Writing About Songs: Katrina Blows In


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp. In these posts, I am trying to shine a light on the writing of the songs – where inspiration comes from and how it manifests itself in music.)

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I realized that I needed to try to express my anguish (at the devastation) and anger (at political incompetence) through song and out of those mixed feelings emerged Katrina Blows In, which became a standard song for my band, Sofa Kings, for a number of years. My attempt was to catch a feel of New Orleans with the sound and tell a story of survival from someone in the midst of the approaching storm.

There’s also the political element — of how the system failed people in the time of their greatest need, and how we need to rely on each other as much as possible.

“If we all pull together
we might find a way to weather the storm …”

I really like how my bandmates brought their own ideas to this song, shaping it into a full-blown track instead of the dirge-like demo that I had in mind. There’s life in here, just as there was still life in those who made their way out of Katrina, even though their world would never be the same. I was hoping to honor those people as best as I could, from my perch in the Northeast.

In live shows, the opening riff would often bring people to the dance floor, although I am not so sure they were listening to the lyrics. I think they were moved by the beat and the mandolin. I’m playing guitar on this one, and singing the lead. It’s one of those songs that I can listen to, and nod my head, and know that we pulled this one off pretty well.

Peace (in the storm),
Kevin

App Review: Adobe Voice for Digital Stories

I have to admit: the new digital storytelling app from Adobe, called Voice, is such a breeze to use that I wonder why other apps are not set up. With a clean design, clear steps and access to Creative Commons images and infographic symbols and my own pictures, Adobe Voice really raises the bar for how you can tell a story on a mobile device. I’ve been toying around with it for a few days.

Here, for example, is a book trailer that I did yesterday as my son and I finished reading Scat:

Here is one from the other day, as a promo for Making Learning Connected MOOC:

Both stories took me about 10 minutes each to make and to publish. I did not hit a single hurdle in either story. Clear commands on what to do — record your voice, add an image, choose a theme, pick a song — are easily accessible. You have to have an Adobe account to publish your story to the Web. And the story, as far as I can tell, can’t be saved natively to your mobile device, nor shared directly into YouTube or other video sharing sites. That’s too bad, but I suspect Adobe made this app free (yep, free) so that people would have to come under the Adobe umbrella.

If you are interested in Digital Storytelling, I suggest you check out Adobe Voice. For ease and design, I have not yet come across anything similar, and I can live with the drawbacks that I listed above if the trade-off is in design.

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Making CLMOOC Game Cards

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

I’ve been having a blast making teasers for this summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC (Massive Open Online Collaboration). This is the second year of the CLMOOC, and last year was so much fun, we are doing it again –with various wrinkles to allow last year’s folks to keep playing with learning and enough entry points for new folks to come on board and have fun.

I am one of the facilitators of the CLMOOC, leading up the “support team” that will make sure folks feel welcomed and assisted as they move their way through the Make Cycles of possible activities and reflection. But as we move towards the “hard launch” of the CLMOOC, I’ve been tinkering around with various means of “teasing” folks to sign on up (it’s free! lurkers welcome!)

Alan Levine, over at DS106, recently shared out an online generator for creating your own Monopoly game cards, and I thought: Gotta use that! So, I’ve been creating Chance and Community Chest cards with a CLMOOC bent, and sharing them one at a time on Twitter (our hashtag is #clmooc). I decided to move all of the cards into a comic, too.

CLMOOC 2014 COMIC TEASER

I invite you to join our Making Learning Connected MOOC this summer. It’s sponsored by the National Writing Project and it is part of the Educator Innovator Network’s Summer of Make, Play and Connect. The MOOC is designed to get you playing, learning and reflecting, and connecting with other educators in a stress-free environment (hey, it’s summer). The whole thing kicks off in mid-June and goes until August, although you should feel free to enter and exit as your schedule permits.

I’m already making things …. come join me.

