My Students Know Me Well: A Gifted Saxophone

Gift of Saxophone Art from a StudentI am always appreciative of any gift a student and family give me at the end of the year, but I am also a little uncomfortable with such gifts, too. My job is to teach. It’s my passion, too. Thank You’s are just fine with me. I don’t need gift cards or whatever to understand appreciation for our year of writing and reading together.

One student this year put paint brush to (recycled) cardboard and gave me her own painting of a saxophone. That’s my main musical instrument. Of all the tokens, this is my favorite, for it shows I shared myself with my students. (I also got a New York Giant mug and some New York Yankee pens).

I loved this saxophone so much, I put it through some photo filters to make a collage.

Saxophones in filters

Peace (played soulful on the saxophones of the world),


Monkeys Fly When Writers Write

Monkeys before flying

Yesterday was the last day with students. It’s an emotional day and at our awards ceremony, I try to lighten the mood a bit with my Flying Monkey Award.

The Flying Monkey Award celebrates students who have completed every writing prompt from the year (we did 66 prompts this year, from short stories to arguments to designing theme parks to making comics, and much much more) and kept their notebook from prompt number one through prompt number 66.

If so, their name goes into a lottery and four students get randomly chosen to get a screaming, flying monkey shot across the auditorium at them (by me, of course). They get to keep the monkey, by the way. It seems a fitting way to end the awards ceremony that ends the school year.

This is the monkey shot, from another year.

Peace (summer’s nearly here),

Who Said Anything About Quitting? The Digital Picture Book Project

Sharing Digital Picture Books

On our last full day of school yesterday (we still have today and tomorrow as half days), my librarian colleague, Pati, and I arranged to have our sixth graders share digital picture books with first graders, and it was a lovely experience to gather the older kids with the younger kids.

Our sixth graders made their books this year in Google Slides, and the theme was to riff off the picture book The Day the Crayons Quit. Although we all felt rushed by the end, with not enough time to do everything that needed to get done, the sharing was a success. I am grateful for colleagues like Pati.

It was all about writing for an audience, collaborating with a partner, understanding the design of image and words, and creating something worth sharing to younger readers. Pati and I have done versions of this project now for the past few years.



Peace (in the share),

Slice of Life: The Beat of the Drums Connect Us

(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 wish I had taken a picture, but I didn’t. So imagine this: On the stage in the high school auditorium, there are about 175 seventh-graders, sitting before African hand drums or holding onto colorful boom-sticks. In the audience, there are about 175 sixth graders, listening to the sound of the entire seventh-grade class drumming and singing a song of welcome to the upcoming class. A visiting drummer/artist who tours the world working with schools is leading the way, helping the students find the beat.

At some moments, everyone in this space — all 350 or more of us — are chanting and drumming and finding a common rhythm together. It is an amazing experience to use music to create connections, to tap into the rhythms of the beat as a shared experience.

Then, as seventh graders leave to head home on their bus on their half-day schedule, our sixth graders take their places at the drums at the front of the stage, and in minutes, the auditorium is alive again with the heartbeat pounding of drumming and percussion, finding sync together with hands and fingers and sounds and voice.

And so begins the day of our sixth grade students joining other sixth grade students in our sprawling school district at the regional school, where in September, they will become classmates as seventh graders for the next six years. I hope they will remember this — how they all came together in this space to create something magical through music.

Peace (in the beat of the heart),


Gif-ing It: Starting Field Day on Foot

We held our school’s Field Day the other day, and it was glorious weather — bright, not humid, slight breeze. Just perfect.

The day begins with a mile run around the school, and I would estimate that more than 85 percent of our student body (of a total of about 550 students) participate, along with some teachers and staff. I stood in the middle of the starting line pack to shoot some photos, and pulled them together into the gif.

I love the smiling faces as they approach me.

Peace (steady as it goes),

Slice of Life: Finding Your Center

(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.)

The ending of the school year often brings some interesting projects for students, and our gym teacher, Jim, has invited in an outside archery education group to work with our sixth graders this week. It’s pretty cool to walk into the gym and see the line of kids hard at work, learning how to draw a bow and how to eye a target.

Jim at Archery in PE Class

And the group’s motto — Find Your Center — gives a hint about how they connect archery to paying attention to the body, and paying attention to the spirit, and the need to find calm in the moment of life’s crazy times. Just before you shoot, time stands still as you slow your breathing and ready your arrow, and then you release the arrow towards the target.

