Slice of Life: Pitching Relief

hacking bball

(A project I made in CLMOOC a few years ago, with Jim as the inspiration)

We arrived, my son and I, by bike, on the field, just before 5:30 p.m. with baseball gloves in a backpack. It was Monday night, time for the thrice-weekly Summer Ball pick-up game fun by our neighbor, Jim. But no Jim. Instead, a sign hanging on the fence, with Jim’s scratchy writing, said “Jim has some family business. Equipment in the green box. Have fun.”

Jim left all of his equipment at the field, and I was the only adult around. All the other kids — about 14 of them by now — had come by bike or their parents had dropped them off, and left. I had brought a new book with me, thinking I would enjoy some reading time while Jim led the kids in the craziness of baseball in summer. Sometimes, there can be nearly 30 kids on the field.

“I guess we can still play?” one older kid said, almost uncertainly. “Jim left the stuff. And a note.”

“OK,” another responded, as two younger kids grabbed the bases and began to unplug the field in order to anchor the bases at first, second and third. “We can make teams.”

“We just need someone to pitch,” the older one explained. In Summer Ball, Jim always pitches, to keep the game moving along and avoid squabbled over the pitching mound.

I stepped up in the quiet. They were looking at me, anyway. “I’ll pitch,” I said, putting the book away and taking out my glove, which I had brought just in case Jim needed a catcher. I stretched my arm, trying to remember the last time I pitched to kids. At least a year or so. I didn’t coach this past spring.

It showed. But I kept at it for nearly two hours, one pitch after another (a few out of control, but no kids were hurt) and they were pretty good-natured about it. The kids just wanted to play, so they just let me pitch. They hit and hit and hit, with the older kids cranking a few homerooms over the fence. They do that to Jim, too, so I didn’t feel so bad.

“This arm is going to hurt in the morning,” I told my son, who just laughed as I kept stretching after the game. I was right. My arm hurts this morning. Soreness in the shoulder. But they got to play baseball on an August summer evening and I got to go in as relief for Jim. As a reward, my son and I stopped for ice cream on the way home.

Some things are worth celebrating …

Peace (on the mound),

Cross-Pollination Reciprocation: Mixing SOL with CLMOOC

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

This week’s theme of Reciprocate with Generosity in the Making Learning Connected MOOC reminds me of Tuesdays. You see, most Tuesdays, I try to take part in the Slice of Life, a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Every Tuesday, many educators write a bit about their day — a slice of time, put into reflection.

cropped-clmooc-letters-sq-trans-1.gifSOLSC Button

As a writer, I like that open invitation to write, and so I often do. But what really interests me is the interaction at the blogs (sometimes, like during the Slice of Life Challenge each March, there are more than 100 writers involved, sometimes nearly 200) as people leave comments, and spark conversations — asking questions, wondering about the world, making connections.

It’s unlike any other year-long writing project that I have been involved in. Readers are engaged. Writers react. Conversations happen. Ideas, shared.

As folks in the CLMOOC this week engage in different activities that honor each other — and there have been many cool media projects already going — I’d like to use this Tuesday’s Slice of Life post to introduce my CLMOOC friends (we use #clmooc hashtag) to my SOL friends (we use #sol16 hashtag), and vice versa. While much of SOL is located on individual blogs (you can find links when you go to each week’s call for Slice of Life posts at Two Writing Teachers), much of CLMOOC takes place on Twitter and in a Google Community, and on Facebook.

If some of my CLMOOC friends now begin writing for Slice of Life (a few already do, I am pretty sure) and if some of my Slice of Life friends peek into the creative collaborative projects going on this summer (a few already do, I am pretty sure), then I would be very happy indeed. Cross-pollination of writing groups is always a good thing.

I am now off to read Slice of Life posts …

Peace (out there),

Slice of Life: Pool Pool

Pool at the pool

I am gearing up for a extended, long weekend visit with some friends that I have known now for nearly 30 years. We gather together each year, from whereever we live, to reconnect, and play the Pool Championship of the World (or, our little world). Yesterday, at our neighborhood community swimming pool, I touched a cue and table for the first time in almost a year. My son is getting better, but not good enough yet to beat the old man!

