Memoir Mondays: KISS it goodbye

(this is part of Memoir Mondays over at Two Writing Teachers)

I grew up on KISS.
Not just the ones from Mom and Dad but the over-the-top rock and roll band, KISS.
For a long stretch of my adolescent childhood, my entire neighborhood was enamored with this glam band as it hit the world stage with their dramatics (fire-breathing bass players, unnaturally-extended tongues, animal-inspired painted faces, the whole shebang). I even collected KISS comic books. Remember them? Rock and rollers transformed as superheroes.
At our bus stop before school in the mornings, we all used to take on characters of the band, and pretend that a fallen tree stump was the stage. We’d use the light from the rising sun on our hiking boots to create over-sized shadow images on the pavement as a way to replicate the patented KISS boots (a sort of stiletto heel, but huge, almost like teeth coming out of the foot). We’d listen to the songs on the albums (oh god) for hours at a time, singing out loud to the chorus: I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every DAY!!! (emphasis on Day, since we were kids and nighttime partying was a great unknown …. for now)
We followed the drama of KISS as the band considered removing their make-up and what it might mean to the band. We also were curious what they really looked like underneath the layers of disguise. (It later turned out they looked pretty ugly and should have kept the paint on)

So, imagine the looks I got one day when I went and traded my sacred KISS Alive II double vinyl album for an older Earth, Wind and Fire disc. I still don’t know why I did it. Perhaps I was having KISS fatigue. Perhaps, as a saxophone player, I was searching for something with horns. Maybe I needed some groove. I could have been muscled into it by my older brother’s friend (I was very susceptible to peer pressure by the older kids in the neighborhood), but I don’t think so.

Earth, Wind and Fire were not unknown to me. My dad has a pretty eclectic taste and I heard all sorts of music as I was growing up, including Maurice White and company. I thought it was lame, until I started to actually listen.
The first time I put that Earth, Wind and Fire album on, though, my needle exploded with the sound of “Shining Star” and I was never quite the same. With the chorus of “Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be,” I was hooked. “September” still has me dancing, even though the sound is, well, so 70’s.
Oh, sure, I had still had my Foghat albums. And Led Zep still has a certain place in my heart. Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and others never left my collection until I grew up and weeded out the vinyl memories of my youth (I still have a Zep CD, though).
But with that Earth, Wind and Fire album, I realized that there was a whole other world of music out there to explore and I couldn’t spend all of my time listening to KISS. Plus, the ballad “Beth” was getting sappy to my ears.
Earth, Wind and Fire kick-started my heart and I never turned back.

What music informed your childhood?

Peace (in notes between the ages),

Comment Challenge and the Googlish Rosetta Stone

Today’s task for the 31 Day Comment Challenge was to find a blog in another language, translate it and then post a comment on that blog in the language of the owner. Intriguing. But interesting, and certainly it was something I had not yet ever done before. I keep to the English language, which seems so parochial these days, doesn’t it?

I should have known that Google would come to the rescue, though. I tapped into Google Translater and then translated the key words “elementary education” into spanish, and then used Google Blog Search to find some Spanish blogs. I toggled back and forth with Google Translator, trying to find a blog that interested me. So many were pure political blogs, talking about revolution and insurrection. Perhaps that is a glimpse of the underground world where blogs are the main platform for activism against governments.

Anyway, I found Fermin Tellez, a blogger from Monterrey, Mexico.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

Fermin was writing about a historical figure from his community (Michael Martinez). Martinez was an educator, but also a musician, artist and writer. That is a combination of talents that interests me. So I was curious about the place Martinez has in Fermin’s community. I went into Google Translater and created this comment:


Please forgive my language here, as I am using the Google Translater to go from English to Spanish. I am visiting your blog as part of a project called the 31 Day Comment Challenge, and one of the tasks is to visit a blog from another language than our own.
I teach 11 and 12 year olds in Western Massachusetts, United States. I am their writing teacher.

I was interested in the blog post you created because I am intrigued by music and education, and the place that musicians have in society. It seems clear that Michael F. Martinez was important figure in your community. Senor Martinez clearly had many skills (musician, artist, politician, educator).

Did you create this blog post to remember him?

Thank you

Kevin Hodgson


SaludosPor favor, perdone mi idioma aquí, como estoy utilizando el traductor de Google para ir de Inglés a Español. Estoy visitando su blog como parte de un proyecto denominado el Día 31 Comentario Challenge, y una de las tareas es la de visitar un blog de otra lengua que la nuestra.
Enseño 11 y 12 años de edad en el oeste de Massachusetts, Estados Unidos. Estoy escribiendo su maestro.