Peace (in the slice of MOOC pie),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Twining Play and Literacies Together

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

Last year, I introduced a whole new genre of novels: the Make Your Own Ending (or Interactive Fiction) concept. I now have a box full of those books where you come to a page as the reader/character, are faced with a decision, make a choice, and move on through a certain branch of the story. The students LOVE these books and many have not ever encountered them before (which seems odd to me, but there was a time when the publishers stopped publishing, and that seems to now have been reversed).

http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1187144/thumbs/o-CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE-MOVIES-facebook.jpgThe key is not just the reading, but the writing of these stories. Yesterday, I brought two of my classes into the freeware called Twine, which allows you to construct and build interactive fiction stories. They are now working on an archeological-themed project called “The Mystery of the Ruins” in which they will be writing and publishing their own stories.

Here is a story map from last year, in Twine (read the story, too):

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8380/8645332164_6ed9894e8a.jpgThere was so much laughter and discovery yesterday as I told them “to play” with the software and not worry about the project. Just go on and make something. Make a story, build branches and see what works and what doesn’t work. Ask questions.

We don’t do this enough — give time to play with technology — but it remains a very crucial element in my classroom, and now, as we gear our way forward later week to actually writing the real story, they will have some understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Twine. They will have some ownership of the process, and not be quite as hemmed in.

Or so I hope.

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Writing A Poem about Writing a Poem About a Poem

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

There’s a bit of convergence here, as I am writing poetry every day with Mary Lee over at a Year of Reading, while also keeping an eye out for the work that Chris Lehman is doing with teachers as poets, and of course, this familiar home of Slice of Life.

teacher-poets

The other day, Chris suggested that we write a poem about a “sliver,” which just seems to echo so nicely with Slice of Life. I wrote about watching one of my students writing a poem in what we call “inside this” — using figurative language to capture the essence of inanimate objects. He was struggling and then found inspiration with the assignment itself — writing a poem about the poem he was supposed to be writing about.

So, I wrote a poem about his poem about the poem. And then I made it tappable.

Peace (in the slice),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Reader’s Book of Days

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(This is part of the Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments on Tuesdays. You come, too. Write with us.)

Since January, I’ve been reading the same book, page by page, with the aim of finishing it up at the end of January. That’s right. One page a day, for the entire year. It’s so unlike me — the one who cranks through reading and writing — but The Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley is designed this way, as each page is a calendar day filled with news and information about the literary world that has taken place on that single day.

I love how each page is like a message in a bottle, and I can’t help but imagine the painstaking research that went into this book by Nissley. There’s very little in terms of boring events, and his own writing style in crafting the vignettes on the page (typically, about five or six small stories) is engaging, light-hearted and enlightening on a variety of levels.

How A Reader’s Book of Days Was Made from WW Norton on Vimeo.

I’m sharing this book out because reading it is like a cousin to Slice of Life, where small portraits of writers and books and characters and intrigue from the literary world inhabit each day. It’s a wonderful book, and one that I use as a sort of nightly appetizer before digging into a novel or non-fiction book that is the main read. A Reader’s Book of Days settles me in, bringing me into the spirit of the book.

What more can you ask for?

Peace (in the book of books),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Slice of Data of the Slices of Life

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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.)

And so, it ends.

Today is the last day of daily Slice of Life writing as part of the March Challenge (but anyone can continue to write about the small moments on a regular Tuesday basis via Two Writing Teachers throughout the year).  Each year, on this final day, I often reflect on the power of writing communities, and the connections made throughout the challenge. I notice the way that writing about moments in our lives opens up larger observations of the world in general. I pay attention to how writing remains the heart and soul of reflection.

All that still remains true, and I’ll add that the growth of the Slice of Life community is breathtaking to watch unfold, as each year, dozens more teachers spend their days writing, reflecting, sharing, connecting, and it is a joy to see happening.

Yesterday, though, I thought I might take a closer look at some of the writing and sharing that was going on during typical days of Slice of Life, gathering together some data.

