Book Review: Creative Quest by Questlove

I am intrigued the curious spirit of Questlove, the drummer and one of the leaders of The Roots. He seems to have his fingers and mind into many things, all with what appears a desire to collaborate and make stuff (like music but not just music) and to reflect on and share out his experiences in hopes of inspiring others.

His latest book — Creative Quest — is an exploration (with co-writer Ben Greenman) of his ideas on how to be and how to stay creative in the world.

While the book itself is rather uneven (and could have used a better editor to tighten the text), Questlove’s voice comes through the mix as he talks about expanding the definitions and ideas of what an artist is, how the influx of technology can both help and hinder the creative spirit, how moving out of your comfort zone is as important as mining the treasures of that same space, how collaborating with others will give you new paths to follow even if they at first make your uncomfortable, and how remix and appreciative appropriation of others’ work can build into something new.

Questlove mentions that he enjoys the segments on The Tonight Show (his band is the house band for Jimmy Fallon) when they play with artists outside of their typical genre, and notes that when they do off-kilter music segments with toy instruments or other pieces, it forces them as a musicians to work in a different way. All good.

It’s nothing new but Questlove’s advice to follow your instincts and be open to the unknown ring true with me as someone who tries to do creative work each day, as a poet, as a songwriter, as someone who dabbles in media (thank you, DS106).

I do wish that the book had brought the reader deeper into the songwriting process of The Roots. He does share some stories of being in the studio with artists like D’Angelo and Tariq, his main partner in The Roots.  But mostly those stories are about finding a sound, as opposed to discovering through creative experimentation the song that needs to be written and sung.

Ah. Well. Maybe next time.

For now, I enjoyed Questlove’s journey into creativity with Creative Quest, and I hope his message of how nurturing and exploring a creative life can enhance all of our worlds is something that resonates. Find art. Make art.

Peace (sing it),
Kevin

Nerdwriter Scores Again: The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers

One of the best Patreon accounts I support is The Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak), who makes an amazing collection of videos based on things he is interested in, and then I get interested, too. I am happy to pitch in a little bit of cash to support his wanderings.

Puschak writes about why he left the digital media business to form Nerdwriter:

I’d get bored sticking to one thing. I believe life is moral, psychological, artistic, scientific, and that what is worth knowing is worth entwining into a web, or a worldview. If I’ve made a video about something, it’s because I wanted to learn more about it.

Check out his latest: The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers

Peace (on display),
Kevin

Teaching Design Elements: Problems of Text, Color, Image, Conflict

This is not the first lesson around design that I have done with my students, but our Haiku project has brought to the surface the need to remind and re-teach some basic Design Principles when it comes to merging text (in this case, poems) and images, via Google Slides.

This presentation is what I shared yesterday in class and used as a talking point as students got down to work. I tried to integrate three hints for them to use to make their project more design-friendly. Too many of my young digital poets find busy images to use or bury their text into the slide or don’t consider color combinations.

I want them to see the work as art, as much as writing. Design comes into play with that lens.

Peace (in the mess),
Kevin

 

 

Mentor Text Haiku: Notes from Japan

We’re still in our poetry unit (because who cares about April?) and my students are working on a series of haiku poems, and then using Google Slides to layer image with text. We’ll be pulling together one poem from each student to create a Sixth Grade Digital Haiku Book in the coming days.

I shared some of my haiku poems with them, as mentor texts, and explained that I wrote my poems while on a trip to Japan with my family, using haiku as my journal entries to capture memories from a likely once-in-a-lifetime trip to Asia.

Peace (in 5, in 7, in 5),
Kevin

Annotation Invitation: Writing Our Civic Futures

The last round of this year’s Writing Our Civic Futures from Educator Innovator and Marginal Syllabus is a chance to engage with the first part of writer/educator Steve Zemelman’s new book From Inquiry to Action: Civic Engagement with Project-Based Learning in All Content Areas. 

I know Steve through the National Writing Project and I interviewed him for my Middleweb column recently.

