Playing Saxophone in the New Band

We don’t quite have a name yet, since this formation of the band is really that new (the bass player just joined us two weeks ago), but this is a short video montage of us playing the Benefit Concert at our school earlier this week. It’s a rough cut for now.
That’s me on the saxophone, stage right.

Peace (in the music),

Sharing the Musical Stage with Students

rock concert in gazette
(a blurb in the local newspaper earlier this week)
Last night, we held our benefit rock concert to support the American Red Cross in the wake of tornadoes here in Western Massachusetts and in the South. It was extremely hot on the stage — the heat outside was in the 90s — and I wasn’t sure what the audience would look like. But it was OK — there were about 60 people or so, I think.

We raised more than $500 for the Red Cross, which is better than I expected and indicates a high level of generosity by the audience.

On stage, we had a mix of teacher and student acts, and I was so happy to be able to watch my current and former students shine in the spotlights on the stage as musicians and performers. I was up there, too, playing with my new configuration of our band, but it was watching my students that really made the night.

There were about a dozen student performers who performed everything from the Beatles to Kanye West to Lady Gaga to Green Day. It reminded me of my time in high school, when a band I was in took part in a talent show of bands, and although we were not all that great, I still remember that magical feeling of taking the stage and looking out, and playing before people.

Sure, our event (which was organized and run by a student of mine, with a little help) was designed to raise awareness and money for families hurt hard by the weather, but it was also a chance to turn the night over to the students, some of whom don’t shine in the classroom but do shine on the stage.

Peace (in the songs),

PS — I do have a video of the night and will work on a montage one of these days.

Student Poetry Podcasts: Inside This …

I am finally getting around to sharing some of the poetry podcasts we did last week with our iPod touches. Here are some “Inside This ….” poems that used Figurative Language techniques to get at the essence of inanimate objects.

I like this one because you have to know the child — full of energy and off-beat ideas and a creative thinker. His poem is entitled “Inside this Lightbulb.”

Take a listen

And here is a folder with some of the other poems.

Peace (in the sharing),

Speaking out the Essay on the iPod

I walked into a room the other day, thinking my son was talking to me. He wasn’t. He was talking to his iPod.

Using the free Dragon Dictate app, he was doing his “final version” of an essay about Sparta for class, moving from a rough draft on paper to a final version on his iPod. I watched as he read his piece, and then edited the text on Dragon (for Greek towns and words that it didn’t know), and when done, he emailed it to me to print off for him. I have to admit: the final product looked pretty decent.

I had to ask him — why use Dragon instead of typing?

His reply? “It’s easier this way. I can get it done faster.” Of course, I would have preferred something along the lines of “This captures my voice in ways writing can’t!” or “My writing improves when I use this device!” or something that teachers want to hear. But the 13 year old boy is seeking the quickest path to completing the project.

I know of one of my own students who has some writing difficulties who also uses Dragon at home for some projects. So, I asked him if he had used the app to create any final versions of projects for me this year. He told me he had done his entire environmental essay on it, moving from his rough draft outline and notes to a final version.

I would never have known, and I guess that is the point. The app and device — and others like it — are available for students with and/or without learning difficulties and if the final product looks good and reads well, does it matter how it came? It might for some teachers and I am unsure about it, too.

It raises the question: Is it writing if an entire piece of writing has done orally?

Peace (in the impact of the app),

From Poetry to Collaborative Rap and Hip-Hop

I’m looking at my calendar and yikes, we’re almost done with the school year.

We’re about to wrap up our unit around poetry this week and I often shift into songwriting for a day or two. This year, I might do something a little bit different. I am mulling over the idea of having each of my four classes collaborate as a class on a rap/hip-hop song, using Garageband as the recording platform. I haven’t done much of this full-class collaboration nor used Garageband much for looping sounds, so I can’t quite say how it will go.

But I started to compose some opening lines that will guide them forward, and then see what happens. I am hoping that I can get at least two or three students from each class to come on up and “sing” the rap they write as a class. And if we find a good chorus, maybe everyone can chime in.

I was recently inspired by this blog post entitled How and Why to Write a Class Rap. If they can do it, why not us? And as for a theme, since we are at the end of the year, why not a rap that captures the identity of them as a class?

Here’s how I may go about it:

  • Look at some lyrics and listen to a song (I may use Kris Allen’s Live Like You’re Dying — which is pop and not rap, but still … a useful song because of its message and rocking beat). This will give me a chance to talk about couplets and also, the concept of verse-chorus with them.
  • I may also turn to The Week in Rap to show how it can be done. I see they have “The Last 18 Years in Rap” compilation up.
  • Brainstorm some main ideas and messages they want to see reflected in their class rap.
  • Play them a beat loop in Garageband as well as my own introduction, which may be something like this: “I want to introduce to you/the kids with mad rhymes/they’ve got some crazy mad skills/and they use them all the time/They’re the writers and the readers/and they’re tearing up the scene/They’re the up and coming class of 2017.”
  • Write at least 10 new lines — as couplets and with inner rhymes, if possible. Have them pay attention to the stress and rhythm of the lines.
  • Record and publish.

What do you think? Anyone done collaborative songwriting with their students?

