Slice of Life: The Teaching Conference Anxiety Rush

(This is a Slice of Life post, for a month-long writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our days. You write, too.)

Teaching and Learning Sessions

The next couple of days are just going to be nutty, and I am hoping I can still Slice. I’ll make time, of course, and I probably will share out what’s going on in the two conferences that I am attending in three days.

This weekend, I am flying down to Washington DC for the Teaching and Learning Conference. I was only vaguely aware of this conference, but I guess it is pretty huge, and the National Writing Project (facilitated by Tanya Baker) is sending me, Troy Hicks, Janelle Bence and Gail Desler (four of my favorite NWP people .. actually, that list is pretty long) to do two sessions on Saturday around digital learning. My own area will be talking about video game design as literacy practice.

I’ll be sharing out:

The conference also collides with Digital Learning Day this year. I’m not sure what to make of the conference, as the tone of the programming seems very different from the writing project-flavored conferences that I often attend. There are a lot of consultants and administrators/education officials on the program, and my very informal and very unscientific analysis of the presenter list a few weeks back indicated this:


I’m not sure what to think of this analysis (will it be all EduSpeak all the time? Will teachers’ voice be front and center, or sidelined?) but I am going in with an open mind and see what I can see, learn what I can learn, and hang out with friends.

WMWP Invite to Spring Symposium

Meanwhile, tonight, I am helping to facilitate our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Spring Symposium, with the theme of Technology, Assessment and Justice for All. I am also co-presenting a session around the Remix Culture and learning, and our hope (crossing fingers here) is that we will get everyone making media with Webmaker Popcorn Maker. Our session is in a lab that I have not ever used … so, yeah … a little antsy about that unknown element. I am interested to hear our keynote speaker, and to learn more about the work he has done empowering urban students with media and social justice themes.

So, late night tonight for WMWP and then a very early flight to DC tomorrow for Teaching and Learning (plus, a visit with one of my best friends who lives in the DC area) …. lots going on!

Peace (in the whoosh),

Slice of Life: Theater Critic

(This is a Slice of Life post, for a month-long writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our days. You write, too.)

It may be that I am a little sensitive in role as teacher of sixth graders. I am not naive about the world, of course. But I am sensitive in my role as filter. And yesterday, that made me a silent theater critic sitting uncomfortably in the audience of a preview show of a stage production of Little Shop of Horrors.

Let me back up …

Our sixth graders, along with fifth and sixth graders from the other elementary schools in our district, took a bus trip up to our regional high school yesterday to see a preview performance of Little Shop of Horrors, which the high school theater group is putting on this coming weekend. This was an invite from the high school, which paid for the busses and cost us nothing. Let me say up front: the performance was wonderful, with great acting and singing, and the brief appearance by the plant was a huge hit with the elementary-school audience.

Here’s where the filter critic in me comes into focus.

It has been many years since I watched Little Shop of Horrors (all I now remember is Steve Martin) and I guess I forgot that the female protagonist is in an abusive relationship, entering the story with a black eye, and then an arm in a cast, and deflecting jokes about handcuffs in the bedroom. I forgot that the dentist tells the audience how he happily tortured dogs and cats as a kid (with support of his mother?), and how he enjoys inflicting pain on people. I didn’t remember the character in a long trench coat who flashes girls on stage nor the stumbling drunk with a bottle in his hand, falling down, evoking laughter from the crowd.

I forgot all that until I saw it on stage and thought, maybe this preview is not for this age group? You think? Of course, by then, it was too late. We were there, seated. The show goes on. We watched, and then the best part for me was the end, when some of the high school actors came out on stage to answer questions about acting, production and being in front of live audience.

When I got home, I told my wife about the performance, and she said, “Doesn’t that play have sadomasochist overtones?” Eh. Yep.

Peace (in the play),

Slice of Life: The Overlooked Moments

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a writing challenge throughout March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We notice the small moments. You write, too.)

