Slice of Life Meets SmallStories

(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.)

Maybe I am a bit lazy this morning. Maybe I just want to close the gap between the writing I do in one space with the writing I do in another space. Maybe I want to create a reminder to myself — this blog is how I curate my writing life, after all — that I have pretty consistently taking the concept of Slice of Life (the small moments, made larger through reflective writing) into pieces I create for Small Stories over on Mastodon, on a pretty regular basis.

I didn’t create the Small Stories ideas there on Mastodon. That was the idea of some networked friends who wanted to explore rich stories of connectedness and kindness. But I have been pretty consistent, using it as a place to wander with ideas and voice. Like Twitter, a character limit on Mastodon is a forced invitation to edit, to narrow, to find the exact word that means what you want to say and delete the extraneous.

Here are the last seven Small Stories I wrote over the past week:

Not remembering to check the forecast before sleep, as I am apt to do in these wintry days of New England, I was hit hard in the face this morning with a wallop of cold, biting wind. It made my eyes tear and then the tears froze on my cheek. I bent my head, kept trudging. The dog stopped with every howl of wind, as if listening to some ancient call of warning. Trees groaned but held their own against the violent sway. Some days just start wild and all you can do is forge ahead.

Who do you imagine in your mind as you write? Sometimes, an audience of one. You. Me. Sometimes, the sphere expands. Co-centric circles of Them. Yesterday, I found myself with an imaginary writer in my mind, watching her write. It was clear she was all paper/pen, not keyboard/screen. Something about font/ink brought her to life. Gave her form. From there, I had something underway before I knew it, as if she had written the song about herself through me. I can hardly explain it.

I was at a stop sign when I noticed a father and a son, maybe 7 years old, on the sidewalk. At their feet was something silver. Tin foil. A huge, massive piece of tin foil. The father was pointing at it and the boy offered up a questioning look. The father nodded. The boy leaped into the air, landing two feet on the tin foil. Then the boy began a puddle dance on top of the tin foil, a look of pure ecstasy on his young face. I couldn’t hear or feel the foil, but one can imagine.

My wife and I wandered downtown for “Arts Night Out.” An impromptu Bluegrass jam session took place in one store. In another, the son of the late saxophonist/composer Charles Neville was tucked in a corner, improving full jazz compositions to a small audience. We watched with wonder at Khalif Neville’s long fingers dancing over the keyboard, never hesitating on a note or melody, as songs flowed from his mind to our ears. We sipped wine, listened with appreciation.

We were walking out of the concert hall with our son, congratulating him on the concert band performance.
“We did OK,” he said, “but in the second song, the kid next to me let rip a huge burp.”
He stopped and looked at us.
“Did you hear it?”
Now, there were hundreds of people in the audience and nearly 100 musicians on stage.
“Nope,” my wife laughed. “We didn’t hear that.”
“Now, if he had farted …” I added, but my son quickly cut me off.
“Your fart jokes are the worst, dad.”

My son’s band director lost her mother this week. Yet there she was, in the lights, directing the middle school jazz and concert bands before a packed audience. She referenced her mother more than once from the stage, a presence in her musical life as performer and teacher. At the end of the night, a parent took the mic, expressed our collective support for this amazing teacher of our children. She truly is. The entire auditorium, hundreds of us, rose in an act of community love.

The box says “free” yet there’s nothing in the box. I pass by it two different days in my car but don’t have time to stop. So I am stopping now in story to consider the Box of Free. For, is it the Box itself that is free? It’s a nice box. Looks solid. Or is it whatever was in the Box that was free? Whatever it was is now long gone. Still, the Box remains. Perhaps it is this: the story of the Box is freely given and taken, and here I am, passing the Box along to you. Use it wisely.

Peace (made large by small moments),
Kevin

Writing a Song about Watching a Writer at Work

I was working on this song yesterday — called She Opens the Book (I Dive In) — about watching a writer working on a piece over time, working on a story or a poem, or maybe a song.

The lyrics came pretty easily and I like the slow quality of it, the laziness of the pace. This demo captures the spirit of what I was going for. I recorded it with my voice right next to the microphone, closing the distance between words and recording. You can hear the breaths between phrases as a result.

I really liked the second verse, with the reference to pen and paper and font to capture a writer’s style:

I watch every line — it’s fine — her writing hand
the heartfelt design — the way she holds the pen
They say we write
the way we feel
Each swoop of the hand
each moment, we steal
She opens the book and I dive in

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Finding a Poem Among the Words of Others

Piece by Piece Comes a Poem

This week’s call for Creativity via E-Learning 3.0, coming on the heels of considerations of distributed communities, had me thinking of heading back into the words of others, and maybe finding a poem. What the poem would say, and how it would look, I couldn’t say. But I hoped a deeper and closer reading, with poetic eyes, might bring to the surface some connections and themes.

This is the poem:

And, in an ongoing effort to unpack the making of things in different learning spaces, I want to share the process of how I did it (if only for my own memory sometime in the future).

