Other Stuff: Speaking of Comic Strips

(Note from Kevin: I’m taking a break from writing about teaching in order to do some different kinds of writing, with an aim towards humor. Here, I try out the monologue technique with the silent partner. And today, you can listen as I podcast a reading of the piece.)

http://www.arcamax.com/images/pub/amuse/comics/mothergooseandgrimm_t.jpg Listen to the podcast.
Hey, come on in. Ignore those comics. Just move them off the couch. The floor is fine. What? They’re my kids’. Really. Maybe not THAT comic. But the others, for sure. Yeah, true, I was reading this Mother Goose and Grimm when you walked in. It was close enough to grab and you were running late, remember. But really, they’re my kids’ comics.

That’s true. I do turn to the comic page first in the newspaper. You remember that, eh? It is a bit odd for a former journalist who spent so many years as a political junkie. You would think that the front page would be the first thing I would read. What’s that? You read the sports first? So, there you go. I’m not the only one who jumps to what interests them.

Why comics? Why not? Don’t give me that look. I know you hate it when I answer a question with a question. Hmmm. Why comics? I suppose … there is something interesting about the art. No, that would not explain Dilbert. It’s the writing. But … not always. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it has to do with remembering Sunday mornings as a kid. I did get up early. You, too? Before the rest of the family? Yeah. Particularly when I had my newspaper route. I’d come home from that, my hands all grimy with newsprint, and after I’d wash up, I’d sprawl out on the ground, on my belly usually, with the Sunday comics like a canvas before me and a bowl of sugary something at my side. Too bad they don’t give paper routes to kids anymore.

What? My kids do read the comics. Yours don’t? That’s odd. Sorry. I should have said, that seems odd to me. I’m not being judgmental. Honest. So, what do they read? What do you mean, nothing? You can’t be serious. Books? Magazines? Nothing? Here, take this home. If Calvin and Hobbes doesn’t elicit a chuckle out of them, then nothing will.

What’s that? Ha. Yeah. That is a funny one, isn’t it? That Calvin is always up to something. Here, let me show you my favorite comic in this. Let’s see .. ahh, here it is. I knew you’d like it. Calvin reminds me of you. Just a bit. In a good way. Maybe that’s what I like about comics. They peer a bit into who we are, and all in just a few frames. No, don’t worry about it. The kids won’t miss that book. I’ve got another stack in our bedroom upstairs they can read. Let me know how it goes, will you? I’d hate to think that your kids are just sitting around, not reading anything. Not when there are plenty of great comics around. See ya.

Peace (in the silence),


Other Stuff: Radio Tug of War

(Note from Kevin: I am taking a break from writing about learning (well, sort of). Instead, I am trying out a few pieces that use humor and life outside of the classroom. Thanks for reading.)


I remind him that we used to enjoy Raffi together. He’d be in his car seat, all strapped in with a juice box or animal crackers. Raffi would start up, singing about Beluga whales and bananaphones and all that, and we would hum and sing along with Raffi. It was a joyful noise, if you don’t mind me saying.

But he doesn’t remember Raffi. Or he is trying to forget Raffi. At the very least, he won’t acknowledge the Raffi years. Whatever the case, I don’t even have the keys in the ignition of the van when I notice his index finger is already at the “eject” button of the tape his five-year-old brother is listening to (it might be the same Raffi tape — some things never change), ready to take control of the music as soon as the power light goes on. He’s a 12 year old on a mission to DJ the van ride, in style.

I pause and he stares. It’s like a scene from a movie right now, or perhaps some fine work of art capturing the “modern surburban family,” with my hand holding the keys frozen in mid-air and his finger pointing towards the stereo on the dashboard. I relent and concede the power temporarily to him. The tape is ejected. Soon, Lady Gaga is droning on with her Middle East-inspired chanting.

It didn’t used to be like this. I think the musical tug of war began when we finally let him sit in the front seat of the van. The proximity to the stereo, coupled with a gift of an iPod and periodic access to iTunes (damn you, Steve Jobs!), suddenly added a musical sensibility to our 12 year old that we didn’t really know even existed. The radio jockeying began in a way that I couldn’t argue against. We’d listen to the local rock and pop station that I always listened to, anyway. It just made him feel in control when we let him turn the radio on.

