Slice of Life: Even The Dog Has a Bracket

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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.)

You can’t seem to find a counter-top in my house without a college basketball bracket cluttering it up. It’s March Madness, and although our local University of Massachusetts got crushed yesterday by Tennessee after reading the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 (lots of groans from the living room of our house as we watched that game unfold), the lure of bracketology is pretty strong.

All three of my boys have brackets going (with my youngest son creating up to three different ones in his first year of understanding a little bit of what is going on), and I have my own bracket (in a few pools). My youngest son even made one for my wife, who is only vaguely interested in the tournament.

The madness

Even the dog has a bracket, which is an annual tradition in our house.

Duke

Here’s how that system works, which is quite amusing to watch: My middle son holds a piece kibble in each of his clenched fists and then rattles off each of the round’s face-off teams. Whichever fist the dog’s nose hits first gets the nod on the bracket. As you might imagine, our tail-wagging Duke (our dog) chooses quite a few upsets in the tournament. He even picked Duke (the team) to lose, even though Duke is his given name and you might figure some allegiance. (Me, on the other hand? I don’t like Duke. It goes way back to the Bobby Hurley days when Duke seemed to always crush UConn at key moments of time).

Go figure, though. Duke lost, so Duke won. Kibble is a wise thing, indeed.

So far, my Final Four picks (Virginia, Florida, Arizona and Louisville) are all still in the mix (I have Florida winning it all) But my main team — UConn — is still hanging in there, too, with a nail-biter the other night and game against its old rival, Villanova, tonight. We’ll see how far they can go.

How about you? How’s your bracket faring?

Peace (along the brackets),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Lifting Off with Quidditch

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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.)

If you read this blog every March (who does that? Slicers), then you know our entire sixth grade is moving into Quidditch Season. That’s right. We play Quidditch at our school. I believe this is the 13th year of the game, which first came into being on a suggestion from a student and has morphed into a challenging Physical Educational activity with connections to literature.

The rules have developed over the years but this video we made a few years ago for the 10th anniversary gives some pointers on how to play (feel free to steal it and remix it for your school):

Each of the four sixth grade classes chooses a name and identity, and then on the day of the Quidditch Tournament, the entire day is turned over to the four teams playing each other (and then a new tradition started last year — teachers and staff playing students in the evening. I’m already tired just thinking of it).  This is our teacher team from last year: Pink Fury.

Pink Fury Quidditch Superstars

Normally, the process of a class coming up with a team name is a lengthy process, involving lots of brainstorming, voting, elimination, more voting, and compromise. So, imagine my surprise when my entire class, on their own, came up with their team name this year: Icy Revolution. I had to make sure no one objected. No one did. They all worked together outside of my field of vision (I refuse to talk Quidditch until we start talking about Quidditch; Otherwise, it’s all they talk about. They try to engage in that conversation during the first week of school, believe it or not).

One student has already begun designing our team logo of a lightning bolt, dripping with ice, and a snitch in the background.

Icy Revolution

I am so impressed and so … let the games begin (as soon as we get through state testing.).

Peace (on the Quidditch Pitch),
Kevin
PS — and here is how they play it at college. I like our version better.

Slice of Life: Laughs and Memes

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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.)

I don’t know what you make of the strange stuff I post sometimes (but thank you for reading anyway). Today’s slice is a sort of counterweight to the other day’s heavy one. Yesterday afternoon, I just started blasting out some Slice of Life memes, injecting some humor (I hope) into the challenge.

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Sol meme

And that’s what I have for today. Strange humor as my Slice of Life.
Peace (from the awkward angle),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children

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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.)

As we finish up our critical reading of Three Cups of Tea, I led my sixth graders through a discussion of the United Nation’s document, The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children, yesterday (We used a child-friendly version). This UN declaration is referenced in the book and was also mentioned as we spent a day last week learning about Malala and her story of one girl seeking to change the world through advocating for education of girls.

 

Of course, before we could discuss the document, we had to discuss the United Nations. Most students were only vaguely aware of the name and only a handful in my four classes had any sense at all what the UN was and what it does in the world (or even that it is located in New York City). The declaration for children, while very general in nature, gave them an insight into their own lives, and how lucky they are to in a safe and supportive place in the world. Reflecting on why such a document would even need to be created and ratified by world leaders is an eye-opener in itself. And questions about who enforces the rights of children? Another lesson on the real world politics of the global stage.

