De La Soul Documentary: Beyond the Age of Sampling

The new De La Soul album — And the Anonymous Nobody —  is interesting in the way it was made — after years of legal wrangling over use of samples of other artists to create the backbone of its music (as hip hop often does) — the old-school band decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to pay for recording a funk band for hours on end, and then to use samples from those studio recordings as the basis for its new songs, instead of relying on samples.

“What we’re doing … is farming the recordings for samples … and creating new music,” says the narrator of the video.

This is a video documentary of the band’s efforts. I find it interesting because, well, I like the band well enough (and bought its album), and I am interested in the significance of this shift away from hiphop roots (of sampling others), even if the move by De La Soul caused by the legal climate of record labels being very litigious.

The age of the remix is fraught with these difficulties (although educators and students have more leeway). But one lesson here is that making your own beats and music for your own songs is worth doing, even if it adds time and planning to a project.

Peace (it’ll be here),

Slice of Life: How’s Your Head

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You choose a moment and narrow your focus, and then share out into the SOL community. You write, too.)

Back to School Anxiety Dreamscape

I knew it. I knew I’d be awake in the middle of the night, with a tumble of thoughts about the start of school. And so it was. Staff goes back today and then kids start their new school year tomorrow. I did fall back asleep eventually, dreaming the dreams only teachers seem to dream.

Peace (dream it sleepily),

#CLMOOC: Arriving Right on Time

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

I was reading this blog post by Tania Sheko yesterday morning. She reflects on jumping into the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) a few weeks after the official Make Cycles have come and gone. Tania acknowledges that she only minimally popped in and out of CLMOOC and is only now getting to some of the newsletters and Make Cycle ideas.

There’s a mantra which Tania cites in her post that was embedded early in the CLMOOC experience – something that has become part of how a lot of us think about CLMOOC:

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

But, what does that mean, exactly?

The idea came from discussions in the first years of CLMOOC, sponsored by the National Writing Project, in which facilitators were trying hard to think about how best to leverage an open, online networked space where anyone could engage at any level they saw fit or had time for. The worry was that after the first Make Cycle was up and running, anyone new coming in would feel left out. Time of arrival itself would act as an exclusionary marker.

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

So, the intent was to try to situate the CLMOOC with no a real starting and ending point. The timeline of activities might follow a certain arc, mostly due to logistics, but the arc is merely artificial in nature. Arrival and activity could potentially happen at any time, even long after the official Makes are first introduced. This illusion of timelessness, though, is hard to pull off unless you follow the Netflix model and dump everything in at once and let people Binge Learn (which, in fact, is possible after the summer). In reality, we are so attuned to a timeline of activities (this is Day One, this is Day Two, etc.) that giving yourself freedom to say, I’m interesting in that, so I will do that — I am not interested in that, so I will ignore that, is a somewhat discomforting notion for many of us.

But there are people who wander into CLMOOC weeks or months after the unofficial “end” and dip into the activities, engaging with the #CLMOOC hashtag and in the CLMOOC Google Plus Community, and other spaces. Not many, but some. I think most people still feel the time-bound nature of learning. They see a catalogue of activity in the archives and think, Oh, I must have missed it.

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

CLMOOC facilitators share versions of this phrase a lot, as a welcoming and inclusive message. And we do mean it.

But the reality is that the words we say with best intentions don’t always work. Some people still feel left out if they didn’t take part in the summer experience. Others feel as if the possibilities are too large, to grand, to just dive in, solo. And others might think, I’ll just wander through what they did, and get a taste on my own time.

Perfect. That’s part of the CLMOOC experience, too. Wanderers are welcome!

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

In the past, we’ve had some interesting revelations about how the CLMOOC extended into learning spaces — at schools, through Writing Projects, into other online experiences. (And the CLMOOC is built off the ethos and models of other open online experiences, and so it goes).  Sometimes, it is months or even years later that we learn about it. That indicates we probably don’t ever hear about a lot of other connections, too.

There’s a “trust factor” when you help build an open network that something is happening beyond the field of vision, even if one can’t see it. We learn in the moment in hopes for understanding far beyond the moment. It’s like being the classroom teacher with young kids (or even as a parent) and thinking, I have faith that what we are doing here, now, will impact their lives down the line.

Back to Tania  … I pulled out a few lines from her blog post (see up top) which I think makes me the happiest of all, as one of the CLMOOC facilitators. The ways in which she articulates how CLMOOC is a welcoming network of people with different experiences and backgrounds (which could still use more diversity in the mix) and a community that values her play and work, and even monsters, that she can turn to beyond the summer months is heartening. I feel it, too. To see others express it is satisfying beyond belief.

