Slice of Life: Cheering On the Ump

baseball still life jun08 002

“Are you here to cheer on the umpire?”

I nodded, and watched my middle son (age 16) crouch behind the plate. He was the sole umpire of the Little League game under way, and my younger son and I were there. My youngest wanted to see his old team play, a sort of baseball trip down nostalgia lane.

I was curious to see how my 16-year-old handled himself on the field, with adult coaches shouting and complaining on behalf of players (all part of the game, in a way, as long as it is respectful), and young players pitching and hitting.

I held my tongue as the strike zone seemed to expand (although one of the coaches made this fact crystal clear from the dugout) and admired the strong voice that called out the pitch count. I watched as he faced the coaches and informed them that the league-designated clock for starting a new inning was running out, and that the game would soon be over (even as one team was positioned to make a comeback run).

He’s a good baseball player himself, on the high school team and now about to begin a summer elite league. But I know he has always been a keen observer of the game, too, and that he always wanted to be an umpire.  When he was younger, he would stage entire baseball games in the backyard with a whiffle ball and bat. We’d hear him through the windows, calling plays and staging dramatic comebacks.

Last year, he started in the field as an umpire for a few games and now he is behind the plate, running the show with confidence. And getting paid for it, too.

Yep. I was there, cheering on the umpire. He did a fine job.

Peace (in the call),
Kevin

Book Review: Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers

I saw this book — Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers —  on the shelf of the public library and grabbed it quickly on the way out. Sort of an impulse buy. I’m glad I did. James Gulliver Hancock, an artist, has created a wonderfully illustrated book of, as the title says, many people with big dreams.

But it is the subtitle that says it all: Portraits of 50 Famous Folks and All Their Weird Stuff. This is not a typical biographical book. Rather it is a sort of sketch book, in which Hancock devotes a single page to one of the 50 folks, and weaves a sketch map of ideas, noting quirks and little known facts about them.

We learn about Helen Keller’s glass eyes, and about Buzz Aldrin struggling to get the flag on the moon, and about Billie Holiday dying with 70 cents to her name, and Salvador Dali’s fear of bugs, and about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s song entitled “Kiss My Arse,” and about Marie Curie’s notebooks still being radioactive, and (personally) that one of Babe Ruth’s wives has the same last name as me. (That was of interest to my son, who know wonders is maybe we are related to the Babe.)

I also appreciated that Hancock has shared a pretty diverse list of people to focus on, from Margaret Thatcher to Louis Armstrong to Coco Chanel to Bonnie & Clyde to Ghandi to Muhammad Ali, and more. I guess you could criticize this very diversity by saying no single theme emerges, but I appreciated the surprise of not knowing what the next page would bring.

And Hancock gives himself over to his art at the last page, too, making fun of his own foibles and quirks, showing that not even the writer is immune to the strange ways we live our lives.

Peace (in all of its quirkiness),
Kevin

Musical Collaboration and Celebration: Come On Through

COME ON THROUGH

(Verse)
This is what it means
to be on the side —
to watch it all unfold
to watch the world fly by

(bridge) This is where you are
You’re on the inside, not out,
and even in the quiet
you figure it out

(chorus)
We’ve got a place for you
and when you’re ready
Come on through

Lurkers learning lots
lessons followed
on their own plots
words un-hollowed
(Bridge/Chorus)

Self direct your learning
And unexpected turns
Squash any limits
Reach out in return.
(Bridge/Chorus)

A discussion that unfolded some days back via the Rhizomatic Learning ‘uncourse’ (which is not happening) centered around how best to celebrate those folks who watch online learning networks (like MOOCs) but don’t participate.  I don’t like the word “lurker” and prefer active observer. These folks (you may be one) are valued members of the community, too, even if they don’t actively participate. Sarah suggested a song in celebration of the observers of networks, which I took as a call to collaborate.

I quickly set up an online document on TitanPad and opened it to up anyone to add lyrics. I honestly don’t know who wrote what lines. Isn’t that interesting? I did a little tinkering with the words to make them fit within the rhythm of the song, but not much.

A few days later, as the words were being written on Titanpad, I was messing around with some open tuning on my guitar and came up with the underlying structure. I went into Soundtrap, a collaborative music recording site, and put the guitar track down and then invited folks to join me. Ron and Sarah, from other parts of the world, did, and over the last week or so, we’ve been slowly pulling the song into shape in Soundtrap.

Here it is. Ron added the many keyboard layers and some of the underlying vocal pieces. Sarah added some mandolin. I played the guitar and sax, and we stayed with my scratch vocals, although we had hoped others might sing instead of me.

Peace (looking in, looking out),
Kevin

Sparking Creative Thinking and Rich Imagination

Peter and Paul Reynolds visit Norris

Is there anything better than bringing some talented guests into a classroom and school who then urge everyone in the room, teachers included, to lead a creative life full of possibilities?

