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

Slice of Life: Oh … Behave!

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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.)

After spending a day with antsy 12 years olds whose outdoor activity during the day has been curtailed by a lingering winter cold front and who spent almost three hours, silent and mostly focused, while working on their state reading assessment, I was happy to see the buses roll out of the lot and head home yesterday.

First, I had to pick up my son from his after-school band rehearsal — he is a rather reluctant percussionist — and I pulled into the loop a few minutes early, thinking I would read a magazine in the quiet of the van. But outside my window, something else ensued as two mothers almost went to fisticuffs over something … so … stupid.

Let me set the stage with my journalistic hat on my head:

A few cars are in the loop. More are coming. There is car on the other side of the loop from me, parked just fine, when another car pulls up in front of it, and then reverses to get a little closer, in order to make room for other cars in front of it. I think nothing of it. We all do that — make room for others.

The woman in the first car — let’s called her Lady Z — suddenly jumps out, and raps on the window of the woman in the second car in the front — Lady Q — and says, quite loudly, “You’re too close. Move it forward.”

I look over now. Lady Q’s car is fine. There’s plenty of room for Lady Z to pull out. I go back to my magazine until I hear Lady Q get out of her car. Uh oh, I think.

“What?” Q says, now looking at the two cars. She points. “There’s plenty of room. Are you telling me you can’t turn your wheel and get out with that amount of space? What kind of driver are you?”

Lady Z pauses. “Move your car. If I pull out and hit your car, it’s all your fault. That’s what I will tell the police.”

Police?

Now I’m watching, wondering if I am going to have to jump out of the van in a minute and break it up. Really, all I want is a few minutes of quiet and my magazine.

I can see Lady Q fuming. “Move your car,” Lady Z says and heads back into her car. Lady Q goes into her car, and starts up the engine. Instead of pulling forward, though, she slowly, slowly, slowly inches backwards until her bumper is a mere half-inch from the bumper of Lady Z’s car. There’s no getting out now. Lady Q shuts down the engine, jumps out of her car and raps on Lady Z’s window.

“How about now?” she yells, a smile on her face. “Can you get out now? Don’t you dare tell me how to park my car. Don’t you dare tell me what to do,” and then she pulls out her cell phone, and makes a call to someone. She circles Lady Z’s car like a vulture, talking all the time to an invisible person.” …. I don’t know who she thinks she is …. here is her license number … let her try to call the cops on me …”

As she rounds the driver’s side of the car in her wagon circling, Lady Q glares at Lady Z, who does not leave her car. Now, I wonder, what will happen if Lady Z’s child comes out from band and they need to leave? Luckily, Lady Q’s child emerges from the school first, and they take off, leaving plenty of space for Lady Q to get the hell out of there without another word.

It was like being in the classroom, watching immature sixth graders fight over the space between their desks, and all I want to say is: Really? This is how you spend your energy? Behave.

Peace (please),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Teaching to the Test

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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.)

Like many of you who are classroom teachers, we are in the midst of “state testing season.” Or at least, we are entering round one (round two comes in May with Math). This week, my sixth grade students will be diving into the state reading assessment in two two-hour blocks.

There was a time, years back, where I did very little to prep them, feeling that “teaching to the test” was against everything I believed in as an educator. I  changed my mind over time as I realized they needed more overt help in navigating the test. I could not ignore the data showing how much my students were struggling and how glaring some of the weaknesses were.

I felt guilty about not helping them.

So, yes, I now teach strategies all year — good, solid reading and writing strategies, I hope — with an eye towards the state testing, which will be undergoing change in the years ahead with PARCC. I still feel a bit odd about teaching a lesson with overt references to our MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the kids groan when I mention MCAS. But I’ve come to realize that this is now part of my job. I don’t drill and kill about it. I teach strategies for approaching unknown reading passages and questions. I frame these lessons in a real way — these are the strategies that readers use all the time. I am just making them more visible. I hope.

Literary terms

Yesterday, we did a review of literary terms, partly as a way to lodge some ideas into their heads and partly to connect these terms to the novels we have been reading all year. Still, I have to admit: the timing of that review was designed to align with this week’s testing.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that, even with all of my intellectual defenses outlined above, that this is bad teaching and is still something I don’t believe in, as something that won’t help my students become stronger readers and better writers and more engaged citizens of the world. I walk away from these kinds of lessons with tinges of guilt that I just can’t shake — a different kind of guilt than I felt in the early years after looking at test scores and realizing my silent protest was hurting my students. On any day of the week, I’d rather have them be writing what they want to write, and being creative in a variety of ways with media, technology and words. That is why I got into teaching in the first place.

And so, I still feel guilty about the strategic moves into teaching for the test, even though our scores have gotten better over the years and I now pour over data to see where weaknesses might still exist, and I wish I could in good conscious return to my days of silent refusal, to focus on teaching for learning, not teaching for testing. But I fear those days are now gone.

Peace (in the silent protest),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: More Odds than Ends

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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.)

It seems like Mondays are good days to catch up on busy Sundays, so here is another post of little slices:

I spent part of my morning changing the theme of my blog. Partly, it was time. But also, I had noticed that my old theme looked just awful on mobile devices, so I heeded the note from my Edublog friends to find a more mobile-friendly theme. I like this new one — it’s a clean design. I’m still tinkering with some of the settings but mostly, I was able to “flick the switch” and things are running pretty smooth.

mind collage

Do you like the change?

In the other part of my morning, I was working on a writing prompt with another online writing community, where the focus was on the idea of a force field or portal. I tried to get serious and failed. So, I moved in the other direction and posted this webcomic:

Be Ready to Dance

In the afternoon, I took my youngest son and a friend to see the new Muppets movie. We’re huge Muppet fans here and I thought the movie had lots of those little giggle moments that I love, and seemed to keep my attention for most of the time. The nine year old boys? They loved it.

Finally, throughout the day, I noticed some interesting activity at the #25wordstory hashtag on Twitter where I periodically write short 140-character stories as a way to experiment with writing in short-form fiction. It’s not that easy. But I noticed a CUE group working on the hashtag, retelling fairy tales. Intriguing!

I had to add a few of my own:



Peace (in the day),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Making Music/Learning Songs

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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.)

Some of you know I play saxophone and write songs for a rock band, Duke Rushmore. We’re in a bit of a quiet spell right now because our lead guitar player has some medical issues that are not yet resolved and our other guitar player has sold his house where we practice (that’s another slice for another day). The other night, we were working on a song that I wrote a few months ago, and which I have shared as a Slice earlier in the year.

The quality of the recording is terrible (our singer used his phone and then had trouble sending the file to me, so he recorded it off the phone with a digital recorder … and that’s never a good thing when you add a second layer of recording — you can hear it in the wavy gravy element of the sound), but you can listening in on how a new song is developing here. We’re still figuring it out, together, making changes and trying out parts. Seeing what work and what doesn’t work. As the writer of this piece, it’s such a powerful experience to be in a room with musicians who are my friends, playing and learning a song that I wrote, and having it slowly come together, section by section.

I left this practice on air, really, and I thought back to where this particular song started months ago, with me on the floor of my bedroom, an empty piece of paper and an acoustic guitar in my lap and some vague notion of lyrics.

Take a listen to Set My Anchor on You


This is a shout-out to my bandmates in Duke Rushmore.

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

 

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