Songs of Human Voice: From Cacophony to Composition

I was creating a Storify of all of the short video reflections that folks are making for the IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset), grabbing them and tucking them into the curated project. (see it here) But when I was tinkering with the template of the Storify, and tried to use the slideshow template, suddenly, my speakers were filled with all of the voices, talking all at once.

At first, I panicked — too loud! too loud! — and turned the volume off. After some reflection and a spark of curiosity, though, I turned it back on and  … I listened. I listened to the swirling sounds of all of our voices. I could hear different textures of sounds. I could hear individual words and phrases lifting up from the chaos, every now and then. Clusters of noise came together and then apart, weaving this noisy tapestry.

And I realized — this is a song of human voice and experience and questions. This is the collective songs of educators, deep in inquiry. This is music.

Which got me thinking: could I record all of those voices together (yes, I could) and then add a looping music track underneath it all, guiding the sounds into some sense of song? I could. What made it all work, in fact, is that towards the end, voices begin ending, slowly, like an audio tail wagging, and we are left with one lone voice, and her daughter, telling the entire IMMOOC community to “have a great day,” and that voice of that young daughter of Sheila Vick (@sheila_vick) was the magic sauce that made it all work.

Listen in headphones, if you can, and tell me this is not beautiful in its own way. It is longer than I would have liked, but I could not force myself to cut out anyone’s voice. (And some videos were added to the Storify later that did not make it into my audio recording. Sorry.)

Peace (sounds like …),

PS — this is how I did it:

  • Launched Audacity recording software
  • Placed microphone by speakers
  • Started the Storify
  • Downloaded audio file as MP3
  • Launched Soundtrap website
  • Uploaded audio
  • Used loops to create underlying music
  • Downloaded and then uploaded to Soundcloud
  • Shared in social media

#2NextPrez: Presidential Politics for the Young

Opening to Gazette piece

I wrote a column for our regional newspaper about teaching the election to our students. The quote above is how I began it, as I wondered how to make an election in which they have no voting power meaningful.

You can read my column, although the newspaper has a paywall. I believe the first few views are free. Our Western Mass Writing Project has a partnership with the Daily Hampshire Gazette around the Chalk Talk column and writing, in which we help teachers get published once a month.


Meanwhile, I also joined in on Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast the other night, as host Paul Allison and other guests and I were talking about how we might extend the Letters to the President concept to students under the age of 13, by considering the revamped Youth Voices online space. (The Letters to the President publishing site is open to students 13 and older)

We’re making some plans …

Paul also shared out this great video documentary — Letters to the Next Mayor — which, while being site specific, lays out a foundation for how Letters to the President might unfold as a (digital) writing activity.

Youth Voices Letters to the Next Mayor from paulallison on Vimeo.

Peace (is more than rhetoric),


Middleweb Review: The World Peace Game

The most innovative idea that I came across this summer? How about John Hunter’s World Peace Game concept? The game is incredible and complicated and pushes all sorts of learning in all sorts of directions.

Hunter’s story of how he developed this intensive game that upped the ante for his fourth graders (and other assorted age groups as he brings the game elsewhere … including the Pentagon, where military leaders played it, too) as he asks players to help solve problems facing the world. His story is certainly worth a look, if only for discovering another way to re-examine our classroom spaces as something beyond testing and mandates.

Read my review at Middleweb of World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements by John Hunter.

Peace (not just a game),

Is YouTube the Innovative Engine Our Education System is Not?


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

I was listening to George Couros on a hangout for IMMOOC, and he was telling the story (if I remember it right) of a high school student building a car, and when George asked how the young builder how he learned to do build a car, the student replied … on YouTube.

My class was waiting for dismissal on the first days of school and in the back of the room, a student pulled out a yo-yo and started to do acrobatic yo-yo-ing tricks. Where did he learn some of his more complicated moves? On YouTube.

A student once brought in video of friends skateboarding, flying across the air off ramps and other objects at the local skateboard park. The camera angles and the music and theatrical editing of the video had me asking the student, where did you learn how to shoot movies and edit like that? On Youtube.

