Slice of Life: Disappointment, then Forward Motion

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

sol16It’s not a huge thing, really, but still, I feel this lingering disappointment about a grant that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project was going for and didn’t get. We found out about it this week in a very kind letter. I know this is how it goes in the competitive world of grant funding. Small pots of funding means lots of people vying for support, and not everyone will get some. I’m thankful there was even an opportunity.

But I had been the primary writer of this grant, drawing on more than a few projects from the past that our writing project has been quite proud of, and building off an existing two-year initiative that connects science teachers around argumentative writing and NextGen Science standards.

Our grant application took that a step further, proposing to virtually connect the students in those classrooms in online spaces as science writers, so they would have authentic audiences and collaborative hubs of inquiry. We had more than a half-dozen teachers in urban and rural and suburban schools ready and willing, with hundreds of middle school students who would have been in the mix next year. It would have been crazy and hectic, but inspiring and enlightening.

This was a visual of our vision of our Connected Learning hubs:

Making Scientific Connections Hubs

We’ll keep pursuing funding in other places – we believe in the project’s potential — and I’ll keep an eye on the initiatives that did get funding. We can always learn from each other, even in disappointment. And laying out a vision of this kind of project on paper was educational in and of itself. The disappointment comes from wondering where we fell short, and if I missed something in the visioning process.

Peace (shake it off),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Demo Song for Someone I Don’t Know

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

sol16

My bandmates and I are in a strange situation. We lost our singer and bass player, and then lost our practice space (see: lost bass player). So the four of us now huddle in the drummer’s basement, jamming quietly and seeking a way forward.

And I keep writing songs for a band that I don’t know will come to be (but have faith that it will). I write for a singer I don’t even know exists (but have faith they will find us as we find them). I keep on writing and playing because I can’t imagine any other way. I’ve written near a dozen new songs since the fall (and tossed away at least another handful that didn’t make the cut).

This is the latest demo song, written after I read a piece in a magazine about memory, and then I read a short story of a man who remembers a kiss from the past, and accepts that tender memory for what it was and is. I like the haunting feel of the tune. Whether it has legs for the eventual band, I can’t say.

Here is the demo. Eventually, if the song goes further, I will play saxophone on it, but I recorded this all myself, with live guitar and voice, and the rest as instrumental tracks on the computer:

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Of Zooks and Yooks

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

sol16This is a sort of deja vu slice, since I think I have likely written about what I do for Dr. Seuss Day and Read Across America Day (they were both yesterday) at least once or twice in past Slice of Life. But I still enjoy digging out my Seuss The Butter Battle Book to share with my sixth graders on that day.

The real lesson for literature is Allegory (a term none were familiar with) and history (The Cold War) but any reason to bring out a Dr. Seuss book is fine by me. Not many have had The Butter Battle Book read to them (a few had watched the video version at some point) and I made sure my reading style projected both the absurdity of the tale (butter? bread? Yooks? Zooks?) with the sharp political commentary of the Cold War’s nuclear arms race.

I even found a great chart online that connected the symbolism of the book with geopolitics of the Cold War age, which led to long discussions in each class about the Berlin Wall, for example, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

You can’t go wrong with Seuss.

Peace (let is be now and into the future),
Kevin

Slice of Life: One Man Voting

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

sol16

I walked in, unenrolled. Walked out, unenrolled. In between, I was a Republican, not for the first time ever but I can truthfully say, not very often, either. I wanted to lodge a protest vote in our Primary Elections, as some sort of individual counter to the Trump push.

So, I voted for Kasich, who at least has a positive message even if he has no chance at all in gaining the nomination of his party. And I can’t say I agree with him on many issues, either. He just seemed like the only one on the GOP ticket that I could vote for with any kind of good conscience.

Turns out, my protest vote didn’t matter much. Our liberal New England state’s Republicans, often seen as moderates on the local and national stage, went all-out for Trump, too, with 49 percent of the vote. Kasich came in distant second, however, so that’s something.

