Slice of Life: Books Read/Books Begun

(This is a Slice of Life post, in which we share out the events of the day. It runs through March and then every Tuesday throughout the year, and is facilitated by the folks atTwo Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Yesterday was one of those literary convergence days, where a bunch of books I had been reading all came to an end, and then … I started a whole new bunch of books.


Book Read: I finished up a wonderful novel by Tony Abbott called The Postcard. It is a mystery story with a few layers of story going on, as a young boy discovers a postcard that opens up the truth about the mysterious past of his grandmother and his great-grandfather, with hidden stories uncovered by clues in found postcards. The Florida setting really helped tell the story here, and the intertwining narratives of the protagonist and that of the chapters of a short story that he finds weave together nicely.

Book Begun: I’ve been wanting to read A Wrinkle in Time with my son for some years but I know it might not interest him in the way it grabbed me as a kid. But a graphic novel version? That worked, and after reading a bit last night, he took the book to bed with him to read it alone. I guess I am all right with that. Not really. I wanted to read it with him, and remember why I fell in love with the story of Meg and Charles Wallace and the adventures through strange time and space. I guess this one may move into the “pleasure reading” category soon enough. By the way, the graphic novel version is well done.


Book Read: I pick up John Grisham novels now and then, just for the power reading of story and the mechanisms of a legal thriller. I won’t say his writing blows me away, but Gray Mountain does have a deep theme to mine, with a New York lawyer volunteering in a small Southern town, and launching into a fight against the coal companies whose greed and corruption impacts the poor people of the communities where the operations take place. Grisham uses his novel to make a point about the destruction of mountain with clear cutting, mineral stripping operations that have ripped the tops of mountains off and left the majestic beauty of some places forever harmed.

Book Begun: This is my second time around for Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, which is a historical novel built on the premise of an alternative past — what if most of Europe was decimated by the Plague, and Islam became the dominant culture of the continent, as the Mongolians and Arabians moved westward and northward as the most powerful forces on the planet? It’s a thoughtful, wide-canvas of a novel, and I remember being captivated by it years ago (way before 9/11 and way before the modern politics and wars and revolt of the Middle East … I wonder how my views of the story might be different now?)


Book Read: I’ve been reading Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor with a group of reading teachers in my school district. It’s part of a PLC that takes place during professional development days. I really like McGregor’s style of writing and of teaching, where she uses a lot of props and objects to spark understanding of concepts like inference, schema and synthesis with students. This was a good choice for our PLC gatherings, which continue this coming Tuesday.

Book Begun: If you read this blog, you know I am always interested in the concept of gaming and game design for learning. Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You: How Games Can Make Our Kids Smarter is a deft account of how game elements can engage students on a different level. While Toppo so far seems to be exploring the gamification idea, I am hopeful he shifts into putting the tools of design into the hands of students, which is my primary focus.

What are you reading?

Peace (in the pages),



Slice of Life: Pictures of the Band

(This is a Slice of Life post, in which we share out the events of the day. It runs through March and then every Tuesday throughout the year, and is facilitated by the folks at Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Kevin with Duke Rushmore March2015

Our bass player is also a videographer and at our last gig, he invited a friend to shoot video of our gig in order to make some cool videos. He’s still working on the editing and mixing of it all, but he shared out some snippets that sound and look cool.

I grabbed a few screenshots of myself (selfie alert) to make this collage. I play saxophone and do back-up singing (and write songs for the band, too). It’s a blast.

The band is Duke Rushmore. And I am happy to say that we are more than bandmates — we are very good friends. This is us, off the stage, chatting about life and music.

Duke Rushmore relaxin'

Peace (in the pic),

Slice of Life: I Was a Paid Food Tester

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Ice cream blues

I never thought I would ever say this but I hate ice cream right now. I suspect that strong emotion will soon pass. Not yet, though. Right now, my stomach is still aching from being part of a market-research, paid-taste-testing group last night for a regional family restaurant chain (I don’t know if I should name them … I didn’t sign any confidentiality agreements … let’s just say they were very, eh, friendly to us tasters … if you live in the Northeast, you can figure it out.)

My wife signed us both up for the session, as parents of children (their target audience) which we joked was our way to have a date for free and leave the kids behind. But we could not sit near each other nor talk to each other during the 90 minutes of food and ice cream tasting. So, not much of a date night ambiance. But they paid us in the cold hard cash, so the real date will come later …

We began with half-sized portions off the dinner menu, with a turkey burger (yum), a salad (yum), and some bbq steak sandwich (not yum). We used ipods to give our impressions, and then the leader of the market session led a discussion.

When we got to the ice cream part of the night, we were all giddy and ready … I mean, free ice cream? … but after the fifth cup of ice cream (small portions, true, but they were all sundaes), I was ready to retire from the ice cream business. But then a sixth cup came. And then a seventh. Ten cups of ice cream to be consumed after a long day at school, and the adults around the room were all in a bit of a sugar rush. There were some good cups to taste (anything with peanut butter is OK with me) and some not-so-good ones (one blue ice cream had cake bits in it, with sprinkles and other gooey things and it was if someone dumped a cup of sugar down my throat … gross).

