I continued my tradition of sticking to a genre during the summer between semesters. As I traversed the halls of high school I hung comfortably with historical fiction. Last year I focused on the summer of zombies. This year I broke from the brain hungry to focus more on the brainy.

Science Fiction.

I never read science fiction (or fantasy) at a younger age. It seemed like the genre  for “others.” As my research interest drew me into digital technologies I was drawn into science fiction. The two fields weave together into a common narrative.

So as we embark on a semester of studying Children’s literature I want to share my summer reads.

The Thrawn Trilogy

I started my summer of sci-fi by celebrating the 25th anniversary of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. These are the only three sci-fi books I read in  middle school.

I chose these books before Disney banished what once has a strong chance of being the tales in the Star Wars Canon. Lucasfilms, in order to appeal to mass markets, have sent the books into the Extended Universe. The tales now have no impact on the Star Wars Universe.

These books are great. I have always found Leia, in the novels, to be too much “damsel in distress, when compared to the trilogy but characters such as Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn make this a great read.

The Martian


What a book. The Martian tells the tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars for over year. He has to survive for over a year. The book does not feel like a science fiction novel. It reads like science. Nothing in the tale seemed far fetch. I usually am not a fan of single character stories but The Martian blew me away.

Ready Player One


Best book of the summer. I loved the tale. It tells the story of Wade Watts in the year 2045 as he competes in a virtual world called, “The Oasis.” The founder of the game died and created a game to win his billions. Watts works with his friends to battle evil corporation in the competition. What makes the story special are the endless references to 1980’s culture. The book is a perfect mix of fanfiction. It is “Wonder Years” for geeks.

Hatching Twitter


Not all the books I read were fiction. I also read Nick Bilton’s retelling of the history of Twitter. I have always been a fan of Ev Williams and his philosophy of bringing publishing to the people. The story of Twitter’s founding also helps to frame education . The entrepreneurial knowledge and and grit the Twitter founders inspired my thinking about schooling.

Gutenberg the Geek


A short read on the first information age advancement. Jarvis compares Gutenberg to the start ups today.

 The Hyperion Cantos

The next set of texts I read were a series of books published by Dan Simmons. The serial tells of the tale of a great battle between humanity and artificial intelligence known as the technocore. It spans centuries of time, involves time travel, a little deux ex machina, and some interesting twists.







Education Related Titles

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My professional reading revolved around major issues in education. I of course focused on the changing nature of literacy with titles by Henry Jenkis and James Gee.

I also read different perspectives of the educational reform movement.

Sharing what You Read

Every semester I have my teacher candidates complete an auto-biography of themselves as a reader and writer. I throw out this caveat: if you do not have a love for the written you need to choose a different career path (same goes with math phobia but that is a different post).

As teachers we need to let students know we read for enjoyment and share and discuss what we read with the class.


As an e-editor for the Literacy Research Association I am part of an amazing collaborative of folks trying to connect our work to classroom practice. In order to move towards this goal we have started a series of monthly focused netcasts. Each month we highlight a current issue in literacy research.  This month we are focusing on academic vocabulary.

Twitter Introductory Chat

We begin each month by framing the issue using the #literacies hashtag. The preshow Twitter chat is held the first Thursday of the month. Four questions guided the chat

  • What is the role of direct vocabulary instruction vs. learning language through use in context?
  • What is the balance between “academic” vocabulary & technical or discipline specific vocabulary?
  • How does technology impact vocabulary acquisition?
  • What implications in instructional practices and principles should we consider?

Hangout on Air NetCast

We then hold a netcast featuring some of the most important minds in the field of literacy research. The show on Academic Vocabulary will be tonight (5/6) at 8:00 pm es.t Join Freddy HiebertJim Burke, Bridget Dalton, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, and Michael Manderino for the LRA Learning Research to Practice show.

The show is available via Google Hangouts-on-Air. This broadcasts the show live, which means you can watch the show live while it is happening…and ask questions. To get involved in the show, you can view (and ask questions) here. You can also watch it on YouTube after the show has completed, and share with teachers, students, and other educational partners that you believe would be interested in the topics, or the series.

