Slice of Life: Shifting Musical Spaces

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

For almost 17 years, every Tuesday night, I have driven over to my friend’s house on the other side of our city, walked up three flights of stairs to a converted attic space full of guitar amps, drum sets, and microphone stands, and played music. Through three different bands — the current one being Duke Rushmore, but before that it was the Sofa Kings and Big Daddy Kiljoy, along with assorted smaller configurations like The Millenium Bugs — that space has been my home-away-from-home for making music.

Alas, no more.

My friend, the rhythm guitarist and fellow songwriter, finally sold his house, as part of his larger financial plans for retirement, and the attic space where so many songs were written, arranged, played, abandoned, rediscovered, revamped and more is now empty of everything but the memories. We’ve now moved over to the basement of our bass player’s house, another town over. It’s great that we have a new space but I’m going to miss that attic.

This is a panoramic picture of the last night of practice:
John's Attic SpaceAnd this is a poem I wrote for my friend, who was so generous with his house for so many years. I framed it for him as a present.
UpontheThirdFloorElizabethStreet

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Little Scratch

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

In my push to experience a variety of open education programs (MOOCs and such), I signed up for the Learning Connected Learning 2 through the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten project (and via the Educator Innovator network). I’m feeling a bit lost with it, though, and I can’t tell if it my own fault (I haven’t been paying attention?) or the way the course is set up (it isn’t drawing me in as it should?).

I’m paying attention to this feeling of not quite being “there” because this coming summer, as with last summer, I am going to help to lead the Making Learning Connected MOOC for teachers (I hope you come, too!) We had a blast last summer — playing, making, connecting, reflecting — and we hope to replicate the experience and expand it this summer, too. Without pointing fingers at the LCL2 folks, who no doubt have worked hard to create a space for exploration, something seems to be lacking for me. I don’t feel connected into the experience. But it might be me, and I might need to buckle down and dive deeper in.

So, yesterday morning, I tried one of the activities: introduce yourself via Scratch. If you don’t know what Scratch is, it’s a programming tools out of MIT that allows you to do simple coding and animation. I’ve never been a huge fan of Scratch — when I have used it with students, they lose interest quickly — but I like the concept of visual programming, and you can see the influence of Scratch’s innovative ideas in many apps and programs that teach students how to program and code. Apparently, though, thousands of kids are regularly using it, and the Scratch Community is huge and very active. So, it might be the way I taught Scratch, and not the platform itself. (There’s a theme of doubt coursing this post, I realize).

Here’s what I created as a short introduction to myself in Scratch:

This is a screenshot of the editor area:
me on scratch
Peace (in the play),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Oh … Behave!

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

After spending a day with antsy 12 years olds whose outdoor activity during the day has been curtailed by a lingering winter cold front and who spent almost three hours, silent and mostly focused, while working on their state reading assessment, I was happy to see the buses roll out of the lot and head home yesterday.

First, I had to pick up my son from his after-school band rehearsal — he is a rather reluctant percussionist — and I pulled into the loop a few minutes early, thinking I would read a magazine in the quiet of the van. But outside my window, something else ensued as two mothers almost went to fisticuffs over something … so … stupid.

Let me set the stage with my journalistic hat on my head:

A few cars are in the loop. More are coming. There is car on the other side of the loop from me, parked just fine, when another car pulls up in front of it, and then reverses to get a little closer, in order to make room for other cars in front of it. I think nothing of it. We all do that — make room for others.

The woman in the first car — let’s called her Lady Z — suddenly jumps out, and raps on the window of the woman in the second car in the front — Lady Q — and says, quite loudly, “You’re too close. Move it forward.”

I look over now. Lady Q’s car is fine. There’s plenty of room for Lady Z to pull out. I go back to my magazine until I hear Lady Q get out of her car. Uh oh, I think.

“What?” Q says, now looking at the two cars. She points. “There’s plenty of room. Are you telling me you can’t turn your wheel and get out with that amount of space? What kind of driver are you?”

Lady Z pauses. “Move your car. If I pull out and hit your car, it’s all your fault. That’s what I will tell the police.”

Police?

Now I’m watching, wondering if I am going to have to jump out of the van in a minute and break it up. Really, all I want is a few minutes of quiet and my magazine.

I can see Lady Q fuming. “Move your car,” Lady Z says and heads back into her car. Lady Q goes into her car, and starts up the engine. Instead of pulling forward, though, she slowly, slowly, slowly inches backwards until her bumper is a mere half-inch from the bumper of Lady Z’s car. There’s no getting out now. Lady Q shuts down the engine, jumps out of her car and raps on Lady Z’s window.

