This year I was able to attend the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting, a day and a half of workshops, sessions and conversations around teaching reading and writing. The NWP is an outstanding network of forward-thinking educators doing everything they can to innovate in their classrooms despite policies and processes that make their jobs so difficult.

On Thursday, I woke up entirely too early with a mixture of excitement and jet lag. After a quick breakfast, I headed upstairs to see what Stephanie West-Puckett was going to do in her Writing as Making, Making as Writing session. It was hard to choose which session to attend, but in the end I chose this session for two reasons:

  1. I was interested in hearing what the perspectives of “writers as makers” is in the world
  2. I had already been up for 3.5 hours, was jet lagged and knew we’d be making something. I wanted to make, fail, laugh, and I thought with Steph, I’d have that opportunity.

Steph showed a clip of a wonderful video from Educator Innovator, and we did analog commenting on the content. We had a conversation about the difference between “tangible” and “intangible” making – a perception coming out of the DIY movement that if it isn’t physical, it doesn’t count. I think this is something both writers and webmakers experience, though I’m guessing it’s actually harder for writers because their makes are routed in a single modality. Webmaking usually has multiple, and with the conversations around digital literacies, it’s easy to argue that a complex digital piece (with audio, video, text, images) is, indeed, something tangible*.

The fact that we have to have a debate about whether some creative endeavors are inherently more valuable than others makes me cringe. Writers hear, often and loudly, that writing is not making. But I beg to differ. Writing is the making of stories, and reading what someone has written or hearing how a reader responds to your work has as much impact as seeing a robot that you just built (probably by following written instructions).

I learned that there is a review of the covers of Make Magazine, and that 85% of the covers are of white males – most with physical computing materials (LEDs, Makey Makeys, robots, circuit boards). That seems rather exclusive. Perhaps if we, the connected educators and learning loving technologists, lead by example and do our best to integrate makers of all stripes and colors, maybe we have a chance to positively impact education before we’re all using Mountain Dew to water our gardens.

Later, Chad Sansing and I ran a 90 minute session called “Learning to #teachtheweb”. The session was packed, and it flew by. We ran an Agenda designed to allow the teachers in the room to explore the Webmaker ethos, tools and curriculum, then brainstorm ideas to use some of what they’d learned in their classrooms. For the first time ever, we managed to (sort of) fail at running a Spectrogram by choosing statements that we thought would be controversial, but weren’t to this audience. We had a good discussion anyway and the activity served its purpose by loosening up the room. To my great happiness, there were some amazing Webmaker Mentors in the room who worked with their NWP colleagues to make some hilarious commentaries and goofy projects. We facilitated peer to peer learning and in what seemed like 5 seconds, the session was over.

After cleanup and slurping down more coffee, I headed over to the Hacking the Storybook session by Nexmap (Dec 5th there’s a webinar – go check it out!). There, I learned that I could use copper tape and a little bit of amaze balls to make my illustrations and stories light up.

my LED illustration

Jie Qi, from the MIT MediaLab, showed off her amazing prototype circuit stickers designed to make circuitry accessible to any one. Combined with the NWP innovators, Jennifer and David, Hacking the Storybook was a 90 minute session that reminded me what it feels like to learn something in a field you’ve unconsciously avoided.

They’ve already reached their 1$ funding goal, but this project is worth supporting, watch the video to find out why. Read more about this session in this DigitalIs post from Paul Oh.

On Friday, we ran the Make. Hack. Play. Agenda for another packed room of educators. First, we introduced ourselves and then we played a game of Evolution: EduGeek Edition. It was the first time I’d played this game (props to Colin for documenting it during the 1st #teachtheweb MOOC).

Evolution is fun for everyone, and you can hack it to fit your audience.

I am, without a doubt, going to play it at events more often. Holy moly was it fantastic. The room was full of smiles as Chad, Paul and I explained why NWP and Mozilla are kindred spirits and quickly demoed some tools.

Finally, we had a little over 2 hours to make, and make we did. Though I intended a targeted Mini Scrum, it seemed like the attendees wanted to explore the tools in their own way. I have ideas on how I may have prompted them more specifically, but in the end the session was such a success, I don’t see much of a reason to be any more openly critical. Suffice to say, I, as usual, learned more ways to improve my own practice.

A very special thanks to the Mentors who could have gone to other sessions and instead joined Webmaker focused sessions. Consistently awesome and helpful to others, I’m so lucky to have met some #teachtheweb advocates in this network face-to-face (after months, if not years, of online relationships).

It was wonderful to see and meet so many passionate educators. I was so pleased by how people reacted to #teachtheweb and the work we’ve been doing at Mozilla. I was so pleased to get to introduce our work to people who didn’t yet know that the NWP and Mozilla have been working together for the past year and a half or so. The most pleasing thing though is knowing that that we are making an impact and that there are lots of people out there who are eager to contribute to this work.

*Simple image/text based websites seem to be harder to argue

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