Slice of Life: And So It Ends (sort of)

March has come to a close, and so, too, does the annual Slice of Life writing challenge. Once again, I went into the month thinking, I probably won’t write a slice every single day — maybe a few days here and there — and once again, I ended up writing 31 slices. (And that is the fifth year of doing it, so really, on my blog, there are more than 150 Slice of Life posts over time. Personal research project: go back and archive them all. Yeah. Right. Eh, maybe.)

I want to thank Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to facilitate and support writing among teachers and others. The Slice of Life this year just exploded with writers. Some days, the numbers were hovering around 150 writers sharing their posts. Much of that interest has to be attributed to the personal connections that Ruth and Stacey have created over the last few years, and the nurturing voice their blog sends forth to readers, and writers.

There’s a lesson to be learned from Slice of Life for anyone who has ever tried to nurture a writing space: create a space that values all writers, and all bloggers; find a way to build an audience; and people will write. This month proved that, beyond a doubt. (Although I still wonder about the gender gap with Slice of Life. On most days, as far as I could figure, there were maybe four to five male bloggers involved, and only three or four of us were regulars. Why is that? Is the Slice of Life narrative writing something that puts off my fellow men? Is Slice of Life, and Two Writing Teachers, perceived as a “girl” thing? I don’t think so, but the gap does vex me a bit.)

As I wrote early in the month, it became a losing battle for me to try to comment on most of the posts every day, try as I might. I sort of swam around the posts, surfing among the titles that folks left to see what might be interesting and trying my darnedest to read and interact with new bloggers. (Yes, just like books, the words in the titles of posts made a difference to me. I didn’t have time for everyone, so I honed in on the ones that seemed extra interesting). Unlike other years, I don’t feel I was to develop a rich, deep blogging relationship with a small core of new writers. Instead, I was like one of those thousand points of light in the night sky, joining others in creating a constellation of words and experiences (See what the Slice of Life does? It makes you wax poetic. And just in time for Bud the Teacher’s visual poetry blogging challenge for April.)

If you were one of the regular commentors here at my blog, I want to thank you so much for the time you spent with me. I was humbled by the conversations and honored that you would take the time to cast out a few lines and spark a conversation. I want to apologize if I left your comment dangling there, with no response. I was too busy commenting elsewhere (maybe even at your blog). Knowing you were out there, possibly wanting to read my words, inspired me as a writer this month. The Slice of Life makes you notice the world around you. It forces you to step back and wonder about the little moments. It provides a space to share.

If that isn’t all about the power of blogging, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for being on the journey with me this month, and I encourage you to keep writing with Two Writing Teachers as they continue their Slice of Life every single Tuesday at their site. The challenge may have come to a close, but the writing? It continues on.

Peace (and thanks),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Ms. Frizzle Incident

I blame Ms. Frizzle.

My first grade son got the idea for his school’s Science Fair (which had more than 100 student projects) from reading one of the Magic School Bus books. It’s the story about rainbows and colors, and pinball machines. In the book, the kids divide up the color spectrum using a prism and a burst of light in order to escape the pinball machine they are stuck inside. My son wanted to recreate that for a display about light and color.

That idea sounded great to my wife and I. We were thrilled he wanted to partake in the Science Fair. His older brothers had had no interest at all, for some reason. My wife worked with him to get his display put together, went out to the local science store to buy a prism, and coordinated the activity, although he did much of the work (you can see that is not the case with some of the displays but I won’t get into that).

The problem was … the light through the prism didn’t quite work.

Maybe we were expecting too much.  We had this vision of a lovely rainbow shooting out of the prism and shining onto the whiteboard. That’s how the Magic School Bus kids and Ms. Frizzle did it. (What? Books aren’t real?) Instead, it took a  lot of twisting of the prism and manipulating of the light to finally create a tiny little teeny rainbow. Talk about letdowns.

You know what, though? My son didn’t care. He loved seeing the color spectrum he created. And the kids who came to his display? They didn’t care, either. They twisted and turned that flashlight and prism and then uttered “cool” when a little rainbow finally appeared. And maybe they learned a thing or two about light and color. Who knows. It was mayhem in the school cafeteria with all of those projects and all of those kids and all of those family members.

