Monthly Archives: October 2008

Richard Hugo Poems

Looking at Poetry Through Wordle

I know, late to the party, but I wanted to do a little more than say “Hey, wordle is pretty cool and stuff. You should use it.” So here’s how I’d use Wordle to attack poetry.

Take a few poems from the poets you cover, mash a few of the poems together, and create a wordle for each poet. Then have the students match them to the author.

The Stevens one is pretty obvious with blackbird standing out that way but the other two will require a little more attention. The key is to make them identifiable but difficult. Too easy and it’s useless. If you presented these as problems to be solved at the beginning of the unit then you’d be able to get some interesting conversation going1. I’d post them on the wall as big posters and maybe let people put their votes as to the author under each. Then they move their vote each day as students find out more about the poet and their works.

So for Wallace Stevens I picked the poems available in Wikipedia – “Anecdote of the Jar,” “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” “The Idea of Order at Key West,” “Sunday Morning,” and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

And I did a few Richard Hugo poems as well- “Death Of The Kapowsin Tavern,” “Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg,” “Farmer, Dying,” “The Church On Comiaken Hill,” and “Underwater Autumn 2.”

And finally, some Marianne Moore poems.

Maybe you end it with the students creating their own wordle based on their favorite works from their favorite poet. They pick and justify the font, orientation etc. of the wordle they create for the poet based on his/her personality3. If you’re looking for a paper, the student could also explain how the wordle accurately/inaccurately portrayed the poets work.

Alternately, it’s not a bad assessment. You can have students ID the author based on wordles you create showing their understanding of the poets and the vocabulary and subjects they tended towards. Or go to the next level and have students hand create4 wordles for poets explaining how and why they made certain decisions.

1 Especially if you were say looking at poets from the same genre as opposed to my odd personal selections.

2 Believe it or not, I did my first web project on Richard Hugo in grad school during a brief flirtation with a Masters in Liberal Arts which ended when the free classes did.

3 Hugo’s wordle should have had pretty depressed, muted colors for instance.

4 adding the words they see as representative as opposed to creating them by cutting and pasting poems

High Speed Film Making

We had a pretty interesting staff development team meeting on Wednesday. We met Lucas Krost the director of a local film company who’d won the 48 Hour Film Festival1 and had their film screened at Cannes.

So we spoke to him for a while. Lucas wasn’t a fan of school (if I recall correctly he was thrown out of five high schools). He told the story of how he eventually found editing and film work. It was a good story but nothing you haven’t heard in variations a number of other times. What was interesting was hearing how this group communicated and worked together to make a film in only 48 hours.

So here’s what we did following the conversation. We drew a genre from a hat and got our topic- 21st Century Skills. We then had 48 minutes to write our scripts and 48 minutes to film and edit. My group of 6 drew cop/detective for genre. The hardest part for us was coming up with the idea which took pretty much the whole 48 minutes due to differing ideas as to how to attack the project. We never wrote a script so all the dialogue is freestyle2 We then shot the thing in about 25 minutes leaving a grand 23 minutes for editing. It took a frustratingly long time to import the clips from the flip video camera. I first tried editing in Final Cut but the AVI playback sucked horribly. I didn’t have time to trouble shoot it so I moved to iMovie 7 which didn’t like them either. Starting to get frustrated I moved to iMovie HD which thankfully worked but all this switching ate up a lot of time3. Now the clips had to import, some speed editing and with a little fudge time during lunch we had our two minute movie which you can see below4

So what’s the point of doing this? Well the proof is in the doing and so is the ability to speak from experience.

Things Worth Knowing

  • Making a movie doesn’t have to be a multi-hour, huge ordeal- it’s doable in two or three classes if you adjust your goals and expectations. In a lot of cases, it’s more about the process of re-assimilating the information than in creating the final product anyway.
  • Restrictions help focus and drive creativity- I’ve said this before but some basic restrictions regarding length, genre, topic etc. really help focus teams and get them focusing on what’s really important.
  • Working in groups is hard- even for adults (or maybe especially). It’s no wonder most of the group work in schools fails. We throw kids into groups with little idea and less guidance on how to collaborate on projects like these. Working up to major group projects with smaller projects is a good idea. I’d keep the same teams. That gives students a chance to get used to personalities and roles as well as time for you to reassess groups or rearrange them if necessary.
  • Video is difficult- it might make sense to start with something easier. Think about it. Video requires you to think in terms of plot, dialogue, camera angles, music and a lot more. That’s a lot for a first project. I think building up to the video project with different projects that focus on specific aspects5 makes sense.

1 Each team draws a genre (science fiction, horror, comedy, etc.), a line of dialogue and a prop. Then they have 48 hours to write, shoot and edit their film.

2 Which explains, at least in part, why I’m a rambling fool.

3 the kind of thing you need to test out first to prevent unhappy surprises with your students

4 It is what it is. I include it mainly to break up all this text :)

5 I’m thinking you attack visuals first with a simple presentation. Really get into how images reinforce ideas. Audio with sound effects can be done in another project etc. etc. By the time they get to the final project with video they’ll have experience with all the components and putting them together will be a challenge but not the challenge learning all of them at once and putting them together would be.


Teaching the Election – The Internet Way

Here are the things I’d be working into the mix if I were teaching English, government, math/stats or history in this fine political season.

Political Bias?

Lifehacker pointed out this cool little Greasemonkey script “Memeorandum Colors script colors sites that usually link to conservative topics red, and sites that generally link to liberal topics blue (the colors get darker or lighter depending on the sites’ linking activity). The result is a quick visualization of what kind of political site a link points to using colors.” Let them read how it works and think about how that might slant things in strange ways (what if I’m conservative but am consistently linking to liberal blogs in order to attack them?)

This would be the start of a conversation between the class and myself.

  • What purpose does this script serve?
  • In what ways can we use the data it generates to inform what we’re reading?
  • What happens to readers and the way we consume information as ideas like this become more commonplace?

Red vs Blue Book Buying

Here’s a chance for some discussion of voting demographics and a chance to really get some good critical thinking going with data and causation. The maps are of “red” and “blue” books and their purchase rate (through Amazon) prior to 2004 and 2008 elections. The great folks at Junk Charts really get into whether this data actually means anything.

In class I’d show them the book information and then the 2004 results and see what they thought. Then I’d tear it down with them by asking the questions. The Junkcharts stuff would make for a great start when questioning the relationships between the data.

The Electoral College

The Electoral College is a key aspect of the US presidential elections. Its mechanics and distribution of electors are crucial for presidential campaigns and determine the so-called battleground states – and possibly also distort the will of the people. I was interested this last effect, so I did a little analysis.

A presidential election in the US is essentially 51 separate elections (50 states plus the District of Columbia). All but two states have a winner-takes-all system, with Maine and Nebraska using a slightly more differentiated way of splitting up its delegates between the candidates. There are a number of consequences of this that I don’t want to discuss in detail here, but what I was interested in was the boost this system gives to the strongest candidate.


His data and its presentation opens up some really interesting discussions.

WordCamp ED in DC!

WordCamp Ed is a WordCamp focused entirely on educational uses of WordPress — in schools and universities. The inaugural WordCamp Ed will be held at George Mason University on Saturday, November 22nd featuring a morning of pre-planned speakers, and a barcamp-style afternoon breaking into smaller discussions and sessions.


I’ll be there and I’m hoping to see some of you.