I barely registered a change in all of this when I noticed one day that we were now listening to another station more frequently. My rock was gone. This new station featured Top 40 (is there such a thing anymore?) hits of the day. It wasn’t so bad. They still played Green Day, Sheryl Crow and others that I could enjoy and it gave me some pleasure to know I was hip enough to drop names like Pink and Black-Eyed Peas and know what I was talking about. My own ears, taught to love music by the likes of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, cringed at the electronic drums and over-produced songs (is auto-tune used in just every song or what?), but I could live with it.

One day, I noticed that we were onto yet another radio station. This third selection seemed a bit edgier in themes and yet, less musically sophisticated. Lyrics streamed in about parties late in the night, about leaving your boy/girlfriends, and hints of other things that might make me blush to write about. I became protective of my son’s ears (not to mention his younger brothers). I also noticed that my issues of Rolling Stone magazine began to disappear on the day they arrived. He pirates them up to his room, reading profiles of the artists in pop culture. This  made me look a bit closer at the magazine, which often features provocative covers. Some sort of shift had happened right beneath my feet. How in the world did that happen?

And so, the tug of war of the radio began. I am now on full alert to the landscape of lyrics, knocking Kesha and Jason Derulo off the speakers. Still, every time I leave the van for a second, or whenever there is a commercial break on another station, there we are, right back in the mix of electronic drums and bass and dancing a bit too close. I switch it back , or turn it off, and deflect the “look” by reminding him whose van it really is. Heck, kid, I sat in the front seat long before you were even born, man! I realize that in engaging this radio control, I am now the “old man, “ even if I do have an electric guitar at home and play(ed) in a rock band for  the years. My cool quotient is dropping (if it was ever even high to begin with).

I know we are beyond the days of Raffi, but I’d still like to offer some protection from the encroaching world. I know it is fruitless to think I can filter out music from his life while still hoping that he finds his own soundtrack to his youth, just as I did. Part of loving music is loving music that your parents don’t like.

Now, where is that recent Rolling Stone anyway?

Peace (in the soundscape),

Colleagues are #1

I posed a question yesterday about where people learn about innovation when it comes to classroom technology, and used a site called AnswerGarden to gather responses. I had almost 120 responses, which is pretty neat. The site takes answers and makes word clouds, based on repeated use of words and phrases. The word “colleagues” (as well as “other teachers” ) was pretty prominent on the list and reminds us — those tech explorers — how valuable it is that we share our journeys with our fellow teachers, and help them when they need help.

Peace (in the sharing),

Where do you learn about innovation?

I want to see how this site called AnswerGarden works. You pose a question and as folks provide answers, it makes a Word Cloud.

If you have a moment — my question is: Where do you learn about innovation for the classroom? (note: the answer has to be 20 characters or less)

Where do you learn about innovation for the classroom?… at AnswerGarden.ch.

(the direct link is here: http://answergarden.ch/view/808)

Peace (in the cloud),

Other Stuff: At the Movies

(Note from Kevin: this another diversion of writing for me this week as I move away for a bit from education and slip into other important stuff: like watching movies, or watching the crap that comes before the movies. I hope the sarcasm drips into your RSS . I added an audio of the essay, too.)


Listen to the podcast

I was so blissfully happy the other day to have found myself in a cold movie theater, just in time to watch the commercials. Back in the day as kids, we would scramble to the 99 cent movies early so that we could not only glimpse coming previews but also the periodic “short” movies that only Pixar seems to create these days. In place of those little bits of entertainment, we are urged to relax in our comfortable chairs, dark and cold on a hot summer day, and soak in product endorsements. You would think that a seven dollar ticket would buy you just the movie! But no. We get some bonus minutes, too. They are just too kind, those corporations with my own interests at heart.

