Slice of Life, Chapter 24

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Our family’s church is raising the roof. Literally. Figuratively. Musically.

Let me back up a bit. Our church — The First Churches of Northampton — is an historical site in our downtown. Some version of the church has been a centerpiece of the city for almost 350 years and the congregation was the home to religious firebrand Jonathan Edwards. The building has burned down a few times, yet the community has remained. The church plays host to a variety of social service agencies and its rooms are often used for musical and artistic acts through the years. It is an integral part of this place.

Last year, however, the roof on the church began crumbling in the sanctuary, and engineers started to notice structural damage to parts of the building. The sanctuary was quickly closed and the entire massive pipe organ was dismantled and put into storage (what an operation that must have been). The cost for repairs? $2 million. Yes, that is two million dollars, much more than the church community can afford on its own.

So, some folks are organizing a huge music concert in early April called Raise the Roof at the nearby Calvin Theater in hopes of raising awareness and earning some money for the project. I had tried to get my band involved but it was too late. My children, however, will grace the stage of the Calvin as part of their children’s choir. (lucky ducks).

My own connection to this church is not quite as strong as the rest of my family. I am not religious, by nature, although I am spiritual.  I fall a bit on the agnostic side of the world (hoping I don’t fall off the edge.) This church is such a wonderful community of caring people and the sermons are always so interesting and insightful such that I always feel at home there.

The music director has allowed me to compose and then produce choral pieces for the choir and pipe organ. I have played my saxophone with the choir, too, on more times than I can remember. The pastor organizes family football games in the winter that are loads of fun. It is a given, and it is accepted, that some kids may cry during the service, and that is just fine for everyone. It is a sign of a healthy congregation, the pastor reminds us. The church even developed an environmental covenant to advocate for respect and responsibility for Earth. These are all things that I adore and love about our church.

Yesterday morning, as I sat through the Easter service, I reminded myself to appreciate this warm and loving community and to support its campaign to “Raise the Roof” and get the sanctuary back up and running. My appreciation of the congregation and its people constitute my slice of life today.

Peace (in spiritual paths),
Kevin

XO Explained: from students

Wow

Here are two very neat animations developed by students to explain two features of the XO Laptop. These come from the Nortel Learn-It program and the videos were created by high school students.

First, check out how the mesh network functions:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-165743766194847315" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

And now, check out how the Daisy Chain Relay (connecting to other XO users) works:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=5272037335937899765" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

So how did they do it? Lucky for us, reflection is part of this program and they created a video to explain how they made the animations using their own ideas and flash:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-5282496896672813004" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in student-driven work),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 23

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

“Daddy, when is Bella coming home?”

The query comes from the back seat. We are on our way back from the store. Today, I kept the music off. He fills the gap with conversation, just as I had hoped. My afternoon had been spent in meeting trying to rejigger our class schedules next year to make more time for math while not losing too much of our other content areas. My brain was too full of school stuff. I needed family time.

“She’s not coming home, honey.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s in heaven.”

Bella was our family dog, and we had to put her down in December. Every now and then, the little one still wonders about why Bella isn’t meeting us at the back door with wagging tail or greeting him in the mornings at the bottom of the stairs. Or barking her head off at every animal or human walking near our house. We even miss (kind of) the tuffs of white fur scattered around the house. (I still use her pic as my avatar)

“Dog heaven?”

“Yes. Dog heaven.”

Silence.

“What does she do there?”

“She plays. She runs. She watches over us.”

“In Dog Heaven?”

“Yes.”

“Hey — that’s just like the book!”

When Bella was dying, I brought home a book called Dog Heaven as a way to explain where our dog was going and why we could celebrate her spirit in our lives even after she was gone. The older boys got it, but for the youngest one, it was and is too abstract. Thus, the questions — the same questions — emerge from time to time as his mind tries to grapple with loss. Every time he counts out our family or names each of us, Bella is right there in the mix.

I ask, “Do you miss Bella?”

“Yes. But she’s in Dog Heaven. Right?”

“Right.”

“Is she happy?”

“Yes. She is happy now.”

“She’s not sick?”

“No. She’s not sick anymore. She’s happy. But we can still miss her. I miss her.”

Silence.

“I’m hungry. I need a snack.”

A few hours later, in an eerily similar conversation with my middle son, he presented me with a craft that he had made at an after-school program in which someone from a local animal shelter teaches children about caring for animals.

“I made this,” he said, showing me a cute little cat craft. It had the name of our elderly cat — Coltrane, for John Coltrane, the legendary saxophonist — painted on the front.

“So, when Coltrane goes to heaven, we can remember him,” he added.

My kids amaze me every day.

Peace (in understanding and remembering),
Kevin

Just One More Book: My Review, part 3

Justonebook

I got a podcast book review published over at Just One More Book again (this is number three!) and you can do it, too. They make it so easy for anyone who loves books to give your own insights. They even have a phone number you can call and leave your review as a message. Does it get any easier than that? (no)

I reviewed Mole Music by David McPhail this time.