My son wanted to hack and mod Minecraft. Where did he go to learn more about how to do that? On YouTube.

A student is very interested in anime. I mean, obsessed with the Japanese art-form. Where did they go to learn how to draw? On YouTube.

I had a plumbing issue. I am not mechanical. But this seemed fixable, and I didn’t want to pay our plumber $100 a hour for so simple a job. Where did I go to teach myself how to fix the plumbing? On YouTube.

And on and on and on … right?

Remember when schools universally blocked YouTube from student access? I hope those days are fading away. The more I talk with young people, and watch my own sons interact with the world, and reflect on how I learn new things, the more it becomes clear that YouTube has become the largest classroom in the world.

People of all sorts, in all parts of the world, are willingly sharing their expertise and creating narrow communities (what Chris Anderson called “The Long Tail” of marketing in the business world but which might have applications in thinking about students’ interests) and niche interests, and people are finding those communities more readily than ever before. Videos are a key component. Showing what you know. Sharing what you know. Learning from each other. Sure, there’s still a lot of flotsam and jetsam on YouTube (some of it wonderfully distracting) but more and more, there is amazing teaching and learning going on.

Check out Gary Haye’s Social Media Counter, and zoom in on the hours of YouTube video being uploaded in any given time. It’s staggering. In a 60 second period in which I was watching, there was nearly 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube.

And those of us (you, me) who share their knowledge and expertise to our students in this venue are the teachers. Not necessarily us, the classroom teachers in the school building. Us, the world at large.

We openly share our knowledge with others, by pointing the camera at ourselves and saying, this is how I do it. You can, too. We learn by clicking pause, rewinding, watching again and again and again. We comment (sometimes, not so nicely, alas), and follow our “teachers” for the next video. We join communities of others with our interests, and discover new things and share what new thing we have invented or discovered or found out how to do.

Now, this is both an idealistic view of the YouTube world, and yet, the reality, too. Ask any kid. They’ll tell you. As Google seeks to monetize more and more aspects of YouTube, this might all shift to something different. For now, if you want to learn something, you don’t necessarily ask your teacher. You search YouTube.

The question is: how do we use that awareness and understanding to help our students in their own learning? I don’t think teachers and schools are obsolete, or that they even need a complete revamping. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe we don’t need change, though. The discussions in the IMOOC may give us a chance to envision the future of school, and make strides to get there.

But what if we could do a better job of teaching:

  • Search Engine Queries (and Search Engine Differences … Not Everything Starts and Ends with Google)
  • How Algorithyms Shape Our Internet Experience (and How to Navigate Technological Bias)
  • Media Editing Techniques
  • Curation of Digital Content
  • How to Build an Audience
  • How to Ensure a Positive Digital Footprint
  • (Dare I say it) How to Make a Living off YouTube

I’m off to search YouTube for more ideas …

Peace (searching …),

Slice of Life: Traditions of the Season

(This post is for Slice of Life, a regular writing invitation from Two Writing Teachers to find small moments to write about, and reflect. Come join in.)

Apple picking 2016

We have a family tradition this time of year. We go apple picking. In cold and hot, in rain .. we try to stay true to the idea that we will all make room in our busy schedules for apple picking. We used to go to this orchard up in our hilltowns, with amazing views of a valley. It closed down after a few particularly bad seasons. So we started to go to another orchard not far from the school where I teach.

But my oldest son is now off to college, so that made an Apple Picking Adventure a bit more tricky. And my sister-in-law’s family, who used to live ten minutes away, now lives in Rhode Island, so that makes it tricky. My middle son works and my youngest son plays baseball. Tricky.

But my wife is determined, and she made it happen.

Sure, we had to drive nearly two hours — first to pick up our son from his college outside of Boston and then drive another 30 minutes to meet my sister-in-law at the orchard found by Googling apples. But we made it happen this weekend and it was great to see the cousins together again, and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. The weather was overcast but not too hot, and the trees were dripping with apples (the drought has brought a good year for apples, bad year for peaches, I guess).