You can access the chapter via Hypothesis (free and powerful open source annotation platform) and Steve is right in the mix, too, interacting with readers in the margins of the text.  In his book, Steve lays out the rationale for student engagement that moves into social and political and community action. His emphasis is on impact in the local communities.

Come read and annotate and discuss the book. You can also read more about the Writing Our Civic Futures project here.

See you in the mix.

Peace (in and out of the margins),
Kevin

 

 

 

Slice of Life: Smoke, Fire, Vape

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I guess it was only a matter of time before we would have to address this alarming health issue with our sixth graders. Although my students are still in an elementary school and not as exposed to older kids on a daily basis as many other districts, the larger cultural and social elements — good and bad — eventually trickle down to us. It’s often just a matter of when.

So, vaping.

In the past two weeks, we’ve had some informal information on the social grapevine of some of our students perhaps trying out vaping (or e-cigarettes), or experimenting with it, or whatever. I can’t say if any of it is true, and our school administration is working to get solid information so they can intervene if necessary.

When I asked my own son, who goes a 6-8 middle school in another district than the one I teach in, if students are vaping there, he didn’t even hesitate to say yes. By the lockers. On the bus. In the bathrooms. It was rather alarming how quick his response was.

I didn’t press too much except to remind him of dangerous vaping can be and how its potential for addiction for young people is incredible high. He later told me that a group of health officials from the schools came into every classroom at his school, to talk about the dangers of vaping.

At our school, our health staff is working on a response to the possibility of vaping, including a letter home and probably a forum with all sixth, and fifth, graders.

“I was hoping we had some time,” a nurse told me, when we chatted about vaping, explaining she is attending a session a few weeks where vaping response will come up. “But I guess not.”

Nope, and not with summer and free time for kids coming up around the corner.

Peace (keep it safe),
Kevin

Book Review: Meet Me in the Bathroom (Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011)

This book may not be for everyone but it was fascinating for me, with an interest in music and music scenes and the way bands can flourish and disappear given the cultural moments. Lizzy Goodman  — in Meet Me in the Bathroom — conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with musicians around New York City just before, during and then after The Strokes hit the scene, causing ripples still being felt in rock and roll.

The story arc is familiar — a band (in this case, The Strokes) shakes off the dust of a stagnant music scene, creates excitement for audience and other musicians, companies come calling, other bands ride the wave, money impacts musicians in different ways, scene ends with a thud (sort of).

I can’t say I was ever a Strokes fan beyond casual listener. In fact, I am more of a fan of Vampire Weekend, one of the bands that came on the far end of the wave in New York City. They were not punk like The Strokes. Instead, Vampire Weekend merged global music and beats with a poetic sensibility.

What I liked about Meet Me in the Bathroom is the oral history format, as Goodman (who was part of the scene) explores the music of The Strokes and then all those who came after (or began during) the time they were suddenly “known.” Some of the bands I know and many I did not know.

Here is an incomplete list of bands mentioned (Note: + means I know and have listened while * means they are new to me)

The Strokes +
Interpol *
Jonathan Fire*Eater
The Killers +
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs +
TV on the Radio *
Franz Ferdinand +
Fischerspooner
The Hold Steady +
Vampire Weekend +
Regina Spektor
The Moldy Peaches
The National +
Dirty Projectors *
The Hives
Kings of Leon +
The White Stripes +
The Vines
Sonic Youth +

I am going to dive my way into YouTube and see what I can hear.

Peace (and rock and roll),
Kevin

 

CLMOOC Annotation: On Ivan Illich and Connected Learning

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

There’s been some interesting conversations flowing in the margins of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society as part of a CLMOOC annotation activity, proposed by our friends Charlene and Sarah. We’re using the annotation tool, Hypothesis, to “mark up” Illich’s seminal critique from the 1970s of traditional schooling and the ways students are under/mis-served by the educational system in the United States. I have to admit, I’ve never really read Illich that deeply, so this has been an experience.

