Ebb and Flow: the evolution of a song

I write a lot songs but most end up in the recycling bin (not the trash, because sometimes an idea from one song makes its way into another song .. you never know). Yesterday, I found a note that I had to myself while in Ohio last weekend and it sparked the start of a new song. I also found a neat riff that I liked and from there, the ideas unfolded. I scribble my ideas all over the place, but I thought it might be neat to show the evolution of this song, from those first lines put down in Ohio to recording a quick demo over at Youtube.

So, first, the song I am calling Ebb and Flow began with these lines:

From there, I thought I had some concept of a love song, which is tricky because it can easily get sappy with the words. But my notes evolved into these scribbled thoughts:

Now that I had an inkling of what I was doing, I shifted over to Google Docs (where I keep my lyrics) and printed out what I have (so I can read what I have written — yep, even I have trouble with my handwriting sometimes). You can see that I am still trying to shape the song, adding in a break and a new verse.

Finally, the words are mostly done.

And I went onto YouTube with my webcam to capture a rough version of the song, so that later, I can remember it.  And also, at this point, I knew that I wanted to share my writing process here.

Peace (in the song),

A message from the kids (from the teachers)

At the Dublin Literacy Conference, I met Ann Marie Corgill, who wrote Of Primary Importance about literacy in the young grades. Corgill seems like a very nice and very thoughtful person — and her book that shows how to guide young writers forward into literacy in meaningful ways seems like it should have an important place in most schools. I was reading through some online reflections of folks who attended the conference and came across this video called Give Us Hope for Education that I believe Anne Marie made with her students (ie, the Corgill kids) as a message to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in January 2009 as the new president began to take office.

The song is great, and the message is right on about formative assessment and moving beyond test scores to show knowledge of children. My only reservation is that we too often use kids to spread our message — to wrap up adult ideas about education in the cuteness of our kids. I love the posters that the kids have made here but the educational jargon that come out in the sound of young voices just sounds odd to me.

Still, again, I love the message.

Peace (in the hope of change),

The World is full of High Fliers

I tried an interesting experiment this week within my various Professional Learning Communities. Inspired by a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman on This American Life about superheroes, I asked folks a fairly simple question: If you could have the power of flight or invisibility, which would you choose and what would you do with that power?

If you look at the graph above, you’ll see that most of the 30 respondents chose flight over invisibility. Hodgeman also found that a lot of folks chose flight (he went into bars and other social places to ask his question).

Hodgeman observed that, unlike the superheroes of comic books, most of the people he surveyed would not necessarily always use their powers for the good of the world, but instead, they would use it for themselves and family. I found some of the same in my survey. A few folks would fly to warmer climates (or, as one person put it: “I would get the hell out of the cold!”); or avoid airports for traveling the world (“Flight would make transportation easier and help me with time management as it would not take as long to get places!”; or save on some carbon fuels (I guess that is saving the world, right?).

Another interesting thing that Hodgeman found was that invisibility seemed to be chosen by people who see themselves more as introverts, who want to slip away unseen and be part of the background, while those choosing flight seem to be extroverts, impressing the world with their powers. Pretty fascinating.

And one person, explaining their choice of flight, noted:  “As a youngster growing up and for the first few years teaching and as a new wife, I spend far too much time trying to be invisible, to get along and not make waves, to accommodate, and to please — so “invisibility” has a rather negative connotation.

Here are the comments from folks who chose invisibility:

  • I would fade away at certain moments and then hear what the world says when I am not listening.
  • I would like to invisibly be where I should not be, hear what is not meant for my ears, see what is not meant for my eyes.
  • I would slip silently through the darkness, and blend in with the night.  I would sit in stillness in the woods.  I would disappear when a chronic complainer was seeking me out.  I would be a fly on the wall and listen to interesting conversations without feeling the need to but in.  I would hide in plain sight.  I would stand behind someone who needed the comfort of just knowing I was there.
  • I would spy and steal things gather information and sell it.
  • Among other things, I would “hide” when I got into a little trouble.  Also I have to admit, I always thought it would be cool to be a spy and what better power to have for that job.
  • Escape and observe.