The purpose of the Research to Practice series is to connect current research and “best principles” to what is happening in the classroom.

Twitter Follow Up Chat

Then on the third Thursday of the moth we have a follow up chat once again using the #literacies hashtag. This will be on 5/15 at 8:00 pm.

Come Join Us

The monthly series that the Literacy Research Association have developed can be very rewarding for practicing and pre-service teachers. We encourage you to watch past episodes. Most importantly please join us tonight (5/6) and use the twitter hashtag #literacies during the show.

As a teacher educator I have incorporated these monthly topics into my classroom. I know of school districts that now use the monthly series as part of personalized professional development. Whatever your purpose and goals I hope to see you there,

To get involved in the show, you can view (and ask questions) here: www.youtube.com/user/LiteracyResearch/live

Two percent. Just 2% of code separates us from our Chimpanzee brethren. Yet that small difference has lead to humanities’ migration, the rise and fall of civilizations, and the creation of vast works of art.

Small differences matter.

Much like our genetic code online reading and traditional reading share many similarities. The differences, however, create a layer of complexity that mirror the vast chasm found in the cognitive abilities of chimpanzees and humans. Yes those students who have the prerequisite social practices to succeed in traditional academic reading tasks do outperform peers in online reading environments. Yet these shared cognitive skills and social practices do not explain all the differences in performance when we measure online reading comprehension.

via Pixabay

New and more complex skills and practices are required to read in online environments. This 2% (an analogy not actual data) represents the set of skills and practice that allow some learners to take online texts and reshape the meaning for future learning.

Michio Kaku in his book The Future of the Mind describes the difference between primate and human consciousness in terms of simulating the future. Kaku wrote (2014, chapter 7, 24:26):

Human consciousness involves the ability to create a model of the world and then simulate the model of the world in order to obtain a goal.

For Kaku intelligence should be a mark of how divergent thinking allows some to create more complex models and more frequent simulations of the future.

I see many parallels with definitions of online reading comprehension. When reading online more successful students do not simply assimilate information as traditional definitions comprehension would have us believe. Skilled online readers “manipulate and mold information to achieve a higher goal” (Kaku, 2014, chapter 7, 24:26). Based on my dissertation research and classroom observations I see three critical shifts: strategic text assembly, socially complex texts, and multimodal design.

Strategic Text Assembly

For the brief amount of time that book reigned in human history the reader did not have to build her own texts. An editor, publisher or author had the power of creating and shaping the texts we read. No more. Skilled online readers engage in strategic text assembly which I define as the ability to read for meaning while flexibly applying both navigation strategies and comprehension monitoring strategies.

Navigational Strategies

In my research navigational skills was a key difference between successful online readers and those who could not accomplish an inquiry task. The students who could manage multiple tabs, navigate search engines, and move between multiple sources did better. These are the easily quantifiable and teachable differences as we shift to reading online.

Comprehension Monitoring

Comprehension monitoring, or checking your own levels of understanding has always been recognized as an important skill for meaning making. Here online reading and traditional comprehension share much of the same DNA. Students who succeed in online environments skimmed more websites and spent more time engaged with sources when they judged them to be relevant.

I also noticed an intersection of background knowledge and working memory.A lack of background knolwedge did not phase skilled readers. This I documented in my work as very few students knew much about the domain of my inquiry tasks (American Revolution). I also noticed but did not have the data to fully support the thesis in my dissertation, that these skilled readers seemed to have a more robust working memory. They seemed to hold more information in their working memories that they could later mold into new meanings. They could quickly use the information they read and check it against their understanding of texts they visit in three or four clicks.

Socially Complex Texts

A believe the participatory nature of online texts requires a fundamental shift in how we define texts. Socially complex texts, concurrent arguments that unfold in print and social media with varying degrees of authority and amplification, now dominate our online reading environments. Basically socially complex texts are authored by opposing forces discussing an issue with equal passion and often mutual disdain. This requires a new set of reading skills to detect bait-clicking, astro turfing, and real grass root efforts. Accomplishing these goals requires readers to put a much larger emphasis on not only sourcing skills but also analytics.