Yo estaba interesado en el blog que ha creado porque estoy intrigado por la música y la educación, y el lugar que los músicos tienen en la sociedad. Parece claro que Michael F. Martínez fue figura importante en su comunidad. Señor Martínez claramente había muchas habilidades (músico, artista, político, educador).

¿Te ha crear este blog para recordar él?


Kevin Hodgson

Of course, I wonder if Google Translator did a good job with my words. And I wish that Fermin had an About Me page at his site, so I could have learned more about him. Then, I thought, do I have an About Me here at my site? Need to check. I used to but I think it is gone now.
Have you gone off to any non-native language blogs today?
La Paz (en una gira mundial),

More Comment Challenges

The 31 Day Comment Challenge is still going strong and two of the tasks from this week were to highlight a comment on our blog that seemed to resonate with us and also, to reflect on what we think makes for a good comment. So, I spent some time moving back in time through the comment bin (and getting used to the nice new upgrade to WP2 in Edublogs). There are quite a few comments in there (thanks to everyone).

The comment I am going to choose is from Carla, who was responding to a post I wrote earlier this week about a virtual mentoring that I had done this year with a high school student learning about claymation animation. Carla wrote:

Dear Bryan and Kevin,

Your partnership has proven to be a fantastic way for a wonderful visual result! Great, Bryan. Your claymation shows how hard you worked. It would be great to hear the stages to make it, the behind the scenes, so others could profit from your own journey.

I chose Carla’s comment because it was clear that she had read my post, watched the video and offered some reflective insight. Carla’s words connected with me here. There were other folks who wrote nice things, too. I liked how Carla was speaking both to me and the student with encouragement. And, she seems to truly want to know more. Thank you, Carla!

Now, what do I think makes for a good comment?

  • The comment adds some insight into the discussion and moves it forward;
  • The comment values the original writer and builds on those thoughts;
  • The comment is constructive and not destructive;
  • The comment may pose a question or thought-provoking angle on the issue;
  • The comment serves as a building block for community.
  • (And as we are learning with this challenge) The comment may generate healthy debate in order to bring the commenter back later for further discussion.

What do you think makes for a good comment on a blog?

Peace (in words),

Getting a Glimpse of Digital Math Picture Books

My students are hard at work with their Digital Math Picture Books and some are now starting to panic about some deadlines that I have set for next week. But I think most of them will be OK. They need a little fire under them to reduce some of the social chatter during class and focus in on their work. Some of the books are just amazing. Others are going to need some significant work. But everyone — from the strongest writers to the most reluctant — are fully engaged in what they are doing with this project.

I grabbed some of the pages from books and went back to Animoto to see if I could create a fun little overview of some of their work. Here goes:

Peace (in pictures),

Creating a Virtual Art Museum

Along with classroom teacher, I am also one of the technology coordinators at our school. It sounds better than it is. Usually, it means fixing wires, turning on someone’s printer when they think it is just broken, or making sure the laptop cart is all charged up. Glory work, really.

I would like to find ways to help other teachers in my building think more about technology. Time does not always allow it. I have gone into other classrooms to show teachers how to do podcasting (for poetry), and had my sixth graders work as mentors with third graders on creating pictures in MS Paint.

This past week, I have been working as the technology person for a wonderful project that was envisioned by our librarian and art teacher. It fuses history, art, research skills and technology together. It is the We The People Virtual Art Museum and it is done by a group of fifth graders. The two teachers received some grants to get prints of famous artwork (found at Picturing America website, which is run by the National Endowment for the Humanities). The students researched the art and then recorded (on my little voice recorder) a guided tour of the print.

Next Friday, when the fifth grade hold its annual Living HistoryMuseum, we are going to set up a series of laptop computers with headphones, and allow visitors to “tour” the virtual art museum. We decided to make little movies with the podcasts (using Photostory3), and now we are working on developing a website resource. What I like is that this kind of project has many layers to it and hats off to my colleagues.

Here is one sample. This is about The Ladder for Booker T. Washington by Martin Puryear:

When the website is completed, you can be sure that I will share it out.Peace (in exploration of art across the curriculum),

Comic Dad and Our Picture Books

My students are fully immersed right now in creating Digital Math Picture Books, using PowerPoint as the platform for creation and MS Paint as the (cumbersome) illustration tool. Despite the many limitations of both of those software programs, they are hard at work and fully engaged in creating picture book stories that weave mathematical elements into the mix.

