Slings and Arrows

My wife and I just finished up the first season of a show out of Canada called Slings and Arrows, which centers on an imaginary theater that has traditionally performed Shakespeare but has become mired in commercialism and internal strife. It’s a comedy, but with serious undertones about the state of Art these days.

(The show’s tagline: “The real show is backstage”)

Characters include:

  • The longtime director who has stopped expected big things from the plays and dies in the first episode, only to return as a ghost to haunt the troupe and demand that his skull be used in Hamlet on stage.
  • The former stage star, who is certifiably crazy (really), but who comes back to the theater to direct Hamlet with a Hollywood movie star who has never done theater before as the main man with the haunted vision.
  • The aging starlet who was the former star’s lover but slept with the now-dead director just when things were getting good, and now has a thing for very young men, and whose life only revolves around the power of being on stage.

If you like Shakepeare and if you like the HBO-styled dramas (think Six Feet Under), then check out this show. We rented it through NetFlix.

Peace (in the lights),
Kevin

35 Tech Tips from TechnoSpud

I got home from school yesterday and found a new book waiting for me — it’s called 35 Tech Tips for Teachers and it is written by an old friend (we met through GlobalSchoolNet last year) Jennifer Wagner of Technospud. Jennnifer does some wonderful collaboration projects for teachers across the disciplines and is always sharing what she has learned with a larger audience (like me).

The booklet, which is published by Lulu, is a nice guide to using technology for learning in the classroom, ranging from introducing spreadsheet to using Powerpoint to creating vector letters in Paint Shop to beginning HTML coding. The lessons are simple to understand and are all connected to the National Educational Technology Standards for Students. She also offers to email out additional templates for some of the lessons.

Somewhere, I think I read that the proceeds from the book will help offset some of the costs of running her collaborative projects.

Peace (with teaching tips),
Kevin

P.B. Kerr writes back (I think)

I had just finished reading aloud the third book in the Children of the Lamp series by PB Kerr (about two twin djinn children coming of age in a magical world of luck and mischief) called The Cobra King of Kathmandu when my two sons and I saw the web address for PB Kerr and a note that said you could write him an email. My sons and I looked at each other and decided to give it a try.

book cover of   The Cobra King of Kathmandu    (Children of the Lamp, book 3)  by  P B Kerr
This is what I wrote (I have edited out my kids’ names here):

Hello Mr. Kerr

My young sons and I just finished reading the third Children of the Lamp book and we loved it!

Ch. (age 6) liked “the name of the book — it sounded cool”. Co. (age 9) “liked the whole book because it was exciting and mysterious.”

We are wondering if you are now writing the fourth book and what it will be about and what is will be called.

Ch. wanted to ask you if John and Phillipa’s mother will come back to them.

We also wonder if Dybukk will get a new friend.

And will John and Phillipa’s father get younger?

Do you think you will ever make a movie out of the books in the series? We were happy to hear that you might be writing at least six in the series.

If you have time, they would love to hear back from you. Meanwhile, we shall look through your website and Weblog.

Sincerely,

Kevin H. and sons

This morning, we got the reply:

Dear Kevin,
Thanks for your email. And your very flattering comments about my books. I’m glad you liked them. I figure I must be getting something right, at last. Anyway, I have a lot of fun writing them, and it’s always gratifying to learn that a lot of people have had as much fun reading them. I’m sorry for not replying sooner, but I’ve been on holiday. And since my return I’ve had an epic amount of emails to answer. There will be at least 6 books, I hope, all of them featuring John and Philippa. Book 3 is out in the US now, and it’s called The Cobra King of Kathmandu. Book Four won’t be out until September in which all of your questions will be answered. There will be six books in total. Since you were kind enough to write, then I’m going to send you some signed bookplates. But you’ll need to send me your address. And your full name.
QWERTYUIOP!
warmest regards
PBKerr
p.s. never forget, books are cool.

My sons were very excited (particularly about the idea of free gifts). Was it actually P.B. Kerr who wrote the email? (The middle section seems to formalized) If so, then he has connected with a small cadre of dedicated readers. And, I was happy to have had any response at all. You can’t beat his postscript.

And now we are in the midst of reading The Tale of the Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, about a mouse, a rat, the Princess Pea, a bowl of soup, a castle with a dark dungeon and the metaphor of light and darkness. We are totally engrossed in the story.

Peace (with read aloud stories),
Kevin

PS — Kerr also has a blog: http://www.pbkerr.com/weblog/ that I submitted a comment to but hasn’t yet appeared.

My Technology Autobiography

Yesterday, I posted some of the writing from teachers in a workshop that I was leading in which they were asked to create a short Technology Autobiography. So, of course, I had made my own too.