Sourcing Skills

In my work, and in the research of those much smarter, we have established adolescent and adult readers do not attend to sources. I found very little evidence of readers evaluating websites. I asked students to identify authors, evaluate an author’s expertise, evaluate a publisher, evaluate bias, and evaluate sources within a source. Few students could identify an author let alone evaluate other markers of credibility.

We must teach students greater sourcing skills. We need them to engage in multiple source readings. More importantly we cannot decontextualize sourcing skills. A checklist approach, or a third step in some inquiry cycle will not work. Credibility judgements interweave through out the meaning making process and change based on the reading of tasks.


I have argued that analytics is the most important literacy skill that no one is teaching. At least not in the field of literacy. Definitely not at the K-12 level. Analytics involves so much more than click counting. By examining how an idea travels, the frequency of times readers and authors mention an idea, and tracing it back to its source all require analytics. These skills are even more critical when we begin to think about writing in multimodal spaces.

Multimodal Design

Design matters. Readers must understand how multimodal choices affect the meaning process. As part of our Teaching Internet Comprehension to Adolescents grant I worked with a seventh grade urban classroom in the Northeast. We discussed how design affects meaning making. We looked at three websites about Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Philadelphia man who contests his death row conviction of killing a police officer. The first text used an informational text structure and tried to inform the audience. The second two, one from Abu-Jamal supporters and one published by the police union took argumentative stances. We discussed and examined how the font and color choices impacted meaning and tone.

I can teach students to write argumentative essays in online environments but I could never account for the impact of design using pencil and paper.


Small differences in code matters. I have not done a full analysis but if I examined the wizard behind most webpages I am sure the majority of text is copy. The HTML and CSS probably account for a smllaer percentage. Yet just as our intelligence and consciousness is contained in just 2% of our DNA code, this small amount of code has changed reading and writing forever.

On Monday we held the second Literacy Research Association Netcast. We put together an amazing panel on Grpahic Novels

I, a novice in the world of Graphic Novels, was struck by a few salient points.

First there is a general misconception about the complexity of Graphic Novels. Many teacher erroneously believe that graphic novels step down from the complexity of texts. This belief the panelists argued is cuased by numerous novel adaptations that create the illusion of being less complex. When we examine the body of work that began as graphic novels and not as adaptions the layers of meaning captured both in and out of frame become clear.

The complexity in graphic novels involves three levels. The vocabulary of graphic novels often exceeds other grade level texts. Yet lexile scores use sentence length so they disfavor graphic novels. The second level of complexity involves the art. In fact expert comic book readers pay more attention to the art rather than words when compared to novice readers. The third level of complexity emerges at the intersection of art and words and in the spaces between panels

David Low, a panelist, coined the term graphile to describe this additional qualitative difference. The presenters agreed this where we need to mov in order to support teachers. We do not need to justify the use of graphic novels but understand the challenges of graphile complexities. We need to move past talking about modes in graphic novels but delve into how people use those modes for meaning making. Finally we need to develop a system to evaulate the quality of graphic novels so we can make recommendations to teachers.

The first stories we told tried to describe the unknown while developing a sense of the self with tales of great heroes, ferocious monsters, disastrous floods, and lands of unsurpassed beauty. For millennia, these tales were passed from mouth to ear. Then, as writing emerged the first stories ever written regaled the adventures of Sargon and Gilgamesh. Now with the flood of new technologies students can navigate the vast seas of information and enjoy the journeys of epic adventurers online. Folklore and myths, provide an opportunity to connect the oldest known narratives with the newest text to emerge, the Internet.

