Slice of Life, Chapter 19

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

This week, it’s all about the students.

This is our spring stretch of parent-teacher conferences and along with getting a glimpse inside families, the meetings with families gives my team of teachers an opportunity to come together for an extended period of time to talk deeply about how all of our kids are doing in school. (Note: I am the writing instructor on a group of four — with other three teachers dealing with science, social studies and math, and then we all teach literature to our homerooms.) We talk about the students all the time, of course — before school, at lunch, after school — but not in so quite an organized and systematic way.

Yesterday, our team meeting became a three-hour marathon session and although I was tired from lack of sleep and still feeling sick, it was just so interesting to go in-depth on various students whose work and behavior and actions differ so greatly depending on the setting, the personalities around them and the content areas. A student who shines in writing may be struggling mightily in social studies. The hands-on elements of science might play right into a strength of someone who isn’t keeping up the district-mandated accelerated pace of math instruction this year (actually, almost every student is being “left in the dust,” as our math teacher tells it, and he is not even near the place in the curriculum where the district has told him he needs to be at this point in time). You come to realize how often skewed your view of a person can be when you only see them from one angle. As teachers, we need to remind ourselves to step back and see the whole child at all times.

There are times when my team and I use Google Docs for collaborative notes around students prior to conferences, although we did not do that for this spring session. (I can’t resist the opportunity to pull more people into the Web 2.0 Revolution). The writing on Google has been very helpful for us, I think, since parents choose to meet with just one of the four of us, and our job is to represent the rest of the team. Most parents would just like to meet the math teacher but we cap the limit of sessions that any one of us can have, so they are placed with the rest of us. They must wonder how the writing teacher is going to explain the math curriculum, but I actually have a pretty good handle on what is going on in the math class. I talk to my students all the time.

My meetings with parents yesterday went fine and the conversations were meaningful and instructive for both sides. As it turns out, the one meeting I was looking forward to about a very bright and creative student who seems to be putting no effort into the work unless it completely is of interest — oh, but he has put up dozens of home movies on YouTube and he was part of my claymation movie camp last year — was a no-go as mom was a no-show. That was frustrating.

We have more conferences today, and then, tomorrow, we finish things up. By then, my brain will be suitably numb with comments, suggestions and ideas on how we can best help all of our students to succeed.

Peace (in partnerships with parents),
Kevin

I Dream in Twitter: A Podcast Poem

I’ve been thinking about Twitter a lot lately, about the pros and cons, and I woke this morning with the lines of this poem dancing in my head. (Twitter is a network that connects people by asking them to write about what they are doing right at that moment) So I worked on it and recorded it as a podcast, sharing it out.

I would love to know what the Twitter friends think about it.

I Dream in Twitter
Listen to the podcast

I dream in Twitter
in 140 characters
that cut off my thoughts before they are complete
and then I wonder, why 140?
Ten more letters would serve me right
as I write about what I am doing at that moment
in time,
connecting across the world with so many others
shackled by 140 characters, too,
and I remain amazed at how deep the brevity can be.

I find it unsettling to eavesdrop on conversations
between two
when you can only read one
and it startles me to think that someone else out there
has put their ear to my words
and wondered the same about me.
Whose eyes are watching?

Twitter is both an expanding universe
of tentacles and hyperlinks that draw you in
with knowledge and experience
and a shrinking neighborhood of similar voices,
echoing out your name
in comfortable silence.

I dream in Twitter
in 140 characters,
and that is what I am doing
right
at
this
moment.

Peace (in poems and podcasts),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 18

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Sometimes, buried treasures comes in cardboard boxes.

Our recent discovery was one of a cache of comic books that arrived via FreeCycle (the site where people get rid of stuff and other people bring stuff home — we’ve unloaded cribs and received a beautiful dining room table through Freecycle). The box was loaded with books, always a good thing for a house like ours, and there at the bottom, was a thick pile of comic books of all shapes and sizes.

Bonanza!

We immediately divvied things up. I grabbed the Baby Blues, which chronicles a couple raising children (perfect). One son took the Foxtrot while a friend went through The Far Side (still a big hit with kids and adults, I find). A plethora of Garfields lay scattered on the floor (no doubt, a comfortable repose for the fat cat).

A little while later, I surveyed the scene. Even the three-year-old had grabbed a Garfield book and was fully engrossed in the colorful pictures. The living room was silent. And it remained silent (except for the sudden “guffaws” now and then) for almost 20 minutes, which is quite a long time in our house. There is something about comics and humor that pulls most people in, isn’t there? I know we can often dismiss comics as juvenile but there is something about the narrative structure of telling a story in just a few frames, with visuals, that can be a powerful reading (and writing) experience.

Not long ago, my older son developed his own comic strip character called “The Ugly Peanut” and he wrote dozens of comic strips about the adventures of the strange little creature. Some of the jokes (excluding the obligatory fart jokes) were pretty advanced (although he later admitted that he “borrowed” from the books that he had read and adapted for his character, which I told him was perfectly acceptable for the starting of a character).