Peace (in the pocket),

PS — my tag, In the Pocket, reminded me of an old song of mine from my band, Big Daddy Kiljoy.

Slice of Life: Hitting Balls Against the Wall

flickr photo shared by Bill David Brooks under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I’m trying something new this summer, and it has nothing to do with teaching or creating or technology. This summer, I am trying to re-learn how to play tennis.

Yesterday, for the first time in many years, I grabbed my old tennis racket (which I bought in college) and a new container of tennis balls (which I bought from Target), and biked to our local park, where they have tennis courts. After ponying up for a year membership to use the courts (my commitment ceremony … now I have to go back at least nine more times to make it worth it), I signed out the court with a wall and spent the next hour hitting the ball back and forth.

I did OK. My arm and shoulder are sore this morning, so I guess I was using parts of my body that have not seen much use in recent years. I hit the ball over the wall, and the fence, about a dozen times, swearing at myself. But learning to get better to control, too. The walk to get the balls over the fence was sort of long, so I concentrated on keeping them in the court (it was hot outside yesterday).

My tennis years, if you can call them that, were sporadic and I won’t claim to have been all that good. But my roommate in one college urged me to get a racket and hit balls with him. Then, when I transferred, another roommate asked the same (it turns out he was a nationally-ranked youth tennis player in high school … he kicked my butt every game … but I got better just trying to keep up with his serves and hits). As an aside: cold beer tastes great after playing tennis on summer days.

What I like about the game of tennis is the rhythm of the movement of the ball and feet. When a volley happens, it’s magic. It’s sort of mesmerizing and trance-like. I also admit: I like the competitive spirit of the game itself. I want to win and push myself to do so. Even when I lose a game, which is often, I still enjoy it.

So now, I am trying to recruit some of my family members to play with me (and realized, yesterday, I forgot how to keep score in a game … need to Google it). The wall was fine — I found a rhythm — but I want someone else on the other side of the net. I am pretty sure I can convince my middle son (age: 16, and an athlete) to move from our garage ping-pong tournaments (we’re pretty even on the little court) to the tennis courts. And my wife said she would try it.

If not, I have the wall.

Peace (in love),

Slice of Life: When the Picture Books Arrive

Picture Books Arrive

Many of you know me as someone who enjoys dabbling in technology and digital writing projects, but I am a sucker for the emotional pull of a solid, physical book. Make it a book that a student has written and created, and you have me hooked.

The Books Arrive

So, the delivery of four huge boxes of student-created picture books that arrived at my classroom the other day almost had me thinking of making one of those “unbox it” videos that seem so strangely popular on YouTube. I didn’t make the video so you will just have to accept that I was pretty darned excited when I opened up the boxes and dug out the books.

Not as excited as my sixth grade students, though, who were buzzing throughout the day after my librarian collaborator and I handed out the books with the words, “Congratulations! You are now a published writer. This is your book.”

The published books — picture books designed around the theme of remembering their years at our elementary school as they head off to middle school — were the culmination of a beta-testing project with software by Fablevision that allows students to write and illustrate picture books in a digital space, and then send the books directly to Lulu publishing.

It all reminded me of this short video from Lane Smith:

I’m happy that the physical book still holds allure for my students, living as they are in an age of digital screens, and I am glad it was a gift we could give them as they end their time in elementary school. It’s been a perfect way to end the sixth grade (still a few days to go!)

Peace (past to present),


Slice of Life: You Make It All Right

Sometimes, I pick up the guitar, and the songwriting flows as if it were something else beside me. As if the song were just there, waiting patiently for the moment. This demo of You Make It All Right (Glitter and Gold) is one of those songs. I randomly sang the first line, and in that moment, I knew the entire song and story. The chords fell into place immediately. I wrote this whole song, which I really like, in about 15 minutes, tops. Maybe not even that.

