Fit for Life: Hip Hop Songwriting With a Purpose

HipHop Boyz

Our Student Council (I am one of the facilitators) is wrapping up a Fit for Gold challenge for our whole school, in which all students were encouraged to eat well and exercise as part of our celebration of the Winter Olympics. A few of the sixth grade boys on the Student Council wanted to write a hip hop song to celebrate the school-wide activity, and so over a few days, as I helped when needed but mostly watched them at work, these three students wrote and recorded their song, which is being played over the school-wide announcement system each morning and is featured at our school website.

The leader, who wrote most of the lyrics to Fit for Life and sings it, has flow!

For me, it was another opportunity to encourage community engagement, songwriting as a means for a message, and teaching some technology (Garageband) as well as finding an audience and outlet for students wanting to stay creative.

Peace (in the spotlight),

Slice of Life: A Picture of Nothing is Still Something

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers but is inspired by #ds106’s Daily Create)
Nothing Much
Yesterday, over at the Daily Create (a must-follow, by the way), the prompt asked us to take a picture of nothing. So typical of the Daily Create, to ask us to be creative with the ordinary. But I took the prompt to heart, and turned on my iPad, pointed the lens straight up, and took a shot. Of nothing. Except it was something. Something neat. In fact, this little bit of nothing on the ceiling has some neat compositional aspects to it.

Notice how the support beam moves through the center of the shot, on a slight perpendicular path, and I was really struck by how the light in one room but not the other room completely gave the shot two sides to it (in a strange way that reminds me of Harvey Two-Face from Batman). The speckled paint on our ceilings also give the nothingness a sense of texture that a smooth ceiling would not have done.

So, yes, this nothing turned quickly into something. And here I am, writing about it, giving the nothing more life than it would have normally had. Thanks, Daily Create!

Peace (in the something),


#Nerdlution #Wordlution Checkin: A-O

I am still plugging away on my #nerdlution resolution to invent and publish a new word every day for 50 days. Right now, I am on the letter “O” and as with last week, I am using Animoto to share out screenshots of all of my words so far as a way to keep myself motivated and updated.

Peace (in the words),

Graphic Novel Review: True Stories of World War II


True Stories of World War II
This collection of short graphic stories (very short) by Capstone Press — True Stories of World War II —  shines the light on the heroics of some soldiers from the Allied side of the equation, bringing forth some stories that of regular people in irregular times that might otherwise get lost to the history books. The introduction notes how the leaders and generals get all of the headlines but that it was the regular people on the battle fronts that paid the highest price for freedom and victory.
Here, we read about a US soldier’s grim trek through the Bataan Death March, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, a freedom fighter in France who barely escapes with her life after saving the lives of many; and survival at sea after a battleship gets torpedoed by the Japanese.

I was pleased to also witness the tale of Jacqueline Cochran, who was a pioneering woman aviator who convinced the US military (over strong objections) to allow woman to fly aircraft during the war. The male-dominated military would not allow combat missions, but the scope of the efforts of these valiant women who paved the way for equity in the armed forces is a story that we should not let be forgotten. I had never heard of Cochran before, and the story here had me doing some searching around about her, and she was an amazing woman: fearless, confident, brave. She was not ever in the history books that I remember reading.

The artwork in this collection is just so-so, and some of the writing is weak, unfortunately. The amount of space dedicated to each of the stories makes it difficult to bring these heroes completely alive. It’s barely a taste of those who sacrificed in the war. For some young readers, though, the graphic stories might be enough to pique their interests about the generation that changed the world and lived through times we can’t quite imagine.

Peace (in the book),

PS — you can view a sample of the book in Google Books.


How To Make Their Own Lego Movie

I love behind-the-scenes features for animated movies.

Yesterday, I took my three boys and two friends to a packed moviehouse to watch The Lego Movie. It’s pretty good, poking fun at itself and the corporate environment, with plenty of inside jokes for adults and crazy mayhem for kids. If your children or students saw the movie and are now thinking, I wanna do that (ie, make a Lego stopmotion movie) check out this stopmotion moviemaking hactivity kit resource that I created for the Mozilla Webmaker through a partnership with the National Writing Project.
Making Stopmotion Kit

Peace (in the bricks),


Inspired by Haas: I Remember the Hummingbird

The shift within the #walkmyworld centers around poet Robert Haas, and his collection of poems known as Field Notes. Greg, one of the organizers, asks us to consider one of three Haas poems, and examine it. So I chose Letter to a Poet, and I enjoyed the imagery of the mockingbird and the “mimic world” of poetry. This phrase stuck me with long after I had finished the poem and then I began to write, too.

I began to rework Haas’ poem for my own devices. As I read the piece a few times, I came to understand a sense of place and a sense of sensory images. And the bird stuck with me. That mockingbird. And thinking of birds reminded me of the hummingbird who floats into our lives each summer, hovering outside our window near the honeysuckle. I wrote my poem with Haas on my shoulder, stealing some of his rhythm and structure at times and abandoning it at others. Our meanings diverged, too, but that’s OK.

The result is this multimodal poem: I Remember the Hummingbird

Using Zeega to construct this kind of media poem is intriguing because it is all about choices and yet, those choices are limited by the reach of the Zeega database. I struggled to not overwhelm with images and movement, and yet, I wanted faint echoes of the hummingbird in most of the pages. Also, finding a song that complemented the text and images was tricky — again, how well will it mesh? — but I think this version of a song called Hummingbird made sense to me with its picking guitar parts and haunting vocals that move in to the frame.

