Slice of Life: A Gift of Peace

(I often write about my teaching life here for Slice of Life, but I wanted to share this musical gift. Slice of Life takes place over Two Writing Teachers.) 

My songwriting friend, John, and I worked on writing and recording this song as a gift for family and friends, and others, for the holiday season. We actually wrote it years ago but then we went into a local recording studio earlier this year to do a more polished version.

Meanwhile, we hired my eldest son to produce a short video to go along with the song, and he did a fine job of crafting a story of the gift that moves along from person to person.

Here, then, is a gift of peace to you, my connected friends in Slice of Life, and CLMOOC, and beyond.

If you just celebrated the Hanukkah season, or if you celebrate some other holiday — or even none at all — I hope you still accept this gift of peace as a token of friendship and that you pass it on to others.

Peace (in song),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: When Families Come Together to Code Together

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Last year, we had about a dozen people — parents with children — attend our Family Coding Night for the Hour of Code. Last night, more than 30 signed up and nearly double that number showed up, including a troop of Girl Scouts whose young members worked to earn coding badges. We had first grader students right through sixth graders in the room, with moms and dads in tow.

Family Hour of Code Night

Our school library could barely contain the large number of parents and students who arrived to learn more about the Hour of Code — it seemed we kept bringing in new chairs and clearing off more table space — and to spend an hour doing logic puzzles and dipping into the basics of programming.

We prefaced the night with discussions about what programming is, what coding looks like, the influence of technology on many aspects of our lives, the potential job markets on the horizon, and the magic of collaborative work.

It was interesting, assisting folks and watching team of adults and children work together, talk through the puzzle challenges, wonder about how to get a character to work on the screen. It was those conversations that the real learning took place, and between the assorted and rather random fist-pumping “whoops” of success, the school district technology coordinator – Kim, who planned the event — and I wandered about, checking in.

The hour ended, and we awarded certificates for the night, and encouraged families to keep the conversations going at home, either with the Hour of Code or in some other fashion.

Peace (under the hood),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Novels to Plays and Back Again

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It was hard to miss the sounds of laughter, engagement and collaboration in the classroom yesterday. It was one of those small moments where you, the teacher, silently give yourself a high-five because a new lesson idea seemed to work out almost exactly as you thought it would. Not every new idea for the classroom unfolds as you think it might.

Celebrate success, right?

Here’s what we were doing. We are in the middle of a extended Independent Reading unit, where students have choice in reading and I give them a block of time to read during nearly every school day. I’ve been pretty strict with myself on this allocation of reading time, knowing that choice and reading is key to literacy development.

Every now and then we do different reflective reading activities — they have an online reading journal that they access once a week or so to write about characters, and setting, and more. But I remembered a lesson from a long-lost unit on writing theater plays, and so I dug out some old resources and found what I was looking for and adapted it.

Scene from Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Scene from Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Students worked to choose an important “scene” from the novel they are reading and then become a scriptwriter, reworking the scene into a formatted play skit. I have them freedom to leave out what didn’t work, add in what is needed, but stay true to characters and scene. They really loved this writing assignment, and many had never written in a script format before, so it was lots of mini lessons on formatting.

Scene from The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Scene from The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Then, when everyone had scenes done (note: the writing took longer than I expected, and lasted parts of a few class periods over a few days), I put them into small groups, where each reader/scriptwriter shared their books and their scenes, by taking on parts in a read-aloud activity. The negotiations (which parts shall we read?), the collaboration (“Should I have an accent?”) and the literacy moments (novels coming to life through scripts) were all interesting to watch unfold.

Scene from Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Scene from Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Students in each group read one script after another, and then each group chose one script to perform/read/share to the rest of the class (more negotiations). In this way, every student was exposed to at least three to four new stories from novels, which maybe … just maybe … might spark their interest as a reader.

Scene from Chomp by Carl Hiassen

Scene from Chomp by Carl Hiassen

All day, in every class, this activity went relatively smooth and I realized (again) how much my students just love to read plays, and to do it in groups, and that the opportunity to write a skit for others was truly a motivational writing experience.

Yahoo!

Peace (telling stories about listening to stories),
Kevin

To Friends in Many Spaces: Thankful, Appreciative, Optimistic

Book Turkey(My wife brought home this book turkey she made with an old textbook and I love the way a book was remixed into art.)

Dear friends in many spaces,

Thank you. Thank you for, first, for even being here at my blog at all. I know fewer and fewer people read blogs, preferring sound bite analysis and catchy headlines on social media. I do that, too, at times. As such, I am always appreciative when anyone takes the time to jump from a tweet or a shared link or maybe even RSS reader to come and spend a few minutes with my writing or my songs, and maybe even write a comment. Thank you for your conversations in the comment bin, when you have time and inclination to do so.