I even grabbed a few Asian pears from some trees. Biting into those is like biting into a small container of sweet water. They were simply delicious.

It is these kinds of traditions that keep a family connected, even as we disperse geographically. Apples, for us, are always more than apples — they are a reason to find time to come together. Plus, they taste pretty darn good, too. So, there’s that.

Peace (on trees everywhere, in abundance),

#IMMOOC: Listening In from the Sidelines

Missing the M

I’m taking part in the extended online discussions of The Innovator’s Mindset, which facilitators George Couros (who wrote the book) and Katie Martin are calling the IMOOC but I think of it as massive book talk across platforms. Which is perfectly fine with me, as long teaching practice and student learning remains at the center of discussions.

On Saturday, they held their first Google Hangout, but it was just George and Katie and the publisher of the book, Dave Burgess (also know in some circles for his own book, Teach Like a Pirate.) Since I missed the hangout, I popped the video into Vialogues (built for video commenting) in order to closely listen to the conversation and make comments. I invited others in the IMMOOC to join in … but only Terry Elliott jumped on board with me (for now.)

IMOOC Hangout in Vialogues

You are invited, too.

The hangout was OK. I got to hear and see George and Katie, which gives another depth to our social media interactions. I wasn’t all that keyed up about the start, which felt more like a marketing intro for the book publishing company of George’s book (I get it — Dave is an educator who built an independent publishing company for other ‘innovative’ educators — but when Dave is George’s publisher, it feels slightly off-putting to feature your publisher in a Google Hangout for what is billed as an open education environment about learning).

While Katie slipped into Jargon Talk for a bit (an affliction of many of us educators who find ourselves in similar circles), mostly Geroge and Katie had an interesting conversation as they tried to provide some context for what they mean by ‘innovation’ in education. I enjoyed the last part, where they answer questions from the community (but I also think, why didn’t they invite those people with questions into the Hangout directly and give them voice? Is there a chat room that I missed?)

What I am finding interesting, too, is that so many of the participants are principals and superintendents and curriculum coordinators … and many were outside of my comfortable circles. I am appreciating the invitation to dip into those conversations, which I find intriguing as a classroom teacher (there are others, of course, but mostly, the participants seem to be in positions of decision-making authority at their schools).

Thus, a conversation like this happens, as it did on Twitter last night (it went beyond this little bit, extending into a conversation about perceptions of innovative practice).

Peace (slipping in from the margin),


#DigiLitSunday: Before and After (Reflection Points)

Each week, Margaret Simon puts forth a theme for DigiLitSunday and we are at “reflection.” What a great theme. We need to reflect more, and we need to find ways for our students to reflect more on what they have done or are doing or will do. Last year, I piloted Digital Writing Portfolios (although “writing” became more than just pieces of writing by the time we were done — along with stories, they had comics and videos and video games) and a key element of each project was the act of reflecting.

First, they must write a reflection after completing each digital project. This allows some space between the piece itself and the process that went into composing the piece. I find this does not come natural to my students. They need mentor texts and discussions about reflecting. Many struggle with it.

Then, during the Digital Portfolio time, they return to all that they have made over the school year and read all of the reflections, and then begin curating their work. Again, they reflect.

Why did you choose the pieces and what about those pieces spoke to you?

Last year, I didn’t model this final reflective stance enough. I have excuses: we ran out of time in the year, I was still figuring out how to help them use Google Sites for their portfolios, etc. But I know I need to do a better job. If I believe in it, then I need to make time for it.

I was wondering how I can adapt what I did for this following video, where I overlaid a reflection of a song I was writing, with the words of the song in motion, and my voice. I found it a powerful experience to reflect on the process. It helped make me a better songwriting, I think. How might this process make my students better writers? How can I manage this kind of digital reflection project in the classroom with so many students? Those are questions I will need to grapple with.