Technology has always acted as a catalyst for literary change (Leu & Kinzer, 2000), yet the ancient tales of oral traditions remain the same. As a result the same traits of mythological and folklore heroes first identified by early folklorist such as Edward Taylor, George von Hahn, and Vladimir Propp (Segal, 1990) have spread through the Internet. These yarns are no longer bound to cultural of physical boundaries. Audiences today have access to the written and oral traditions from infinite resources and many cultures. Readers can use these online resources to develop an understanding of mythology and folklore, which Dundes (1989) called, “crucial to establishing a sense of identity or senses of identity” (p. vii). In this weeks post I describe a mythology unit I taught that utilized the internet.

Looking back three years later, I see how the lesson not only introduced the affordances of the internet but also allowed students to develop and share their own voice.

Creation Myths

As teachers we can use narrative hypertext to introduce students to new literacies (Castek, Bevans-Mangelson, Goldstone, 2006). First, literacy classrooms have a strong focus on literature and this can allow children to dedicate more cognitive energy into the development of new literacies skills. Second, reading and writing online motivates students. (McNabb, 2006). Therefore, online narrative texts, like creation myths, offer opportunities for students to interact with ICT’s. Students can analyze an author’s use of hypertext features, and reflect on how their comprehension skills change because of digital texts. In order to do this in my class I had students read myths using offline texts, static webpages, and multimedia flash stories.

We began by first reading the Greek Creation myth in D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths . We discussed the myth and created an interactive storyboard. Basically I would retell the myth as we read. The kids loved when I, in the role of Cronus, would puke up my children. Granted I added plenty of green goo and audio effects.

Next we read Murtagh’s Common Elements of Creation Myths When previewing the Murtagh website with students I asked questions like, “Why does the author link words in her text to other pages? Which buttons did you use to navigate the text? Did you choose the hyperlinks in the text or those listed at the bottom? What caused confusion during your navigational choices? Can the author have made it easier for the reader to find the creation myths?” These questions had the student evaluate the decision the author made and lead to an understanding of how to effectively navigate online text.

Finally we moved from a static website with hyperlinks to ineractive multimedia stories on bigmyth.comThe interactive website https://www.bigmyth.com provides students a launching point for the study of creation mythology. The website, created by Distant Train and the International Association of Intercultural Education provides flash videos of creation myths from around the world. The videos contain animation, text, and sound while they retell creation myths from every corner of the globe. Along with each myth, the authors created a series of activities for students after they finish reading a myth. When choosing a myth students must select buttons that overlay a map of the globe. Some buttons, those in red, are free, and other grey buttons only work with a subscription. I started conversations with questions such as, “Why do you think the authors use a map as a navigation menu? How does geography affect a culture’s outlook? Why would the author’s choose to provide some myths for free and charge for others? Why and how did the author’s choose one culture for the free version and decide to include other cultures as part of a subscription?

After we had read texts using a variety of tools we discussed the formats and how they Internet changed reading for the students on a class discussion board.Some of their responses are below:

Thread 15 Posted by Mr. Mac
How is reading a a book different from reading a static website (no animation), and an animated website? How are your reading comprehension skills of predicting, summarizing, clarifying, questioning, and connecting used differently between medias. Compare and contrast.

In media myths (animated), static online myths, and books are different because they both affext how you have to think. For instance, in a book you have to read the text by yourself, picture the characters in your head, and
predict what will happen on the next page or two. In an animated myth you can have the computer read the myth to you or read it yourself, there are pictures and you don’t have to picture it in your head like when you read a book, you also have a variety of links on the web pages and you have to narrow down the choices that will help you, you have to predict what will happen on the next page that you go to just like when you read a book. When you read a static myth you can’t picture the scenes and characters in your head like you can when you watch a myth online, you still can have the
computer read the myth to you, you are also forced to predict the same way
you have to in the other media types. When you connect to the real world I
think that it is easier to do it in a book that you have to read than in any
type of myth online.