I laughed with everyone else as some hip-hop hamsters danced and rapped about “this” and “that.” I knew it was a car they were selling me and I was buying, except the popcorn, candy and water sucked the green out of my wallet. Instead, I swayed my head to the song and relished the day when small furry animals might be able to make music along with the rest of them. It never occurred to me until later that there might have been people in those costumes. Now that’s what I call entertainment.

The Coca-cola commercial was just as interesting.  Some dude was calling on scientists to figure out the time travel that we have always been promised in our books and movies. Darn right, I wanted to shout at the screen. What good is a man in space? I want to see the future. This fellow wanted to travel back in time to woo his girlfriend. All I wanted was a cold drink of sugary soda that I seemed to have forgotten at the counter. Is that so bad?

Down the hallways, the movie “The Last Airbender” was underway, but wouldn’t you know it? We got ourselves an inside look at the video games that come with the movie. On a screen as large as the one in front of us, and with the sound cranked up, it was as if I were in the game itself. I almost left the theater right then and there to rush out to the nearby game store to buy the Wii edition. I didn’t, but you know, I wanted to.

As the commercials ended, I almost got up to leave, thinking I had just gotten my money’s worth and completely forgetting that I was there to see a movie. I sat back down, sitting through eight previews, and then could not help noticing some very helpful product placements in the movie itself. Man, when they talk about synergy of media, this is what they mean, right? I was so thankful to be part of that experience. There’s nothing like a hot summer day to get bombarded with advertisements. And to pay for it, too? That was just icing on the cake.

Peace (in the dark),

Other Stuff: Breakfast Cereal Bags

(Note from Kevin: It’s summer. Time for me to take a break from writing about learning and technology and all of that. I am going to try to write some short humor columns about other things over the next few days. One of them might evolve later into something to submit to our local newspaper. Or not. I’m going to call this series “Other Stuff” because I am feeling very wordy creative right now. Honest. Today’s piece is inspired by my realization that they just don’t make cereal bags like they used to. )
kevin flakes

Here’s what I imagine: in some factory somewhere, as loads of Captain Crunch or Rice Krispees or whatever cereal you like is being pumped into boxes by some machine, some worker is using a massive glue stick to close up the plastic bag that is dropped into the box by another worker farther down the line. I know this is some false idea of the breakfast cereal factory, probably inspired by some distant memory of Laverne and Shirley or I Love Lucy. The reality is more likely robots doing the work.

Still …

The glue stick — the one being held by that worker — is super powerful. In fact, the glue stick is probably something designed by NASA for plugging up holes in the International Space Station and somehow, the owner of this factory knew the director of NASA’s glue stick center (maybe they went to kindergarten or something and, ahem, bonded over glue).  It’s so strong that maybe BP should give them a call and mention a little hole that needs plugging up. Anyway, the glue gets rubbed on by the worker at the cereal factory, the bag gets closed, the bag gets dropped into the box, and then the entire thing is delivered to the store where I go out and buy it and bring it home.

That’s the chain of events. So far.

Oh. I forgot something. Something important. The plastic for the plastic bag. Unlike the glue, which is clearly an incredibly adhesive, the plastic bag that holds all of those particles of cereal is made of such poor quality that I imagine it being concocted by some strange scientists who are trying to outdo each other on who can make the weakest bag possible. They have daily “bag tearing competitions” in which they determine which bag design rips the quickest and with the biggest tear. That design is awarded some trophy. Maybe the trophy has an emblem of Captain Crunch on it or something. I’m really not sure.

So, here I am, the mild-mannered consumer at home the next morning (or maybe it’s dinner, if I am a bachelor with no one to smirk at me for having a bowl of cereal for the main meal of the day), with my box of cereal that features the combination of the most powerful glue in the world coupled with the weakest plastic pouch in the world.

Listen: I remember being a kid, and perfecting the opening of my morning cereal. I could, in fact, do it all in one seamless tug, right along the seam, so that the top of the bag opened just the right amount. Sort of like a little mouth. When I tipped the box, the mouth would open up and out would pour my breakfast.

Not anymore.

