Sometime in the evening, David Wees tweeted about reading Pencil Me In, a book I wrote using pencils as an allegory for educational technology. Mary Beth Hertz had mentioned it in an article earlier this week. Meanwhile Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class continued to leave thoughtful comments on Adventures in Pencil Integration. So, I guess it was on my mind.

I wrote a few tweets with the hashtag #pencilchat, not expecting anything more than a few retweets and some banter with fellow techie-luddites. Malyn Mawby joined in, along with a few of her followers and all of a sudden there was a conversation.

I'm not sure how it happened, but it seemed to go viral. I woke up this morning expecting that it would have died out and I saw 2,000 new tweets for #pencilchat.

Here are my thoughts on why it went viral:

  1. Diversity: The right people joined in at the right time. There were enough people with a spread-out web of friends to make it work. 
  2. Geography: It moved from the U.S. (most of my Eastern Twitter friends were asleep) to Australia to the U.K. and it never really stopped. 
  3. Quirkiness: It was a fun, creative topic. You could be earnest or sarcastic, literally or figurative. 
  4. Easy: It wasn't too narrow of a topic. Everyone uses pencils. Everyone uses computers. 

Anyway, I thought it was kind-of cool that it continued. Who knew pencils could be such a hot topic on Twitter?

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John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. Check out Malyn's post at http://10minutes-tbdeu.posterous.com/7-fish-and-pencilchat

  2. We, my First Year Composition class, is meeting in the pencil lab today. It is a trial run. I'll let you know how quickly the students adapt to the technology. First, they'll take a pre-test to assess their prior skills with the technology. Need a way to build "control" into this quasi-experimental study. There will be a post-test next week.

  3. Very interesting...and fun! What a cool experiment even if it didn't start out as that.

  4. Cool to watch with a variety of witty and silly tweets. So what time is the organized #pencilchat? You can now be a speaker at conferences as the founder and write a book. Wait a minute you already did that! A little bit backwards there.

    Seriously I hope you get some good publicity for your book out of this as that was my favorite blog that you have done.

  5. Thanks for the shout-outs John and David. Me joining in with a few of my friends would be you 2 guys...to begin with. That it was a conversation made the chat come alive.

    As David mentioned, shows the story in pictures


    yours in (digital) pencil,

  6. Shows that despite all, teachers haven't lost their creativity - or humour.

  7. I remember a CUE (Computer Using Educators) conference a decade back where Seymour Papert was the keynote and he got up and asked, "Why is there no PUE?"

  8. Boy, I am sure smiling about this and so fun to connect with you after all of these years. I sure appreciate your wonderful writing and wit. And I am enjoying the chronicling the #pencilchat narrative: http://robdarrow.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/the-pencilchat-narrative/

  9. and here i am teaching in a school in the UK experiencing the same problems that you are are over there. That is also a reason your excellent original idea went viral.... good work Sir! Regards @dukkhaboy


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