As part of a writing assignment, they had to choose one of the articles of the declaration and write briefly about the importance of that article. Here are a few examples:

I thought Article Seven is most important to children because it talks about education and earning to be responsible and useful. Children will have to know this if they wish to be successful later in life. Also, the article states that children can play and have an equal chance to develop themselves. I think that is important. — Emily

 

I think Article Four (protection) is important because if we didn’t have any of those rights, then America wouldn’t be like it is today. Most children probably wouldn’t receive protection, special care, good food, and medical services. If none of this was available, then children’s lives would be in a worse way, not getting any of the proper essentials to survive. That’s why I think Article Four is the most important one. – Jackson

 

I think Article Six – “You have the right to love and understanding …” is the most important one because without love, I feel life would be awful. It’s like having a parent take care of you because they have to and not out of love and understanding. If people don’t understand you, then you feel alone, like you’re the only one in the world who feels they are going through the tough time or problem. Even if you’re rich, if you have no love, you have nothing. I feel wealth comes from the heart and not the ATM. – Jacob

 

I think that the right of a child that is most important is that “you have a right to a name and to be a member of a country.” I think this is important because a name is essential so that you can be called something other than “child,” “girl,” or “boy.” The right to be a member of a country is important too, because if you don’t have that right, you’d typically be homeless and you might not be welcomed anywhere in the world. – Victoria

Empathy begins with understanding, and action in the world begins with young people understanding the world through the experiences of others. Yes, this UN document probably has no teeth — children still get lost from the view of the world leaders. My sixth graders at least had a chance to appreciate not just the hardships endured by other children in the world, but also the promise of good lives.

Peace (in the peace),
Kevin

Slice of Life: With a Heavy Heart

 

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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.)

I didn’t even know she was there, in the audience. It was only later, after she tweeted out some pictures of my band playing at the regional fair one hot summer day that I understood that she had, indeed, made the drive, paid the admission for the fair, watched us perform, and then left before I could come out and say hello.

 

Yesterday, I learned that my friend, Jenn Cook, the director of the Rhode Island Writing Project, had been killed in a terrible accident on Friday. It’s difficult to express the sadness, even though we only met in person a few times. Our online interactions over music and writing and technology and just plain humorous anecdotes made Jenn a person I looked for in my online spaces.
jenn

The loss hang heavy over me.

Yesterday, I went to her Twitter feed, as a way to move backwards in her timeline. You might think it sort of odd to do that but I found it comforting to be reading her lines and seeing her images, and feeling her presence. Her last posts were about taking care of her ailing father, but there were pictures of dogs and snow and making digital compositions, and teaching pre-service teachers. Not long ago, Jenn and I were fellow guests on a NWP Radio program about the Making Learning Connected MOOC, where Jenn was a participant who used the ethos of CLMOOC to transform her writing project’s work. As always, she was articulate and passionate and excited about learning.

How does one keep the presence of an online friend alive after they have gone? I don’t know. I’ve set up a Team in my Kiva site, to start funneling donations to needy projects in Jenn’s name. I invite you to join me with the ForJenn team, but I will be happy even if it a team of one (me), for each time donations go out, I will be reminded of Jenn. I will be looking for education and youth projects to support, and if there is a musical element, even better. She would have liked that.

And a prose poem, too. How else to deal with loss than with some words in verse?

forJenn
forJenn by Dogtrax
Peace (in the mourning),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Odds and Ends of This and That

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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.)

I’m feeling a bit of the Monday morning quarterback, with a lot of loose threads. So this Slice of Life is a mix of small parts of various things from yesterday.

First of all, my plan to assess a pile of student work at the mall while my son was watching 300 with his friends went south when I was told I needed to be in the movie theater with him and his friends due to the R rating. I understand but I was frustrated. I had my “teacher vision” on, only to be disrupted by a movie that I had no interest in seeing. I mean, no interest at all.

My six word review of 300:Rise of an Empire

Too much violence. Not enough story.

In the early morning hours, I often check out the Daily Create, which is a daily prompt by the DS106 folks that can really push your creative boundaries. (For example, this morning, the task is to create a video that flows backwards in time). Yesterday, the prompt was to create a weather map with something that would not be on a weather map. I have no idea where I came up with this but my ideas was The Great Pet Migration of 2014. Instead of a gold rush, it was a kibble rush from east to west, and west to east.

If you see a herd of cats or a herd of dogs outside your window, now you know. You saw it on the map. Maps don’t lie, right?

