At Middleweb: What They Wrote About

I wrote about this project, including the overarching plan and the collaboration between myself and my social studies colleage, in more detail over at Middleweb.

My sixth graders finished our version of their Letters to the Next President right on Election Day. The next day, we knew who had won. Yes, we will add President Trump to the salutation and ship the letters out nearer to Inauguration Day. I hope the transition team isn’t in such disarray that the letters get lost.

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As I was going through and assessing the final version of the letters, I kept track of the topics they chose to research and write about. This was a combination research/civics/writing assignment, mirroring some of the amazing work done by older students at the Letters to the Next President site (nearly 12,000 letters from middle and high school students).

It is no surprise that the environment was a popular choice. Young writers often are worried about what is happening with Climate Change (yes, Mr. President, it is real and not a hoax) and the plight of animals in the changing world. I suppose “pollution” could have fallen under the “environment” umbrella, too, but there was enough distinction to warrant its own category for my purposes.

Again, you can read more about what we were up to at Middleweb.

Peace (in what they write),
Kevin

Frozen Readers (The Mannequin Challenge)

Mannequin Challenge Collage

I led a deep and somber lesson this week with my sixth graders in our Digital Life unit about “Online Bullying.” I know the lesson is important but I always try to balance the negative aspects of online behavior with the many possible positives, and try to make sure my message is “Most of your experiences in online places will be a positive experience, but if it isn’t and you feel alone and threatened, know you have people like me who care deeply about you and can help you.”

We talk about the aspects of viral media, about how the potential for embarrassment and targeting can reach unknown levels, through YouTube or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever. The “public space” is greatly expanded with social media tools.

The very next day, in order to provide some ballast for that lesson, I talked about the not-so-negative aspects of various viral social media projects, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge. I asked if any had heard of the Mannequin Challenge. All hands in all four classes went up into the air. Well, I said, we’re going to do it. That led to cheers. Kids really do like being part of viral media, replicating what they see when they are online that seems cool and on the edge of something.

Since we are in the midst of reading independent books, I told them that our theme would be Frozen Readers. As I filmed with my camera, they should put themselves into a frozen reading stance. I later stitched the videos from all four classes together and shared it back with them (which I may share out publicly later, as I need to navigate the privacy issues — the short video here is just a taste of the larger video).

It was great fun, with lots of excitement, and a positive lesson on being part of something larger than our classrooms. Plus, our focus was on reading and books and literacy. Win-win.

Peace (stop right there),
Kevin

#CLMOOC #DigiWrimo: Sifting Through Words From the Margins

Out from the Margins

For the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for #DigiWriMo, we invited people to help annotate an interview of Troy Hicks about digital literacies. The Edutopia article by Todd Finley is a few years old, but holds up remarkably well, I think. We have been using the Hypothesis annotation tool, which allows you to collaboratively add comments and media in the margins of a web-based article. It’s a great way to “think out loud with others” in the margins of the Web. It’s also invisible, to some degree. You have to have the Hypothesis tool activated or you have to have the direct Hypothesis link to see comments.

Someone, perhaps it was Terry Elliott or Daniel Bassill, remarked in the margins of the Edutopia piece that writing in the margins like this is just the first step. It’s like raw note-taking. We’re readers reacting to ideas, and to each other, in a sort of rough take on what we are reading. (And in fact, I find myself completely wandering away from the main text at a certain point and only find myself reading and responding to the comments — I am removed from the anchor text completely.)

Out from the Margins: Kevin

In the interest of some of the ideas there to somewhere else (like here), I began to try to find connecting points in the annotation texts. Here are a few, along with some of my thoughts and reflections. Maybe others will do the same.

Out from the Margins: Terry

Part of the discussion unfolded around the concepts of technology as another tool in the box, and the focus on the teaching and learning, not the digital means to get there. I agree. Let’s focus on the writing, not the Digital Writing, even though this question of what Digital Writing is continues to vex me (in a good, reflective way).

Out from the Margins: Daniel

Daniel does a lot of great work on the topic of mentors in urban cities (like his own Chicago) and the benefits of after-school programs, and his reminder to us that we teachers need to be finding ways to draw ours students into meaningful learning experiences rings true for me. I am not always successful with this. But the reminder that every students has their own set of needs and inspirational points is something to keep in the back of our minds at all times.

Out from the Margins: Karen

Karen is talking about the nature of the digital reading experience here, and where the digital reading might enhance or inhibit our engagement with a text. This connects to Digital Writing (there’s that term again) in that a writer has to keep some sense of audience in mind (perhaps some may push back and say, the only true audience is Self), and so knowing that we are still in a transition time of digital texts is something worth considering when writing with technology.