IMG00233-20120330-1419

I was happy to leave and gulp down some fresh air, and then my son, wife and I stood and stared at the stars for a few minutes. It was a beautiful moment. Lights were all around us, twinkling up in the sky. Science and discovery really is all around you. Maybe that Ms. Frizzle really does know a thing or two about the world.

Peace (and thanks for visiting all this month with Slice of Life),
Kevin

Slice of Life: I am Mr. Snow

We’re just under a week from our annual Quidditch Tournament and the artwork frenzy has taken hold. We are working on huge banner posters for our team (Permafrost) and every student is hard at work, finishing up their T-Shirt art projects. Yesterday, I realized that my own T-Shirt was still an empty canvas, so I asked a few students to get to work on it.

“What’s your number?” one asked me. Each student has an invented team number on the back of their shirt, just like real sports.

“Whatever you want it to be,” I replied.

“What do you want for a nickname?” another inquired. They all invent nicknames for themselves, and then paint it across the back of their shirts, above their numbers.

“Whatever you want to call me … just please be nice,” I pleaded.

They smiled at me — not mischievously but thoughtfully — and then a bunch of students gathered around, calling out possible nicknames for me. They ended up with “Mr. Snow” (inspired by the Snow Miser, I think, so that had me thinking, hmmmm) and then the girls got to work on my shirt. It’s lovely and beautiful, and best of all — it’s created by them.

Mr H tshirt

Peace (on the shirt),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Of Facebook, Fighting and Frustration

I’m disappointed to say that there was a fight yesterday at our school between two boys. These students are two boys, from different classes, whom I would never have thought would square off at recess and throw punches. They did. I won’t get into some of the reason behind the altercation except to note that it began with negative remarks on one of the boy’s Facebook pages and those words spilled over into our school.

More than a few things frustrate me about this situation:

  • I wish the two boys had come to me, or another teacher, to help resolve the issue. I can see a path to resolution that they could not see, apparently;
  • I wish the parents of my sixth grade students would not allow Facebook at all (they are not yet 13, the age of registration at FB). I worry that much of their time on FB is unmonitored and unchecked. They’re not yet mature enough for that. In fact, they should not even be on FB at all yet, in my opinion (and that of FB, too);
  • I feel a bit right now that all of my work with the classes around using social media spaces for the positive, and not the negative, fell on deaf ears with these two boys. Just thinking of how we spent weeks working around Digital Life, and all of our conversations and activities, and work around this issue … led to naught when the boys were in the situation to use that knowledge;
  • I’m thinking of how to talk to my class today about the situation, to avoid the class/friends versus class/friends standoff. We don’t want this one incident shifting gears into something larger;
  • I’m just disappointed in both of my students right now for their actions.

I won’t say that Facebook is the culprit here, because it isn’t. But it certainly opened the road for trash talking that led to something more serious. I wonder if the parents are actively monitoring their children’s Facebook pages (are they “friends”? do they even know their child has a FB account?).

Finally, I wonder if it is worth an email home to our parents, reminding them about social networking spaces, and the developmental issues of 11-year-olds in online environments (“I can say what I want!”). Perhaps parents need some educating, too. They were certainly appreciative when I shared our Digital Life unit at parent-teacher conferences. I’ll be chatting to my colleagues about this today, trying to sort it out, trying to put out the fires left over from the incident, and trying to remind my kids about responsibility.

I was going to write my slice today about the start of Little League baseball season, and the first practice last night in the cold wind, but I couldn’t get my heart into it. I have those two boys on my mind.

Peace (on the page),
Kevin

Slice of Life: New Literacies Consulting

Yesterday after school, I dashed to my car and drove to another school district in the area, where I am beginning to do some consulting work around the integration of technology and New Literacies ideas in an elementary school setting (this is all through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project). This district received an Innovation Grant from our state and is doing inquiry around how they can better use technology for student engagement and learning.

I was brought in yesterday to chat with a committee of teachers, parents, School Committee members, and the principal about the venture. I’ll also be spending an entire day there in late April, doing some demonstrations in classrooms and then working with the staff in the afternoon. It’s exciting to be part of this school’s push forward, and I hope I can help them do it in a meaningful way.