Whenever you arrive is the perfect time. You are always right on time.

Peace (it’s time),

Going Behind the Scenes: ESPN Studios

A good friend of mine works at ESPN Studios and I took advantage of that to bring two of my sons, and my dad, on a tour of the huge media complex down in Bristol, Connecticut (about an hour away from where we live). My youngest son is interesting in video production, and my middle son is interested in sports. Our eldest, also interested in digital media, is off to his first year of college, so he could not come with us.

Saturday mornings are pretty quiet in the sports world, but that allowed us to go through the myriad of engineering rooms and editing booths and sound rooms and a handful of the massive recording studios that ESPN uses to deliver sports to the world. A “farm” of about 30 massive satellite dishes sit on top of a hill, sending out signals to the dozens of outlets for ESPN media.

You realize rather quickly how technical the entire operation is, and how studios use illusion to create reality — the fake grass, and the corners of tables that the cameras can pan to seem large on the small screen but are often just kitty-cornered against a wall in a room larger than a football field. Dozens of people work together to produce a 30 minute sports show that seems so slick and seamless on the screen. (My friend does technical support. Nothing is ever seamless for him. Things break down and don’t work.)

Our eyes can deceive us.

It’s a bit like Oz. You pull back the curtain to see the mechanics of the visual world that seem magical and you get a larger sense of how the magic works from the reality point of view. It doesn’t take away from the magic, per se, but it expands the notions of how the world comes together in the first place.

Peace (it’s not just a show),

Workshopping in the Digital Age: A Close Reading of Franki and Troy

Students as Writers and Composers

I finally got around to coming back to an interview with two of my favorite people — Franki Sibberson and Troy Hicks — as they sat down for an interview for Language Arts to talk about Digital Writing Workshop. (You can access the article as a PDF at the National Writing Project site).

There are a lot of great insights and honesty in their conversation, and as I sought to reach closer, I started to grab some quotes from the text in order to pull them out for further thinking.

I was nodding my head here, because, like Franki, I hope I stay in tune with my students and their interests when it comes to thinking of ways that technology and digital platforms might push their own writing and compositional strategies further along. I’d also add that, along with listening, we teachers need be doing the technology, too. Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and others are unknown terrain unless you try them yourself. You might decide, this does not have application for my classroom (for now). At least, you will know from the experience.

I like Troy’s point here, that the technology should have a rationale or basis for use in composing. He uses a heuristic called MAPS (mode (genre), media, audience, purpose, situation), which is very helpful in this regard, as it allows teachers to consider such things as audience and intent. The technology is not just an engagement factor — it’s an intentional design of the classroom experience to help students explore writing in different angles, with different strategies, for different reasons.

Here, Troy is talking about how to expand the notions of Mentor Texts by drawing from the world outside the classroom, from Pop Culture and beyond. Like Franki, Troy notes the importance of “listening” to students, to figure out where interest lies and then tap into that for learning.

This is so true, and I have written at times about this, too. Some days, when we are moving into something new, things go awry, and the room is full of noise and seemingly chaos. I say, seemingly, because, as Franki notes, often amidst the chaos is some interesting reflections going on. Part of our role as teachers to find focus on the reflection (the process is more important than the product, most of the time) and draw that out, highlight it, make it the learning of the day. And keep calm.

That same theme of analyzing process points is what Troy is discussing here, when the question of “How Do We Assess Digital Writing?” comes up. He notes how technology has the potential to uncover compositional strategies, and make a digital piece more accessible for comments and review and revision. If we can take our eyes off the final product and keep them attuned to all that goes into that work, we can assess learning in a more strategic way.

Thanks to Troy and Franki for sharing their ideas. I found it useful and helpful, and I hope some of their words inspire you, too.

Peace (sharing it out),


Not Even Remotely Visibly True: More Distorted Graphs

I’ve spent the last week or so making another push to create a series of Distorted Graphs as a way to engage with the politics of the US Presidential Campaign. What I am doing is creating graphs and charts that look sort of real, but which have no data underneath. I am making it all up.


Mostly, I am seeing how I can use visual misinformation (which I clearly label on all of the graphs) to make a political and satirical point about the state of politics. I am also curious to see how something sort of polished might appear to be true, and how to remember not to trust my eyes with charts and graphs and polls and such. Although I try to poke at both sides, I don’t try to be “fair and balanced” with it.

