I have nothing to write this morning. The election has zapped me of my optimism.
I recently co-facilitated a PD session with fourth, fifth and sixth grade colleagues, and my co-presenter and I chose the theme of Collaboration, as we are feeling more and more like we don’t have time to collaborate across the curriculum and across grade levels with other teachers anymore. (We used to have a PLC time but that got lost a few years ago).
We began with a Gallery Walk activity, in which we asked us all to think and notate ways one discipline (say, math) is visible in another discipline (say, social studies), and to notice as we did the activity which subject areas seem a more natural fit than others. It was a great discussion piece, that sparked the idea of how to be thoughtful about lesson planning.
It also laid the groundwork for discussions about collaboration, since each of the grades represented (4,5,6) are all departmentalized to some degree. I teach ELA and technology to all sixth graders, for example. I can’t say we were able to get plans in motion for everyone, as we had hoped. As usual, we ran out of time. But the conversations and activities sparked cross-grade and cross-discipline discussions, and that is always a good starting point.
Peace (here, there, everywhere),
A good friend of mine works at ESPN Studios and I took advantage of that to bring two of my sons, and my dad, on a tour of the huge media complex down in Bristol, Connecticut (about an hour away from where we live). My youngest son is interesting in video production, and my middle son is interested in sports. Our eldest, also interested in digital media, is off to his first year of college, so he could not come with us.
Saturday mornings are pretty quiet in the sports world, but that allowed us to go through the myriad of engineering rooms and editing booths and sound rooms and a handful of the massive recording studios that ESPN uses to deliver sports to the world. A “farm” of about 30 massive satellite dishes sit on top of a hill, sending out signals to the dozens of outlets for ESPN media.
You realize rather quickly how technical the entire operation is, and how studios use illusion to create reality — the fake grass, and the corners of tables that the cameras can pan to seem large on the small screen but are often just kitty-cornered against a wall in a room larger than a football field. Dozens of people work together to produce a 30 minute sports show that seems so slick and seamless on the screen. (My friend does technical support. Nothing is ever seamless for him. Things break down and don’t work.)
Our eyes can deceive us.
It’s a bit like Oz. You pull back the curtain to see the mechanics of the visual world that seem magical and you get a larger sense of how the magic works from the reality point of view. It doesn’t take away from the magic, per se, but it expands the notions of how the world comes together in the first place.
Peace (it’s not just a show),
My youngest son attended a day camp all last week, writing and shooting and editing and producing short films over five days. on Friday, family members were invited in to watch the results, and the movies were not only entertaining, but pretty well done, given constraints (of locations and time and props). The camp, at a local Montessori School, borrowed high-quality video cameras from the local Cable Access Station (which will showcase the short films on its television channel and online sites). You can see the difference — the video is rich and professional grade quality.
The camp facilitators let the kids do all of the heavy lifting — writing the scripts, setting up the cameras, and editing with iMovie. My son has done most of these things before — he loves to make his own movies — but it was nice to have him in a group, working with other kids and being creative. I don’t think he wrote all that much, though, which is too bad.
There were three short narrative films (including one very intense one about a puppet and a cruel puppeteer that had the audience in silent wonder) and a few music videos, most using Green Screen effects. Later, the videos will be hosted online. I’ll share out when that happens, in case you are interested in what kids can do with cameras and iMovie and imagination.
Peace (from small screen to real life),
Call me naive but …
… I keep finding myself wandering back into the question of ‘who owns what’ in the Digital Age. It’s not just a question of a single item — say, a photograph, or a music file. Those kinds of issues — particularly when it comes to livelihood of an artist — are important and still being sorted out. I do think, and hope, that elements like Creative Commons licensing helps delineate lines for those of us who create (and may need to protect some of our art) and those of us how like to use art of others to create something new (and may need to learn better how to note where the original came from).
I’m thinking more of ideas here, and who owns the idea. If I spark a discussion in online forums and along various hashtags, or if I launch a collaboration that others take part in, do I own that idea from now to forever? I think about the poems I have invited others to write into, and various media projects that I have opened the door to, and other projects that I have been involved in. The spark has always been collaboration, not ownership.
I know I may be unrealistic but ..
… once the idea is out there, I figure it’s no longer just mine to do what I want with. I’ve given it, as a “gift” of sorts, to the world (and in my case, the world might only be a few people), which may very well completely ignore the idea or it might remix the idea into something different entirely. It may even call my idea the same name I gave it. Or not. It may give me a heads up about its use of the original. Or not. But it’s not really all mine anymore. If I didn’t want that to happen or unfold that way, I probably should have kept the idea to myself or tried to sell it with licensing restrictions — a phrase that gives me pause even as I write it.