Take a listen

My previous reviews were:

Peace (in books),
Kevin

Supporting Al and the MiniLegends

alupton.png

I’m still thinking about Al and his MiniLegends and the shut-down of their blogging project. Now, Steve Hargadon has interviewed Al Upton via his Classroom 2.0 podcasting series, and it allows us a chance to hear Al give voice to his project in person.

Just now, I notice there are 207 comments on Al’s blog showing support and offering ideas for Al and others who are using blogging in education.

Thanks Steve! (And check out all the other cool podcasts and projects that Steve has been undertaking)

Take a listen to Steve’s interview with Al.

Peace (in support),

Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 22

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

I’m slicing into the local news today, focusing in some smaller stories that seem to have some bigger reverberations in the world. I suppose we could all do this kind of slicing and allow the local to become an inroad into the global. Such is the power of the Slice of Life concept, right?

So here goes:

Slice One: Our city may be closing one of our elementary schools. I don’t teach in the small city where I live but my kids go to school here, and so my wife and I are following these developments quite closely. I was a newspaper reporter here in this place the last time an elementary/neighborhood school was shuttered and it was not pretty. The reason for all the talk by the mayor and School Committee about ending the life of one of the four elementary schools is, simply, money. The school budget is about $800,000 out of whack for next year. We have consistently been on the wrong end of the state’s calculations under a School Reform bill from about 10 years ago because we were already supporting our education system to a fair degree. Those are the districts that got punished under School Reform. The poor districts got an infusion of money. The rich ones didn’t care. The rest of the middle has been mostly left to fend for itslef, and that has meant cuts every year since I can remember. Teachers are laid off, left and right. The arts program is reduced to rubble. Textbooks are out of date. (you probably know this story well)

I don’t think the school where our sons go is on the list for getting closed but larger class sizes, more disruption and other intangibles are certainly part of any package for an infusion of an entire elementary school across the district. There is a lot of distress in the air.

Slice Two: At a neighboring town, the middle school administration has decided to clamp down on the student newspaper. The middle school journalists were concerned that students were having no voice for change in their school. They developed a survey. They administered the survey. They collated the data and created charts. They were about to publish the results (which show that almost 80 percent of the kids at the school feel left out of all decision-making) when the principal yanked the newspaper from their hands. The administration apparently told the students that the wording of the survey and they way they gathered data was faulty and unethical. The ACLU has stepped in to support the students. It is a bit ironic that the students create this document to show how voice-less they are and then they are stripped of their voice. An update in the newspaper says that administrators were really most concerned about the quality of students writing in the article. Can’t you see them with their big red correction pens, standing over the news and chopping out word after word? Perhaps that is unfair to stereotype the administrators, but when it comes to freedom of the press and student expression, I have some pretty strong feelings.

Slice Three: Finally, on a positive note, a local band is making it big! And they ain’t young pups either. (And, alas, it is not my band). The Young @ Heart Chorus is a group of elderly residents of our city — led by their energetic and young music director — who has toured the world and they now have a documentary movie that has been made about them. The movie is being released this week by Fox Searchlight Films (which is apparently a wonderful movie, according to David Ansen of Newsweek, who wrote about the flick this week and gave it kudos for entertainment and emotion). The Young @ Heart Chorus is not your traditional elderly chorus singing traditional. They choose hard, modern rock songs (they’ve covered Sonic Youth and ColdPlay) and make them something different with their life experiences. It is so heartening to see the possibilities of music transforming people — both the performers and the audience. They also have a wicked sense of humor, as evident by this cover of The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

See video here:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/McCpBsH9cOQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in rockin’ out the years),
Kevin

Space: the new (literary) frontier

George Mayo, who helped pull together the Many Voices for Darfur project, is at it again — this time, he has launched an online magazine to showcase student writing. It is called Space and it is an offshoot of the YouthTwitter Project that he and others (including friend Paul Allison) have begun as a way to connect students together.

George is using Google Docs as a main platform for the online publication and students submit pieces of writing through YouthTwitter. I really wanted some of my students to get some “space” and so we joined YouthTwitter as a classroom account (for now) and submitted six short stories based on the Chris Van Allsburg book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (which I wrote about before and even did a podcast book review). I used Google Page Creator to put the stories on their own webpages and then shared the web addresses via YouthTwitter.

One day, I read a concrete poem that George submitted (about concrete poems, appropriately enougy), so I figured I would submit some writing myself — a concrete poem in the shape of a saxophone that I created a few years ago and share with my students every year.

Today is the first publication date of Space and it is a nice mix of student work. I would love to have my students move more into hyperlinked poetry (next month, I hope!) and multimedia creations (I have some burdening moviemakers in class). I think the digital platform holds some interesting opportunities for students to compose and publish for a real audience (always a good thing).