That was the clear message from writer/illustrator Peter Reynolds and his equally talented brother, Paul Reynolds, as they visited my school to observe students working on a digital picture book site and to give an uplifting presentation to all sixth graders.

My students are using an early iteration of a platform that the Reynolds’ media company — Fablevision — is testing out as a means for young people to write and publish a book. (I’ll write more at some later date about that). Peter and Paul, and their sister Jane, who leads a school in England, and Andrea, who works at Fablevision, arrived at the start of the school day, and watched my students working on their digital picture books. My National Writing Project friend, Judy Buchanan, was also there, as NWP is my connection to Fablevision.

willow and macy and peter reynolds

(image courtesy of Paul Reynolds)

There were so many positive interactions, it’s hard to pinpoint the power of my students not just meeting a very famous author/illustrator, but also, to get to chat personally with him and to let him, and the others, read their draft stories. I had a whole group of students beaming all day, and walking on air, because they got some advice and support from Peter Reynolds.

trisha and peter reynolds

(image courtesy of Paul Reynolds)

In the presentation to the entire sixth grade, both Reynolds exuded positiveness about possibilities of the world, and encouraged students to use their imagination and to imagine the possible. When asked what his favorite book was when he was growing up, Peter Reynolds pulled out a blank book, with empty pages, and said, This was my favorite book. The kids loved that.

What a nice counterpoint this all was to the state testing season that just ended last week, where students are shoved into boxes of expectations. You have to know this. You have to know that. One answer only, please. Follow the rules.

The Reynolds’ message and Fablevision philosophy– which resonated with many of students, as evident by our discussions later and the energy level for the rest of the day — was quite the opposite of that.

Peter Reynolds talked of being a dreamer as a student, of doodling his ideas. He described how “When I read words, they turn into pictures in my head.” It was Peter’s math teacher, who told him to illustrate a math concept that led to Peter creating a comic book that led to his first animation movie as a 12 year old that put him on the path to writing books such as The Dot, and Ish, and many more (including the illustrations of the Judy Moody books and the Stink books).

We need more creative thinking, not less, and I applaud the Reynolds and Fablevision for staying true to that philosophy in all that they do — from books to software to video animations and more.

Peace (in deep thanks),
Kevin

… And Miles To Go … (before the school year ends)


flickr photo shared by *s@lly* under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

A good friend of mine asked me in a social media space if my school year was over yet. A lot of my connected colleagues are university professors, so many of them just got past their “crazy zone” of activities. (or they are correcting final papers before grade submittal deadlines)

Me?

Not. Hardly. There. Yet.

We still have a month or so to go, even with an early year thanks to a slow New England winter, and we have lots of things yet to be accomplished with my sixth graders.

Let’s see …

  • We have a digital picture book project in the mix right now, where they are creating a story about their years in elementary school;
  • We have an argumentative writing piece to undertake next week, which is designed around synthesizing the reading of three texts and developing an essay with claims/counterclaims;
  • We have a digital writing portfolio to assemble in Google Sites (I wrote about part of this project over at Middleweb);
  • We have an idea brewing for creating a Fan Site for some topic of their choosing (novel, author, movie, television show, etc.);
  • And daily writing and reading of novels, too.

Yeah. We’re going to get all that done, and more, too. In the middle of the day, when kids are getting all summer-brained and showing odd end-of-year-social-itis, I don’t know how we will get it all done.

But we will. We’ll get it done. We still have miles to go before ….


flickr photo shared by alt1040 under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Margaret Atwood: How Technology Impacts Storytelling

I found this video and find it quite interesting. Writer Margaret Atwood’s thoughts on how technology shapes our writing process and our conceptions storytelling (or not) connects with a lot of my wondering out loud about the ways that writing is changing, and shifting, in the modern era (but I am open to the argument that nothing is changing at all).

See what you think ….

Peace (in the story about stories),
Kevin

Channeling Anger into Song: Build U Up Tear U Down

When I first started writing songs nearly 30 years ago (yikes!), it was all about politics and anger (it was the Reagan years). I wrote songs protesting the military actions in Central America, about the trickle down policies of the land, about corruption at its deepest political core. I would play at coffee hours and open mic nights. I recorded a lot of songs on my old four-track music recorder.

At some point, I sort of forced myself to make the shift into more personal songs for myself, or I wrote songs that could be played by a rock and roll party band. I never forgot my political protest roots, really, but I tempered my art with peace, love and some understanding. (Maybe that is a symptom of growing up or something).

But the current US presidential race has me pissed off all over again, channeling those early years of frustration in the political sphere. While I don’t name Trump in this song I wrote the other day and recorded yesterday as a demo (just me and my guitar), it’s all about him, particularly his use of language and rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Words matter. We tell this to students all the time, and we teach it to them as the heart of writing. Words matter. What you say and what you write has meaning and depth. Then someone like Trump takes the stage and spews off venomous words and divisive ideas intended to splinter us, not unite us. I can live with political differences (many of my friends lean way right … we have interesting conversations) but I can’t live with vitriol. And Trump is now backed by a major political party.