And a few of the comments from those who chose flight:

  • I choose flight: fly, float, sail, soar. With that power I’d have the bird’s eye perspective, the really big picture, the true world view. Swoosh.
  • I would like the freedom that flight would give me. I could go wherever I wanted and get a bigger picture of my world. I could even fly back to the Caribbean to watch the sunset. Being invisible would bring me in closer to people, add stress to my life, and show me things I’d rather not see or know.
  • This would be my Star Trek Transporter. I could officially add the words “Beam me up” to my vocabulary and head anywhere I wish…and do so quickly. No more gas-guzzling vehicles, no more airport security or delayed flights. I would use my flight superpower for personal endeavors…and to save the random child falling from a tree or get down the cat stuck in it.
  • I am going to go with flying since my life would be markedly better if I could get places faster. But my true secret desire is to be invisible–that superpower just fits my personality better. I am very loud and easily excitable and would like the ability to slip in and out of places unnoticed.
  • I would fly. I know that sounds simple, but just imagine being able to do in real life what we occasionally get to do in our dream. In flight, I would be free. Invisible, I think I would be bound more than ever before.
  • I’m sure I’d be able to have more power over others with invisibility, but in the end I think flying would be more personally fun, which is more my thing.  What would I do with my flight power?  Why, I’d fly, silly!
  • Go on grand adventures, sometimes on my own and sometimes with my pet chickens (tucked under my arms and on my shoulder) as the poor darlings can hardly get airborne on their own.
    Life would be easier and more exciting!


Thanks to everyone who participated. I guess I will leave the survey open for anyone else who wants to join in. You can find it by going here.

Peace (in invisibility, my choice),

Making the WikiStix Dance with Stopmotion

This is my last reflective post from the Dublin Literacy Conference, which took place in Ohio last weekend. Along with working with teachers, I was asked to lead a family session, too, which I readily agreed to. I love that kids and their parents are invited to attend portions of a conference for teachers, and so I suggested a session around stopmotion movie making.

Well, there was a big response, to put it mildly (about 125-150 people in the session), and the music room was packed with kids and parents. Luckily, I had some idea of the numbers beforehand and while I knew I wanted to make a movie before their eyes in the hour that we had together, I mulled over some possibilities.

How do you get a lot of kids involved in making a movie in a short time? My answer was to use bendable WikiStix, which we handed out to kids as they entered the room and gave instructions to create some strange character. Some of the kids looked at me strange, others didn’t say a word, and others asked for further instructions. Just like my own classroom (including the strange looks)!

And so, using my webcam, a freeware program and Moviemaker, we made a Wikistix Conga line stopmotion movie in a short amount of time.

I used a black music stand that was in the room for the background, which worked well for the bright colored creatures but not so well for the dark ones. I tried to talk my way through the process, which everyone watched on the screen. I had kids line up with their creations (and put a student at my computer to take the frame shots), and we moved the creatures across our “set” one frame at a time. I think they were pretty excited to be involved in a movie, but they also got a sense of the time and patience it takes to make a movie, too (a valuable lesson).

I had two kids come up and voice the title and the credits and now the movie is part of my Making Stopmotion Movie website resource, with a link for the kids who were there to download a version of the video.

They asked some great questions, too, such as how long does it take to make a short movie? What materials do you need? What advice would I give?

What was great was when I asked who might go home and try to make a movie, almost every hand in the room shot up. And many parents came up to me afterwards, asking follow-up questions. (A lot of the kids wanted to know where they could buy Wikistix, which are perfect for stopmotion, I have found. Luckily, one smart vendor had them for sale out in the conference hall).

Wouldn’t it be cool if even half of the kids there made a movie?

Peace (in the frames),


Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers

My friends, Stacey and Ruth, run a blog that you just have to follow, particularly if you are a writing teacher. Their work at Two Writing Teachers is inspirational (and they are working on a book right now, so that’s even better) and you are sure to come away with great ideas for the classroom.

Two years ago, and then again last year, I joined them for a month-long project called Slice of Life Challenge, in which they ask followers of their blog and others to write a bit about a moment in their day, post to a blog and then link off Two Writing Teachers (although I suppose you probably could also write in their comment slot for that day, too, if you are blog-less … but don’t be blog-less! Create one for this project, if you need). My Slices are still archived here on my blog, which is pretty neat (see for yourself).

They call it a challenge because they are hoping that participants will write a Slice of Life post every day in the month of March. And here it is, almost March already. There are gifts for folks who complete a post every day and kudos to those who try to do every day but don’t quite succeed. And even if you pop around to read the other Slices, and add a comment here and there, the value is that your online writing community expands pretty significantly during Slice of Life.

Plus, Stacey and Ruth are cool. So, there’s that.

You can read more information here by Stacey and Ruth about the Slice of Life idea.

Peace (in the moments),

Which would you choose? Invisibility or Flight?

I know this is a strange post, but I was recently listening to a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman for This American Life (the entire show was about superheroes). Hodgeman went around, asking people to choose between two superpowers: Invisibility or Flight. And then, he asked, what would you do with that power? It was so interesting what he discovered.
So, I figured, why not ask my friends the same question. Please take this two-question poll and pass it along your networks, too. I’ll share the results on another day.

Peace (in the powers),

Our No-Cost Tech for Teachers event

If you are part of the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts and you want to have a little “play time” with technology tools that don’t cost a dime, then consider joining us in a few weeks for a few hours.

The flier and registration form is here.