There are stories explaining the geometry of shapes; using order of operations to solve mysteries; and explaining the difference between pie and Pi. Their audience is going to be students at our school in lower grades, but they are having a blast with the creation.


This past week, we were fortunate to have a father of one of my students come in (I will refer to him as Comic Dad) and he worked with our four classes on the process he goes through to create a comic called Rocketboy, which has been featured in Nick Magazine (as a 3D comic, no less). He and his partner have also worked on other projects over the years, but he focused in on Rocketboy — who wishes more than anything that he can fly, but cannot.

What I liked about what Comic Dad said:

  • his collaboration is a true collaboration with his partner — ideas are bounced in and bounced at all the time;
  • the work is being revised constantly right up until publication and he had the storyboards to show the changes;
  • creating a character with flaws leads to story lines (each Rocket Boy story revolves around his failed attempts to fly);
  • humor — both outright and subtle — has a special place in comics, where the visual medium meets the writing;
  • perseverance is a key word for any writer wanting to be published.

Meanwhile, my students were finishing up their own storyboards and so I grabbed a few of the pages and made this little movie of their initial brainstorming work that must take place before they even get to boot up the computer.

I’ll share out more as the process progresses, including some of the characters they are creating (some are just so amazing and interesting, I think).Peace (in picture books),

Day in a Sentence in Techno-Color

This week, Anne M. from Australia takes over the Day in a Sentence challenge and she is adding her own little twist (which is what I love about sending the Day out into the world with guest hosts — they have the option of making it their own).

Anne would like you to incorporate some aspect of “color” into your sentence. So, close your eyes and imagine your world in color and please head on over to Anne’s blog for this week’s writing adventure.

(If you want to guest host this feature, please please please let me know. The more people involved, the better, and it is quite simple to do.)

Peace (in rainbows),

Playing Comment Challenge Catch-up

I realized that I am a bit behind with the 31 Day Comment Challenge and like many others, I am going to consolidate and condense some of the daily activities here into one single post as a way to bring myself a bit closer into the project.

Five in Five: The other day, I did the Five in Five task, which involved speeding through at least five blogs and leaving comments on those five blogs. I went back to the Comment Challenge participant list and tried to move into new blogs. It took longer than five minutes, of course, and I did not really like the feeling of rushing. I know the attempt here is to generate writing but it seems as if I short-changed not only the bloggers but also myself. I can’t even remember now which blogs I visited (although I am sure they are popping up in my CoComment page). I was not a big fan of the Five in Five.

Analyze Comments: We are asked to look at our posts from the last few weeks and think about what kind of posts generate the most comments and the most traffic. It seems to me that our Day in a Sentence (you are invited!) is a great activity for pulling people into a blog, and then, when I took all of those submissions and recast them into a video found poem, that generated even more comments. I think it comes down to being creative with what we are doing, and people will be inspired to join in, if you give them the option. I guess we need to make sure we are going out of our way to be inclusive and welcoming, and make people feel as if they belong here and not just some interloper into the conversation. I know controversy drives comments, too, but that is not the only impetus for interaction, it seems to me.

Responding to a Commenter: We are asked to bring a commenter from behind the scenes (the comment bin) to the front page. In this particular case, I was thinking about the comments from my post yesterday on my virtual mentoring program. My friend, Blink, reminded me that sharing out what we are learning is so important.

She wrote: “Your “virtual mentoring” experience could be a very interesting concept for a future professional article.”

Now, I have a lot going on right now (including the co-editing of a collection on technology and writing and assessment, and some work for Pearson on claymation) but it is clear that we really do want to learn from each other. I’ll keep that topic in the back of my mind (and it makes me think of Al Upton and his mini-legend issues, too)

Three Links Out: It is suggested that we not only explore new blogs, but like the old Will Smith-inspired Six-Degrees-of-Separation, we follow at least two links from the blogs in a sort of daisy-chain maneuver. I began with Carla’s blog. Her post about the meme (that I did last week) was very cool, as it showed a world view. Since Carla’s friend, Mary, tagged her for that meme, I figured I would follow the trail to Mary’s place. From Mary, I ventured into the terrain of Cris and lo and behold, I find a familiar name in one the post there (my friend in six words, Illya). I left a video message for Cris and then posted a comment for Illya, too. I found it interesting that as you move outward, some familiar names can still be found. It’s both a large place and a small place, isn’t it?