I went back to the handful of blog posts from fellow El3.0 participants and read their reflections a few times. As words, phrases and sentences resonated with me, I pulled those pieces into a Google Doc as working space. It’s sort of a messy place, with words scattered in the document. Maybe I should have noted where the words came from there, but I didn’t, and now I don’t quite remember. One could make the case that it doesn’t matter, since the found poem is supposed to be taken from words across distributed spaces anyway.

Once I had the Google Doc littered with words, I began to read through what I had there — through the lens of disparate parts in search of a whole. I opened up another document on Board.net, and began to create stanzas from phrases in the Google Doc. (Board is collaborative document platform). I resisted adding too many of own words — only those connector words between phrases. I was trying to avoid my own voice, for now, in order to surface the collective voice of us. I didn’t even use anything from my own reflective blog post.

Finding a Poem

Once I had a flow of a poem going along the seams of our discussions —  community and consensus, distributed web effects on learning, technology as a problem in search of a solution,  and more — I circled back around, and began adding my own thoughts here and there — minimally, at best — in order to find some consistent voice across the stanzas and theme. Interestingly, the process flowed rather naturally, and the Found Poem emerged rather intact (a testament to the strength of the writing of my EL30 blogging friends more than my own curation).

Thanks to the Time Slider tool in Board, you can even watch the construction of the poem unfold. I took a screencast of it in motion because this always fascinates me. It’s better when more people are involved, yet you can see some of the ways I was unfolding the poem top to bottom, and then dancing in the corners of the stanzas towards the end.

So, now I had the poem. What to do with it? Well, it seemed to me that this kind of found poem, networked as it was, deserved visuals, so I turned to Lumen5, a digital story tool, and worked to create a visual found poem that I think quite nicely captures the voice, the spirit, the reflection, the wondering and wandering of us, as a whole. I created a few comics as visual openers for the videos, too.

Peace (found it),
Kevin

A Bit about Blockchain and the Distributed Ledger Effect

A Bit About Blockchain

I’ll be the first to admit: I know very little about Blockchain technology, although I hear the term more and more in different spaces as it relates to e-currency and encryption and more.

How does Blockchain relate to education and learning and teaching?

This is part of what Stephen Downes explores near the end his Distributed Ledger Technology video for E-Learning 3.0. The first section of the video is a lot of technical explanations – some of which I understood and some of which I did not — but all of it is worth watching to have a semblance of understanding about Blockchain technology.

Here, though, at the 38 minute mark or so, is where Stephen connects this Blockchain concept to educational possibilities, particularly around shared resources, trust effect, consensus and community, and access points:

Peace (in the learning),
Kevin

Innovation, Design and History (plus Multi-Genre Writing with Primary Sources)

Innovation and History PD at Armory

Our second professional development session of Exploring HIstory with a Local Lens with teachers at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site last night focused mostly on engineering design and innovation, with a deep look at some of the designs in the Armory archives that worked, and those that did not. (This project, a partnership between Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory, is funded with a grant from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.)

We were pleased to have the Springfield Armory Curator, Alex, join us, sharing his vast knowledge of the Armory’s history and an understanding of how the engineering design process fueled not only the Springfield Armory’s place in the field of manufacturing and innovation in the country, but how other businesses and innovators in Western Massachusetts grew and expanded as a result of the work being done in Springfield.

Alex showed us a variety of prototypes, and like a detective game, we had to figure out why a design worked and was further developed, and which were not. A coffee grinder in the stock of the rifle? A sword with an embedded whistle? A gun with revolving chamber that might blow up at any moment?

Ranger Scott and the 3D Printer

Armory Ranger Scott Gausen, a fellow facilitator in the course, then had us exploring patent diagrams in a lesson about interpreting engineering drawings, and determining the notion of a patent. We then worked on our patent drawing for a flying machine. Mine became a Rube Goldberg machine that you probably should not build at home.

How to Fly (but don't)

Scott then brought us down to the museum floor, where he made a connection between the innovation practices of old and the new, as he had a 3D printing machine up and running, working on a plastic part that the huge lathes behind the printer used to make.

Finally, after perusing and exploring our state’s new Social Studies standards, I had our participants exploring multi-genre writing through the use of primary sources of Shays Rebellion, which was a farmer’s uprising and assault on the Springfield Armory after the Revolutionary War. We made black-out poems, drew illustrations, wrote journal entries, made newspaper/media products, and I joined in with a rough comic, featuring George Washington and Daniel Shays.

Shays Rebellion Comic Strip

All in all, it was a great professional development session, leading us deeper into the notions of history, stories and innovation. We meet again in January as participants start to fine-tune their project ideas.

Peace (in the past),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Story-Framing and Storyboarding

Game Design: Storyboards

We’re in the midst of our Hero’s Journey video game design unit, in which my sixth graders are developing and then publishing a video game based on the concept of the Hero’s Journey. We use Gamestar Mechanic, which teaches students how to build games by playing games, and provides tools for publishing.

Game Design: Storyframes

The first phase is all about story-framing (what is the story that will be the backbone of the game) and storyboarding (what will your game look like) and this work provides some rich moments of questions and conversations and thinking through the game before it is under construction.