Out from the Margins:Charlene

I really appreciated this comment from Charlene, about seeing the potential of our students (and helping them see the potential of themselves) even within the world of constraints. She mentions time here, but I would add others: reliability of technology; workarounds for pushing technology to do what it is not designed to do; and so forth.

Out from the Margins: Troy

And finally, a regular reminder from Troy …. just because you write in a digital space doesn’t mean that you are harnessing the agencies of technology for your own writing. Understanding the potential of technology, used in the service of your writing and compositional goals, means pushing past those limits and making something potentially new. An essay written in blog form is just an essay on a screen.

Want to join us? The conversation is still unfolding and you are invited. Come read and write in the margins of the article. Pull out what seems important to you. Extend the conversation. You are invited.

Peace (dragged into view),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Remixing Love and Hope

Remixing Love and Hope

My musical/songwriting and Western Massachusetts Writing Project educator friend, Michael Silverstone, wrote and recorded and shared out a beautiful song about love last week called To Give Our Love. I paid for the download via BandCamp and then asked if he would allow me to remix his song. He said yes, although at the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the song. I just knew I wanted to do something.

After mulling it over, I realized that his song about love and my demo song about hope (Hope Remains) might provide an opportunity to entangle our sounds together, and so I worked to try to find elements his song and elements of my song. It didn’t work quite the way I wanted for a variety of reasons: he went into a real studio, so the sound of his song is bright and professional — I used my iPad as a demo recording, so the sound is narrow and confined, tight. The key signatures for each song are different, as is the pacing. But — and this is important — neither had drums, so meshing them together was a bit easier. When rhythm is in the mix, the remix is more difficult.

Even so, after my first attempt, upon listening, it was clear that the transitions between his song and mine didn’t work. The jolting differences between the two tracks were too much. It needed something in the transition moments. Later in the day, I had one of those “aha” moments: What if I brought in the voices of poetry and speech to fill in the gaps? What if the poems/speeches were on the same theme, but provided transition points between the music?

So that’s what I did, chopping and remixing audio poems and readings by Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou themselves and a poem by Emily Dickinson (alas, not read by her but still …) and cast myself as a sort of knitter, pulling threads here and weaving threads there, all in an attempt to get at something larger than either of our songs.

And it mostly worked. Take a listen.

This kind of Digital Writing — composing without the written text in front of you, using only the sounds of text as the means for making something new with echoes of the old — is always a challenge. But when done right, it brings to surface themes that might otherwise be out of focus. We listen as writers, using sound as words, and we hope the listeners “read” the remix. (Note: Michael wrote in appreciation for the remix after I sent the final to him. That made me happy, that I honored his songwriting with something new).

What will happen if this audio remix file is taken a step further, and brought into some other site, some other media? Maybe we’ll see … you are invited to play with the track, if you want. It is downloadable. (be sure to credit Michael Silverstone, though.)

Peace (the muse calls),
Kevin

#DigiWrimo: Unfolding Conversations in the Margins

Writing in the Margins: Annotate Troy

The CLMOOC Crowd has opened up a conversation about Digital Writing in the margins of this interview of Troy Hicks, and you are cordially invited to come on in and add your thoughts, questions, observations about digital literacies. Troy has graciously joined in the conversation, too. We’re using a tool called Hypothesis (see below on how to use it) to crowd-annotate and crowd-discuss the theme of Digital Writing and the teaching of digital literacies.

Won’t you join us?

The annotation activity is all part of the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for what used to be Digital Writing Month. Along with the Crowd Annotation, there is a call for the Alt-CV/Alt-Resume by Sarah and a collaborative photo project by Kim in which you are invited to take an image of “down on the ground” and share it out. And more activities are to come.

Here are a few tutorials about using Hypothesis that might get you started so that you can add into the conversations of the margins with Troy Hicks.

and here.

Peace (here and there),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Texting Amy(Bot)

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity on Tuesdays through the year. Hosted by Two Writing Teachers, we look for the small things in life to write about. You write, too.)

I can’t help but think of Slice of Life when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal. In fact, someone in Slice of Life may have recommended her first book – Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life — and if that was you (was it you?), thank you, you. I love that book, and have read it more than a few times (which is not something I often do with books. I am a one-and-done kind of reader, unless something resonates, and then I am loathe to lose that book or lend it out to anyone).

So, imagine my happy surprise to be wandering through our city library and there before me was a brand new book by Amy. It’s called Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Just like her other book for grown ups (she writes children’s picture books, too), this one is a gem, filled with wonder of small moments and an underlying sense that this Amy is one warm and endearing person who sees the world through a lens of insight and humor. (She’s the kind of writing who bakes an apple pie and ships it FedEx .. just for being the 100th person to respond to a prompt … that’s a writer who cares about her audience).