Strange days …

Peace (in the vote),
Kevin

Daily Create: Five Image Story

Today’s Daily Create at DS106 was a multi-step affair — generate a story starter and then construct a visual story with five images. So, StorySpark gave me this odd story starter:

An anxious storyteller spies on a quick-witted quantum chemist in a diabolical toy store

So I went into Flickr Creative Commons to make this visual of that story:


flickr photo shared by amenclinics_photos under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license


flickr photo shared by Elvert Barnes under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license


flickr photo shared by Simon Greig Photo under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license


flickr photo shared by benchilada under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license


flickr photo shared by Foomandoonian under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Phew.

I used the Flickr CC Search Engine, and then Alan Levine’s wonderfully helpful CC citation tool.

Peace (in the story as image),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Where’s Your Jacket?

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

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“Is it in your desk?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Well, was it in your desk when you left school?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Is your desk even big enough to hold it?”

“No.”

“Why didn’t you say that when I asked, then? How about your locker? Was it in there?”

“I don’t know.”

<grumble>

“Did you use your locker yesterday? Before you came home?”

“Yeah. I think.”

“When you looked,” voice slowing down to ensure comprehension, enunciating each syllable, “was it in there?”

“Maybe.”

<grumblegrumble>

“So, you have no idea where it is? No idea?”

<silence>

“?”

“?”

Peace (gone missing),
Kevin

Book Review: Mo’ Meta Blues (The World According to Questlove)

I can’t say I am a diehard Roots fan (I have the album they recorded with John Legend … it’s very good), but what I have heard, I have liked. And I know that Questlove (Ahmir Thompson), the drummer and co-founder of the Roots, seems to often be at the center of musical circles and an insightful writer about culture from the hip-hop viewpoint.

His memoir (a format he liberally plays with here) is called Mo’ Meta Blues, and it is a rich journey into more than just his personal history in music (The Roots are now Jimmy Fallon’s house band). It is also an insightful look into the history of hip-hop, with a Philly perspective, and of modern Black music and Black identity.

Music has the power to stop time. When I listen to songs, I’m transported back to the moment of their birth, which is sometimes even before the moment of my birth. Old songs, rock or soul or blues, still connect with me because the human emotions in them, whether jealousy or rage or hope, are recognizably similar to the emotions that I’m feeling now. (Ahmir Thompson, Mo’ Meta Blues, page 272)

I appreciate the humanity and humor Questlove brings to his story, and the way he shows us a band that often struggles to find an identity in the changing pop culture landscape and then keeps true to its heart and reforges its identity, time over time, and yet still clings to a vision of music as a powerful force in nature. They’re after bigger game than the next hit. It’s a bumpy ride for the Roots, and yet, they remain a viable force on many levels.

Peace (in roots),
Kevin

 

Walk My World: A Musical Turning Point

turning point

I’ve been in and out of the Walk My World Project a bit this year, following when I can and adding when I find time and inspiration. The most recent Learning Event for Walk My World has participants exploring “turning points” in their life — a time when that metaphorical fork was there and you made a choice (or had a choice a made for you).

I suppose Life is made up of these Turning Points, and all the “what ifs” that come with reflecting back. I chose a strange period in my life when the music in me went mostly silent. I had been playing my saxophone and guitar since childhood and teen years, but in my mid-20s, I packed them away.

That was for about 10 years.

I could probably point to all sorts of reasons, from the relationship I was in at the time, to the cramped apartment I was living in, to the confusion about the present and the future, to …. maybe I was just tired of music at that point. Maybe all of the above, with a little swirling action to stir the mix.

What changed that — what became my turning point — was a chance lunch. A colleague at the newspaper where I was working as a journalist was leaving the office to become a self-employed editor, and before he left, I suggested we have lunch. On the day of our lunch, he wasn’t feeling great, but he invited me to his house for coffee. I agreed, and we were hanging out when he brought me up to his “office” in the attic.

There, beyond his office area, was an attic full of musical instruments: guitars, bass, keyboard, amplifiers, drums. It was the outline of a band, and it turns out (unknown to either of us) that he was not only a musician, but he was also in the midst of starting a new band. When he found out I once played saxophone, he asked if I wanted to jam.

The rest is history … I did jam and he and I and the drummer have now been playing in various bands for nearly 20 years (we’re in the midst of reforming yet another new band right now as our Duke Rushmore band fell apart last year).