I love the variety of games under consideration. I have traditional “make your way home” and “rescue mission” stories, as well as ones that are inspired by novels they are reading, and even this year, one in which the character is inside a “book” as the setting of the game. I’m looking forward to watching that one get developed.

The story-framing is a way for young game designers to articulate the spine of the narrative, and they often require reminders during the building of games to refer back to the story-frame.

I tell them this as a sort of daily mantra:

The player is the reader, playing your story as a game

Meanwhile, the storyboarding gives rise to questions of design, of where things might be and how things might look, and often prompts questions about what they can and cannot do in Gamestar Mechanic as designers. I do a lot of huddling around work-arounds and alternative ideas once they are deep into design. But this early work gives me a glimpse of what they are thinking, and provides them with a map from which to begin work.

Peace (designed, played, won),
Kevin

PS — if you want to learn more about how we move game design into the ELA classroom (and some years, with connection to science), check out the resource site we created the first year. We tried to include materials that you are free to use: Video Game Design

 

EL30: A Visual Sense of Community, Connected

I’ve been pondering how best to represent — and more importantly, how to best connect — the various reflections that some of us have been doing related the latest task in E-Learning 3.0, which is to create a distributed web community and be part of it. We’ve done a lot of thinking, pushing back, defining and un-defining.

Consensus? Eh, maybe not completely. In the end, one of the tasks many of us seemed to have agreed upon is to write a reflection of our learning in the course with Stephen Downes and to make connections with others through that process. These shared experiences might then lead towards a sort of distributed community.

Here is my attempt, using screenshots and a collage a connected quilt, with links to blog posts, all via ThingLink. I hope I didn’t miss any bloggers. I probably did. But these are the ones that were in my digital periphery.

Peace (shared),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Gift of Peace

(I often write about my teaching life here for Slice of Life, but I wanted to share this musical gift. Slice of Life takes place over Two Writing Teachers.) 

My songwriting friend, John, and I worked on writing and recording this song as a gift for family and friends, and others, for the holiday season. We actually wrote it years ago but then we went into a local recording studio earlier this year to do a more polished version.

Meanwhile, we hired my eldest son to produce a short video to go along with the song, and he did a fine job of crafting a story of the gift that moves along from person to person.

Here, then, is a gift of peace to you, my connected friends in Slice of Life, and CLMOOC, and beyond.

If you just celebrated the Hanukkah season, or if you celebrate some other holiday — or even none at all — I hope you still accept this gift of peace as a token of friendship and that you pass it on to others.

Peace (in song),
Kevin

 

Ridin’ It Underground: Where Music and Sound Take You

I was working on constructing a song the other day and I began to imagine and remember riding the underground subway systems (I was thinking of New York, Washington DC, Boston).

As I built the song out of loops, I wanted to purposely create a sonic landscape of the experience of the subway transportation systems in my memory and imagination.

I tried to capture:

  • The rhythm of the train lines themselves
  • The walk down the escalator into the underground
  • The sounds of buskers, playing music
  • The mingling of the voices
  • The act of keeping on eye on other people
  • The echoing and pounding footsteps of the crowd on the move
  • The slow fade of the subway as you depart and leave the station behind you

This approach — capturing a sense of place through a piece of music — is intriguing because I found myself really approaching each sound, each loop, each beat, with a highly focused ear. Did it help me capture the essence of riding the rails? If not, I didn’t use it.

You can be the judge of whether my attempt was successful or not

Peace (going underground),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth

What a find! I am thankful to some friends on Twitter who recently surfaced Isabel Greenberg’s mesmerizing and delightful The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Rich in storytelling and packed with intense artwork, this graphic story within stories is steeped in layers of mythology.

The story itself revolves around the time before our own history began, when Greenberg’s imagined cultures were full of explorers and traditions, and the skies ruled by a mercurial god and his two offspring. A linking narrative thread is the roaming of a Nord man on a quest, and how the magnetic pull of love brings two worlds together, and how those two worlds also keep these lovers apart. You’ll have to read to understand.

Along the way, we have spiteful god interference (as well as helpful god interference), mad kings and kingdoms, long pages of art and no text, and a hearty stew of ancient creation myths woven together, and echoing into the present, by Greenberg, a writer and artist whose talent brims on every page. There’s also a sly narrative voice underneath this all — sort of like a winking at the reader, mostly in the form of the wise man.

Meanwhile, the illustrations and graphic design in The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is a joy to view, a pallet of mostly deep blacks and contrasting whites, thrown off now and then with splashes of color that surprise your eyes and bring you deeper into the story.

This graphic novel might be appropriate for high school, but there is some nudity here and there — nothing not in use of advancing the story — that might give a teacher pause, particularly for any students below high school age. The content itself would be accessible at an earlier age, however. And teachers could easily use sections of this book to teach about creation myths as well as the art of the graphic novel. It’s that good.

NPR has a link to read parts of the book. Check it out.

Peace (across oceans and time),
Kevin