Nerdwriter Explains Fidget Spinners (with appreciated parody)

I enjoy (and support via Patreon) Nerdwriter, who creates all sorts of interesting videos on a range of topics. His latest video release is one about Fidget Spinners, which our school has just banned as toys because we had kids throwing them on buses, spinning them into people’s faces, and selling them for profit in the hallways.

As usual, Nerdwriter incorporates parody with history for entertaining results.

You know … the arc of a fad.

Although he uses parody here, Nerdwriter makes an interesting aside: the emergence of devices with no buttons or tangible way to interact might pave the way for more tactile toys and devices, as people want their fingers and hands to be doing something. Or maybe not. Maybe we just have short attention spans and need something to divert our attention from full focus.

I had written about the spinners a few weeks back for Slice of Life, and since then, the spinners are all over the news with varying points of view on whether they are good or bad for students (despite the claims of the Fidget Defense League, I have yet to see any of my ADD/ ADHD students benefit from the use of a fidget spinner for focus and sustained attention. It mostly has been the reverse.)

Peace (the world spins),
Kevin

Using Comics to Interpret Poetry

Poetry Comics

I hope it’s no surprise that I like to give my sixth graders opportunities to make comics, and to use art as well as words in their writing and analysis. We’ve done visual notetaking and added art to many writing pieces, and used a basic comic model for a variety of writing activities.

Poetry Comics

Last week, as we were examining the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem — Paul Revere’s Ride or sometimes entitled The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere — I had them create a comic by pulling important lines from the poem and illustrating them to help tell the narrative story.

Poetry Comics

What I like is it allows me to see what grabbed their attention in a piece of poetry, and provides entry into analysis, and hopefully understanding, for those students who struggle with traditional writing but could use an artistic anchor into a text.

Poetry Comics

I should note that our conversation about the poem also dipped into what (and whose) stories are left out of the American Myth, thanks to the power and reach of Longfellow’s poem.

Peace (and all that history),
Kevin

Check out this Creativity (K12 Online Conference)

One of the strands of this year’s ongoing K12 Online Conference is Creativity. This video is a cool inside look at the ways teachers around the world are using music and technology to spark creativity with their students.

Check out more about K12 Online Conference. There’s always cool sharing and all the presentations are archived, so you can always peruse past presentations whenever you get the time.

Peace (sounds beautiful),
Kevin

This is (still) the Truth (Zeega Multimedia Version)

Five Voices in Search of a Poem

I’ve been wanting to take a poem for five voices that I wrote last month, and invited four friends to virtually perform with me, into Zeega for some multimedia interpretation, and finally found the time this week to do so. The poem is a response to both the media landscape and the political turmoil (made even more tumultuous yesterday by the firing of the lead investigator by the president being investigated).

First, here is just the audio, with help from Terry, Sheri, Melvina and Scott. We recorded it all remotely using a site called Soundtrap.

Now, here is the Zeega version (You might need to tell your browser in the url bar to allow it to play unsafe scripts, which comes as a result of Terry hosting Zeega at his own space, I believe). Also, it is best to view the Zeega in full screen, to get the entire effect of image layering and viewing. Here it is:

What’s always so interesting about this process is trying to match the visual experience, with limited text anchors, to the audio, even knowing that every viewer will process through the project at a different pace. With Zeega, the viewer/reader/listener chooses when to advance the visuals, even as the audio plays on.

I’m happy with how it came out. I hope you enjoy it.

Peace (in many voices),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Perfect Age for the Galaxy

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

One of the many wonders of having a son who is not yet a teen, but who is almost there, is that we get to see the world through his eyes. Sort of. This weekend, I took all three of my boys to see the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. The first Guardians movie remains a favorite for my youngest son, who was not really old enough to be ready for that movie but I took him anyway, in XD no less, knowing it would make an impression.

Needless to say, it sure did (we have it on DVD and bought it via Apple TV when the DVD went missing, a mystery solved this winter when we found it among our Christmas movies in the basement). He claims to have watched it at least a dozen times. And needless to say, we’ve been waiting for the second movie for some time, hearing him explain the trailers and such.

Guardians 2 was a fun flick, full of humor and adventure and outer space, plus some heartwarming stories of fathers and sons, and the four of us had an interesting conversation afterwards about whether 2 stacks up to 1, and what happens next in the series (they know the whole entire Marvel Universe movie plans, it seems). We also talked about Easter Eggs in the movie.