Night outside

In another writing space with National Writing Project colleagues (including Bonnie), our good friend Kim Doullard hosts a Photo Fridays feature, where she shares photos on a theme and asks us to keep our lens open for possibilities. This week’s theme is all about “the overlooked” moments. Last night as I was taking the dog out, I looked at the sky from our driveway and saw a plethora of colors in the night. The tree provides a nice frame, as does the stars in the sky, and the street/house lights give off yet another color.

It’s the perfect image for a visual slice of life, and Kim’s advice to notice the overlooked dovetails so nicely with our writing activities, of noticing those things we see all the time but now we see them in a slightly different light. Turn your head a bit. Squint your eyes. Reframe what you see. Notice the overlooked.

LATE ADD: This morning, when I went outside after writing, I saw this:
Morning sky

Peace (in the visual),

A Video Mirror Poem for Two Voices

I don’t know if this worked as I wanted it to work … but I was playing with the theme of mirrors for Walk My World and wanted to write a short Poem for Two Voices, performed as a video mirror.

Here’s how I did it:

  • I wrote the poem (well, yeah). I was working on the continued theme of identity.
  • I set up my iPad video and recorded me reading the first side of the poem, with my head turned. I had some trouble reading, and finding the red “record” button. It took quite a few tries.
  • Then, I reversed myself, and read the second part of the poem. Again, red button trouble. But even more difficult was the pacing of saying the words of the poem. This second part took quite some time, as I kept stumbling into the words of the first part. I never got it perfect. Just close enough.
  • I used an app called PicPlayPost to create the video collage. I like this app for projects like this, as it allows you to mesh video and images. Here, I wanted  a simple view: the mirrored self, reading a poem together. The line down the middle of the collage worked nicely for this.
  • I posted right from the app to YouTube.

Peace (in the poem),

Slice of Life: A Day for the Birds

(This is Slice of Life, a writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. We’re writing every day, if we can, throughout March on the small moments of life. You write, too.)

Some days just naturally end up with a theme. Yesterday was one for the birds. Literally.

(image from

I took my youngest son to a Birds of Prey demonstration by a very knowledgeable educator named Tom Ricardi, who runs a rescue operation for hurt birds in Western Massachusetts. He regularly visits schools to talk about endangered species, in general, and birds, specifically. We’ve seen Tom before but that doesn’t ever stop us from gazing with wonder at the owls, hawks and eagles that he pulls out of his boxes. Yesterday’s highlight was a huge Golden Eagle, which is really a magnificent bird — much more beautiful and majestic than the famed Bald Eagle. In this kind of nature presentation, you can see how science can transfix kids, if it is relevant and intriguing.

Then, in the late afternoon, I took another son to see Birdman in the theaters. He’s been wanting to see it for some time, particularly after it won a bunch of awards, and I was intrigued, too. We were both surprised that it was still in the theaters, but I guess that’s one benefit of the awards. We were both blown away by the cinematographic element of the film, which has been edited to seem like one long shot, and by Michael Keaton’s re-emergence on the screen (although my son only knows of him from the Batman movies, appropriately enough, given the theme of the movie of a washed up movie star trying to find relevance while keeping his sanity).

And so, yes, a day for the birds .. but I am still waiting for the bluebirds to zip by my window, announcing Spring.

Peace (in flight),

DeConstructing #25wordstory Writing

DeConstructing 25WordStories

This may not do justice to the writing activity, but a few tweets by my friend, Brian Fay, had me thinking about the #25wordstory concept and why I like it so much. I am not sure if it is helpful or just another comic.


Peace (in the story),


Slice of Life: Not Another Trophy

(This is Slice of Life, where we write about the small moments. The month-long writing activities are facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

TrophiesThe coach means well. Yesterday, at my son’s last youth basketball game of the season, the coach of the team pulled the parents aside, explaining that he was sorry they had not won a game all season and that he knew some of the kids were frustrated. He talked about the hard work and drills he taught them. I don’t think he needs to apologize — it’s youth basketball, after all, and he did teach them new skills — and I think losing at a young age is not the worst thing in the world.