I think that reading a book is different than using a computer by that when using a computer you are more motivated to actually read and pay attention. Also, when using the computer your reading skills are different because you can read longer or shorter versions of stories, you can understand the stoy better when you have animated picttures of scens so you know what’s going on, and sometimes you can have a recording read the story out loud to you while you read along so, you can understand the story the way it is supposed to sound. In a book you only have pictures that can be sometimes complicated. and you have to read it when you might not understand it. Predicting is different because on a computer you have to predict what a page is going to be about, where a different page will take you, and if the information on that page will be important to you.In a book you have to predict what will be on the next page of the book. When summarizing on a computer you can use animated pictures and different pages or sites to help you, where in a book you have to use the detailed descriptions to help you. when questionning a book you want to find your answer in the pages and detailed descriptions of the book to help you where on a computer you have many differentways to find an answer to your question. A computer may be easier for most kids.

Reading a book is different from reading a website without pictures/animation because on a website you can take notes on a document and look up words, phrases, or things that confused you, or you ask someone. Where as, when your reading a book, you tend to just try to figure things out on your own using the text, instead of looking them up or asking someone. On an animated website you tend to use the animations to figure things out instead of using the text, looking it up, or asking someone. Your reading comprehension skills are used different because when you predict in a book you usually tell someone else who has read the book, or keep it to your self. You also predict on what will happen next/to the main character. While predicting on a website you predict where links will take you, what will happen in the animation, and what will happen next/to the main character. When you summarize a book you either write it all or self, or copy off the back. When you write a summary of a webpage, you usually
copy and paste it into a word document.

From the responses it is evident that many comprehension strategies do change as texts move online and that students prefer to have the tools of the internet available to them as they read.

Finally to measure how students understood how comprehension strategies evolve as text changed they created their own multimedia poems using PPT. The students had to pick a myth or God/Goddess not taught in class and create a retelling. The PPT had to include the myth, a family tree, use action buttons, include a quiz, and also prompt students to use comprehension strategies. I wish I could share the products they came out great!

Writing your own Creation Myth

The next part of the unit had the students write a creation myth for a fictional world of their own design.

Returning to BigMyth.com we explored the understanding that literature cannot be separated from its historical context. For example in the Inuit creation myth berries and animals are spread far apart to reduce over hunting. We also used the Inuit creation myth to explore gender roles. What are the implications when women are created to cure the boredom of man? Why is the woman the helper and companion of the man? These gender roles, along with other elements of culture, could then be contrasted to other creation myths.

The students identified common elements of creation myths from the list provided on Murtagh’s Common Elements of Creation Myths. They also contrasted creation myths. For example the Inuit myth was based on hunter/gatherer culture while the Incan myth had a clear connection of the divine right of rulers.

Next the students, using an adapted version of the graphic organizer provided by BigMyth.com planned a fictional culture. They then wrote a creation myth that this culture would believe in. I assessed them on the fictional connections between their myth and their culture (also on the hero archetype, but more on that lesson later. The stories came out great.

Fiction and Agency
More importantly than their content learning, what I loved the most was the expression of student voices throughout the unit. For example, Lauren (pseudonym), an adopted student of Haitian descent, wove the mythology she read online with her own sense of identity to further explore culture and identity through writing literature.

After spending time reading multimedia versions of creation mythology, Lauren created a fictional nation where the people had a culture that revolved around the sea. She, then wrote a creation story of a people kicked out of their planet who had to travel to another galaxy on a ship. On the way the boat crashed and became a new planet, which the people inhabited. In her brief myth elements common to her culture and identity are evident. The ship may represent a common theme from mythology she read, a connection to Haitian culture, it may serve as a metaphor to the greater African Diaspora, or build upon her sense as an adopted child. She used the Internet and literature to explore her own identity and, as a reader, make connections to the stories she read online.

Lauren’s adventure began by reading an online multimedia myth about the Voudon creation myth, which developed in Haitian culture. After enjoying the tale she went to the Internet and found many people discussing links between Caribbean mythology and African mythology. She became very interested in looking for connections between the myths of Western Africa, the myth she just read, and her own beliefs. After exploring the Yoruba creation myth she noted the common elements of water that exist in both myths. She then spent time comparing the Vodoun and Yoruba cultures and commented that it was nice to learn about “where she came from.” As an adopted child who did not share the same culture of her parents she used online literature to explore her sense of identity, culture, and place in the world.