Our meeting yesterday was pretty informal. I presented some of my views around technology:

  • Helping student make the shift from consumers of media to creators of content
  • Using the backwards design model so that technology is just a tool to get where we need to be, not the focus of the instruction itself
  • Making sure teachers have time to play and investigate and reflect on technologies in a safe, nurturing community
  • Moving away from the isolated Computer Lab model to a more integrated model of technology right in the classroom
  • Valuing the technology literacies of students outside of school
  • Understanding that online communities provide important professional development opportunities
  • Reaching the “middle group” of teachers who are ready to make a shift, but need a path forward

One of my suggestions is that the school consider a “theme” for its move forward, and so we talked a lot about digital storytelling and its power to use voice, image, multimedia and writing across various age levels. My demonstrations will focus on digital storytelling in the various grades, although it will be only a taste (in a limited time).

In the meeting, there were questions around a lot of topics already, including:

  • Differentiated instruction and reaching all students with technology
  • The potential value of 1-to-1 computing environments
  • Ways to consider digital citizenship as part of an instructional unit
  • How technology can create pockets of collaboration
  • The potential of publishing for students
  • How does an ICT position (the lab teacher) transform into a technology coach position
  • How technology use might look different in the lower grade levels (and what that might look like)

I have to admit, I felt pretty honored and humbled to have been invited into this role. While I know I do a lot with technology with my students, and I am invited to give PD at various times for other districts, I’d love to see this consultant gig emerge into a partnership with this school where I can provide resources, advice and learning experiences for the teachers there in a way that makes sense for them. I want to value their school culture in our work. I see the role of consultant in this way as more of a partner, and guide, than the “expert.” My hope is to learn from them, as they learn from me.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

 

Video Slice of Life: The River Art Installation Project

We found our way back to the river again yesterday. This time, my 14-year-old son came along and he brought his iPod so that he could video some footage of the log with all of the found objects from the river that a neighbor has been creating (I wrote about this the other day although now there is a “guest box” where people can leave notes, so I left a poem).

Suddenly, my son got inspired. He stuck a large stick in the ground, took off his shoes and waded out to a little island to gather bricks. He then started to create his own art project.

We mostly watched him at work, although my wife and younger son helped him collect the red bricks (which are everywhere, remnants of the Great Flood decades ago that swept through the area, killing more than 50 people) and white stones and pottery and rocks. The little one kept asking “What are you building?” and the older one kept replying, “I don’t know yet.”

But build he did.

He then came home, downloaded a video editing app on his iPod, edited his footage and uploaded it into his YouTube account, connecting the video to his new Facebook account, too. (ahh, the modern childhood). I noticed this morning that his video invites others to come to the river, too, to add to the natural art installation now emerging. (His art is the last image of the bricks in a circle around the branch stuck in the ground)

If you are in our neck of the woods, feel free to pick up some river glass or brick shards and add it to the artwork. Imagination is the only thing required.

Peace (by the river),
Kevin

 

Audio Slice of Life: The Two Young Engineers

Yesterday, I took my youngest son and his friend, and our dog, down to the river. The kids then proceeded to spend about an hour “building a dam/bridge” with rocks and sticks. They didn’t say damn bridge, by the way. They were clear this was a dam/bridge. Anyway, I took out my phone and called in a Slice of Life podcast from the river, using Cinch (a great app that allows for podcasting from your computer, your phone or your mobile device).

 

Peace (in the building of things),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Quidditch Fairness Doctrine

As I have mentioned before in Slice of Life, we play a version of Quidditch at our school (see the tutorial video we made a few years back) and March is the month where the Quidditch excitement takes hold for our sixth graders, as it leads to our 13th annual Quidditch Tournament in early April. Yesterday, we took our students to an indoor soccer arena for the entire school day, playing soccer and other games, but mostly focusing in on scrimmage matches of Quidditch between classes.

I love watching them play and my class did exceptionally well, working together, supporting each other and playing the game itself. It’s learning that won’t be found on next week’s standardized testing, that’s for sure.