Me? I was reminded of my first taste of Star Wars, and before that, adventures with Star Trek, and how the view of the universe opened up my eyes to imagination and storytelling in ways no other movies really had. I hope that happens to him, too.

Peace (in the great beyond),
Kevin

Book Review: Anatomy of a Song

Here’s a book that hit a number of buttons for me. It’s about music. It’s about songwriting. It’s an oral history project. It’s an inside look at how creative people are creative. Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits by Marc Meyers is apparently a riff off a Wall Street Journal column he wrote, diving deep into songwriting by interviewing the writers, producers, engineers and musicians behind some iconic music. (I didn’t know WSJ had a music column, did you?)

I really enjoyed Meyer’s approach here, as he brings the voices behind the scenes up in the mix, so to speak. I knew most of the songs, but not all, and he stops at REM’s Losing My Religion, arguing that 25 years have to go by before one really knows if a song reaches iconic status. I’m fine with that.

It’s intriguing to hear the stories behind the songs, of where the inspirational lines may have come from or where the melody or harmony originated, and the process that goes into the writing, recording and engineering of songs that become the soundtrack of our lives.

Anatomy of a Song covers quite a bit of ground — there are 45 chapters, sort of like a 45 spinning on your old record player — from Lawdy Miss Clawdy by Lloyd Price to You Really Got Me by the Kinks to The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff to Heart of Glass by Blondie to Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper and more. You might quibble with his selection, but I didn’t mind.

Peace (inside the songs of our lives),
Kevin

Immigration, Social Justice and the Armory: Kickstarting a New Adventure

Armory WMWP PD May17

I am helping to co-facilitate a new project that connects middle school educators and students with the Springfield Armory, our local National Park historic site through writing and inquiry and service learning projects.

Yesterday, at our first meeting, we began our work on the project, as our group of teachers from an urban magnet school took a tour of the Armory itself and learned of its rich historical resources, took part in a workshop on Authentic Writing and Performance Tasks, and began initial planning for a free summer camp we are offering at the end of June for city students at the Armory.

I can’t say enough about the educators who have agreed to be part of our project, called Minds Made for Stories (influenced by the work and book of the same name by Thomas Newkirk, who argues that narrative is the underlying nature of all writing that we do). They were inquisitive, passionate and ready to dive into the work ahead of us.

The overall theme of our project is Social Justice, and the thread that will tie our work and the development of the camp is “immigration,” as the current climate around immigration is a central focus in the lives of many of the students at the school where our teachers teach. This became clear as we worked through a variety of topics, as teachers talked about the all-consuming worries and anger about the current immigration policies and politics of the national stage.

We’ll be looking at immigration, and racism and other related topics, through the lens of the Springfield Armory and its workforce, and its work as munitions center for the country for much of the 20th Century. We’ll have guest speakers to talk about oral history, and have student at camp design some sort of service learning project that can go back to their school in the fall.

The project is supported by the Mass Humanities organization, the National Writing Project, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the National Parks Service via the Springfield Armory and the Veterans Education Project. There are lot of moving parts to this one, which makes it challenging to coordinate and exciting to put into motion.

Peace (today and every day),
Kevin

Passing the Song Along (A little Dylan in the Day)

Dylan Words

A few weeks ago, my friend Laura put out a call for a project that she was doing that would feature the Bob Dylan song The Times Are a-Changing. When I first taught myself guitar, that was one of the songs I wanted to learn, and did. Laura was hoping to build a musical quilt of songs and voices and words, as part of a public performance.

I grabbed my guitar, re-learned the song a bit, and then choose the verse that I think has the most resonance for the times that we are in right now – the one where Dylan calls out politicians and writers to embrace change for a better world and be ready to defend the choices you make in the moments before you. I recorded the verse and sent it forth to Laura, to use as she saw fit.

A few weeks later, Laura shared out a video of the live performance of her Affirmation Quilt. As I watched and listened via YouTube, I was pleased to hear her cello layered in on top of my guitar and voice. She is a talented musician, and I was honored to hear her strings on top of my ragged singing voice. It was wonderful, particularly as she wove the music in with spoken words contributors by others, and other music pieces, too. She also performed the song, live. That was the quilt affect she was going after.

But this story doesn’t stop there.

