EDUC 587

TED Talk: Expanding our Definition of Writing for the 21st Century

This is my final assignment for EDUC 587. Thanks for watching and for a great semester! Apologies for the slightly crunchy audio–I accidentally recorded from my webcam, not my microphone.

EDUC 587

Week 13: Outlining My TED Talk

To offer a very basic outline of my TED Talk, I intend to structure it much the same as I structure a lot of my writing. It starts with a presentation of the problem (and evidence to support it) with an explanation of from where the problem stems and then a proposed solution (again, with evidence, ideally from one’s own practice). I find this to be a logical structure that most TED Talks follow. If I were to ask my students to do a TED Talk and create a basic pre-writing map for them, those would be the three major boxes I would have them fill in!

EDUC 587

Week 12: What might be the topic of your TED Talk?

English Language Arts teachers are faced with a massive challenge: to engage students in reading and critically thinking about the things they read as well as equipping them with the functional and lifelong writing skills that they will need throughout their lives. In the late 20th century, English Language Arts largely adopted the process-driven writing approach championed by such giants as Donald Graves, Donald Murphey, Nancie Atwell, and Lucy Calkins; in this approach, “students are writing more; they have a definite image of themselves as writers; and most teacher-directed plans for the product-oriented, five-paragraph essays… fossilize in some landfill” (Schweiker-Marra, Broglie, & Plumer, 1997, p. 16). But with the advent of Common Core standards and standardized exams, many teachers have more recently drawn back from this approach, hoping instead to focus on the formal writing skills and genres that students were found deficient in from national test results (Goldstein, 2017).

While I believe it is crucial that students do learn to write a five-paragraph essay and are adequately prepared for their standardized exams, we as English Language Arts teachers cannot develop tunnel vision. Yes, students need to understand the difference between independent and dependent clauses and how to develop a coherent thesis, they also need to learn to enjoy writing and creating in English Language Arts—and they can only do so when they have ownership what they produce in the classroom. Hales (2017) wrote of students who were disengaged from writing because they felt their writing was not “guided by their decisions” (p. 15)—instead, they were given concrete guidelines by their teacher, and their teacher was their only audience.

And so, for my TED Talk, I want to focus on how we must expand our definition of writing in English Language Arts by introducing concepts of making and makerspaces as well as provide a regular space in our curriculum in which students can create imaginative projects that go beyond writing (or typing) on a page. I believe there is a need for this especially in secondary school; as students transition out of elementary school into the demands of middle and high school, too often the creative projects (and creative writing) fall by the wayside. I believe this can result in students re-engaging with writing, developing more positive attitudes toward English Language Arts, and feeling more ownership and purpose in their writing.

To help model this vision, I hope to turn to some projects I have done with students as well as efforts by other educators. For example, McGlynn and Kelly (2019) offer the example of an educator who “threw a collection of supplies that she already had in her classroom (i.e., index cards, craft sticks, modeling clay, markers, chart paper, and sticky notes) into a storage box that her students could use to create prototypes for their next written pieces” (p. 22). This practice can replace the basic pre-writing map or chart that so many English teachers use and instead lets students model their thinking in a way that makes sense to them, whatever form that might take. I am also inspired by Angela Stockman, who developed a Young Writer’s Studio in Buffalo, NY in pursuit of this vision and who provides a toolkit and guide for teachers looking to do the same in their classroom.


Goldstein, D. (2017, August 2). Why Kids Can’t Write. Retrieved from The New York Times:

Hales, P. D. (2017, January). “Your writing, not my writing”: Discourse analysis of student talk about writing. Cogent Education, 4(1).

McGlynn, K., & Kelly, J. (2019, September). Making it work: Incorporating design thinking into all areas of instruction to fit the needs of unique learners. Science Scope, 43(2), 20-25.

Schweiker-Marra, K., Broglie, M., & Plumer, E. (1997, October). Who says so? Ownership, authorship, and privacy in process writing classrooms. The English Journal, 86(6), 16-26.

Stockman, A. (2015, February). Makerspaces for Writers: Three Layers of Design. Retrieved from Angela Stockman:

EDUC 587

Week 11: What would you need to coordinate a “Maker Day” for your school?

A Maker Day is a fantastic way to offer a proof of concept and a trial run for establishing a dedicated makerspace within one’s school. I will start my first year teaching 7th grade English Language Arts in September, and I am always looking for wars to engage students in authentic, hands-on learning activities as a break from the traditional reading and writing. One project that caught my eye was Easy Stop Motion Animation for Beginners. I did stopmotion projects for both school and for fun when I was in high school, and I did one in the past few weeks for EDUC 586 that I connected to English Language Arts content standards: produce a stopmotion animation that interprets a scene from a literary text. I used a scene from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!