I will leave you with a look at his creation, The Ugly Peanut:

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 17

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

My wife and middle child have been soaking in the sun and fun in Florida for the past five days, taking in Red Sox games and Disney, while I have been battling a chest cold and trying to keep the older and younger kids amused and engaged. The kids have been mostly wonderful (although last night, the little one was chewing on an M&M and purposely spit the chocolate goo from his moutn onto the white futon cover of the couch, causing me to lose my cool for a short time. He wisely played quietly with his trains while I pounded around the house, fuming, and wrestled with the futon to get the cover off and the stain remover on.)

This weekend, the three amigos went to a local Butterfly Museum and I return with this audio-visual Slice of Life report, told in part by my three-year-old son and pictures from our visit. (A quick disclaimer: in one picture, the narration talks about a Monarch butterfly, when in fact, it is an Owl butterfly in the video. Somehow, I jumbled pics in the editing process. My older son corrected me on that one, quite firmly.)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=681539785303927390" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

If you can’t see the video, you can listen to the podcast version (although the video is mostly in sync with itself)

Listen to me and my son talking.

Peace (while floating on the air),
Kevin

The MiniLegends Speak Out with a Blog Shout

Some of you may know that there has been blogging trouble brewing on southern part of Australia, as the government there shut down a potentially innovative and certainly exciting blogging adventure called The MiniLegends. The teacher, Al Upton, had his students create blogs and then asked for other educators in the world to server as “virtual mentors” to his students, following their progress in school via the blogs.

The government shut down the project on fears that the blogging mentoring concept exposed students to possible dangers, although Al had a pretty comprehensive document for parents to read and sign off on beforehand.

This morning, I was reading through the many (more than 100) comments at Al’s blog and I was pleased to see the students voicing their own sadness, frustration and outrage over the situation as it now stands (Al is trying to reverse the decision). I think it is vital that we hear the voices of the students in any of these matters.

I looked for my (former) mentee, Sam, but many of the students did not sign their names. I will assume he is there in the mix, somewhere. (Although Sam’s blog is closed, I am hoping by linking with a trackback, he will at least know that I am supporting him and hoping him the best. It’s a silent blogging protest in support of the kids)

Here are some of the thoughts of the MiniLegends (in the interest of not wanting to embarrass any students, I did a little editing cleanup here and there):

I was almost in tears when I heard my blog was shut-down. I was so sad and disappointed. I really enjoyed blogging. I absolutely loved my cluster-map. I sometimes might say all that work was for nothing. The vokis are cool. I start thinking that we wouldn’t be able to talk to our mentors. It used to be fun. Cheers. — Mini17

When I first heard my blog was shut down I felt sad,upset and worried about my blog and what would happen to my blog. How I can’t look at my comment’s and how I can’t look at other people’s blog’s. And how I can’t see my cluster map.The best is the communicating with people I don’t know. I get friend’s. You can put on pictures and posters. I learn faster on the computer’s and blogs. Our new form is called Article 13. I love blogging. — Mini14

When I found out that our blogs were closing down, I felt confused, sad and angry. I felt really sad because I felt that all Al had taught us had gone to waste. We had a vote on a name for our new forum. The new name for our forum is Article 13. It means Rights for the Child.I felt better with my blog in many ways. — Mini22

When I heard that the blog was closed, I was sad because the blog was like everything in my life . But now it is closed so we just have to do something that is like the blog . The blog was great and fun. I loved my blog. It was like my home. — Mini2

Perhaps the days ahead will bring some progress.
Peace (in action),
Kevin

Day in A Sentence Down Under

Our Australian friend, Anne M., has been the host of this week’s Day in a Sentence and she used VoiceThread as one way to collect sentences. There was quite a good response. See for yourself and feel free to add your own sentence:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://voicethread.com/book.swf?b=79099" width="410" height="500" wmode="transparent" /]
Peace (in audio, text and visual),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 16

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

My ten-year-old son faced a moral dilemma yesterday. I wished I could have done a better job of guiding him through it — maybe even told him what to do — but this was one of those moments where you let your child move forward on their own and hope for the best.

Yesterday was Little League baseball “evaluations” in which the ball players move from station to station to show how they can run, hit, pitch and catch. All the coaches mill about, like an NFL combine, and take notes for the upcoming draft day (yes, they do a draft and I feel uncomfortable about it). Last year, my son went all out, trying his very hardest at every task put in front of him. He then went to a team that struggled all year, even though he emerged as a star player (in our humble opinion).

What he really wants to do this year is to play on the team coached by a dear neighbor. That team won the entire championship. More importantly, he is a wonderful human being and mentor. Our friend wants our son, and we want him to be his coach, but our neighbor also pledges to draft any returning players from the prior year and it seems unlikely that our son (who can pitch — highly coveted) will still be in the mix when that time comes around.