Check out her talk about her rather impromptu collaborative project The Beckoning of Lovely

The gimmick of this book is that is a “textbook” — sections are set to resemble those college tomes of yore, titled “history” and “science” and “math” — but the writing is focused on life itself (one math equation is all about love), and Amy’s life (her remembrance of an uncle beloved by many brought me nearly to tears), and the shared essence of all our lives. Oh, and the other part of the gimmick? There are moments in the book where you are invited to “text message” with a bot set up by Amy and her friend. Really.

Texting RoboAmy

I know it’s weird but I found myself enjoying my texting with the AmyBot very much. Part of me wondered, will Amy read these texts some day? Does it matter? The responses were whimsical and lovely, and some led me to her website where I could hear her reading or see images of other readers or take a poll (I chose Curly) or … listen to her selected music as I read the last section of the book, which ended on the theme of endings, with a very creative assortment of endings of other novels.

In the midst of the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for Digital Writing Month, this kind of book – the ones that offer an invitation to the reader to engage in digital media — makes me wonder: is THIS digital writing? Even though her book is paper and bound (in my version anyway), the author’s extension and invitation to engage with our phones and on the web as we read her words, to add to a collective gathering of other readers in a community setting and to be part of the “story” that Amy is telling … that seems to have many of the hallmarks of what I consider Digital Writing. I’d love to know what you think. You can leave a comment at this post. I don’t have a KevinBot set up for this.

Here at Slice of Life, we try to do what Amy does. We see small but envision big. The moments that too often slip past our vision — those are the ones I try to write about when I write my Slice. Others do, too. What you realize that only when you start to actively notice the world, in all of its smallest pieces curving in an arc around all of us, is the point when you realize how consequential everything really is. Nothing deserves to be forgotten, but we forget so much. So much of our lives gets lost.

Amy’s books can feel at times like short-attention-theater. She brings us into a moment, and then it is gone. Poof. But the outline of her moments are small works of art, painted with a sense of kindness and wonder and generosity. How lovely is that? How much do we all need more of that? Much. We need much much more.

Thank you, AmyBot. Thank you, Amy.

Peace (it’s me, world),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: To CV or Not To CV

Kevin's Unofficial CV Comic

The first invitation to create for the #CLMOOC #DigiWriMo Pop-Up Make Cycle is the concept of the Alt-CV (see Sarah’s post) — about surfacing elements of yourself not inside the “official story” of yourself. Last year, when we did a similar activity, I made the comic on top of this post that still says a lot. 

This year, I went with a fake newspaper article, covering my lost time in online spaces. If you find it, please return it.

Lost Resume

By the way, you can make your own fake newspaper article with the generator. I remembered where it is.

I also wanted to share something that I had created some time back for my friend, Laura, who is a university music professor and a fellow Connected Courses companion. She had asked in open networks for people to share, as podcasts, their stories in relation to music for an activity she was doing with her students.

Mine is about my dad, a drummer, but also sheds some light on me and where a love of music first came from. I like to think of it here in light of the alternative curriculum vitae, since music informs my learning and vice versa. But you won’t find that on my resume as a classroom teacher.

Peace (hear the beat),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo #CLMOOC: Vertices, Edges and Digital Nomads

Network Analysis Study

I don’t claim to understand all of the data analysis that goes on when people research and examine all of the elements of our social interactions in places like Twitter and beyond. Here, for example, is what the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC looked like from a data analysis viewpoint.

IMMOOC Network Analysis

I grapple with making sense of it all, but it fascinates me just the same, particularly when a visual is teamed up with writing that dives into the data points. So this recently published piece by some friends in my social networking circles — Aras, Autumm, Maha B., Sarah and Dave, and Apostolos  — caught my attention.

I’m still reading it (the title alone is a mouthful: Community Tracking in a cMOOC and Nomadic Learner Behavior on a Connectivist Rhizomatic Learning Network) …. and learning the vocabulary of research.

definitions

Some of the elements explored here about hashtags and the wandering spirit of those in networked spaces in this research article certainly caught my eye. I am one of those people. And I wander around quite a bit, hoping to connect with people and picking their brains about writing, teaching and more. The insight of how hashtags are connector points makes a lot of sense to me.

Network Analysis Study

I am intrigued by the term of “nomadic learners” — those of us who skirt and toggle between open educational spaces. In fact, that term is more fluid than the “lurker” terminology that is often used, and debated in online spaces. A nomad is forever on the move, but not just transient — they stop, talk, chat, share, gather and then bring what they have learned to other spaces.

Or so, I hope.