EDUC 587

Week 10: Burning Man Project

I had a hard time getting started on this project. These past two weeks were very overwhelming for me (both in school work and personally), so I don’t know that I satisfied the vision of this project (or the assignment), at least not as I wanted to. Instead I chose to simply make my own version of the Chibitronics project that I shared on my blog in Week 9. My goal was to just start working and see where it took me. I’m not really in a situation where it’s easy to create a video right now, so instead I’m going to narrate my process with pictures.

As I said in my previous Week 10 post, I have a lot of recyclables building up in my apartment. So I took some cardboard and styrofoam from that pile, as well as some printer paper, some cable ties, and tape to form my materials.

I then started thinking about my own favorite poems (ee cummings especially, because the creator of the original project used an ee cummings poem, and I just generally really love him. I chose the final two lines from “since feeling is first.” I printed them out on the paper.

Using a box cutter (I wish I had an Xacto knife), I cut out the parenthesis.

I wanted to create a kind of open box for the paper to sit above. The backing would have all the lights and copper tape, and the LEDs would then shine through the holes I cut in the paper. So I started cutting the styrofoam into edges for the box, and taping the styrofoam onto a cardboard backing. I tried using the natural edges already in the stryofoam, but they were wildly different heights once I cut them, so I had to trim them down to be roughly even.

As it turns out, cutting styrofoam makes a mess and I highly discourage anyone else from using it.

I then started to create mini-cardboard borders that I thought would contain the light and prevent it from bleeding out–I only wanted the parentheses to be illuminated.

With that done, I started laying my copper tape and testing it.

OK — the hard part was done. But when I laid the paper over, I realized how ill-conceived the mini-box idea was.

My plan to fix that was to add an additional cardboard backing–this time affixed to the paper–which would also have a cutout for the parentheses. That way, the cardboard would block most of the light. So I started cutting again.

And then testing.

That was better, but some light was still bleeding out. So I knew then that I had to create a full cardboard backing, and then just abandon the mini-box idea.

Much better! Now to try out the cable ties. My plan was to use them for edges of the parentheses, to create a cleaner look. But I couldn’t seem to get them to stay with just the tape. A hot glue gun would probably have worked, but I don’t have one at home.

I’m going to keep toying around with different ideas on how to affix them, but here’s a short video showing the effect.

All in all, I’m not 100% pleased with the end result, but I’m glad I was able to sit down and produce something, even in the midst of a difficult week.

EDUC 587

Week 10: Burning Man

Because the makerspace was delayed until this weekend and I have been absolutely swamped this week finishing an independent research project, I have not had a lot of time to think about what my contribution to our mini-Burning Man community will be. I thought I’d use this blog space a bit more informally than I have in previous weeks to think through resources that I have at home and what I can do with them.

Last week, seeing that the quarantine would likely last some time and frustrated by sharing my desktop computer, my boyfriend and I decided to build him a PC to use to create videos and other instructional resources for his kindergarteners (and also play games, if we ever have the time). So I am left with a lot of packaging materials—styrofoam, cardboard, plastics, and cable ties. Normally, I would find somewhere to recycle these materials, but since I’m shut up at home for the foreseeable future and my usually spots are closed right now (if you’re in the Oneonta area, the Otsego County Reuse Center can recycle clean white styrofoam!), they’re just kind of hanging around until I take them out as garbage. So it might be fun to “upcycle” those materials into something new.

I have to admit that I am a little skeptical of the concept of Burning Man, personally. While I do believe there are some incredible art installations done there and I believe folks have transformative experiences there, I can’t get past my preconceived notion of the whole thing being kind of a hedonistic venture for well-off folks who can afford to take a week off of work to “escape” from their hollow capitalistic existence… and then return right to being businessmen the day after. I have also read conflicting information about their actual ecological impact–yes a philosophy is to leave no trace at the playa, but that apparently leads to attendees just dumping everything on the nearby roads instead. Boy, I think the quarantine is making me more cynical!

I’m also reminded of the Burning Man episode of Malcolm in the Middle–highly recommend to anyone who wants to see a fun take on the event, though it is, I think, several seasons into the show and may not make sense to those unfamiliar with the characters.

So in thinking about what to create, I am having trouble working around that wall. I think now more than ever, however, what we all need is a bit of joy and whimsy in our lives. So my vision for my contribution to the makerspace this week, I hope, will be something that makes folks smile or laugh in some way. That’s about all of a direction I can think about at this point.