It was definitely an interesting experience to be a Professional Taste Tester for a night but I am going Ice Cream Cold Turkey for a stretch. I’ll probably change my mind when the warm weather finally arrives. When is that, exactly?

Peace (on the taste buds),


Slice of Life: Testing Meerkat to Stream a Corner Concert

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Corner concert

I have been curious about the live-streaming video app called Meerkat. It’s pretty simple to use. Download the app. Hit the play and you are live on Twitter and the Web. I guess Twitter itself is nearing a launch of its own app — Periscope, I think it is called — but I wanted to try out Meerkat myself.

So, I figured, maybe I will play and live-stream a song. I have this idea for “corner concerts” — short, one-song streams of playing live for a few minutes, maybe on a regular schedule, and see if anyone cares to listen.

I set up my iPad yesterday, grabbed my guitar and hit the play button and … well … played a song of mine, called Ease Your Mind. It was interesting because for the first part of the song, no one was watching. Little icons pop up in the corner when folks have opened your live-stream video. Then, I started to see a few visitors (in the video, you can can see me look at the screen and smile a bit), so I extended the song an extra verse and chorus before signing off.

Meerkat saves the video to your device, so I uploaded it into YouTube easily enough. I’ll keep tinkering and playing around, and thinking about the possibilities of your mobile device being a live-stream possibility (good for conferences, maybe?).

Thanks for reading. And if you were one of the icons in my stream, much thanks.

Peace (in the stream),


Slice of Life: Mix and Remix (and Remix again?)

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give

Sometimes, opportunity presents itself. Yesterday morning, I was checking out the Twitter hasthag for #walkmyworld (a series of media-centric activities around the theme of identity and creation — see more here) when I noticed that Shawna had posted a digital poem. Of course, I was curious. And she was looking for feedback. I went there, at her blog site, to see what she had been up to.

It was a lovely rendition of a Georgia Heard poem about school and conformity and “straight lines” that we expect our students to fall into when they come into school, instead of the crazy zig-zag of life outside of school. I’m not philosophically opposed to imposing order on the day – and plenty of kids need that consistency, given the chaos of their lives at home. But Shawna did such a nice job.

Take a look.

I left her a comment (including a request to share out the “how she did it” at her blog) and then decided to go one step further — I decided to honor her poem by remixing it, via Webmaker Popcorn Maker. If you have not used Popcorn, it allows you to layer in various media and do other interesting things with online video. The remix does not affect the original. It only borrows it. Remix is a way to honor the original, and in this case, I was hoping to add a layer of my own art to Shawn’s art.

Check it out.

And of course, one of the beauties of Popcorn is the ability to remix the remix. So, why not give it a try? You can either click on the “remix” button at the top right of my Popcorn Project, or you can just click here and get started (no account needed to play around with the remix.)

See what you can make. And then maybe write about it.

Peace (in the share),

Slice of Life: Without Hot Water

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give

Some things we take for granted in life. Like, hot water.

Yesterday morning, we heard a loud noise in the basement as we took showers. “Just a cold pipe or something,” we told ourselves. “It will go away.”

It didn’t.

By night, when my wife was using some hot water and the noise seemed like some monster living in our basement, I finally grabbed a flashlight to get a closer look. The water heater was banging away on the wall and a small drip of water was coming off one of the hoses. The floor was wet. There was a faint smell of something electrical in the air.

Uh oh.

We unplugged the whole shebang, called the plumber (who promptly returned our call at 8 p.m. and is coming over today — we love our plumber!), and began to fret over the fix-it bill. This morning, I did a cold shave with freezing water — it reminded me of my time in the military, out in training in the woods, where the only water for shaving and cleaning was cold canteen water.

We’re roughing it this morning and hope the hot water is back by this evening …

Peace (and warmth),

Slice of Life: Charting the Listeners

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give


In another writing space, in which connected friends from the National Writing Project write regularly and different folks take on different writing prompt hosting each week, my friend, Fred M., posed the question this week of nurturing active listeners. Fred, citing Peter Elbow’s work, used the launching idea of: “Listening is NOT waiting for the other person to stop talking.”

It’s a great topic, and one my colleagues at school and I talk about a lot, mostly from the deficit viewpoint: “Why isn’t he listening?” or “She was staring out the window again” or “He never participates in class discussions or raises his hand.” Maybe we need to think more of, what I am doing to bring her back to the classroom? Or how I am engaging him in something he is passionate about? That’s another day, another time.

I wrote to Fred’s prompt about some story activities that I do that encourage listening skills and then started to think about a typical class. I had this idea to use one of my four sixth grade classes, and to break it down (very unscientifically) along categories of listeners.

