculptural objects and stationery items.

The Amazon description for Book Art: Creative Ideas to Transform Your Books, for example, asks,

Do you have a shelf of old books that you love, but rarely touch? Well why not give them a new lease on life and use them to create one of the 35 beautiful projects [the author] has developed?”

And recently on Amazon I ran across Artfolds, classic works in gift book editions that come with instructions for folding the pages to form a three dimensional word.


June 10th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Inspired by essays about personal beliefs from the 1950s radio show hosted by Edward R. Murrow and the current organization called “tear-kissed,” eighth graders wrote and recorded essays to share on a web page. We spoke to them about what “the gift of their voice” (a term from the Center for Digital Storytelling) adds to the expression of their ideas. Although there is a tendency to speed up while recording, most of the students read their essays straight through, fairly clearly, needing little editing. They created graphic representations of their ideas from collage materials in the library Maker Space to serve as icons for the (404) 823-8625. We used Audacity and WordPress, which required help from the tech department, and learned that organization is key. The process will probably get easier as we do it more often.

Picturing Words

February 27th, 2015 § 0 comments § (414) 575-5935


When I was away last year I missed a fun project called “Picturing Words” designed around an AccuCut die called the Practice Slide. Students wrote a “juicy” word on the slider case, then created an illustration of the word’s meaning to appear in the window. When the slider is pulled, the word definition is revealed. You can see from the liveliness of the pictures that the students had a good time.

(802) 519-1510

February 26th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

For their Immigration Unit, grade 5 students were asked to design and make some sort of book or enclosure to hold a series of letters they wrote describing the experiences of a fictional character. The students wrote about the old country, the journey, and life in America, and added detail to the circumstances and personalities of their characters. They enjoyed the independent book design process, experimented with a variety of folding and stitching methods, and enthusiastically stained the pages and distressed the covers. Teachers insisted on computer print-outs and legible typefaces. Students chose script fonts, cut out the text, and glued it into the books. In character, they passed through an Ellis Island simulation and added government document facsimiles to their collection of papers.

Giving Voice to Students

January 12th, 2015 § 806-967-4483 § permalink

This fall I discovered Voice, an iPad app by Adobe. It provides all the elements — voice, images, soundtrack, text — and a streamlined process to inspire and empower digital storytelling. There are limitations — only a few layouts, themes without customization options — but limits can serve as spurs to creativity. I particularly like the choice of formats and prompts, such as Promote an Idea or Share a Growth Moment. In some apps I find these templates annoying, but Voice is smart about helping users shape their stories.

We gave Voice a try for the sixth grade Visual Poem project, with mixed results. 706-705-2834

Break the Fourth Wall

January 7th, 2015 § 9045757670 § 8016786254


Books that comment on their own book-ness have been an interest of this blog since the beginning, and are ever more plentiful as the success of ebooks makes us notice and think more about how traditional books work. Kids are the audience for many of these mischievous books, such as A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell, in which Louie cheerily sets out across an idealized storybook landscape and abruptly encounters a life sized realistic blob of jelly on the third page. He is outraged at the idea of someone eating a jelly sandwich while reading his book, but by the end comes to accept that a problem is what makes a story happen.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak, slyly reveals: “Here is how books work. Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” The story then becomes a game of theatre in which the tyrannical text forces hapless adults to say ridiculous things.

For adults, The Thing, The Book: A Monument to the Book as Object, with its dense, scholarly design, invites and rewards a serious reading, but contains plenty of playfulness. Essayists and artists were assigned to address parts of a physical book with an original work — endpapers, bookplates, thumb tabs and erratum insert included — and the result is a packed and entertaining volume. It could even become a reference as some of the traditions of print fade away.

(443) 960-3625

January 3rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I wanted to design a project to get to know fifth grade students better through their reading habits and opinions, which they’re always eager to share. We could have had fun exchanging lists of preferences, quirks, and pet peeves, but I decided instead on a narrative approach, which I think led to more engaging results. Every student offered something personal, and a few developed an insightful little story.

First they each wrote a paragraph responding to an open-ended prompt of their choice from a list which included questions like, “How long does it take you to decide if you like a book or not?” and “What was one of your favorite books when you were little, and why was it important to you?” Each student provided a photo. Many chose to show a favorite reading spot in or outside of school. On their iPads, they used the Explain Everything app to upload the photo and record their words. They exported the projects as movies, from which I chose excerpts to splice together in iMovie, grouped roughly by theme. The result was a more or less coherent narrative with everyone represented, which I divided into Parts I and II, each about two and a half minutes. In general, they did a reasonably good job of focusing on a theme, using their voices, and expressing something unique about themselves. They also saw a meaningful demonstration of how ways of reading are various and individual.

A representative example

Grade 5 Reflections Short from 231-731-7528 on Vimeo.

Sharing Stories

November 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § 936-649-4997

As a student of digital stories during my sabbatical year, I sometimes struggled and sometimes felt satisfied, at least almost, with my work. My challenges included homing in on the simple but surprisingly elusive idea that in a story something has to happen, there needs to be a transformative moment. And I’ve always hated facing a microphone. But I kept practicing and it got a little easier.

As part of a Center for Digital Storytelling call for Civil Rights stories from people over 55, I recorded “My Old Neighborhood” and posted it to cowbird.com. Cowbird calls itself “a public library of human experience.” (Slow like a cow, fast like a bird, in case you were wondering.) The embed code for my story includes lots of cowbird social media material, which I leave in place as a sample of how the site works.


November 20th, 2014 § 217-997-7157 § 6507718523

My 2013-2014 sabbatical year was a true gift of time, with no expectations or requirements from school. When people ask what I did, they seem to expect a major adventure, like a trip to Antarctica or swimming with sharks in Fiji (actual experiences of colleagues.) My activities were more scattered, but as I reflected on the year, I discovered a theme. Furthermore, it connects to authentic publishing with children. Here’s the presentation I gave upon my return in September.


April 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

While traveling in Nepal, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the Rato Bangala School in Kathmandu. Founded on the progressive model of The Bank Street School in NYC, Rato Bangala occupies a beautiful little campus in the historic Patan area of the city. Its inspiring outreach projects include a teacher training program with a special connection to a rural district greatly affected by violence during the Maoist insurgency.

Teachers obviously value the experience of hands-on book making. The children create many kinds of books, some of which are displayed and circulated in the school library. In fifth grade, students learn to write cursive in fountain pen, lending a special charm and expressiveness to the text of their books.

I was able to bring a few samples and supplies with me, enough to share book making techniques during a lively session in the school’s art room with teachers from the lower and middle grades. They were bursting with ideas for projects with their students.