What is true, though, is the learning itself is often not in the final project we see, but in the process that comes before and the reflection that comes afterwards. By making those compositional points more visible to students, they can bear witness to how much they have accomplished. By making those points more visible to us, the teacher, we can bear witness to the amazing potential of our students as digital composers.

Peace (upon reflection),

Book Review: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon

Looking for a read-aloud packed with adventure and a little taste of steampunk? The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S.S. Taylor might be a perfect pick. My son and I were drawn in by the cover (art by Katherine Roy) and stayed for the story, which is set in some alternative time where, as steampunk often tells us, things went awry with computers and the timeline of “us” has changed.

The steampunk element is light here, though. Mechanical horses, and robotic limbs, undiscovered lands located off the map, and a crazy strange bird that has clearly been the result of some technological experiment … these are in the story, but the plot itself is very human-centered. A family of three children (Zander, Kit and MJ), orphaned after their famous explorer father has died in some other part of the world, discover a map. Each has a certain skill that complements the other. (It’s nice when that happens with orphaned siblings)

And we all know what happens when orphans discover a hidden map with secret codes left by a missing parent. Adventure, and the search for treasure and mysteries to their father’s increasingly mysterious death, lead the kids forward, even as they are being tracked by the government agents who want the map and who want to learn the whereabouts of a famous treasure hoard. Soon, the kids and their bird are on the run.

The tale is told well, with lots of character development and strange discoveries (what they find in the canyon is beyond gold) and the moral obligations of keeping secrets from a world bent on exploration of undiscovered lands and the harvesting of natural resources for its own gain. British Empire, anyone? Taylor, the writer, keeps us engaged with cliffhangers.

I would recommend The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon to middle school and upper elementary readers. It’s a solid read-aloud, if a bit lengthy. My son and I have the second book in the series (The Secret of King Triton’s Lair) waiting in our library for pick-up today.

We’re off on another adventure ….

Peace (off the map but in our world),

Writing in Circles for Dot Day

Dot Day Invite

Yesterday was International Dot Day, and this is the first year I had my students join the millions (6.6 million from 139 countries, in fact) people making circles and dots as a way to nurture a sense of creativity and imagination. The Dot Day idea stems from a picture book by Peter Reynolds, called The Dot. We connected with Peter and his brother, Paul, last school year, and we hope to do so again this year.

I decided to have my students write short one-paragraph stories on a circular theme — the story could have circular objects or have some other element of a circle — and then we used Visual Poetry to “draw with the words as ink.” That concept really intrigued them and blew them away. Finally, I had them upload their visual stories to a collaborative Padlet site, which has become this very cool digital wall of circle stories.

dot day circle screenshot

Watching them write, and then watching them paint, and then watching them navigate the download/upload instructions has given me a lot of insight into them as learners already. They were fully engaged in this, partially because they knew their work (which we were tweeting out during the day from our classroom Twitter account) was part of a global conversation about creativity. Their stories were in the mix.

That’s one element of Connected Learning that we teachers explore during the summer via CLMOOC — that idea of reaching out beyond the walls of your school, into the World at large — and I hope it is just a taste of things to come this year for us. Certainly, we will be doing something again around National Day on Writing and other ventures.

DS106 Dot Day

Meanwhile, Dot Day also took place over at the DS106 Daily Create site, with Dots as the prompt. There were 31 responses. I loved seeing my DS106 friends doing all sorts of strange things with dots, and more than that, I loved extending the connected element from the Global Community to my classroom to DS106 and beyond. All sorts of strands come together at times.

Peace (let’s create it and nurture it),

Make Instruments, Make Music, Make Change

We were in our independent movie theater recently when the trailer for the upcoming documentary — Landfill Harmonic — came on the screen and blew us away. There’s so much to admire in this story — of the way one person saw possibility where others saw nothing, the way they turned to the resources at hand to create something, and the way an idea can potentially alter an entire community for the better.

Landfill Harmonic from Landfill Harmonic on Vimeo.

I just ordered it (via Vimeo), so I can share it with my students this year and support the cause.

Peace (in the muse),