So my son asked me in morning before the evaluations: “Dad, should I do bad today? So they don’t know if I am good?” What he means is that if he did poorly in the evaluations, maybe he would be still available when our neighbor has a free slot on his roster. Maybe he would slip by all of the other coaches.

My answer: “That decision is yours. If it were me, I would do my best. I’d want a coach that knew all of my talents. But I am not going to tell you what to do. You have to make that choice. I am OK with it, either way.”

I gulped inside when I said it. I want him to do his best, at all times, and not throw the game like some member of the Chicago Black Sox. It seems to me that just by thinking as he was thinking, his moral compass was coming slightly askew. Or maybe I am over-reading the situation.

Later, after the morning’s events at Smith College’s beautiful indoor track, I asked my son how he had done and if he had tried his best.

“I ran fast. I tried to get some hits. But I didn’t pitch as fast as I could have. I guess I did OK.”

So … there. Now, we wait until we hear from this year’s coach on March 26 to find out what team he is on. We all have our fingers crossed.

Peace (in growing up),

Kevin

PS — Last year, as part of our ABC Movie Project, I created this digital story about the baseball season in our house and so, I figure I can share it again here, as it relates to my Slice of Life. (That’s me, in the middle, in front of the coach with the white shirt)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-8891800749316318329" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

The end of the MiniLegends?

Yesterday, while on Twitter, word filtered through the networks that Al Upton has been forced by his South Australian government to shut down his MiniLegend mentor blog project. Although it appears that Al received proper permission from parents and followed all sorts of acceptable rules of practice with blogging, the government determined otherwise and issued a sort of cease-and-desist order to the project (known as an Order of Closure). As of this morning, there were almost 40 comments of support for Al and his kids, and many were testimonials to Al, personally. (see http://alupton.edublogs.org/)

Many, many teachers have gone to Al’s defense and written up a variety of comments for a variety of blogs to give Al some support, should he decide to fight the decision and try to sway the authorities to step back, take a breath and examine the issues. I also posted my thoughts on the short-sightedness of the action. In this world of more and more connections, where students need to develop critical thinking skills and move onto a platform of collaboration, the use of a mentor through blogging seemed appropriate to me.

Anne M. (host of this week’s Day in a Sentence, by the way) provided a list of 20 Reasons Why Students Should Blog that is worth a look.

I had signed up as a mentor to a blogger named Sam, and I had been looking forward to following his progress as a blogger this year. He had written that he was beginning to research the brain and I thought that topic would offer some rich conversations between me, as his faraway mentor, and him.

I had heard of the mentor project, as many of us did, through Sue Waters, and folks are also leaving comments on her blog. I know she was in Skype with Al yesterday and I wonder how we might find ways to show further support?

Meanwhile, I want to wish my mentee, Sam, the best. Sam, the brain works in magical ways but we often get caught up in emotion when reason and intellect would better serve our needs. Perhaps we can relay that lesson to the South Australian government?

Peace (in opening up the world),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 15

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

It used to be that I would dread waking up in the morning and opening up the basement door. I always expected to be greeted by a layer of water. Noah, I wasn’t. Sometimes my fears would come true. We live near the bottom of a hill and gravity pulls the streams of run-off water from other homes beneath our house. It didn’t help that our foundation had cracks in which water would visibly bubble up from beneath in the rainy seasons (spring and fall). It was horrible. I remember spending long hours lugging buckets of water up the stairs and out the door and then worrying about the mold being left behind.

It was the health concerns that finally moved us into action.

Two years ago, we got smart. We invested a good bit of money for construction to fix the mess. The guys came in one day and dug a trench around the entire indoor perimeter of our basement, laid down some pipes and fed the collected water into a sump pit, where we put in a sump pump that has earned it rightful place in the family album.

This time of year, the pump seems to work non-stop, glugging away like some monster in the basement. The strangest sound, though, comes after the pump has done its work. The water first flows up, and then over, and then out into the drain-water system (we may be illegally hooked into the city’s pipes, so you must swear to secrecy). There must be some trap door in the piping and the water sloshes and galoshes as if it were the ocean. It moves back and forth and back and forth (When my poor dad  sleeps over, his bed is on the couch in the living room and that is the soundtrack he has to listen to all night — the pump kicking in and the water moving through the pipes — not exactly soothing night sounds — Hi Dad! — he reads my blog sometimes)

I went down there with my voice recorder to capture the sounds, although it doesn’t do it justice. So, today, I offer up this audio Slice of Life from the confines of my basement. It’s dry down there. Plenty dry. But water still flows.

Take a listen to the water flow.

Now we just pray the pump never fails. We’re in big trouble if that happens. And if it happens, I am packing up and moving to the top of the mountain for higher ground.

Peace (in pumps),
Kevin