I am also deeply appreciative of the fact that while I read about and know about the thorny, messy elements of the Web — the way trolls play out on Twitter, the way algorithmic bots target us on Facebook (well, not me, but maybe you), the way we are the product for marketing, the way dark corners of the Net are home to anger and conspiracy and such — I have mostly avoided those elements.  I know others have not been so lucky, targeted because they speak out and have strong views.

I think my positive bubble — which is not the kind of bubble that walls me off from the world and not the kind that stops me from expressing my own strong opinions nor engaging in debates — has been mostly due to you.

You have helped me stay positive and engaged in thinking forward. I ask you questions, and you answer. I remix your resources, and honor your work. You do the same, with mine. I write in your margins, to better understand. I write my way forward. Sometimes, I read what you share and let it sink in, letting time follow me until I realize that what you shared with me is now the thing I need right now. You knew that all along.

This is not, alas, unbridled optimism without worry, of course, worries about the many obstacles still there when it comes to learning and teaching and writing and sharing and connecting, and the myriad of troubles that come with this digital world. For sure, there are unsettling problems, made worse by our digital connections with the world. I find myself agreeing with the analysis by many that the promise of the Web, as we know it today, is not what we thought it might be.

Still, it might yet still become something else altogether, something better.

We collectively push forward by pushing forward, we do by doing, we make by making, and we can do this together. No one person can be on this journey alone. We make this path, together.

Whenever I think, this is a perfect opportunity for a collaboration and let’s get an invite out into the networks, that impulse to work with others in technology and writing and making is based on hope in the possible. It’s why I remain part of CLMOOC, and why offshoots of connected communities intrigue me. It’s why others in the National Writing Project seem like friends, even when we only just meet. It’s why I found a new-ish home on Mastodon, settling into small stories and small poems and small sharing. This is why regular activities like Slice of Life remain a draw for me. It’s why I don’t worry too much about leaving one place to go to another, to meet new people, to learn from others. I dip my toes, for a reason. There are more people out there who want the same than we realize. It’s sometimes just a matter of finding us.

I am thankful there are such opportunities. Thank you.

Peace (a few words and such),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Brewing an Audio Stew with Words, Loops, and Sounds

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We’re in a digital writing unit that centers on expanding the notions of what it means to compose, with a focus on writing with sound. The way it works is that my students will be creating small Sound Stories (about a paragraph or so) in which they will record their voices, weaving in sound effects from a library of audio I provide them and layering looped music underneath it all. It’s composition, in the fuller sense of the word.

Sort of like an audio stew.

This is one I did a few years ago that I share with them as an example. They all get a kick out the ending:

The other day, I showed them how to use Garageband, and for nearly all of my students, this was their first taste of this powerful music-making, sound-mixing software application on the computer. A few have used the Garageband mobile app (which remains one of the more powerful music-making apps available for Apple devices – sorry, Android. Nothing you have comes even close.)

Snow days and ice delays have put a dent in my plans for making the Sound Stories, so we will start again on the Sound Story activity when we get back from Thanksgiving break.

But here’s what I notice with Garageband — there is a real excitement about making songs and creating music when you have access to interesting sound loops, and the most creative students are sometimes the ones you expect least. I don’t mean that as a disparaging comment … I mean, in the writing classroom, you don’t often see the music engineer ready to bloom, or not unless you give them the seeds and soil to bloom in. Software like Garageband, or sites like Soundtrap, can do that.

Now, my students are coming into class, earbuds in hands, asking if today is a Garageband Day in writing class. Today, in fact, will be one of those days, once we get some other writing done (we’re also working on converting a scene from their independent reading books into a play/movie script … that’s another write-up for another day).

Time to make some music.

Peace (sounds fine),
Kevin

Writing Myself In a Corner: Write and Record a Song (in 24 hours)

song under construction

Sometimes, when I hit a bit of a creative wall, I challenge myself to just go on and do something. Write that poem. Start that story. Write a song. On Sunday afternoon, I decided I wanted to see if I could write and record a demo of a new song, all within 24 hours. With that impetus, I got to work, huddling over my guitar and notebook paper, scribbling and scratching out lines as a phrase “we forgot to dream” became the hook.

I knew the song would be inspired by the recent elections, but I didn’t want it to be an overt political song. More like a reminder that even when things take turns to the worst, there is always some hope for change. And that there have been difficult times before. We made our way forward then. We can do it, again. It won’t be easy. It never is. But we can do it. This was the theme I was working towards.

I do get a bit obsessive when writing a song. Sort of a hermit in the house, riffing the same chords over and over on guitar (my poor family) as I work on rhymes and meaning, and structure. I revamp and re-arrange words and phrases and verses and choruses, and then I walk away from the guitar and paper, silently singing lines in my head, remixing rhythms. I wander the house and the rest of the day like some madman, whispering poems to himself.