Here it is:

Listen to my Autobiography

It was the mid-1990s and I was standing in a third grade classroom when a shriek burst forth from one of the smallest girls in the room. She was standing by the only computer in the room, pointing to the small screen.
“It’s Mr. M.,” she called out, and students rushed forward to crowd around the computer. They jostled one another to get a better look. “He sent us mail.”
Mr. M. was a science teacher at the city’s middle school but he owned a house in Costa Rica, and on academic sabbatical, Mr. M. was doing research on the migration of Monarch butterflies. Before he left the country, however, he made contact with various elementary school teachers and students, and he regularly emailed them updates on his adventures and his research into the butterflies. Students used this information as data for their own understanding of science.
As a newspaper reporter covering education for a major newspaper in Western Massachusetts, I experienced one of those singular moments when the merging of technology and education suddenly seemed like a true possibility. The excitement generated by a few lines of text was undeniable and it was clear that technology had the capacity to break down geographic lines.
Suddenly, for these students, Costa Rica wasn’t so far away.
Since then, I have moved into teaching myself, and through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I have become a technology leader for teachers in our network. But it all began during my own Invitational Summer Institute, when I started using a Weblog to connect with other members of the institute and the e-Anthology to connect with teachers from across the country. There seemed to be power there in the connections being made between writers and readers, and I went back to my sixth grade classroom that fall with plans to launch a Weblog in the classroom.
Over the past three years, that site (called The Electronic Pencil) has grown by leaps and bounds and I am now leading a larger Weblog project for schools across Western Massachusetts called Making Connections as a way to help other teachers experience the same power of technology for their students.
Now I am blogging on a personal level, too, with this site and I have found that it has given me a different voice that allows me to move through my interests such as music, writing, poetry and curiosity. This year, I added podcasting and videocasting to the mix and found that the multi-media elements of this technology gives me avenues of expression that weren’t there before. I am not sure if technology is changing who I am as a writer, but it has certainly given me more creative outlets to explore and discover. And what I learn on my own, I bring back to my classroom and to our network of teachers in the Writing Project.
I am not sure what the future holds for technology and writing, but I am ready and willing to explore it all.

Peace (with reflection),
Kevin

Weblogs and Podcasting

Part of my Tech Matters grant money from the National Writing Project is to host a series of workshops around the use of Weblogs and Podcasting for leaders and fellows in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. This weekend was our first session and participants not only created their own experimental Weblogs via Edublogs, but they also used an MP3-Voice Recorder to podcast.

And what did you they write about? They composed their own Technology Autobiography (an idea I stole from Becky Spies Weblog site). Here are some excerpts, although the embedded flash audio player doesn’t seem to be working with some of the files and I can’t figure out why. It must have to do with something regarding the MP3 players’ encoding file, I guess, since various experiments have narrowed down the problem to the player (which is disappointing to say the least — if you have any ideas for help, I would appreciate) and not Edublogs. You will need to click on the actual audio link to hear the voices.

Listen to Amber

“…my first real interaction with computers happened when I went to college in 1998. For three years, I used the computers at the library, and I lost a total of 5 essays due to computer mishaps: my floppy would break, the computer would malfunction, or the printer would somehow print my essays in a strange coded language.”

Listen to Karen

“It was a very intimate atmosphere, and one rule we had in the class was that although we posted a detailed profile, there were no photographs allowed. So the overweight student, the short kid, the non-white kid, and the blonde bombshell all stood on equal footing by the power of their words. There was no one interrupting when the low-status kid wanted to say something. His thoughts, his poetry, his opinions would elevate him to the one everyone responded to and wanted to interact with. This is one thing I love about the idea of blogging too.”

Listen to Mo

“Assisitive technology provides students with special needs the means to express themselves, and a path way to independence. I learned how to use diffrent soft ware to teach students to express themselves as well as communicate with their teachers and peers with dignity.”

Listen to Bill

“I am very interested in technology. I always have been. I love gadgets and newness. Growing up, my favorite tv show was Star Trek. Logically I have an interest in incorporating technology into the classroom.

from Wilma (trouble with audio)

“…In any case, with so much technology changes I almost forgot all about that very first memory with technology. It was that heavy manual typewriter on the top of an old fashioned washing machine outside the house in Puerto Rico responsible for my new way of writing without holding a pen or a pencil.”

I’ll share my own Technology Autobiography tomorrow.

Peace (with words),

Kevin

Making Connections: the map

We had a very good all-day session yesterday around the upcoming launch of a project I oversee call Making Connections, which connects middle school (and now a few high school) students together in shared writing spaces via Weblogs as part of the National Writing Project’s Technology Initiative.

The Manila platform is confusing for many of the teachers, who are not technology savvy at all, and so I created this concept map for them to visualize how our various Weblogs in the project are connected together.

Here are some reflections from the day:

I am understanding the infrastructure of the blog better so the administration and navigation of the site will be better for teaching. I’m glad that we came up with some some “connecting” yet content oriented topics to be working on for this project.” — Michele

Several things happened today to solidify my focus on the project. Before arriving I was very unclear as to what I would be doing throughout this project. I made a decision to go with the science group. I couldn’t be happier about it. My students are going to love the experiment with skittles. I can see several connections to math with manipulating data, and of course, writing across the curriculum. I am really interested in the abstract writing. I wonder what I can do in the next month that will help my students get ready for the online writing. It’s exciting.” — Mary F.