Then he went on to say that he was organizing a pizza gathering and he had bought participation trophies for everyone. He asked us, does anyone have an issue with that? I wanted to raise my hand. I wanted to shake my head. I wanted the trophy train to stop.

These kinds of good-hearted gestures by coaches seem like they have value on the surface — honoring the commitment of young players — but I don’t think getting a trophy just for coming to games on Saturdays really has much value. Instead, what we found with our older kids is that it does the nearly exact opposite: trophies have little value when you have a shelf of participation awards. It’s that old supply/demand concept.

We’re finding the same syndrome at our school. Our sixth graders leave our school to head to the regional middle school, and you would think they were graduating high school or college with the special events that go on. We’ve tried to tone it done over time, but the pull of parents is hard to hold back. So, the yearbook becomes this glossy affair and our Recognition Night is nearly a formal event.

I wanted to say, save your money, coach, we’re good. But he had already ordered the trophies and no other parent seemed even remotely the same way as I did. I could tell. So, I didn’t say a word. It turns out the day of the pizza gathering is a day our family is overbooked anyway, so maybe the trophy will gather dust in someone else’s house. I didn’t mention the trophy concept to my son and he didn’t ask. He’s more focused on baseball now.

Peace (in the award not really an award),


Slice of Life: The Cold Gig

(This is a Slice of Life, a monthly challenge to write every day facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You can join in, too. Come write.)

The gig

We have nicknames for some of the gigs my band — Duke Rushmore — has played over the years. We have the Ice Gig, where the roads were so slick coming home one night after we played at a bar in a very faraway hill town that we were all sure we’d end up in a ditch at 3 a.m. in the morning. There was the Bug Gig, where the outside event turned into a mosquito fest, and we were the main entree, apparently. There was the Quiet Gig, where we played loud but the audience just sat there, like stones in their seats, and refused to dance. There was the Loud Gig, where the engineer for the venue cranked it so loud people had to leave the room.

And now we have the Cold Gig. We played out last night at a brewery that does two-hour tasting (it is a real brewery, not a brew pub) and they have bands entertain the crowds drinking their homebrew beers. It’s a good gig, and we love playing there, which we do a few times a year. It’s a funky space — wide open floors, very little seating. You have to climb five stories of steep steps to get there (although the band uses the freight elevator). You rough it at this place.

Last night was a bit more rougher than usual. The heating was on the fritz (meaning: no heat) and the outside temperature hovered around the single digits. It wasn’t so cold we could see our breath but it was close. It took all of my courage to take off my jacket to play, and my saxophone — that temperamental piece of metal — does not like the cold air. We wrestled all night for the right notes. Oh, and the only toilet in the place wasn’t working, so there were huge buckets of water to use to flush.

Like I said, you rough it.

But we had one the biggest crowds of the year there, with more than 160 people jammed into this tight space, dancing the cold night away to the music, and we warmed up quickly, jumping around and finding the groove, and it was a great night of music. It was the Cold Gig, but we turned up the heat, and it was all right.

Peace (in the gig),

Playing with Mirrors/Palindrome Poems

The Learning Event for Walk My World this week has been “mirrors” and it had me remembering the concept of the mirror/palindrome poems, where the poem reads the same backwards and forwards. I’ve been trying my hand at them a bit.

First, I tried poems about writing and music. A key element for these poems is the use of punctuation to create pauses one way that don’t exist the other way, and the center line as a bridge between the sections.

Two Mirror Poems

Then, yesterday, I had this idea of taking the mirror image even further. I used an online site that will remix text, allowing you to create text written forward and render it backwards. I also wondered how it would sound, so I used another site that allows you to record your voice and then turns the audio in reverse.

Here is my Winter Mirror, Forward poem:
Winter Mirror, Forwards

Voice Recorder >>

Here is my Winter Mirror, Backward poem:
Winter Mirror, Backwards

Record audio or upload mp3 >>

And yes, I am sick of winter …

Peace (in the mirror),