Now, when I try my patented rip method, the entire bag splits open from the sides, cereal pouring out like the Mississippi in spring. The bottom of the cardboard box becomes now filled with cereal. I want to leave the cereal pieces in there, probably out of laziness if I am being truthful, but if I do, then I will have to contend with the possibilities of either stale cereal at some later date or an invasion of ants into the cupboard. Or maybe a scolding from my wife. Take your pick. So of course I pull the plastic bag out of the box, and dump the spare cereal from the box into my bowl. The rip in the plastic bag, of course, takes on a life of its own, moving like the vertical fault line of an earthquake as it gets bigger and deeper. The bag completely splits, the cereal spills and the dog is at my feet, munching away at the debris.

Somewhere, a raving scientist is shaking his fist in celebration. But not at my house. In my house, I am left holding the bag. Literally.

Peace (in the  crunch),


So simple, even a 5 year old ….

My little guy (five years old) asked yesterday if  “I could make a movie” with the clay he has been working with. I’ve had clay all over the place for the past week or so and he has been making little characters and stuff, and then storing them in a box that he created. It’s very cute. And he’s been watching his older brother film some sort of epic stopmotion movie (I’m not sure what he’s doing — he has his studio set up in his bedroom) that involves paper cutouts (his favorite technique).

You want to make a movie, too? Sure.

I set up the Mac, turned on iStopmotion and let him make his movie (I helped here and there with the computer and did the final version in iMovie with music, but he did everything else himself.)

The movie is called “Chase Revenge” and that’s a King and a Queen being searched for by their dog, and a farmer, and they united and live happily ever after.

Peace (in the claymation),

Plink, Plink, Plinky

plinky story

Thanks to my friend, Jpeg (Jenny), I wandered over to Plinky this weekend to discover another cool writing place. I suppose it is sort of like others, in which you are given a prompt (this morning: Use third person to tell about an awkward school experience), a box to write in and then you can choose from a selection of images from Flickr to go with your writing.

I like the simplicity of Plinky, and also, that I can either get inspired or ignore the prompt, and then wander back tomorrow. Maybe. The writing choice is up to me.

I’m not sure if this site has possibilities for students (maybe high school) but you could easily “borrow” the writing prompts for activities in the classroom. Drop another idea into the classroom. Plink.
Peace (in the writing),

Bassman hits 10 (comic strips)

(This is still sort of a rough draft of a comic about a band. I’d like to do my own art in the future. Right now, I am focusing in on the writing and characters.)

Peace (in the music),

Book Review: Reality Hunger


Such a strange, interesting book. Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields is an examination of the evolving nature of the personal essay, and yet, it really isn’t that, either. Shields’ technique is like a collage, using small passages of his own thoughts remixed with the words of others, stitched together into more than 500 pieces of writing take out of context of their original home around themes of writing. What comes across from this wonderful book (I happen to like the non-traditional narrative that Shields promotes and uses here) is that the act of writing itself is the act of reinventing and stealing and appropriation and reformatting ideas of others through our own lens of interpretation. And, he notes, the most interest forms of writing are the ones that push against boundaries and forge new terrain.

His larger point about writing is that we, the writers, never tell the truth. We never know reality. We only know our version of it, and then we writers twist and turn and rework our reality to make it flow on the page. So, he believes that biographies and autobiographies and most non-fiction is false work, and the truest way to show reality is through fiction, since it is clearly made up yet becomes an interpretation of the writer. And both writer and reader are in tacit partnership on this.

The book garnered some headlines when it first came out because Shields did not want to cite or credit any of the hundreds of authors that he steals from here and Shields tells us, his readers, that ” …I’m trying to regain a freedom … (but) Random House lawyers determined that it was necessary for me to provide a complete list of citations …” which Shields does. He then tells the reader to pull out their scissors and cut away the citation pages.

I didn’t.

In fact, one of the greatest pleasures I had with this book was digging back to the citations and seeing just where and from whom it was that Shields stole from. I found that quite fascinating to try to figure out the voices and I played a sort of game with myself, the reader, in trying to determine if it was Shields the writer, or Shields the stealer.

Peace (in high art plagiarism),