Some concerns remain. How will the technology function when really put to the test with students who struggle with being absolutely accurate as well as precise about entering log-ins, passwords.” — Jack

I feel like we put together a good plan for how to proceed from here. The ELA group was probably overly ambitious but now we’ve got it under control. I’m excited and looking forward to getting started but still nervous about managing the technology.” — Mary D.

And here is part of my own reflection:

Today was tricky because it did require quite a bit of introduction of technology (managing member, etc) and I am constantly worrying about overwhelming everyone. I know that with practice, it will get easier, but we don’t always have the hours to practice. There were some great questions and I hope I had some instructive answers. I feel as if I am giving our Inquiry Question a short-thrift due to time crunch. Meanwhile, the planning process was wonderful. I really feel as if we have a solid plan almost all around for the different phases of the project.”

Peace (with planning),
Kevin

Podictionary: Cool Stuff

Here is a wonderful podcast — an audio dictionary called Podictionary.

I listen to it in my Bloglines aggregator account as an audio enclosure, but you can certainly listen from his site. And, this guy has my last name!! (not related, as far as I know).

Today, he was talking about Noah Webster and the word “webster” in our language. Like most days, Charles Hodgson weaves in meaning, history and anecdotes to create a very engaging look at the words of our English language.

Peace (with meaning),
Kevin

 

OnPoEvMo: Bush 2.0 January 2007

There has been a flurry of poems this month with my OnePoemEveryMonth project and I can barely keep up with the words (that’s a good thing until I lose some of the words in the time when I am not near a pen, paper or computer). Here is a poem I wrote after watching part of the State of the Union address (without sound).

Bush 2.0: State of the Union 2007 (January 2007)

Listen to the poem

The sound was turned off but not the screen
and I just wished I could turn him off, too,
but I couldn’t find the remote to the rhetoric
and anyway, my access was limited,
so I glued my eyes to his face
and wished for some miracle of metamorphosis on the podium
that never came
and marveled at the way his expression twitched and turned
and there was tension behind that presidential mask.
At least, there was that — the tension of the times.

On this stage, the new is the old
and the old is nothing more than
the origami of truth and facts twisted
and reformatted into convenience for the sake of simplicity
and I’m left feeling like a little child in the time-out corner of the nation,
not at all clear what I am doing here
and unable to claim responsibility.

All I want is openness.
All I get is incompetence
in this last gasp of a man
looking into the inkwell of historians
and seeing only the red ink of error after error
written permanently in the blood of our soldier-citizens.
Friends — family — farewell.

Click.

Peace (in peaceful times),
Kevin

Workshop Weekend

I have busy couple of days ahead of me.

On Friday, I am leading an all-day session for my Making Connections project, which is funded through the National Writing Project’s Technology Initiative program. Our Making Connections project is designed to use Weblogs to connect middle school students in our Western Massachusetts area from rural and urban, and now suburban, districts through technology and writing. This year, we have 15 teachers from six different school districts involved and we are intending to branch off into smaller curricular communities around Language Arts (poetry, specifically); Science (shared experiments) and math (a challenge blog).

I just filed a mid-year report to the NWP and you can read that report, if you would like.

And then, on Saturday, I am leading the first of a series of three workshops for fellows at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project on the use of Weblogs and podcasting for professional and/or personal use. In this first session, we have reached out specifically to leaders of WMWP projects in hopes that they can get comfortable with some aspects of technology that could help them in their own work. (This workshop series if funded by another NWP grant through its Technology Matters program that I attended last summer in California).

Here is the agenda for that day’s activities (which includes providing everyone with a free MP3/Voice recorder to create podcasts with).

I hope no one (including me) ends up like this guy:

external image frustration.gif

Peace (with professional development),

Kevin

Goodbye Michael Brecker

In my first year of college, I attended the University of Miami-Florida as an enrolled student in its vaunted music program. But I wasn’t even in the same league as many of the young musicians there and I left after a year. But it was during my time there that I was introduced to the music of tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, whose sound really defined much of the late 1980s and early 1990s sax solos in pop and jazz-funk fusion. He has a very distinct sound that so many people now emulate.

 

I just read a blurb in our newspaper that he succumbed to Leukemia cancer this past week and it makes me want to dig out my old vinyl records to listen to he and his brother, trumpetist David, play some of their classic songs. Man, he could solo!! Check this video out:
[youtube]UIGsSLCoIhM[/youtube]

 

I saw him in concert a few times and he just blew me away with his versatility and range each time, particularly as he branched off from his funk roots and moved more into mainstream jazz. (For a while, he was the main saxophone player as part of the Saturday Night Live band and he was always one of the close-up shots).

His wife has left a letter to the general public, asking for more support for Stem Cell research to possibly combat such diseases as leukemia, and you can read her letter here.
Bye-bye, Michael Brecker — I hope they let you take your saxophone with ya. Here is a nice solo video:
[youtube]FNPrO9N2UeY[/youtube]

Peace (with clicking keys),
Kevin