Peace (in remembering),

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Peculiar, indeed.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (!), is such an interesting piece of art, and I mean art in the finest sense. Riggs has created a creepy, setting-driven story that adds a sci-fi twist (that I won’t give away) to propel the discovery of a very odd school and its inhabitants in motion. What I find most interesting is how Riggs uses real “found photographs” for this novel (the sequel just came out) and a question looms at the end of the book like a chicken and egg question:

Did the photographs inform the story or did the story lead to finding the photographs?

Happily, Riggs has a short piece at the end of the novel where he tries to answer that question, explaining how he poured through thousands of “found photos” as he worked on the novel, and his answer to the question is: a little of both. Some photos he found changed the flow of the novel while in other cases, he was looking for something rather specific. When we talk about ways in which media interact with writing, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fine example of a story where those two ideas meshed together nicely. The characters don’t feel all that forced by the odd photos that abound here.

I was struck early on by the establishing of the setting, too, and the feeling of creepiness that settled on me. Not in a bad way, but in a very interesting way. I needed to keep reading, if only to figure out what was going in. I thought the voice of the narrator, Jacob (a boy whose grandfather has died in a mysterious way and whose past leads Jacob into strange terrain) was authentic and real, even as the narrative fabric of the story falls apart on him and reality is questioned.

Peace (in the beautiful oddness of the world),

Our Digital Media Lives as Similes

My Media Life
(My Media Life Simile)

One of the many excellent activities that you can find in the CommonSense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum (free!) is a short activity that I find very powerful. It asks students to consider their own media lives and to create/draw a simile to explain how they feel about the flow of media and technology in their lives. For some of my sixth graders, this gives them a chance to step back and view their relationship through another kind of lens.

Here are some samples from this past week, all of which led to discussions in class.

My Media Life 201410

My Media Life 20146

My Media Life 201411

My Media Life 20145

My Media Life 20149

Peace (like a river),


DLMOOC: On Vocational Education, Portuguese Music and Minecraft

DLMOOC Experiences

The theme this week over at the Deeper Learning MOOC has been about mentors, apprenticeships, internships and learning in the real world as a part of the learning experience. The DLMOOC Tweet of the Week asked us to remember a time when we were mentored, and two experiences have come to mind. Actually, three.

<start rant> The first idea is not about me but about the school where my wife has taught and is now an administrator. It’s a vocational-agricultural high school, and I don’t know about how it is where you live, but vocational high schools still get a bad rap. Instead of celebrating the hands-on experiential learning, and the internships/co-ops that the students have with local businesses, vocational schools continue to get viewed through the prism of “You can’t make it in the traditional high school so why not go to Voke.” Vocational education is not valued nearly as high as it should be. Take a look at standardized testing. Where are the sections for how to repair your car engine? Or how to clean out the pipes in the bathroom? Or how to install a closet door? When we talk about deeper learning and experiential learning, vocational schools have been paving the way for decades, but are rarely turned to as a model for education. <end rant>

When I saw the tweet from DLMOOC, the first thing that came to to mind for myself was an experience I had a young teenager. I play the saxophone, and music was my main identity during high school. A friend of mine, who was a few years older, was a drummer, and we jammed a lot. He got a job in a Portuguese wedding band, and they were looking for a horn player. I got hired, even though at age 15 I had no idea about playing Portuguese music, had little experience with any wedding music, and … to be frank, I was completely out of league. I could read music fine and I could noodle around on solos a bit. But I was not a “wedding band” musician. Still, the singer wanted me to succeed (the guitar and bass players did not want me there) and he began my quick immersion into Portuguese culture and music, keeping an eye on me and encouraging me when I needed and pulling me aside for private conversations when required (a lot, unfortunately). I lasted four gigs (and made about $100) and then I was asked to leave. I didn’t regret it, nor was I too sad about it. I never got the feel for Portuguese wedding music (the food rocked, though). But the uncomfortable nature of the experience and the guidance of the singer has stuck with me over the decades.

Finally, I want to relay an experience that turns the idea of mentorship on its head a bit. It has to do with Minecraft. Now, I know Minecraft is huge with my students, and it has been for years. Although I do an entire unit around video game design, I am still unable to wrap my head around Minecraft. I know it’s me. I have no idea why Minecraft is such a condundrum. Last year, I asked my students about Minecraft, and one student said, “I’ll show you.” He came in the next day, armed with a flash drive of some Minecraft modules that he had built just for me, and then proceeded to spend his entire recess (and the one after that) showing me how Minecraft works. Frankly, I was more interested in the role-reversal of the situation — my student teaching me — than understanding all that he was showing me (he also talked very fast and “showed” me rather than let me play, but ….). How often do we let our students be the experts and admit that we don’t know or understand something? It was a powerful experience for him and for me, and like playing in the Portuguese band, the experience has lingered.

Deeper learning requires guidance, and mentors, and experiences that move beyond the books and paper and classroom settings. It’s Vygostky and scaffolding in action in the real world. Most of the educational systems where most students spend their days does not build that in.  I know mine doesn’t, and it should.

Peace (in the learning),