Yeah, I’m angry and it’s only May.

I am hoping we knock Trump and his supporters down a few pegs with our votes and reactions. (I am not advocating physical confrontation here, of course.)

The chorus to the song goes:

You may think you’re on top but we don’t care
We’ve got our eyes on the prize so best beware
You can say what you want but we’re not amused
Every word that you say comes back on you

Peace (brings us together),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Fostering Fan Fiction

sol16

Can I confess? I was inspired to do this writing activity …. by PARCC. There, I said it. I never would have even thought of writing a sentence like that. But, it’s true. Our state has merged some PARCC elements into our state testing this year, and the PARCC Literary Task reminded me of Fan Fiction, and so …

Let me back up. My students are deep into their independent reading books this time of year. I give them a good 20 minutes every class period to stretch out around the room and read, quietly. Even in May, with the end of the year jitters in the air, they revel in their quiet reading mode, and complain loudly if they don’t get that time. How great is that, eh?

We’ve been doing writing about reading activities, but the other day, a few weeks after getting them ready for the state ELA test, one element of the new PARCC elements has stayed with me as something rather interesting. In the task, students are given a passage from a novel or short story, and then they are to either continue the scene or do some variation of the story, paying attention to character or setting or whatever.

It dawned on me one day that this writing assignment was really just a twist on Fan Fiction, and that I could easily get students thinking in terms of the ways that technology and social spaces encourage readers to become writers. It also harkened back to a keynote address by Antero Garcia at a local technology conference, where he extolled the Connected Learning virtues of Fan Fiction communities. That planted a seed that just needed time to grow.

So yesterday, I gave a mini-lesson to my students on what Fan Fiction is (a fair number knew the term but not too much about what it was) and how it works. I mentioned how some Fan Fiction writers connect with others in online spaces (like one of the Harry Potter site that has 80,000 fan fiction stories) around shared interests of books and authors,  and then:

  • write prequels
  • write sequels
  • spin off minor characters
  • create alternative histories
  • create alternative story paths
  • mashup characters and settings from different novels

So, we wrote, and then, instead of sharing out the stories they wrote, we shared out the technique they used to write their Fan Fiction stories, and the struggles they encountered (or not) in doing so. It was such an interesting discussion, and I think many now have their interest piqued about Fan Fiction. Certainly, all have now experienced it as a reader/writer.

Side Note 1: So, I did not get into some of the adult themes that emerge for some Fan Fiction sites, such as sexual trysts and other, eh, explicit materials. And I realize a day late that I should have broached the copyright conundrum (is it protected derivative work?) of using someone else’s material for your own writing, and publishing it to the public view. Obviously, this did not pertain to our writing activity, where the stories were in their writing notebooks, but still …

Side Note 2: I wrote, too, of course, taking a minor character from the book I was just finishing up — The Boy Who Lost Fairyland — and creating a short story that could have happened in the book during a time gap when the character was “off stage.” The character is a magical Gramophone, who spins records to communicate, and I had the character, Scratch, meet with a mysterious character who is a DJ who spins discs. You can see where my story was going, right? Scratch gets scratched into a little hip-hop in the Fairyland. It was blast, writing it.

Peace (among the fans),
Kevin

Exploring the Muse: SongMap

SongMap

At the DS106 Daily Create the other day, we were given the task of creating a “hand drawn” map. In other words, get away from the computer and make something on paper. I’m glad I did that because this map got me thinking metaphorically about how I go about writing songs. Plus, I got to poke fun at myself and my own wanderings in this imaginary world where I hope melodies and rhythm will come together.

Peace (on the map),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Amulet Vol. 7 (Firelight)

 

Kazu Kibuishi continues his extraordinary artistic run of deep, rich graphic storytelling with the seventh book in the Amulet series. This book — called Firelight — is both incredibly to look at, with the graphic form, and to read, with its ever-widening storytelling.

If I am looking for a prime example of how an artist is using the graphic novel medium to spin a narrative, I turn to Kibuishi’s Amulet series, which often falls under the radar because it is aimed at young readers and not necessarily adults (although it is a New York Times bestseller, so maybe that statement isn’t quite correct).

Here, the merging and diverting stories of female protagonist Emily, who has become a Stonekeeper, a source of magical powers. But there is some nefarious schemes at work behind the source of that magic, and Emily is slowly getting sucked into the unknown. Meanwhile, the boy protagonist — Navin, Emily’s brother– is connecting with a rebellion against the Elf King, who may or may not be part of Amulet secrets.

Lots of interesting characters, and strange journeys into the memories and the past, as well as beautifully drawn artwork that forces you into the world of Amulet, make this series one worth checking out. While this seventh volume does not contain any huge surprises, it advances the story along quite nicely. I think Kibuishi has ten volumes planned, so we are moving towards the last third of the story. Books come out every few years, so this is taking a long time to unspool. Which is fine.

Some fan made this book trailer.

Peace (go deep),
Kevin