Make a Recommendation: We are asked to recommend some resource that might be beneficial to our visitors. Can I just point folks over to Ruth and Stacy at Two Writing Teachers? This is a place where writing is at the center of so much — from classroom practice to personal exploration. Another resource is at the National Writing Project’s page for its technology work. There are many articles and links about using writing and technology, and other areas on the NWP site connect writing in many ways.

Well, that is it for me for today.  I invite you to reflect on what you have been doing, too.

Peace (in comments),

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 8

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Bryan and I have been in somewhat sporadic contact since the fall when I received an email out of the blue, asking me if I would consider being his “virtual mentor.” Bryan is a senior in Kansas and his senior project was around claymation. I guess I never asked where he got my name. I just assumed it was from some folks in the National Writing Project or maybe it was through some various online activities around stop-motion animation that I have done.

Bryan wrote:

“Seniors are required to research a topic and complete a 2500 word essay. Also, we must have a demonstration of knowledge. This project will be time consuming and will take most of the school year to complete. I have decided to study claymation and filming a claymation movie. I was informed that you may be familiar with this topic and wanted to know if you would be my outside mentor. This may sound like a big responsibility, but it really is very simple. I would email you about twice a semester with any questions I may have on this topic and it would be fine if you didn’t know all the answers. I just need an outside source who knows something about my topic.”

I was flattered and I loved the idea of trying to help someone get deep into claymation movie making, even if it was from afar. Bryan is a thoughtful student, it seems to me, and quite interested in exploration. I like that Bryan and his class have to find a virtual mentor to help them delve deeper into a topic of interest. This seems to me to be yet another way to tap into the strength of connections through the Web World.

Every few weeks, I would get an email from Bryan, asking questions and advice on:

  • the type of webcam to get;
  • the editing program I use;
  • how important the lighting is to the final movie;
  • what kind of clay to use;
  • the process of creating a movie;
  • where to share it.

I did my best to guide him , although it is clear now that he had plenty of ideas of his own and that his investigation into claymation was really a love of his this year. I tried to share with him some different stop-motion animation sites and movies that I found that seemed to be good examples of how clay can be used for creative expression.

A few weeks ago, Bryan informed me that he had finished his final project — a collection of short movies that he had made throughout the year. Now, we struggled with how to get the movie to me. My online storage site did not allow movies that big to be uploaded by a guest. I suggested a few video sharing sites, but I urged him to get permission from his parents first (and to check in with his teachers).

Finally, the email arrived, and he gave me the link to his claymation collection on YouTube. Oh. I love it. I think it is fantastic and since this is the first time I have seen Bryan’s work – after all those emails — I feel proud to have been able to give him some tidbits here and there, if it helped him. Maybe he just needed a sounding board from time to time. Whatever.

Here is Bryan’s Claymation Movie Collection:
I have now turned the tables on Bryan, asking him to become a mentor to my sixth graders as they begin filming their claymation movies around climate change. I have asked Bryan to write up some advice for my students, using his experience for reflection. Will he do it? I hope so, but I know that graduation and other things are now consuming his time.Good luck, Bryan. It was great to be your mentor this year!Peace (in movies),

Memoir Mondays, Chapter 1

My friends over at Two Writing Teachers are on another blogging adventure: this time, it is to consider memoir writing on Mondays. I will join as I can, but I thought I should start it out on the right foot. So here goes:

If I had a Hammer …

I never saw the hammer coming.

I heard a loud “thunk” and then everything faded to black. When I finally came to, I realized I was surrounded by a group of kids and my mother was running towards me (although that remains a bit fuzzy, too — it may be that I want to have my mother running towards me).

I put my hand to my head and felt it: sticky blood. The site of the blood stunned me. The hammer was on the ground next to me with a small clot of hair on the end and one of my neighborhood friends was saying over and over again: sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. The treehouse was just above me and as kids, it was a building always under construction and reconstruction. (How old was I when this happened? I must have been seven or eight years old, I think)

He had been up there, pounding in some nails for a new board or fixing up one of the steps in the tree, and I had been down below, goofing off, no doubt. He had accidentally let go of his hammer just as I was beneath him and gravity (that force of nature that stops for no one or no thing, and certainly, not my skull) brought the hammer crashing right down on my head.

Luckily, my head is hard (so the joke goes) and I did not suffer any real damage (he says, now wondering if that is even true). But boy, did I have a headache for some time and I was always a little bit wary of walking below the treehouse construction site after that. If I had had a hardhat, I would have worn it for the next year or so. I still wince when I think of the contact of the hammer on my head.

Moral of story: watch where you are walking and keep an eye to the sky when you hear the pounding.

Peace (in memoirs),