Late Sunday night, I went back to the work on the song and hit a wall. I found that I had forgotten the basic rhythm of the song from earlier in the day. In fact, I got so frustrated with myself (one, for forgetting what I had written, and two, for not doing a quick raw demo when I first started, which I often do, as a listening post) that I had to walk away and call the songwriting challenge quits.

By morning, my mind have found the threads again, though, and began weaving me back to the song. Thank you, sleep. When I picked up the guitar yesterday morning, the phrases all clicked into place again, as easy as you can imagine, as if I had never stepped away from the song at all. I can’t explain that process. It’s a strange and wonderful mystery.

So I set to work on recording what I had written. First, I began by finding a beat, and then I went about recording the guitar, and then, the vocals. Oh, these vocals. I don’t like the way I sing this song at all. It’s a bad key, or something. But I never really like my vocals. I worked to add effects, to give the voice a silo-like, garage effect. Bleh. Still, I kept moving forward with the recording, finishing the voice, and then adding percussion and then topping it off with some guitar power chords.

A little after 24 hours after I was done, the demo of the song, entitled “We Forgot to Dream” was done. For now.

Peace (sounds like power chords),
Kevin

Musical Slice of Life: Hope (Still) Remains

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

After the 2016 elections, in the days of disbelief and anger that followed, I sat down and wrote this song for myself, and for family and some friends who I knew were feeling like I was. The lyrics were a little message to the world, a reminder that politics was and is always about the long-game, of being close to those around us. I dug the song out again this weekend, as this mid-term election is upon us, to remind myself of that.

I still believe in the message. I share it with you, my friends. Make sure you vote.

Listen:

The following is a live version of the song — I like the above audio-only version better because the sound quality off the iPad is not so great — but here is me, performing the song, if that interests you. Notice I have my Peter Reynolds’ Create Bravely shirt on!

 

Peace (sounds like hope),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Young Users in an Ad-Driven, Privacy-Invading Digital World

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I was nearing the end of a class-long lesson on issues of privacy with digital apps and websites — which included instructions on how to ensure greater privacy controls for Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and more — when a sixth grader raised her hand.

“Now I’m scared.”

She said it with a laugh but I knew she was worried, if not scared.

It’s a reaction I try to avoid, framing much of our discussion in our Digital Life unit around the positive elements of what social media can do — around connections, around sharing, around empathy and understanding, around learning. But I know all of our talk of data mining by companies like Google, web browser cookies, and targeted advertising with technology will rattle a few of my students, particularly if they have never considered the issues before.

“You don’t need to be scared,” I assured her, and the others. “You need to be wary. You need to understand that you have some control over what you share. Who you share with. Why you share. Be wary but be empowered.”

They laughed again when I noted there is a sure-fire way to avoid all of the privacy issues of the Digital Age: completely unplug and don’t use technology. The looks of disbelief on their faces told me the reality (which I already knew).

Privacy Slideshow Apps and Internet(View the presentation)

I suspect some of these insights on privacy and agency will sink in now, and some will sink in over time. I hope some rushed home to check their privacy settings (that’s what I encouraged). I hope others installed ad blocking extensions (another action I suggested). I hope some had conversations with parents and family about the issues. I hope some of them, some day, will be the ones pushing back against the large companies.

We teach with hope that change can come.

Peace (discovering it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Just Saying Hello

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.

 

I was shuffling papers, trying to find something. I had a meeting in an hour.

“Mr. H.”

I held up a give-me-a-sec gesture. The paper seemed important in that moment. The voice, a distraction.

“Mr. H?”

I stopped, looked up. She had come in from recess, all smiles. She bounced on the heels of her feet.

“Yes?”

“Hi!”

“Hi.”

“I just wanted to say hello. Hi!”

She added a wave. I chuckled.

“Thank you. Hi!”

“Thank you! You’re welcome!”

She scooted off, skipping a bit, and I started to go back to my task of paper-finding, smiling to myself about the curious nature of kids, and the impact of kindness.

Peace (in the moment),
Kevin

PS — a version of this was also shared as a small story in another space.

Slice of Life: RoomGameSounds Bonus Track

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

During a freewheeling exploration of possible song ideas for a recent musical project — A Whale’s Lantern: Field Trip — I put forth a suggestion that my partner and I work with some past audio sounds of a classroom of students working to hack the game of chess.

The theme of the collaborative music project was ‘school.’ I tinkered with something to show what I was thinking — with bass and synth and some effects on the student voices to expand the atmosphere — but we decided to go in another direction instead, cranking out a three minute rocker called Outcast Kid.

Still, I liked how the use of student voices informed a piece of music. Or might have, if we had developed it further. Take a listen:

I still like how the sounds of the kids becomes the atmospheric element of this groove. You can just hear my voice, asking questions of groups of students, and then explaining the games they were making with a modified chess board and assorted other things, like dice.

Peace (sounds strange),
Kevin