We’ll be exploring sites like Glogster, Wallwisher and more and reflect upon the possibilities for the classroom. We’ve kept the cost low and there is room for all technology users — from beginners on up.

I hope to see you there!

Peace (in the sharing),

When a Whole School Blogs

(Note: this is cross-posted over at the NWP Walkabout site, too).

This is a podcast reflection of a conversation that I had with Tim Tyson after the Dublin Literacy Conference had ended and we were all at dinner. I asked Tyson about his old middle school, where he (as principal) had every teacher in the building reflecting on classroom practice and activities via blogs at least once a week. I was most interested in what he discovered and how he helped reluctant teachers along.

Listen to my podcast reflections


Thoughts about Dublin Lit Conference

(this is adapted from a post I wrote for a NWP blog)

“The gifted educator of the 21st Century is you — the precious teacher in the classroom.” – Tim Tyson

I’ll give Tim Tyson this: he can give an inspiring presentation.
Tyson (http://drtimtyson.com/) was the keynote speaker at the Dublin Literacy Conference in Dublin, Ohio, and if his job was to get this crowd of about 500 teachers thinking deep about the possibilities of technology and new media in our schools, he succeeded. Tyson arrived on stage just after an incredible group of student Japanese Taiko drummers created a joyful roar of rhythms and chanting that woke us all up to the beauty of student creativity.
Once the drums stopped beating and Tyson took the stage, you could barely hear a sound in the room as Tyson first showed us how he was podcasting, screencasting and using such tools as an online polling site (http://www.polleverywhere.com/) that participants in the audience used their cellphones to vote with, with live data spilling onto the large screen in front of us.

But it was the powerful stories of students using technology for learning, for reaching a global audience through research on important topics, and for pushing themselves beyond the normal expectations that had me (and others) hooked on the message. He didn’t mince words either, letting us know in plain language that the time is now for teachers to be tapping into emerging technologies that are central to the life of our students.
He said it is not enough to have the latest equipment in the room. We must also be thoughtful in guiding students to use it for learning and not just for creating random projects with no substance.
“The hard part (of using technology) is not having to plug in the interactive whiteboard,” Tyson said. “The hard part of our job is envisioning instructional practice in a completely different way than we have ever envisioned it before. That’s the challenge.”
And he noted that while assessment of learning is critical, “Too often, grading kills learning,” and he urged us as teachers to find way to measure learning that is meaningful for the students, so they feel empowered and supported along the way.
“The gifted educator of the 21st Century is you — the precious teacher in the classroom,” Tyson said. “We’re living in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and these don’t come around too often. It would be a shame to waste it.”
I hope Tyson’s message got through, and I think it did.
In the sessions where I presented, I tried to remind folks that it is OK to take incremental steps forward with technology, as long as the steps are being taken. We owe it to our students to find ways to engage our young people with technology, and for many teachers, events like the Dublin Literacy Conference may be the only real place where they will hear that message in a way that resonates as loud and as powerful as those Taiko drums.
You can almost hear the beat of innovation from way over here.

Peace (in the rhythm),

Taking a Chance on Tech

I am in Dublin, Ohio, in the hours before the start of the Dublin Literacy Conference. Last night, I had a wonderful dinner with Mary Lee and Franki, and also my new blogging friend, Tony, but it was a conversation on the way into Dublin from the Columbus airport that sticks out with me this morning. The organizers of this amazing conference — which is in its 21th year — have really put the focus on technology this year, using the push from NCTE into New Literacies as their guide post.

The keynote speaker this morning will be Tim Tyson, who has done some amazing things with technology when he was a middle school principal (including having all teachers blog and using moviemaking as a core element of the curriculum). Many of the sessions, including the ones I am leading around digital picture books, webcomics and stopmotion movies, have some technology element to them.

And the organizers have set up a “tech playground” area where teachers can wander in and play around with a Kindle, an iTouch, Flip cameras and more in a non-threatening fun environment. Plus, I believe there might be some student work on display that shows technology in action.

I think this is all wonderful, and important for teachers to see, but I know some of the organizers are crossing their fingers, hoping that it is not too much technology for the teachers coming to the conference. A good number are from outlying rural areas, where technology may not be prevalent, and the last thing you want to do is to alienate your base (see Pres. Obama for details on how that goes for ya).

As a presenter, this is good to know. I hope to pitch my presentations to the middle of the spectrum and try to help teachers see how you might get from here to there, even if it is baby steps. What we can’t lose sight of is that the use of technology and media is part of the lives of our students, and sticking our heads in the sand and hoping it will go away or never enter our classrooms just won’t work (this seemed to be the approach of a large regional literacy conference I went to in Providence in November). So, I salute the Dublin folks for being brave and I hope the teachers here today take advantage of the opportunity to see ways to using technology to enhance student achievement and engagement.

Peace (in Ohio),