But I am having fun. So there.

This round (done entirely in Haiku Deck and exported out as image files) began with an interview Donald Trump did about his “regrets” over some of his comments. Who really believed that? Seriously.

Distorted Graphs

I was wondering where Bernie’s folks have probably gone. Then I saw the news that he bought a $750,00o summer home, and the word “hypocrite” started to flow from my GOP friends. Would Bernie be inviting all those young people to his $750,000 home for a little summer break? I doubt it.

Distorted Graphs

The presidential debates are coming soon. Will they tackle important issues? Or will the idea of wondering what Trump will say trump anything of substance?

Distorted Graphs

I had a strange moment when I could not, for the life of me, remember who Clinton’s vice presidential running mate was. Really. Then I thought, it can’t be just me. (Note: his name came back to me not long after I forgot it. I didn’t Google it.)

Distorted Graphs

All of Trump’s rhetoric over “rigged elections” and “rigged polls” had me looking at my own Distorted Graphs. Rigged? Well, yeah.

Distorted Graphs

The Clinton Foundation is still a headline. I wondered if there was talk about changing its name. The “staff” referenced here is rather nebulous — did I mean I secretly polled the staff of the Clinton Foundation or my staff here at Distorted Graphs? (Hint: One of those organizations has more than one person. The other does not.)

Distorted Graphs

Just the idea of Trump flipping and flopping, and then getting heat from his own party and supports for it, is worth a graph.

Distorted Graphs

The most ridiculous stories in this latest news cycle, I think, has been one questioning Clinton’s health. One can’t help but hear Monty Python in the head (“I’m Not Dead Yet”) as this foolishness goes on.

Distorted Graphs

Peace (we always tilt towards it),

PS — here is the entire collection of Distorted Graphs, which began in the Primary Season

Graphic Novel Review: Tetris (The Games People Play)

The other day, I found myself with a few dull minutes to spare while waiting for my son. What did I do to kill the time? Tetris on my Android phone. It’s amazing that this simple game still holds appeal in this modern age,  but it does. A new graphic novel Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown not only explains the appeal of the puzzle challenge on the brain and psyche, but also explores the fascinating history of the game itself – from origin to launch to pop culture icon.

The appeal of Tetris has to with the psychology of games, and Tetris hits it on all cylinders. There’s the frontal cortex, trying to flip and slide the shapes while they drop. There’s the rush of finishing a line. There’s the quickening pace of action. The player hits a “flow.” It’s all part of the psychology of game design.

Then there’s the rich history of the game itself. Developed by Russian computer scientist Alexey Pajitnov as a side project during the Cold War, in the early days of PCs and video game programming, his Tetris concept of interlocking blocks first took root in the old USSR. Then the game was smuggled out of Russia on floppy discs, and then the game became the object of a global bidding war between companies in Japan, Europe and the United States, even as the political structure of the USSR made negotiations nearly impossible.

You may remember Tetris as the anchor game on many early gaming systems — including Game Boy — but how it got there is an amazing tale of politics and copyright and deceit, and lots and lots of money. Box Brown weaves the tale wonderfully in this graphic novel, which could find a home in a high school classroom where gamers and historians collide.

Peace (block by block),

PS — I received an early copy from First Second Publishing to review. The book is out in October.

Visual Slice of Life: Leaf on Car Window

I glanced out the sun room window yesterday morning and saw this leaf on the front window of my car. It had rained the night before, so water droplets were still-life portraits on the glass, stuck in motion. I kept looking at the one leaf, though, and thought: I have to take a picture of that leaf.

The curvature of the car window made for both an interesting shot, and a tricky one to pull off. It was like looking over the edge of the globe … the view became distorted, in an interesting way.

I was just using my Android phone for a camera, but I found it interesting how a slight placement shift of my hand and phone would change what the lens was focusing in on. Sometimes, it would be the leaf. Sometimes, the droplets of water. Sometimes, the trees beyond the car.

When I was looking through the shots later, I thought it would be cool to use the Fuse app to “blend” some of the images together. It helped that the angles had the leaf in different spots, and that the light created slightly different hues of color.

I could not help but tinker, too, adding an interesting filter effect for this one, which looks very “artsy fartsy” (official terminology). Look at those drops of water near the bottom of the image … magical.

I find it interesting how one small moment – a leaf stuck to a car window — provides so many different ways to “look” at the world, and a perfect visual Slice of Life.

Peace (it looks wonderful),