“How about now?” she yells, a smile on her face. “Can you get out now? Don’t you dare tell me how to park my car. Don’t you dare tell me what to do,” and then she pulls out her cell phone, and makes a call to someone. She circles Lady Z’s car like a vulture, talking all the time to an invisible person.” …. I don’t know who she thinks she is …. here is her license number … let her try to call the cops on me …”

As she rounds the driver’s side of the car in her wagon circling, Lady Q glares at Lady Z, who does not leave her car. Now, I wonder, what will happen if Lady Z’s child comes out from band and they need to leave? Luckily, Lady Q’s child emerges from the school first, and they take off, leaving plenty of space for Lady Q to get the hell out of there without another word.

It was like being in the classroom, watching immature sixth graders fight over the space between their desks, and all I want to say is: Really? This is how you spend your energy? Behave.

Peace (please),
Kevin

Wrap Around Rhythm with Rhyme at the Start

This was a different kind of writing activity for the #ds106 Daily Create: write a poem with rhymes at the start of each line. That sounds easier than it is, because what happens is the rhythm gets all crooked in the poem. As I wrote mine, I started to rhyme at the end of each couplet, too. I couldn’t help myself, so you have this overlapping rhyming scheme taking place in my poem.

And this kind of poem deserves some voice, I think.

Audio recording and upload >>

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Start of Something Interesting

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Midway through the very first  #TeachWriting Twitter chat last night, I finally chimed in. I had other things going on and so I didn’t get home until the halfway point of the chat, a bi-monthly chat on Tuesday nights centered around the teaching of writing. The brainchild of Lisa Hughes and Ben Kuhlman (maybe others? not sure), #TeachWriting is another way for teachers to share with and learn from each other, in the fast-flowing realm of Twitter chat.

A few months ago, Troy Hicks and I offered up some feedback to Lisa and Ben as they were planning because Troy and I have done these kinds of chats before (including one together, via NCTE for Digital Learning Day.) Really, though, Ben and Lisa did fine on their own. But when Ben shouted out earlier in the week that he hoped to see me at the chat, I knew I had a conflict and might miss it.

I’m glad I caught the second half, as the flow of discussion was amazing, rich and expansive, and there were many people in the Twitter Chat that I had never run across before (an ancillary gift from #TeachWriting). It’s heartening to know that so many folks care so deeply about writing, and want to know how best to get their students to care about writing, too. I was a little worried that Lisa and Ben might only have a few folks, but … not a worry! Dozens of people seemed to be involved, sharing ideas and asking questions, and making connections across disciplines and time zones. It was the perfect example of the power of a Twitter Chat.

So, how do you get involved?

Every other Tuesday night (the next one will be April 11, I believe, with Beth Holland and Shaelynn Farnsworth), jump onto Twitter and find the #TeachWriting hashtag. More information is at the website: http://teachwritingchat.org/ and sign up for the newsletter. Also, follow the chat’s twitter account at @teachwriting2

One word of advice, if you have never joined in a chat: consider using a Twitter Chat client of some sort. I use TweetChat but there are others that allow you to focus on specific hashtags.

See you on the Interwebz!

Peace (in the chat),
Kevin

The Office Time Machine Project: Cultural References Remix

Wow.

To prove culture is not only everywhere, but that certain references to films, songs, and works of art are critical for our collective understanding of comedy and to the importance of relating to content, I found every cultural, real-life reference from every episode of The Office. – Joe Sabia

This Office Time Machine remix project by Joe Sabia to use The Office and cultural references to show how copyright pushes up against creativity is pretty amazing, insightful, entertaining and just … fun. Sabia pulled all of the cultural references from the American-version of The Office and mixed them into video formats.

He explains that the year-by-year season project (which took him a year and half to do) was designed to see the prism of culture that gets reflected everywhere and how copyright laws “fall flat” in the modern age of digital media and borrowing/remixing of ideas.

Sabia ends his project’s website with some suggestions for where folks can go from here, after being entertained by his video endeavors with The Office and cultural references (he found 1,300, by the way).

Sign up for Fightforthefuture.org. And check out these sites:

Transformative Works, EFF, and Creative Commons
Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson,
Supercut. by Andy Baio.
And for further study, read Lawrence Lessig, and John Tehranian

Peace (in the remix),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Teaching to the Test

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Like many of you who are classroom teachers, we are in the midst of “state testing season.” Or at least, we are entering round one (round two comes in May with Math). This week, my sixth grade students will be diving into the state reading assessment in two two-hour blocks.