Here is what I came up with:

A Class of Listeners

Fred suggested I share the chart back with my sixth graders and get their input and perspective. I just might do that.

Peace (I’m listening),

Slice of Life: When We Used to Fill the Book Bags

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give

I took my youngest son to the public library yesterday and it was there that I had one of those memory moments. Years ago, when all three boys were younger, I used to bring them to the library regularly, and we would spend at least an hour or so in the children’s section, reading stories, playing blocks, watching fish, and choosing books to bring home. It was not unusual for me to lug home a bag filled with 25 or more picture books. I’d drop the bag on the floor, and let the books spill out, and the kids would sit in the midst, reading or looking at the bounty of stories.

Now, when the older boys join me at the library, they go upstairs to the adult section or the video section (or the adult graphic novel section). My youngest is still content to sit on the floor, and I found him yesterday reading some Garfield books while I perused the shelves of the Young Adult fiction novels. I then wandered into the picture book area, and listened furtively as a father read a book to his toddler son. I said hello to the fish. I remembered.

Of course, we grabbed a few books to borrow but nothing like the past, and I guess that’s OK. Still, I often have those pangs of remembering how the library used to be our regular place for literacy (particularly on those rainy days), and now as I think about the three boys and their abilities in reading and writing (all very strong), I like to think that our visits to the world of books and the regular stacks of stories we brought home to read together have had an influence on them. I know that to be true (and worry about my students whose families never entered their library or brought books home or read aloud to them when they were younger.)

I’m being wistful with this Slice of Life, but I am also grateful that we live in a place that has such rich public spaces for anyone to borrow all kinds of books. Libraries remain the rich heart of literacy, and even though our visits are less frequent, I know my boys realize the library is there for them, whenever they need something to read or something to explore, and I know they value our library as much as I do. Of that, I am certain.

Peace (in the stacks),

Slice of Life: The Life Cycle of a Balloon

(Each day in March, a whole bunch of educators are writing Slices of Life — capturing the small moments. It is facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Before I get into the Life Cycle of a Balloon, perhaps I should note just how odd and strange sixth graders can be. Just when I think I am weird in my own way of thinking and writing (and I am, happily), one of my 11 or 12 year olds will come up with something off-kilter and unexpected. I love that.

She walked into the classroom in the morning.

“I have half of my bus ready to root for the blue team,” she announced. Our Quidditch team is blue. Apparently, she has been rallying the troops on her bus to support our team.

“Oh?” I asked, getting paperwork on my desk sorted out. I was only halfway paying attention.

“Yep,” she said, grinning. “I promised not to tell them the Life Cycle of  a Balloon.”

That got my attention. The Life Cycle of a Balloon? Another few students had come in to the room by then. One classmate, a close friend of hers, groaned. “Not that!” the friend said, slapping her forehead in a fake dramatic move.

“What’s the Life Cycle of a Balloon?” I asked, a bit naive.

“No!” the classmate wailed. “Don’t ask her!”

Too late.

She smiled at me, and then, in a quick, rhythmic voice with a lilting tone of “now you asked for it,” she went into a memorized sing-song verse about a blue balloon found by a balloon man, who blows it up and ties a string to it, sends it skyward where it gets hit by an airplane, falls to the Earth (but not before hitting a passing bird), gets found by another balloon man, who blows it up, ties a string to it, sends it skyward, into space, where it hits a satellite ….

“Oh,” I say, as she keeps going on and on, looking at me directly. Her bus-mates agreed to support the blue team as a way to get her to stop repeating her story. She was still spinning her tale as I realized this. Still, the story unfolds.

“See?” her friend says. “Now you’ve gone and done it.”

At that, though, she stopped the story and smiled even a bigger smile.

“And that,” she said, with a little bow, “is the Life Cycle of a Balloon” and then erupted into giggles. I had to laugh, too. Even her friend, exasperated as she was, smiled.

Peace (never pops),

Slice of Life: Did Kentucky Win?

(This is a Slice of Life post, as facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. Lots of educators are writing about the small moments of their days. You write, too.)
March madness 2015

Did Kentucky win?

This is the question I woke with in my head this morning, and I am sure it will be the first question each of my boys will ask when they come down to breakfast.

We’re deep into the start of March Madness in our house, each with our brackets. They are all athletes, so they get caught up in the college basketball fever. Even the dog has a bracket. He chooses teams based on which closed fist he smells when presented with a match-up. The boys have a bet around whomever gets the most wins gets the dog on their bed for an entire week, instead of sharing him night by night. I don’t know what the dog gets if he wins (peace and quiet? Extra kibble?).

We saw a few upsets already, but nothing that took my bracket down yet. Yet. The Kentucky game was on too late for us for a school night,  with a start around 9:40 p.m., but this weekend, our television will get more playing time than it has all year (we don’t watch a lot of TV in our house).

Yes, Kentucky won.

Peace (in the bracket),