/ / Little Brother, News, Remixes

James Scot Brodie is a teacher at Presidio Middle School in San Francisco, where Jen Wang and I spoke last month on our tour for In Real Life; prior to my arriving, he assigned my book Little Brother to his students, and produced some curricular materials that he’s generously given to me to publish.

Little Brother Portfolio | Little Brother Acronym Challenge | Little Brother Biography project

He writes,

I was thrilled when the librarian announced that Cory Doctorow was going to make an appearance at our school. As an English teacher, aspiring writer, and complete nerd — I find author visits a nice perk to the job. The students too, like to get out of the classroom whenever they can and author visits are a rare treat. I’ve been teaching for about five years and I’ve met two authors. It then dawned on me that we seldom read the books of the authors that come to visit our school. Mainly because our closets are filled with tons of dead people. Maybe five percent of our class sets are from the living, although Mr. Gomez somehow scored 40 copies of The Fault In Our Stars (he must know someone).

Nevertheless, it was early September and Doctorow was set to visit on October 16. I was determined to have my students read the book, but we only had ten copies from a box on loan from the public library. Now, Doctorow is super generous with his stuff and offers a lot of material to educators and students for free via his website, so I figured I would tap into this and download the book. At the same time I didn’t want to print up 102 copies for my 3 English classes. That would take forever, cost a lot, and kill too many trees. So, long story short, this is what I did: I purchased the audio book, and two copies of the text. I read the book, making “marginal” and underlining vocabulary words, slowly sculpting it into a “teacher’s edition.” I also came up with questions for each chapter. Most the questions are simple guided questions (who, what, when, where and why), but I also made sure that each chapter has a question where the students can relate the reading to their own lives — these inquiries were also great springboards for interesting classroom discussions. I printed up these sheets and students completed them as we listened to the audio book. This is where the second book comes into play – I used the unmarked version of the text to display on the white board at the front of the class via my ELMO projector for all the class to see. I was surprised at how huge I could get the book — it was roughly four feet by six feet and I didn’t know this but the little orange button on the left is for focusing (a student pointed this out to me). I’ll have to say it was one of the most positive reading experiences I’ve ever had with a class. It may be psychological but the minute I projected the book on the board and hit the play button on the audio book — students were enthralled as if watching a movie. Of course it may also have something to do with Mr. Doctorow’s book — there is a lot in there that the modern day teenager can relate to.

The entire unit took about six weeks. Students gathered all their vocabulary/question sheets into a portfolio. I purchased card stock and brass fasteners for students to make covers for these portfolios (which they decorated themselves) and this turned out to be a great boon for students that couldn’t afford to purchase their own copies of the book, because when the big day came — Doctorow autographed copies for his admirers. And this is how the lesson plan ended up here, Cory signed a few, thought they were cool and offered to post them. There are a couple of other activities that I’ve thrown in, but the above is the real meat and potatoes. Use them as you like, put your own personal spin on them and hopefully it will save you some time.

James Scot Brodie
English Teacher

/ / Little Brother, News, Remixes

A young man named Alex came out to my Decatur, GA Homeland tour-stop and we had a charming (if brief) conversation, and subsequently snapped this quite wonderful photo. One of Alex’s teachers subsequently wrote to me to say that Alex had taken high academic honors in a Letters About Literature contest about Little Brother, and he was kind enough to allow me to reproduce both the photo and the letter here.

Thanks, Alex!

Dear Cory Doctorow,

Little Brother is one of those drastically important books that deals with real issues affecting everyone. This book was, in my opinion, more than just a book; it was a persuasive, life-changing book, the kind of gem that comes around too infrequently.

Before I read Little Brother I was scared to try something different. I surrounded myself with the same old young-adult novels (you know- goes on a quest, learns many things, big fight with a troll, the end) and never dared to step out of my little box.

One day during the sixth grade I saw a kid with too many teeth sitting in a dusty corner, reading Little Brother, and asked him what it was about. He shrugged and muttered something incoherent about Harajuku Fun Madness. When I arrived at home I looked up the book on the internet. Before long I discovered your website, and became intrigued by the fact that you were just giving away your e-books.

The book shipped in two days.

I am always thinking. Constantly tossing up an idea, usually shooting it down, tossing up another one, sometimes it flies, I wait for it to crash, then I walk over to it and shoot it another three or four times for good measure. The few months before I read Little Brother this had dumbed down a bit. I could feel it, like I was wearing earplugs, and only low, muffled, blurry ideas wandered through occasionally to stop and say hi before continuing on their way.

After (and during) the reading of Little Brother the haze had lifted and was replaced by an energetic excitement that jumpstarted my brain to life. My neurons hummed like lawnmowers. A refreshing feeling of urgency and eagerness surged through me– a feeling I’d not experienced since being eight years old on Christmas. And I started thinking again.

I put my flawless (yeah, right) guess-and-test technique to work, meticulously weeding through all the information to make sense of things. I realized just how possible the police-state situation could be- after 9/11 security everywhere was increased and tightened. The scanners updated. The rules stricter. The pat-downs more, ahem, thorough. What if this happened, but on a much larger scale?

Also, I’m a bit more paranoid. I know about those looming possibilities, terrifying ones- that technology could be used against me, that my freedom is more fragile than I thought. Already I’ve begun questioning the things presented to me as fact. I look at something and decide for myself if it’s the opinion I want to have.