Map of Migrating Pets

And finally, I was playing around with a music app yesterday morning. I am trying to come up with some theme music for poems that I might write in April, and I am intrigued by an app I have called Musyc, that .. well .. it’s hard to explain. You create music by manipulating objects.

What this music looks like

It turns out you can also make a video of a musical piece, so I gave that a try. The first one I did was too large, and the app crashed, so I tried a second time, with a smaller piece, and it worked. Later, I realized that this piece looks like a face, and then I started thinking … that’s an idea for another time. A face of music. Stay tuned.


(The volume seems low to me.)

Oh, I did find time in the evening to get to my students’ writing, and am going to finish up as soon as I hit …. publish.

Peace (in the disconnected slices),
Kevin

PS — One more thing – it was NCAA Selection Sunday and both of my local men’s colleage teams — UMass and UConn — are in the mix. We were surprised that UMass got a higher seed than UConn, but we’re happy in our house to see UMass back in March Madness. Now, can they win? We’ll see …

Slice of Life: Tackling Student Work

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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.)

I brought home two huge piles of student work to assess over the weekend. It’s more than usual for a weekend and more than I would have liked but our trimester closes soon and I hate having student work hanging on my desk for a long stretch of time — it’s not right for my writers and it’s not good for my own stress to see it there, a reminder of what I need to do.

You know what I mean?

In between moments of family time yesterday (including taking my son and a friend to see the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie, and watching them trying to figure out time vortex paradoxes even as they were giggling at the story), I dove into our Parts of Speech projects, which we wrapped up last week. I’ve written about this particularly project in the past (during a Slice of Life, as it often falls in March) but essentially, students show mastery of Parts of Speech by color-coding their own writing.

I’m not a huge fan of Parts of Speech, as I don’t think it helps them particularly as emerging writers, so we try to make it lively (lots of activities in the classroom) and as authentic (their own writing) as possible. I like the visual look of the color-coded work, too. But after 80 Parts of Speech projects, my brain was swimming in nouns, verbs, etc, and particularly … adverbs. Those darn adverbs are the trickiest of the bunch.

Parts of Speech

So, that project is done. Now, it’s on to a pile of open response writing for our Three Cups of Tea book, where students wrote along the theme of “challenge” in a few ways. I’ll be doing that reading/assessing today, in the mall, as I bring my oldest son and his friends to watch the new 300 movie. Wish we well.

Peace (in the assessment),
Kevin

Visual Slice of Life: Variations on a Flower

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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.)

Over at another writing space where I “live” with words, our friend Kim has begun to prompt our thinking around the visual. So, today, this slice is more visual than written. Kim has us thinking “spring” this, which is difficult to do when our yard is still covered in snow and temperatures plunged again the other day.

Spring has not yet sprung in New England … and yet … and yet, I saw a neighbor hooking up white buckets and tubing to his trees, anxious to catch the flow of sap when it begins. So, maybe he knows something I don’t know. Maybe spring will actually come.

For now, I have flowers in a vase, and this series of photos and filters is a celebration of the bright yellow on our kitchen table.

First, one of the originals:
Flowers

Then, a collage:
Tulips before Spring

Then, some odd filtering:
More Tulips with effects

Finally, a visual word cloud:
Spring
 

Peace (in the color),
Kevin

 

In the Poet’s Defense: I Lift Lines to Remix Ideas

Not a single person has complained about my periodic “lifting of lines” from people in the Slice of Life Challenge. But still, I feel like I need to if not defend, then at least explain, what I am doing when I lift lines (steal phrases) from other bloggers. By writing about it here, I am trying to name it. By naming it, I am trying to see if it has legs for learning.

You know what I mean? (Note to self: your defense is off to a murky start)

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Katherine even wrote a comment here at my blog after I left a poem at her blog:

There is beauty,
in the words you lift.
A second life found
inside of your lines.


Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

When I “lift lines” from Slice of Life posts, I am borrowing a phrase of words from the post, and constructing a poem around those words. I am deeply reading the slice. Meanwhile, I am also putting on my poet’s hat. Where is the “center of gravity” for me in the post? What words leap out in my mind as I read? What’s the nuance I bring to the post as a reader? These are the internal questions that go through my head. I think it started when I got tired of writing comments for Slice of Life folks that seemed genuine but rather boring. As teacher, we learn to say ‘good job’ and ‘nicely done’ in many different ways, but with fellow teachers, I wanted something more.