 

And I come away from reading this piece over a few weeks with some lingering reactions. The first is that I find myself in a defensive crouch as Illich attacks traditional schools from all different angles, arguing that teachers are ineffective, that schools only care for students as cogs in the business machine, that funding is misspent, that curriculum is merely a means to keep young people in line, the entire educational system is designed to slow down learning.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

I won’t say some of his criticisms don’t have some merit, even today, decades later. But I felt as if he were attacking me personally, as someone who has dedicated my career to teaching and working with young people. It may be that I am too sensitive and ready to shout back (which I did in the margins of Illich’s text).

Still, Illich has some interesting points that do seem to coincide with the principles of Connected Learning — particularly around the concepts of student choice, peers as powerful motivators, project-based learning (which is what Charlene to first suggest this text for annotation, I believe), finding mentors in the field to help guide understanding, and building networks through technology to expand access to materials and information.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

Remember (and I remind myself), he wrote all this during the time of Mainframe Computers and microfiche files. He was envisioning an expanding educational system that allowed students to think and learn beyond the walls of the classroom, to follow their interests. He talks about poverty and urban schools failing their students. Those are insights to wonder at with appreciation (too bad I find his writing tone off-putting and snobby in its own way).

I’ve enjoyed reading and interacting with the other readers of the text, and marvel that there are more than 130 annotations (so far) about Illich’s views, and that many of the annotations have responses and discussions unfolding. It’s pretty cool.

And open. You can add your ideas, too, and reflect along with us.

I plan to head back in and make the rounds of comments, and think about how to keep the threads turning on our thinking. I hope to see you there.

Peace (in the margins),
Kevin

Adventures in the Music Recording Studio

John and I in Studio May2018

My friend, John, and I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon inside a music recording studio of a local musician. Years ago, John and I wrote a song together (we’ve written many), and it has been his long ambition to record and release this particular song. Yesterday, we worked on laying down the vocals, saxophone and guitar tracks. The goal is release the song later this year, in time for the winter holidays, as the song is a holiday-themed song, with peace and love at its center.

I am always intrigued by music engineers and their studios, and the set-up in a third-floor loft overlooking our city’s downtown area was pretty cool. Actually, it’s right above the downtown music store, where Jim (the engineer) used to work. The scene was laid back, comfortable, and the engineer/producer is an amazing musician himself, so his feedback was helpful.

John and I also remembered some other studio sessions with past bands (he and I have been playing music for years) and I went and dug up a video I had made from long ago for a band we were in called The Sofa Kings. This video was created during a time when I was experimenting with a Flip video camera (the little white ones) was something completely new, and phones weren’t made for video quite yet (unless you had money to burn). The sound quality is terrible, but the moment in time captured (for us) is priceless.

Peace (in the songs),
Kevin

 

 

Graphic Novel Review: Raid of No Return (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales)

Another Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale (graphic novelist). Another tale, well-told. The latest in Hale’s popular series of non-fiction is entitled Raid of No Return, and it centers on the first mission by the United States after Pearl Harbor to bomb parts of Japan as WW2 began to escalate.

As with the other books in this series, the story is deep with research and uses the intersections of comic illustrations with text in powerful ways. Here, we learn about the men who were part of the Doolittle Raid, who pushed their aircraft to extremes to strike fear into the hearts of the enemies at the time. This all stems from the attack at Pearl Harbor and the United State’s entry into World War 2.

Actually, much of this story revolves around what happened after the raids on Japan, as the men of Doolittle’s squadron tried to get to safety when their aircrafts ran out of fuel or were shot down over Japan.

To be fair, this kind of story could be retold from Japan’s side, with a different narrative view. Hale hints at the atrocities of war from both sides. The surprise bombings by the US did kill civilians in Japan, and Japan’s search for the pilots ended up killing  250,0o0 Chinese lives people (some of whom helped shelter the pilots and bring them to safety). I can’t even fathom that kind of destruction of reprisal.

This book would be of interest to middle school and high school readers, although the dense and packed text and pages might make it a difficult read for some students. Hale does not flinch from the horrors of war in this book, but he also celebrates bravery and cunning and survival. The ending, which updates us on the men who survived, is heartbreaking in its emotional punch.

Peace (read it and live it),
Kevin