There was a time, years back, where I did very little to prep them, feeling that “teaching to the test” was against everything I believed in as an educator. I  changed my mind over time as I realized they needed more overt help in navigating the test. I could not ignore the data showing how much my students were struggling and how glaring some of the weaknesses were.

I felt guilty about not helping them.

So, yes, I now teach strategies all year — good, solid reading and writing strategies, I hope — with an eye towards the state testing, which will be undergoing change in the years ahead with PARCC. I still feel a bit odd about teaching a lesson with overt references to our MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the kids groan when I mention MCAS. But I’ve come to realize that this is now part of my job. I don’t drill and kill about it. I teach strategies for approaching unknown reading passages and questions. I frame these lessons in a real way — these are the strategies that readers use all the time. I am just making them more visible. I hope.

Literary terms

Yesterday, we did a review of literary terms, partly as a way to lodge some ideas into their heads and partly to connect these terms to the novels we have been reading all year. Still, I have to admit: the timing of that review was designed to align with this week’s testing.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that, even with all of my intellectual defenses outlined above, that this is bad teaching and is still something I don’t believe in, as something that won’t help my students become stronger readers and better writers and more engaged citizens of the world. I walk away from these kinds of lessons with tinges of guilt that I just can’t shake — a different kind of guilt than I felt in the early years after looking at test scores and realizing my silent protest was hurting my students. On any day of the week, I’d rather have them be writing what they want to write, and being creative in a variety of ways with media, technology and words. That is why I got into teaching in the first place.

And so, I still feel guilty about the strategic moves into teaching for the test, even though our scores have gotten better over the years and I now pour over data to see where weaknesses might still exist, and I wish I could in good conscious return to my days of silent refusal, to focus on teaching for learning, not teaching for testing. But I fear those days are now gone.

Peace (in the silent protest),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: More Odds than Ends

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

It seems like Mondays are good days to catch up on busy Sundays, so here is another post of little slices:

I spent part of my morning changing the theme of my blog. Partly, it was time. But also, I had noticed that my old theme looked just awful on mobile devices, so I heeded the note from my Edublog friends to find a more mobile-friendly theme. I like this new one — it’s a clean design. I’m still tinkering with some of the settings but mostly, I was able to “flick the switch” and things are running pretty smooth.

mind collage

Do you like the change?

In the other part of my morning, I was working on a writing prompt with another online writing community, where the focus was on the idea of a force field or portal. I tried to get serious and failed. So, I moved in the other direction and posted this webcomic:

Be Ready to Dance

In the afternoon, I took my youngest son and a friend to see the new Muppets movie. We’re huge Muppet fans here and I thought the movie had lots of those little giggle moments that I love, and seemed to keep my attention for most of the time. The nine year old boys? They loved it.

Finally, throughout the day, I noticed some interesting activity at the #25wordstory hashtag on Twitter where I periodically write short 140-character stories as a way to experiment with writing in short-form fiction. It’s not that easy. But I noticed a CUE group working on the hashtag, retelling fairy tales. Intriguing!

I had to add a few of my own:



Peace (in the day),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Making Music/Learning Songs

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Some of you know I play saxophone and write songs for a rock band, Duke Rushmore. We’re in a bit of a quiet spell right now because our lead guitar player has some medical issues that are not yet resolved and our other guitar player has sold his house where we practice (that’s another slice for another day). The other night, we were working on a song that I wrote a few months ago, and which I have shared as a Slice earlier in the year.

The quality of the recording is terrible (our singer used his phone and then had trouble sending the file to me, so he recorded it off the phone with a digital recorder … and that’s never a good thing when you add a second layer of recording — you can hear it in the wavy gravy element of the sound), but you can listening in on how a new song is developing here. We’re still figuring it out, together, making changes and trying out parts. Seeing what work and what doesn’t work. As the writer of this piece, it’s such a powerful experience to be in a room with musicians who are my friends, playing and learning a song that I wrote, and having it slowly come together, section by section.

I left this practice on air, really, and I thought back to where this particular song started months ago, with me on the floor of my bedroom, an empty piece of paper and an acoustic guitar in my lap and some vague notion of lyrics.

Take a listen to Set My Anchor on You


This is a shout-out to my bandmates in Duke Rushmore.

Peace (in the song),
Kevin