WhatisitabouttheWind

I want to play with words, to make my comments sing in a rhythm of their own, and I want my comments to enliven the conversations.

In a sense, my “line lifting” is nothing more than remixing, right? It’s not plagiarism, is it? I don’t think so. I am never stealing and using without attribution, and in fact, the poetic responses are published right with the post itself, as a way to honor the writer. And I do it to respect their ideas, and maybe bring a new perspective from the outside poet. Interestingly, as a writer, I find that some of my poems are clear partners to the text; Others, are distant cousins. Often, it may be that only I see the connections. This is part of the text wrestling that goes on between writer anc reader, and how online spaces both close that gap and make it more complicated.

maps

The concept of “line lifting” came from somewhere else — Gosh, I can’t remember now, and I am sure someone gave me the idea. It may have been Margaret who named it for me after I did my work with some of her students’ poems — and I used the phrase “stealing lines” at some point, too. Names matter. I sort of like the alliterative tone of “lifting lines.”

I am sure we are all stealing, borrowing and grabbing ideas from one another, and I, for one, am all in favor of that free flow of ideas. During the #rhizo14 class, I even started a whole project called Steal This Poem (go on, it’s still there for the taking) and watched with wonder as others did just that — stole my words and made beautiful new works of art from it.

Steal This Poem

In my head, I am happy when I find that line in someone’s post that works just right, and resonates with me. The poem will flow, and I just sort of watch it happen. And I suspect that a blogger who writes, hits publish, finds people have read their writing … I imagine that they will be pleased to find a poem in the mix — a small morsel of words and rhythm — with the rest of the comments. And, if I am lucky, it will bring a smile to someone’s day, if only for the moment it takes to read a few lines inspired by your own writing. Maybe it will inspire a poem by others, too. Now, that would be a gift.

April will bring the whole “poem in a pocket” idea. I’d prefer to “lift lines” in March and leave small poems scattered about like seeds in the wind. I hope you catch a poem yourself one of these days and find a line that inspires you. Be a remixer of ideas and see what happens.

DentedCups

So, does this translate into classroom practice? Yes, it will, and when we move into poetry later this year, I will be bringing this concept of “lifting lines” to my students, using other poems and stories as fodder for creative ideas. What better way to foster readers who read carefully and writers who engage in “conversation” with other writers?

Peace (your honor, the poet thief rests),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Start to New Stories

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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.)

There’s something special to starting a new book. Yesterday, I began to read two new books that have been on my radar for some time. On one hand, I love stacks of unread books. They represent so much potential. On the other hand, seeing a stack of book to be read makes me antsy, and I risk losing the “moment” of being “in” the book I am reading in order to rush to get to the book next up on my list.

Does that happen to you?

 

Wildwood book cover

Anyway, the first new book I began reading yesterday is a read-aloud with my nine-year-old son (a common theme of my Slices of Life – if you remember, my very first Slice of Life six years ago was reading The Lorax to my older boys, who were much younger then). Wildwood Imperium, by Colin Meloy (he, of The Decemberists fame), is the third book in the Wildwood Chronicles. We read the first two books and have been waiting for some time for the third. That’s a whole other feeling, right? Waiting for the writer to get to work and get the story out (I’m talking to you, George R.R. Martin).

So, when Wildwood Imperium arrived earlier this week, and sat on the kitchen counter, my son and I were both thumbing our way through the pages, checking out the glorious illustrations by Meloy’s wife, Carson Ellis, and getting ready to dive in. Of course, neither of us can recall all the details of the last book, so I keep stopping and we keep asking each other, do you remember the shape shifting fox? the bear with hooks as claws? the plan to find the automaton boy prince? the magical tree?

There is tricky vocabulary in here (no surprise if you know Meloy as a songwriter) but I like that, and I like that my son has new words floating in his head as the story unfolds.

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The other book I picked up as a solo read is The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud,  American Legend – a non-fiction book about the masterful leader of the Sioux Indians who oversaw a huge swath of America and even defeated the U. S. Army at one point (I believe), only to have the tide of injustice sweep him under the rug of history. Those who win write the history books, right? I know I never read about Red Cloud in my social studies classes. Now, I am learning.

While non-fiction, the book has beautiful writing, very evocative of the landscape and characters and the time of expansion and turmoil in our country, and I am only a chapter deep but already wishing I had a few hours to sit with the pages, reading.

What are you reading?

Peace (in the words on the page as stories in the mind),
Kevin