Other students also expressed themselves through the creation myth unit. One student, who fancied herself a comedian, wrote about a haphazardous culture that worshiped a porcupine god (her world was modeled after Vail, CO) and everyone was ordered to constantly shop. Many of the boys chose to write about empire cultures (although it was hard to convince them that in a short story choose a battle not the entire war). These worlds often focused on adolescent ideals of sports such as motorcross or ATV’s.


I know this is way too long for a blog post, but I wanted to share this lesson. When I tell teachers I was studying common elements of creation myths and hero archetypes with sixth graders they are amzed, but my students loved it. Below is a list of mythology resources online. I haven’t checked the links so many maybe dead. Good luck and have fun using the oldest stories with some of the newest literacy tools.

Common Elements of Creation Myths
A student created website that explores common characteristics in creation myths.

The Big Myth
A collection of creation myths from around the world retold using Flash movies.

Online Mythology and Folklore Collections Encyclopedia Mythica https://www.pantheon.org/
An online encyclopedia of world mythology organized by continent.

Timeless Myths https://www.timelessmyths.com/
A collection of Norse, Classical, Celtic, and Arthurian Mythology.

In Search of Myths and Heroes
Companion website for PBS television show. Contains many myths from around the world and an overview of the hero archetype.

African Mythology and Folklore
A dictionary of African God/Goddesses and a collection of African myths and folktales.

Cutting to the Essence
A description of the West African Yoruba people’s Gods, arts, and mythology

Chinese Myths and Fantasies
An overview and history of Chinese mythology.

Crystal Dragon of Taiwan
A collection of Chinese myths and fables.

Greek Mythology
An online dictionary of Greek Gods/Goddesses, myths, and heroes.

Greek Mythology Link
A comprehensive website with biographies, topics, stories, and Spanish versions of Greek Myths.

A collection of animated Greek Myths.

Winged Sandals
An Interactive flash sites with fully animated movies, games, and many extras.

Hawaiian Mythology
A website created by students at Ahuimanu Elementary School containing a collection of Hawaiian myths.

Indian Divinity
An animated flash adventure detailing Hindu creation mythology.

American Folklore
An anthology of American folklore.

Legends of America
Comprehensive collection of Native American myths, American folklore, and tall tales.

Mexico Connect
A collection of Mayan, Aztec, and Mexican myths and fables.
Mythology of the Inca and Maya
A collection of myths from Central and South America and lesson plans for the classroom.

Native American Mythology
A collection of myths from Native Americans and lesson plans for the classroom

Windows to the Universe
An overview of Aztec mythology with Spanish and English Versions and three reading levels,

I had promised everyone a list of ten poetry and technology activities, but that will have to wait. Something more important and way cuter has come up.

My son (14 mo) recently decided that books are for reading and not simply for eating. Watching him interact with language has reinforced my connection to Street’s idea of literacy as a social practice.

Baby John’s favorite book is “Spot Loves hiss Daddy” by Eric Hill. While I would like to proclaim his love for the book is a result of pure favoritism that simply is not true. In fact, linguistically, John still uses mama and dada indiscreetly making no distinction between myself, his mother and a lampost. Spot Loves his Daddy just had a tale that wove in his first three discrete words: ball, dog, duck. He can recognize these words in pictures, real-life, and illustration.

This got me thinking about how comprehension and literacy is so tied to prior knowledge and past experiences. John received a ball for his first birthday and loves to play. We have two dogs: a border collie named Esteban and an Aussie mix named Thali. Finally my college roomate, on the day John was born bought him a set of bathroom rubber duckies. These quickly became his favorite chew toys.

It is very interesting watching his language and interactions with texts (in the writ large sense) evolve. Makes me think about the connections to the classroom. Teachers should question deficit models of reading and understand that literacy has more to do with language use and experience with Gee’s (1989) primary and secondary discourses rather than lack of skills.

I will keep you folks updated. Hopefully John will soon remember that books are once again for devouring and and that every word can provide a bitter taste or a juicy morsel.