Ron, another musician friend from another part of the world, watched Laura’s video, too, and he asked if she could share it on Soundcloud. He wanted a copy of the song. I figured he was up to something, and of course, he was. Ron, a talented keyboardist, took the duet of Laura and I, and made it into a trio (or more) by adding keyboards and other elements in Garageband, and then shared it back out again.

If you’re counting, that would be Song Iteration Three: me, then me and Laura, then me and Laura and Ron. (Well, Four, if you count Dylan, and you probably should.)

None of us (including Dylan, as far as I know) have ever met in person to jam. We only know each other through our networks, coming together for a shared purpose with shared interests. When collaboration comes together like that, it’s magical and powerful.

Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Ron.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Spill Zone

It’s a strange world that Scott Westerfeld and illustrator Alex Puvilland have envisioned in Spill Zone. Something tragic has happened. Something so immense and unfathomable that whole cities are evacuated and left to ruin. But what exactly happened? If Westerfeld knows, he’s not telling. Not yet anyway.

The graphic novel, Spill Zone, is a fascinating entry into the world gone awry, as our teen heroine, Addison, seeks to make enough money to survive, and to protect her younger sister, who was caught in the midst of the catastrophic meltdown or explosion or whatever it was when it happened and now, she is strangely silent. Her doll, though, is even stranger, communicating to the sister in some form of mind-melding that hints at something larger unfolding.

The doll needs to recharge so periodically in the spill zone. When Addison goes back to the devastated city on her motorcycle, where she takes photographs of the strange new world to sell, the doll comes for a ride, too. The doll is an indication of something really strange happening.

The story here revolves around a business offer that Addison can’t refuse, although she should refuse it. The work brings her deeper into the city than she would normally allow herself to go — right into the heart of the very hospital where her parents were working when the catastrophe hit, and died (as far as we know) — and then, even weirder things happen as Addison makes her escape.

Spill Zone is the first book in a series (which I think played out as a comic, too) and my middle school son and I were both hooked. But, a word of caution: this is aimed more for high school readers and older, due to some language and content.

Peace (strange, indeed),
Kevin

Inventing a Mirrored Self in a Mirrored World

Pensato WebHome

As Networked Narratives hits the last lap this week (it has been an interesting exploration of digital narratives, with a graduate class at Kean University and a bunch of folks, like me, out here in the open), I want to reflect on a project that took hold in the last weeks of NetNarr.

Specifically, the invention of an alternative, or mirrored, Self in the NetNarr world called Arganee. When I say “World,” I want to be clear that we never did enter or create a real fictional world – like video games do, for example — but one of creative imagination, through an online portal into Arganee. (Essentially, a blog site with hidden doors and strange text features). We imagined it a world.

Our task was to create an alternative personality for the Arganee World, and after some thought, I created a character called Pensato Scherzando. Both words in the name are musical terms, which come together to create a definition of “imaginary music created, playfully.” Or something like that. Music. Play. Imagination.

We created a “home” in the Arganee World site, and created a Twitter account for our characters, and our health and growth was tracked based on interactions with others and how much writing and media making we ended up doing. I also created an alternative home elsewhere, as a collection point for media files.

Prompts encouraged collaboration (although I never really found a place to collaborate) and connection, and the overall theme of Civic Imagination and Social Activism (through World Building) emerged in the final days.

I found it intriguing to invent a persona out of the blue, and although I had some ideas for her, the voice of my Pensato emerged rather on its own.

Pensato became a collector of sounds, a remixer, whose Sound Collector Array is pointed to the Universe, seeking music and messages from somewhere “out there” in hopes of some larger understanding of the world(s). I tried to infuse her speech with metaphysical tics, always urging her readers to “listen” to the Universe.

Pensato is a collector, a poet, an interactor, an actor on the virtual stage, an optimist with hope that there are ways to mend the fabric of the world(s), if only we pause and listen and help each other.

I went about creating audio files from the Universe that Pensato could share out (I don’t know if anyone was really listening, though).

My aim was to find ways to create music and mystery, never quite giving away what Pensato was hearing. I wish I had had some master plan that would have ended in some symphonic conclusion but alas, I was winging it.

Her voice was my voice, but not yet my voice. She became herself, or at least some projection of what I hope we could all become if we just took the time to pay attention to each other. Listening requires attention.

We don’t listen nearly enough. Pensato did, or does. For a final assignment, she wrote me a letter. You can read it, too.

Peace (the Universe beckons),
Kevin

PS – Special thanks to professors Mia Zamora and Alan Levine for inviting us to join the graduate students on this adventure.