In Corey Doctorow’s book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, he uses the metaphor of a dandelion and the release of seeds to explain in a way how ideas can take root from artists and others in this age of the Internet. The dandelion doesn’t care about where the seeds go, or even if the seeds become flowers. What the dandelion cares about is the spawning of new seeds and the release of those seeds to the wind. That’s where all of its energy is at. It puts faith in the notion of something will be planted somewhere, and the world will continue.
Doctorow uses this metaphor as part of his argument around on how small artists can emerge as successful, or at least surviving, artists in the digital age. Release seeds (or music tracks, or photo teasers, etc) and see where those ideas flourish. If your seeds find root, your audience will find you and support you.
In contrast, large organizations — such as record companies and movie companies and publishing companies — spend all of their time with their prodigy, like overprotective parents. If I remember, I think Doctorow continues the metaphor by noting how much alike large organizations are like mammals, with all of the energy in the system centered on ways to nurture and protect their progeny. We give our children our last names and then talk about “family” honor and hereditary lines. We celebrate this with family trees. I’m not saying that is necessarily wrong, but it feels at odds with the open promise of spawning ideas in the Digital Age that I believe in.
I like to think of the whole DS106 ecology as one fine example of how no one really owns the ideas. I don’t personally know Jim Groom or Martha Burtis, two folks I believe were at the start of DS106. There might be others. I’ve only walked virtual dogs with Alan Levine in online spaces like The Daily Create. Others who were part of the whole DS106 shebang from the start are people I don’t quite know or remember. No offense to them, but they aren’t all that important anymore to the DS106 environment … as it exists today.
The DS106 world — with its digital storytelling and creativity focus — is there for the picking. I believe you could start a DS106 course right now, today, and connect in and it would be fine. You could set up your own version of The Daily Create, and it would be fine. Heck, I think Alan Levine will even give you the WordPress Theme to do so. There are no legal documents to sign. There are no permissions to get. Just go on and do it. It’s an open invitation, set in motion years ago, to take the idea and run with it.
Why isn’t there more of this? Why don’t more innovative ideas have huge REMIX THIS buttons? I’d love more dandelions in the digital fields of play.
To be upfront and honest, though, I still struggle with this concept as a classroom teacher. As I make slow but steady movement into Connected Learning ideas with my sixth graders each year, I try to find balance between needing a certain sense of control and providing opportunities for independence for my students. I wish I leaned more than I do towards the latter. But I am learning, and I am always open to possibilities. I have my ear to the ground, as much as I am able. I celebrate the Remix and wonder at the Creativity. I don’t quibble over who owns the ideas that began it all.
My eldest son has just graduated high school, and we threw a large party at our house the other day for the family and and friends of our family and his friends. As a surprise, I wrote a heartfelt yet slightly sarcastic song for the group of “Boys” who have known each other for many years. A group of parents (and my dad, at the last minute, got on the snare drum) came together to rehearse the song (well, we rehearsed once), and then, we performed it for them at the party.
Peace (sing it),
When my oldest son, now graduating high school, was young, he wanted to learn how to make movies. It turns out, I was teaching myself how to make stopmotion movies at the time, thinking I would bring that kind of moviemaking into my classroom (which I did for a few years). So, my son and I made movies, together. It was a blast.
Then, he began to venture on his own, planning more complicated and longer films, and using a little flash video camera for shooting and MovieMaker software on our old PC. Sometimes, he would ask me to help or to be in the movie. Sometimes, not.
Then, he began to go deep with the idea of making movies and explored various editing tricks. He would storyboard, just like I showed him, and once he had a YouTube account, he’d post some of his short films online.
For his senior year Capstone Project, he spent months making this documentary of his friends’ rock band, and as I watch his work from behind the camera and in the editing “room,” I see how far he has come and how much he has learned on his own.
I still remember with fondness those early years, though. And the videos bring me back …
Peace (over time),
We were nearing the end of a two-hour hike in the woods. Three 11 year old boys. The dog. Me. The sun was shining, keeping the bite of Spring at bay. No bugs were bothering us. The boys had crossed a small river twice, scaling their way over fallen trees, calling out encouragement to each other. One even took off his shoes and walked through the cold water, balancing on mossy rocks. They had played Manhunt, hiding among the rocks and trees.
It was a Grand Adventure.
“Well, this has a been a Timewaster,” one of the kids told me. I don’t think he was jonesing to get back to his video games or anything. He was the one who took off his shoes to dip toes into the water. But I don’t think he is used to such lengthy unstructured “wanderings,” either.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
“Spending two hours out here” — and I pointed around me at the beauty of the woods — “is never a Timewaster,” I told him. The dog looked up at my voice and then the trees, as if noticing the woods for the first time, too.
“Nope,” I added. “Time in these woods is never, ever wasted time.”
The boy (not my own, by the way) looked at me in an interested way, sort of nodded, and kept on walking. I followed. The dog was happy to keep moving, too. We all were.
Peace (outside the inside),