Finding Your Center is a good saying to have in your head as transitions loom (as they do for our kids, moving out of an elementary school into a middle school).

Find your center. I like that.

Peace (soaring forward),

Slice of Life: Remove the Negative/Keep the Positive

(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.)

Every single year that I have taught (16 years), woodcarver Elton Braithwaite has arrived in early June to work with our sixth graders on a woodcarving project.

For a full week, as an artist in residence, he teaches our students the ways to be creative with wood. More than that, though, his message of tolerance, of perseverance, of making opportunities, of learning what others want to teach you — these are the most important parts of Elton’s visit. Those are the things that will resonate after the school year ends.

Yesterday, his message included the following phrase, in which he used woodcarving as a metaphor for life. He was talking about how a woodcarver’s job is to surface the art by removing that which surrounds it, to envision what you want to remain strong and vibrant by taking away things that hide it.

Remove the negative. Keep the positive. — Elton

I really love that phrase, and appreciate that my students will have a chance to learn from Elton, not just about art (although the art they will make is magnificent and woodcarving projects decorate many of our school hallways and rooms) but also about what it means to live a positive and fulfilling life, to dream and then to make those dreams become a reality.

Elton Comes to Visit

Peace (surfaced on the plane of the world),

PS — I show this to my students before Elton arrives.



It’s a Student Haiku Celebration

Haiku Poetry Collection

My sixth grade students have just finished up the writing of a series of haiku poems, and using Google Slides to create visual representations of their poems. Each student then “donates” a poem to this collection. There are some wonderful poems in here.

Peace (in three lines),

The Fortnite Phenomenon (Where Social Gaming and Kid Culture Collide)

So, this was weird.

We had just finished the last round of our state testing (we, meaning them) and we had some time in the classroom as we waited for the other three sixth grade classes to also finish (and then we would get outside for fresh air).

They ate snacks, and started games of Uno and Scrabble, and then I watched the boys (this was only the boys, and every boy in the classroom) gather together and start to act like their arms were pickaxes and they were cutting down trees (some acted like trees that others were cutting down.) When we finally got outside, the boys ran to bushes and trees, and began acting like they were chopping wood again.

Ok. What? Minecraft? Maybe?

I soon realized that the boys were “playing” Fortnite, the multi-player video game phenomenon that I know has been part of many of the students’ gaming lives for weeks now. But to see it being acted out — the axes being used to clear bushes and trees to make hiding spaces in the game world — just looked … odd. (The girls kept glancing over at the boys, with a look like … they are such strange creatures.)

At one point, one of my students came over to me, and with a smile and a laugh, asked: Mr. H, do you Floss?

I knew better than to respond right away, and I quickly realized that The Floss is a dance that players do inside Fortnite (and also outside of the game, as I recognized the movement immediately). Along with (thanks to later research)  the Floss, there is also the Fresh, the Squat Kick and the Wiggle.

So, what to make of Fortnite? It’s a survival game, in which collaboration is key. It’s social. It’s global. Millions of people are playing it. I hear my students planning Fortnite sessions for the evening. Fortnite is everywhere right now. Is it just a fad? Maybe, but even fads have reverberations in culture, and the language and dancing and other elements of Fortnite are creeping into pop culture, for sure.

Just ask your kids.

A day later, I was reading a piece in The New Yorker about Fortnite by writer Nick Paumgarten (the article was inspired by him watching his adolescent son and son’s friends play the game). He immediately noticed the social aspects (including friends gathering to watch other friends play) as well as some of the positive pieces of the game. He also noticed how the design of the game draws players in for extended periods of time.

While a magazine headline writer used this warning in the magazine as the subhead on the featured image — The craze has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and eating Tide Pods — Paumgarten ultimately notes that Fortnite is ” … a kind of mass social gathering, open to a much wider array of people than the games that came before it. Its relative lack of wickedness — its seems to be mostly free of the misogyny and racism that afflict many other games and gaming communities — makes it more palatable to a broader audience …

My son, age 13, tried to download Fortnite to my iPad, but it didn’t work because of the age of the iPad (sorry, Kid). So he went into another game that is sort of a clone of Fortnite that he plays with friends. They keep an open communication channel and my wife and I can hear him chatting and planning and laughing and shouting, and socializing, with friends as they play together. This element of player connection, mostly positive for now, makes the game environment different, I think, and I wonder where that element will take the next tier of video games.

Peace (in the worlds),

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),