My favorite part about Little Brother is how, in some way or another, it opened me up to so many other books and authors- Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, the list could go on and on.

Little Brother was and still remains the most important book I’ve ever read. If I had not read your book I would be awfully different, and probably much more ignorant and stubborn. Because of your book I started writing. I read more. I think more. You have written a book that is not only good, but life-changing as well. Thanks.



/ / Little Brother, News, Remixes

I’m proud and excited beyond words to see the running notes from the work being done in Chicago by a group of students and a facilitator from the Mozilla Foundation’s Hive NYC on a number of video projects using Mozilla’s Popcorn technology and my novel Little Brother. Here’s an introductory set of notes on the project from leahatplay at Mozilla’s Hive Learning Network NYC.

The result is the following challenge: To create a video that builds on the interactive and participatory nature of the web through peer sharing and collaboration. In practice, it’s a scavenger hunt with digital media content generation. Teams are given lists of assets to collect and lists of Popcorn features to include in their video. Then they work together to collect assets to build videos with specific themes and characteristics. We insert mini-challenges throughout the activity. To the users they seem like funny digressions. For us they are designed to have a cumulative effect. The goal of the mini-challenge is to fine-tune thinking about the web’s infrastructure and provide a practice space for producing engaging web content that can be incorporated into the final deliverable.

We begin the day by cutting the activity sheets into sections. Since the steps of creating the web-native video will be “unlocked” by different mini-challenges, having everything on-hand and easily accessible is key. Pizza arrives early so we fuel up. I’m wearing my “Adopt Mozilla” T-shirt, it has become crucial gear for these moments when I channel my inner Tim Gunn and RuPaul. Our goal for the experience is a sense of levity, fun and exploration that we hope will encourage the teens to seek out different styles and modes of production.

Popcorning Chicago

/ / Little Brother, News, Remixes

The IEEE’s Computer and Reliability Societies recently published “Embracing the Kobayashi Maru,” by James Caroland (US Navy/US Cybercommand) and Greg Conti (West Point) describing an exercise in which they assigned students to cheat on an exam — either jointly or individually. The goal was to get students thinking about how to secure systems from adversaries who are willing to “cheat” to win. The article describes how the students all completed the exam (they all cheated successfully), which required them to provide the first 100 digits of pi, with only 24h to prepare. The students used many ingenious techniques as cribs, but my heart was warmed to learn that once student printed a false back-cover for my novel Little Brother with pi 1-100 on it (Little Brother is one of the course readings, so many copies of it were already lying around the classroom).

James and Greg have supplied a link to a pre-pub of the paper (the original is paywalled), and sent along a video of a presentation they gave at Shmoocon where they presented the work. The students’ solutions are incredibly ingenious — the audience is practically howling with laughter by the end of the presentation.

(Thanks, Ben!)

/ / Little Brother, News, Remixes

Tracey Hughes assigned Little Brother to her grade 10 students in Peterborough, Ontario (Canada), and developed some course materials that she’s generously agreed to share with other teachers to remix, adapt, and reuse. She writes:

The intent of sharing my teacher resources for Little Brother stems from my pleasure and success teaching the text with grade 10 English students. Having had such meaningful and engaged discussions with my class has lead to valuable learning experiences for them and lead to valuable teaching experiences for me. Doctorow’s novel has reminded me of the power of youth, the strength of a single voice, and the dangers of power, both universal and personal. It is my hope that these resources will serve as a stepping-off point for you as an educator – obviously posting the “tests” means you’ll need to alter some of the content. Take this work and make it yours! Mash it up, pass it on, share it around, and hey, send me your work. The open network of material sharing that happens on the net (and in the novel) is a reminder to all educators that we so often teach in a bubble where resources and ideas are locked in our classrooms.

1. Tests (1st and 2nd half of LB):
I have designed these tests to cover general content (short answer), thinking components (short paragraphs to demonstrate understanding of character and plot), and application (paragraph-answer questions focusing on themes and concepts found in the novel with extensions to the world of the student). These could be done as group assignments, individual writing tasks, in-class oral work (open book or not) and discussion activities instead of as standard tests.

2. Chapter Questions:
The questions are intended to allow students to engage with the material in the novel. They explore more than just content and ask students to make assumptions, to extrapolate, to make connections to their own world, to do a little research for cultural context references, and to question the author’s intent in specific artistic choices in his writing. They will allow for deep discussion and do not focus solely on general comprehension.

3. Essay Assignment:
I have designed the essay assignment to cover two levels of classes (Applied and Academic) with a focus on understanding themes of power, morality, freedom, truth, and security. Students are asked to move through a number of pre-planning steps and to identify significant quotations from the novel to support their argument. The assignment culminates in a full essay, but can easily be adapted to any form of short writing, arts-extension, group presentation, or individual study activity.

/ / Little Brother, News, Remixes

Santiago Benejam Torres converted Axxon’s fan-translation of Little Brother to ePub, and is making it available gratis on his site. Thanks, Santiago!

Update: I’ve just heard from Eduardo Hojman, my editor at Puck, that the Spanish edition of Little Brother will be published on March 7, under the title, “PEQUEÑO HERMANO”! It’ll be distributed worldwide — through Spain and Latin America.