Space might even inspire me to venture into hyperlinked poetry myself, something I have considered but never pursued. Thanks, George, for the inspiration.

Peace (in publication),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 21

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

We are Ice Legend!

I could not resist that recent-movie-inspired opening, as my students have collaboratively and with great interest (and, I am happy to report, very little dispute) decided upon a name for our class team in this year’s Quidditch Tournament (coming up in April).

This decision on what to call ourselves is always an interesting process to watch unfold and I do try to guide it carefully to keep everything civil. Some years, the choosing of name can lay to waste a year’s worth of good will, particularly if the class divides itself down the middle. It’s only a name to me. To them, the name defines them, so I have to be sure to keep the weight of such a decision in mind as I move us through the process.

Over a few days time, they brainstormed a list of names. This gives everyone a chance to contribute, even if the contributions are sometimes silly. I allow room for this silliness since it helps keep us grounded (gotta foster silliness at times if you wanna stay sane). Thus, we get names like The Typhoon Penguins or Hodgepodge (they love to make fun of my name in times like this).

Next, we do some talking about the names and then move on to some silent voting, going through a couple of rounds to see which ones have no support at all and which ones seem to float to the top. The voting this year took four rounds to get to our final name.

Perhaps in some anticipation of this name emerging as a winner, one of my boys — not always on task — presented me with this possible symbol (soon, we will be designing t-shirts and posters and flags and other items and we try to have a common symbol):

So, We are Ice Legend.

But I kind of wish they have voted for Ice Writers (he says mournfully). But that name only got one vote in the early round (it wasn’t me — I don’t vote) and then it was knocked out of consideration.

Now, we need to invent the legend of the Ice Legend (cue music: Led Zep’s Immigrant’s Song: We come from the land of the ice and snow ….)

Peace (in collaborative decision-making),
Kevin the Ice Writer

Day in a Sentence: Off to Israel

Day in Sentence Icon

The Day in a Sentence continues on its world tour, moving from last week’s comfortable confines in Australia with Anne M. to the shores of Israel, where Bonnie is on her regular sojourn for a few weeks.

Next week, the moon? No. We’ll bring the homesick Day in a Sentence home for a week of rest and relaxation after the visit to Bonnie’s blog this week. All that travel makes the Day a bit worn out, but loving the memories.

And so, without further ado, Bonnie invites you to visit her blog and post your Day in a Sentence for this week, with any kind of vacation-themed writing you may to do. She even encourages the sharing of vacation photos. I decided to use a vacation-style metaphor for how things are going with me. You can feel free to twist the vacation idea any way that seems appropriate for you, of course.

Here is my Day in a Sentence:

While my body feels as if it is in London — all dreary and foggy on the outside of the world — my mind yearns for some little tropical island somewhere that no one else knows about — restful and relaxed from morning until night.

See you on Bonnie’s Blog!

Peace (in connections),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 20

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

The trees are about set to run.

Any day now, I will look out my window and see a few cans and buckets dangling from the bark of the trees in our front yard. A neighbor will have come over casually (and quietly, now that our dog has passed away) and he’ll pin up the buckets and attach a series of odd hoses to our trees. He makes do with whatever is handy. This is not a professional operation.

The warm weather is coming. The trees know it. We know it. And the maple sugar syrup-ers (what is the name for someone who collects sap and turns it into syrup?) certainly know it and are waiting with hopeful intent for a good season.

When the sap flows, it is pretty amazing.

The collection buckets fill up fast — sometimes within minutes, as if a little tsunami of liquid has surged from the tree — and we enlist our kids to carry the buckets over to our neighbor’s yard and return with empty cannisters, quickly. The sap sloshes in waves in the cans, so the kids move carefully to the corner house where our neighbor friend puts out a huge collection pan and stokes a fire. The sap in the pan smokes as water is steamed off, leaving behind some rich amber gold and bringing forth the sugary goodness. We lick our lips in anticipation of the first Sunday morning of pancakes and sausage with the syrup made from our own trees, in our own yard. We dip our fingers into it and don’t worry about manners. This is Our Syrup, after all.

Our neighbor — a rabbi and thoughtful man — goes beyond making syrup with his operations, What he really is making are connections in our neighborhood. He is showing us all how collectively, we can come together. He is showing us the richness of our world, if we would just take time to look for it. We never even considered our trees for anything other than shade until he asked if he could tap them.

Sometimes, a crowd of people gathers about over at his house, breaking wood, feeding the fire, bringing in small sap buckets and just chatting away. We don’t see each other as much in winter as we should, and by the time the sap is flowing in March, the kids all seem to have grown a few inches and news abounds from all corners of our worlds.

Yep, soon, there will be buckets. Soon, there will be spring. Soon, the neighborhood will be inching its way back to life.

Peace (in community),
Kevin