I am grateful for that particularly turning point, because it reminded me of what I loved about making music, and about writing songs, and about playing my saxophone, and about life, too, being more than work and family (though, of course, that is very important) and about having something just of your own.

I’ll never be a professional musician — I not good enough nor am I dedicated enough, and I have long been at peace with that — but I can’t imagine life without it, either. It’s odd now to think of that ten year gap — as if it were another false life being lived at the time, as if I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing.

Peace (in the Muse),
Kevin

Video Share: Reading Like a Historian

Read like Historian video

Today, I am off to the University of Massachusetts to co-facilitate the first of three sessions around using the Library of Congress digital archives for primary sources for inquiry projects. This professional development course is a collaboration between our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and a local educational collaborative that does a lot of professional development.

Our aim is to help teachers construct “text sets” of primary sources and develop questions and tasks that spark student inquiry and open-ended explorations.

I was reminded of this great video from Teaching Channel called Reading Like a Historian and figured it was worth sharing out. It shows a classroom where the focus is on reading archives and primary sources through the lens of a critical historian. I hope we have time to share it during our session today … (the embed is strange here, so you might be better served going to the source)

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Book Review: Participatory Culture in a Networked Era

Since late December, I had been slowly sharing out thoughts from the new book by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd called Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. We chose the book as a slow-read after Digital Writing Month unofficial ended in November, hoping to continue the conversations and keep our own participatory elements alive and active.

I’m not sure it all worked as we had hoped (this vision of multiple entry points with various conversations emerging and unfolding), but maybe it is too early to make that assessment. There was some activity here and there, and Terry Elliott offered up multiple entry points for folks to “participate” in the conversations. A few did. Some may be doing it still. Some may still enter in. It’s an open invitation.

You come, too.

But I figure I needed an artificial ending point for myself with the book itself (and I wrote this post a few weeks ago but kept it in my draft bin), while still hoping to keep open the connections with other people reading it and learning from it, too. The last page of a book does not mean the last thoughts of a book. Much of what Jenkins, Ito and boyd talk about in Participatory Culture in a Networked Era rattle in my head. I am still hoping to find more people to talk about it with.

 

So, here are some take-aways from the book on my end:

  • Just “hearing” the discussions and debates and diving deeper by these three thinkers around Connected Learning and Participatory Culture is intriguing. The book is framed around main ideas, with an introduction by one of the three, and then edited transcripts as the three bandy about the ideas. I felt like I was in the room at times.
  • By the end, they agree that the defining of Participatory Culture is still in flux. I still have troubles grasping a definition. It anchors on the ideas of people being to come together based on common interests, and creating ideas or things together, with experts helping novices. I feel like those ideas are important.
  • I wish there had been more about classroom experiences, but these three are more researchers, and it seems as if much of their research has been done in out-of-school programs. This makes sense, as kids gather around interests in after-school programs or online spaces. But I keep coming back to the question of how to make sense of this in my classroom, and how to use Participatory Culture concepts to engage students in meaningful learning and literacy moments.
  • The discussion around ways that commercial enterprises and corporate culture have sort of hijacked “participation” for financial gain and status in the world of Social Media is something that I appreciated, and certainly do talk about with my students. It’s about empowerment and filtering, and having agency to decide when to participate. The three authors have strong ideas, culled from their research.
  • Talking about what kind of elements help nurture a Participatory Culture had us thinking of how technology platforms (Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, etc.) either encourage or hinder Participatory Culture. Most of the sites I use on a regular basis seem less than ideal. There are pieces that invite participatory ideas, but there are also walls to a seamless experience.
  • We found it interesting that our open invitations to discussions, of trying to create a small pocket of Participatory Culture around the reading of the book, didn’t seem to gather any reaction or comments from the three authors of the book. Maybe they didn’t even know we were talking about them. Or maybe they are keeping removed from the discussion around their book. Who knows? But it seemed counter to the theme of participation, of narrowing the line between reader and author.
  • I still don’t get the cover art. I am not sure why I keep wondering about it. I guess I find it interesting and intriguing …. but it is strangely odd.

This book is well worth your time, even if you don’t connect with discussions. I think it makes for a richer experience to read with others in online spaces, and explore and create, but the book is worth your time one way or another.

Peace (on pages),
Kevin