The trickiest part for us, as teachers, to make sure the playing time is fair and equitable for everyone. It’s a lot of work, and I try to share with my students the tricky task of making sure that no one sits too long during the game (there are seven squads, each four minutes long). There are also some prime positions that most everyone wants to play (beater, chaser, seeker), and I need to make sure everyone gets some time at the positions they want to play. The larger the class, the harder that becomes.
Q Lineup Work

I think I must have spent about two hours working on the lineups for yesterday’s scrimmages. First, I take the requests that they make. Then, I pencil in a chart, marking off on another chart which position they are playing and in which squad. Then, I move those names over to a color-coded chart, which is also what I hang on the wall. Honestly, it is a pain in butt. But I don’t want anyone to feel cheated or left out.

That’s my Quidditch Fairness Doctrine: everybody plays.

We’ve had a few years where we have lost the big tournament because of my doctrine. I could  have easily stacked the decks with my athletes and let the non-athletes do very little. I refuse to do that, and if it means losing, I am OK with that. I want everyone to walk away from their special time with Quidditch (they look forward to it from preschool/kindergarten) and think, that was fun.

Of course, even with all my planning and cross-checking, sometimes things slip. Yesterday, one girl came up to me.

“I’m on the same squad twice, Mr. H, ” she said.

“What?”

She brought me over and showed me the list. Sure enough, there she was as a seeker and a sidelines tosser. I looked at her and smiled.

“Did you bring your magic potion? That one that allows you to be in two places at one time?”

She laughed, and then we moved things around to straighten it out. And then they played. All of them.

Peace (on the Quidditch pitch),
Kevin
PS — this is this year’s symbol for my team
Permafrost symbol
 

Slice of Life: The ‘Inside This’ Poetry Podcast

I’m a big fan of how technology can bring student voices forward. Yesterday, I pulled out my voice recorder as my sixth graders were sharing a poem entitled “Inside This …” and asked if anyone wanted to share their poems as a podcast. I got a handful in each class, and the poems were nicely done, and sound wonderful. (The poem uses figurative language techniques to get at the essence of an inanimate object. I allowed one exception for the girl who wrote about a chicken egg. She loves writing about chickens.)

Enjoy the voices!

Peace (in the podcast),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Thinking in Haiku

Yesterday morning, I realized that it was World Poetry Day. OK, so I am not sure what that kind of holiday is but it sounds good to me! (I’m a sucker for writing-inspired-days). I decided that I would spend the school day, periodically writing down haiku reflections as my students were doing some poetry writing themselves (which we had already planned.) I also began sharing the haikus on Twitter when I had a few moments. Haiku works well with Twitter due to the brevity of lines and words.

The first poem came from the moment when I made the decision to write poems.

I celebrate poems
Small lines that entwine my heart
released to the world

On the drive to school, it was foggy. Very foggy. I was reminded of Carl Sandburg’s famous poem, and used that as a hook.

Sandburg speaks of fog
I see the cat this morning
shining bright car lights

As I pulled into the parking lot at school, the sun was trying to poke its way through the fog and mist. You could just make out the rays extended through the cloud cover. I know it was illusion, but it looked like strings from a balloon.

Defused sunlight drips
like tether lines off balloons
we chased as children

Before the kids arrive, and as I am getting ready for the day in my classroom, I often play (crank/blast) music in my room to gear up. I chose The Gaslight Anthem, a hard-rocking band that echoes Springsteen.

The Gaslight Anthem
soundtracks my morning with blasts
of blue-collar lives

I turned off the music as the clock struck 8:30 a.m. and then …

Noises in hallways
breaks the silence of morning
the day then begins

During our writing time, I watched the room, observing my sixth graders, writing lines myself.

They’re all poets now
carving out space between words
rhythmic thoughts collide

After the writing, there is the independent reading of novels. I’ve been amazing at how quietly and focused they can read for extended periods of time. (OK, so not everyone. But most of them)

Silence gets broken
only by pages turning
slowly, in their minds

The temperatures outside were reaching 70s by the end of the day and even I was looking wistfully out the window.

Inside; the Outside
beckons you to stare, helpless
as Spring comes alive

And finally, the kids went home, the school calmed down, and I closed up my classroom, walked outside to my van. I closed my eyes to take in the sun. Now, it is family time.

Out into the air
the building releases me
my mind shifts its gears

And that is my school day in haiku. If you are up for it, and you want to comment as haiku, I would be thrilled. (no pressure)

Peace (in the poetry),
Kevin