Peace (in the hip, in the hop, in the hip-hop-hip),

From Japan to Joplin to Just Down the Road

For a few months, a student and I have been working to organize a live music benefit concert at our school featuring staff and student acts. We were motivated first by events in Japan, and then by the devastation in the areas around Joplin, and now local events have overtaken us as a tornado hit hard right down the road from us here in Western Massachusetts, causing significant damage to homes and businesses and families. As a result, our focus is now to gather donations to support the American Red Cross in its efforts to help local families.

The concert is this Wednesday night at our school.

I am playing music with a lot of people that night, and I just realized that I have quite a few songs to learn, along with the songs I am doing with my new R&B band, where I am playing mostly saxophone on songs like Midnight Hour, Do You Love Me, and Johnny B. Goode. But with other groups of teachers and students, I am bouncing around on guitar and bass. I am doing one original song — Innocent Boy, written for my sons when they were just little dudes.

Here are some of the videos I am trying to burn into my brain for this Wednesday night:

Peace (in the reaching out),

176 Podcasts (including poetry) in Two Days

I know it’s not a numbers game, but I was pretty surprised the other day when I noticed that in two days of using our iPod Touch devices (and one Blue Snowball microphone for our Poems for Two Voices project) for podcasting with Cinch, my students had posted 176 podcasts.

I have 80 students, so the numbers do make sense, but for me, the sheer volume shows the ease of use with the device, and the app, and the desire to make their voices heard in the world.

Here are some of the Poems for Two Voices — I grabbed them off of our Cinch site and put them into my Box site for easier grouping, sharing and embedding.

But you can also wander through our Cinch Podcasts at the Cinchcast site, too.

Peace (in the poems and podcasts),

Responding to Because Digital Writing Matters

We had a very rich discussion about the book Because Digital Writing Matters at our National Writing Project iAnthology networking site in recent weeks, and I decided that too many of the thoughts were too good to just remain static. So, I grabbed comments from various folks and created this video montage of their ideas around various chapters in the book as our discussions unfolded:

Peace (in the book),

My 2,000th Blog Post

I find it hard to believe, but technology never lies, right? According to my blog dashboard, this post is my 2,000th post that I have written and published here at Kevin’s Meandering Mind. Oh sure, I write in other places, too, but this is my digital home — the place where I see the most of own online identity. The screen for my voice.


Good Lord.

That’s a lot of writing, and while I notice the trend of many other bloggers stepping back from their blogs with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, I still find blogging a useful venue for reflection and sharing my thinking about teaching, writing, music, books and more. I still find it useful to have folks out there in RSS land who read what I write (you’re a bunch of saints, my friends, and there are close to 4,000 comments approved here) and I give thanks to those colleagues and acquaintances of mine who periodically add their own thoughts to the conversation.

I began this blog after a week-long technology retreat with the National Writing Project back in 2006 (I think), thanks to the encouragement of my friend, Maria, from DC, who knew I was blogging with my students and asked why I wasn’t blogging as a teacher. Why not, indeed? I jumped in, and never really stopped writing and blogging since. I’ve since added podcasting, and video production, and more experiments than you can shake a virtual stick at. Even with the uncertain future of the NWP, I still have many of those NWP folks in mind whenever I sit down to write. What sharing can I bring to the table? What ideas can I garner from them? That reciprocal nature is how I envisioned this blog, even if a lot of days it is just me typing for myself.

Thanks for hanging out with me. I appreciate your company.

Peace (in the posts),

PS — it was just by chance that I peeked at my Dashboard this morning. Otherwise, the celebration post would have come and gone with no notice from me.

“Meet the Book Characters” with iPod Podcasting

Yesterday, I pulled out our suitcase of iPod touches for the first time in my class (although it is not the first time they have used them — they did an interesting science project on cell mitosis with the touches) But I wanted to see if we could do some podcasting with the devices, using Cinch as our app. (It’s free!)

I have to say — it mostly worked like a charm. Even though I had to first “talk” through what they needed to do, since I could not connect the device to my board, they were on the app in minutes and podcasting around the room with ease. And the only glitch, which I realized later, is that some kids turned off the iPod before Cinch had a chance to finish its upload of files online, and it seems like a few of the files may be gone now (I had hoped they would sit in “pending mode” on the device until it powered up again but I guess not.)

I had them use an entry from their independent reading journals, in which they introduced a character from their book to me. Here, though, the audience changed — from me, to the world. They changed the introduction to “Dear Listener” and adapted the writing to fit the podcast of their piece.

We now have an “album” of character sketches at our class Cinch Page, and I have downloaded some of the podcasts into my Box account for easier sharing as a folder. I am pretty impressed by the audio quality, and by the confidence of my students to jump right into the technology.

The activity yesterday was to prepare them for tomorrow, when we will be doing more podcasting of their Poems for Two Voices with a partner which they have been working on in class. It’s going to be a bit tricky because I was hoping to find a way to connect two headphone/microphone sets to one iPod, but that didn’t work. So, we will have them huddle around a single microphone and go from there. They are surprisingly resilient when it comes to Mr. H’s Workaround Magic.

Peace (on the device),