Network Analysis Study

 

As CLMOOC hosts a taste of DigiWriMo this week and into next (with an open invitation to make and create and collaborate and explore), I hope we all become rather nomadic in our wanderings and in our creations, and in our connections. I’ll see you on the edge of the vertices.

Peace (on the compass of imagination),
Kevin

On the Music of Butterflies


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

Dear Ron,

Thank you for asking me to remix your song, Butterfly Waltz, for your upcoming picture book, set to be published next month. I love, but am not surprised, that you are envisioning music as part of the release party for your upcoming picture book. Music and words are deeply connected in all of our conversations and collaborations over time. I know you as creative and musical, and a reliable partner in my own musical escapades.

I listened to your track of your version of your song and stared long and hard at the manuscript of music you sent along. I printed it out and carried it around with me. I wondered how I could take the music in another direction and yet, still honor you and your ideas. I played around in Soundtrap for some time, and then began to find a kernel of muse in a jazz drum beat.

Over the course of the day (as you know from my messaging to you), I wandered back and forth into the song, adding bits here and there, and ending with my own vocals, layered low into the mix on purpose. I hope you like my version of your song, my friend, and I am grateful for the musical challenge.

It occurs to me that this is personalized Connected Learning at its best — reaching out to peers in our networked spaces, finding common ground on a shared interest, creating and making something in the process, and sharing out to the larger audience. That’s why I am writing this as an open letter, Ron. It just made sense.

Good luck with your book! I am sure it is going to be a great release party next month! I am curious if others will be making music as part of your invitation, too, and what the whole collection will sound like when it is done.

Sincerely and Peace (’cause I always end in peace),

Kevin

#DigiWriMo Book Review: The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music

 

This book — The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music (A Fresh Look at the Art of Hip-Hop, from Old-School Beats to Freestyle Rap) by Paul Edwards — is wonderful mix of research, insights by Edwards, and voices of oral histories by many rappers and artists on the Hip-Hop scene, talking about influences and origins of the music and culture.

The history of rap angle didn’t uncover much new for me (but I still enjoyed it), as I am interested in the music as an art form. I did appreciate all the elements of the research that Edwards has done into how the music is made (and was made, as things have changed over time with the emergence of technology). Many of the musicians here talk about the past production of hip-hop, of scouring records for beats and bass and then finding ways to isolate sounds, pulling them together to form the backbeats.

In particular, the use of Flow Diagrams by rap songwriters was something I had not come across before. Some rappers use Flow Diagrams (of various sorts) create columns for rhymes, and move across the columns as they rap. This allows for intentional internal, double-word and other kind of rhyme patterns. In the book, some rappers talk about setting up these kinds of charts as ways to use rhyme for rhythmic elements — words as beats and off-beats. I love when the process of writing is exposed like that.

(This flow diagram comes from a Genius page about a Pharcyde song. The annotated page is from Edwards.)

Interestingly, much of the discovery of how to use samples from other tracks was often accidental. A rapper/DJ/producer tries to do this, only to discover that. They were smart enough to have their ears open at all times for opportunities, and when mistakes happened that sounded good, they took that and ran it with. The early days, it was not about the money (as it seems to be today), but about pushing the art-form into new terrain, and impressing others on the scene.

Of course, litigation for using unlicensed sounds made the old-school way of remixing sounds nearly impossible, so the collage-like, layered production work that went into albums like Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys (and the Dust Brothers production team) or landmark tracks by Run-DMC, NWA and Eric B & Rakim might never be replicated now (without huge financial support from a company on the licensing side).

But I figure this … there are still plenty of people making tracks and creating new sounds on their own, and it is likely that those tracks are finding paths to listeners. Like so many businesses, the music industry is being upended, or has been upended, by technology and social media. While that may have diminished the field of music listening to some degree (it’s a time when all radio stations seem to be owned by corporate interests, and radio DJs have no say over what is being played, the landscape becomes rather hum-drum .. radio that I listen to here is nearly identical to radio that you listened to there), it has also opened up doors for more intimate connections to more niche bands and musicians in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.

I also wondered about the connections to what we think of as Digital Writing, and now remix and a new lexicon of song/writing construction might fit under that umbrella. It raises the question: when is writing a song a form of Digital Writing? Is it? It seems to me that Flow Diagrams and borrowing snippets seems to have interesting ramifications about language.

Edwards, whose book bio calls him “the Aristotle of Hip-Hop Poetics,” does a fine job here of exploring the historical perspectives of hip-hop music but he seems to conclude that its best days of innovation are far behind it, now that hip-hop is the touchstone of pop culture and a cash cow. I don’t quite agree, or maybe, I have faith that innovation is happening — even if many of us don’t see it. I just hope we can eventually hear it.

Peace (sing it),
Kevin