First of all, a disclaimer: this is so not-scientific. But I will explain how I went about it so you can take my numbers for what they are — a slice of observation only.

  • For the average number of posts per day, I randomly chose five different days throughout the month and counted the Slicers who posted, and then averaged it out.
  • For the gender gap, I chose three different days and did the best I could to determine gender, and then tallied and averaged those numbers out.
  • For the number of comments, I took one single day and went to 10 different blogs, and tallied and averaged the number of comments at each blog.
  • And for the topics, I created a chart and used one single day to put topics in different categories, mostly based on titles of the posts, which is far from perfect.

And now, the Slice of Data, which I put into Haiku Deck to share out (and can’t figure out who some of the bottom section of letters are cut off … sorry).


Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

For me, the most striking slide is the Gender Gap slide, which is something we have noticed in the past with Slice of Life but this year, it became very evident as the numbers increased, the number of male writers did not trend with the women writers. This is not a bad thing, per se, just an observation as one of the few male writers.

Peace (in the data),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Nacho Request

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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.)

My son has taken to leaving sticky notes in strange places, particularly when my wife or I are working or need some quiet time. I opened up my laptop yesterday and found this note, which had me laughing. Notice how my wife circled “yes” to the request for trading a hair brushing for nachos.

Nachos

Peace (in the note),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Shifting Musical Spaces

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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.)

For almost 17 years, every Tuesday night, I have driven over to my friend’s house on the other side of our city, walked up three flights of stairs to a converted attic space full of guitar amps, drum sets, and microphone stands, and played music. Through three different bands — the current one being Duke Rushmore, but before that it was the Sofa Kings and Big Daddy Kiljoy, along with assorted smaller configurations like The Millenium Bugs — that space has been my home-away-from-home for making music.

Alas, no more.

My friend, the rhythm guitarist and fellow songwriter, finally sold his house, as part of his larger financial plans for retirement, and the attic space where so many songs were written, arranged, played, abandoned, rediscovered, revamped and more is now empty of everything but the memories. We’ve now moved over to the basement of our bass player’s house, another town over. It’s great that we have a new space but I’m going to miss that attic.

This is a panoramic picture of the last night of practice:
John's Attic SpaceAnd this is a poem I wrote for my friend, who was so generous with his house for so many years. I framed it for him as a present.
UpontheThirdFloorElizabethStreet

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Little Scratch

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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.)

In my push to experience a variety of open education programs (MOOCs and such), I signed up for the Learning Connected Learning 2 through the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten project (and via the Educator Innovator network). I’m feeling a bit lost with it, though, and I can’t tell if it my own fault (I haven’t been paying attention?) or the way the course is set up (it isn’t drawing me in as it should?).

I’m paying attention to this feeling of not quite being “there” because this coming summer, as with last summer, I am going to help to lead the Making Learning Connected MOOC for teachers (I hope you come, too!) We had a blast last summer — playing, making, connecting, reflecting — and we hope to replicate the experience and expand it this summer, too. Without pointing fingers at the LCL2 folks, who no doubt have worked hard to create a space for exploration, something seems to be lacking for me. I don’t feel connected into the experience. But it might be me, and I might need to buckle down and dive deeper in.

So, yesterday morning, I tried one of the activities: introduce yourself via Scratch. If you don’t know what Scratch is, it’s a programming tools out of MIT that allows you to do simple coding and animation. I’ve never been a huge fan of Scratch — when I have used it with students, they lose interest quickly — but I like the concept of visual programming, and you can see the influence of Scratch’s innovative ideas in many apps and programs that teach students how to program and code. Apparently, though, thousands of kids are regularly using it, and the Scratch Community is huge and very active. So, it might be the way I taught Scratch, and not the platform itself. (There’s a theme of doubt coursing this post, I realize).

Here’s what I created as a short introduction to myself in Scratch:

This is a screenshot of the editor area:
me on scratch
Peace (in the play),
Kevin