EDUC 587

Week 9: Chibitronics in English Language Arts

When researching how educators have used Chibitronics with their students, I wanted to look specifically for English Language Arts applications – both because it is my content area and because I think it is often excluded from folks thinking about STEM learning. I wanted to bridge that gap and find ways to blend STEM learning into a “soft” subject like English.

I found this awesome lesson plan on Instructables that used the Chibitronics kit to make Light Up Poetry—basically, a visual interpretation of a poem. You can download the detailed lesson plan here (you’ll need a free account to access it) or watch a quick YouTube video that shows off the final result.

I think the instructor made a great choice in using an ee cummings poem for the project. I am generally a fan of ee cummings, but his poetry can be very abstract, especially for students who are relatively new to experimental and modernist poems. The visual display created with Chibitronics helps to convey the emotion of the poem.

I also appreciated the design process that the instructor includes in her lesson plan. She describes the challenges she faced in getting the light up display to look exactly how she wanted—she experimented with different paper types, printing methods, and other materials to have the leaves and words visible exactly how she imagined. It’s exactly the kind of prototyping and revising that we want our student makers to do!

When I looked at the final product show in the YouTube video, I was reminded of a poetry book project I did with my 11th graders when I was student teaching. Students selected a poem they had written throughout the unit and transformed an old book to become a visual interpretation of the poem. We then had a gallery walk where students viewed their classmates’ projects and spoke to the artist and poet about their interpretive choices. Now I’m imagining all the creative, amazing ways the students could have used Chibitronics and LEDs to push the book projects even further!

EDUC 587

Light Up an LED & Code a Blink

This week we started on the Chibitronics Love to Code kit. Here’s my first two projects!

//Love to Code
//Volume 1: Basic Blink

void setup() {

void loop() {
EDUC 587

Keyboard Interface

I chose to do the Keyboard Interface project for this week’s makerspace. I had two major problems completing it — stuttering sound on the first button and using the wrong resistors — and I explain in the video how I fixed those.

EDUC 587

Week Six: Working with WordPress

After our #wemake19 Twitter chat this week, it should come as no surprise that I love working with WordPress. I use it for my personal blog (spoiler alert: I ported the theme customizations I did there over to this site) and my podcast’s website. I’ve been working with WordPress on and off for years, mostly for tinkering purposes, and playing in web design for even longer. I was a really nerdy teenager.

When I customize any site, including this one, I usually start with an idea in my head. Maybe I stumbled across a really attractive website when browsing, or maybe I found a new font to obsessed with – believe it or not, that happens fairly regularly. (My current favorite is Work Sans. I am also very fond of Gotham, which was used for a fantastic book design for one of my favorite books, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I like blocky, sans-serif fonts.) Right now, I am using the WordPress default theme Twenty Twenty with some tweaks on top; however, I am hoping to create a theme from scratch for this site. I usually begin with a rough sketch on a post it.

Here’s a sketch I did a few weeks ago for the theme I want to code for this site.

The sketches aren’t super detailed; they’re more for me to plan out layouts and what elements I want on the page. They’re also usually stuck really random places (the above image is my weekly planner). Sometimes, I’ll do a mockup in Photoshop before I get to coding. Here’s an example of one I did before I redid my podcast website.

From there, I like to start with a fresh base. I am fond of _s (or underscores), which is a free, open source theme base for WordPress that starts you off with the basic templates you need, but not a lot of faff to sort through. It’s free and open source, too, which I look for in just about anything digital I do. Then I code. I code for a really long time, partly because I’m not very good at coding. I only know HTML, CSS, and some very, very basic PHP. I’ve mostly had to teach myself PHP through my WordPress projects, actually, and it mirrors my experience with (trying to) learn oral languages – I can usually read more than I can speak (or write, in this case), which isn’t saying a lot considering that PHP is very semantic. I like to code using Atom and Firebug, which is Firefox’s web console that lets you examine just what’s happening on a webpage and what code is being loaded. It takes out a lot of the guesswork, and it also allows you to make live tweaks—so it’s useful for trying out some code when you can’t quite figure out how things work.

Other times, I’m trying to solve some kind of problem, or make my life more convenient, or automate something I have to do often. I put myself in a weird cross section there: I’m lazy, and I want technology to do some work for me. But I’m also cheap and determined, so I work hard to figure out how to automate things myself, even if it involves a language or technique I’ve never used before, because I don’t want to pay someone else to do it. I want to figure it out on my own, understand how it works, and sink the time I would usually spend doing manual work making computers do the work for me.

None of this happens without resources I find on the web, though. All of my web design and coding knowledge is entirely self-taught, mostly through intense Googling and trial and error. W3 Schools, CSS-Tricks, and the WordPress Development Stack Exchange are some of my favorite resources.