Songwriting rarely goes that easy. Usually, it’s a struggle with parts of the song, moving words and editing phrases and adding bridges, and reworking the entire meaning. It’s not unusual for me to start writing a song about one thing and end up with something else entirely when I am done.

When the song just falls into place, it’s a strange, magical feeling. I’m proud of this one, for the story it tells of friendship in the face of hardship, for the mandolin-sound of the guitar (the capo is the neck) and for the possibility with my bandmates. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes, a demo falls apart when it becomes part of the band sound.

Peace (flowing in song),

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),

Slice of Life: Fostering Fan Fiction


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),

Slice of Life: Another Firefly Fanboy (A Dad’s Role, Done)

“I’m going to show you Firefly,” I told my youngest son the other day. He is 11 1/2 and has been completely taken over by the recent Star Trek movies, which we finally let him watch this year, and so I knew he would be ready for Firefly.

“Ooooh,” his older brothers teased, as they are apt to do. “Firefly. Now you get to watch a real show.”

Which isn’t a fair statement at all. We’ve been watching The Flash together, my youngest and me, and I think that show is fine entertainment. And he has watched some of the older Star Trek: Next Generation series with me, too. And he is and remains a massive Star Wars fanboy.

Still, the older ones can’t resist a chance to poke fun at the younger one. You know how it is.

And Firefly IS sort of a rite of passage, at least in our house. Not only is it Joss Whedon’s great remix of space and westerns, it is legendary as the television show that launched a protests when it was cancelled after only one season (but later, those growing fan protests led to the creation of the movie, Serenity, which I had to see in theaters alone when it came out because my wife is not a fan of sci-fi and my kids were too young.)

He knows Whedon’s name now from those loud (and I think, overwrought) Avenger movies. (Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams are household names here, as my sons are all deep into movies and moviemaking).

One of the pleasures (there are many) about having kids to show things like this to is that you get to sit with them and experience it all over again, too. It has been some years since I last watched Firefly (now streaming on Netflix, thankfully), but I still enjoyed the set-up of the pilot, the introductions of characters, and the strands of the story that Whedon spins. A few scenes were a little adultish for the 11 year old, but nothing too bad. (Cover your eyes, I said during one scene, and he did.)

We watched the pilot show (and the older boys stayed, too) and I could tell he was hooked. I sort of feel bad about it, because when the season ends … that’s pretty much it (except for the movie). But, I can say, I did my job as a dad here. I’ve got another fanboy in the house.

Now, if I can just get them interested in Lost

Peace (in space),

Slice of Life: Planetary Leap

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

My youngest son’s elementary school hosts an annual Science Fair. It’s a voluntary thing, with showcases during the day for students and at night for parents. My son, who has done entries in the past but only half-heartedly, wasn’t all that interested this year, even though it is his last year at his elementary school.

“What about designing and showcasing a video game that other kids can play during the fair?”  I asked. “With a science element?”

That got his attention, and we chatted about getting him back into Gamestar Mechanic to design a game that he could put on display, for kids to play. I reminded him that it would have to connect with science, and he brainstormed the idea of the Solar System.

His game is called Planetary Leap, and involves the “story frame” of an explorer going to check out Pluto but who has crash-landed on Neptune, and now needs to find portals to come back home to Earth. He’s sprinkling researched information about some of the planets within the story itself.

So far, so good. I am acting as technical director only, and a bit of an editor on the writing. He’s in a bit of a crunch because Friday is the Science Fair, and we sort of waited until the last minute to get on board (due to hemming and hawing). Just like a game designer with deadlines looming, right?

Meanwhile, he is interesting in building his video game even further after the Science Fair for the National STEM Video Game Challenge, which runs through August. That sort of motivating factor is interesting to see and witness, and I am enjoying watching him as a fifth grade video game designer coming into his own.

Peace (in the game),

PS — this is my site for video game design in the classroom. Steal and use whatever might be helpful.