My Totem: My Tenor Saxophone

Duke Rushmore VFW 2013 sax-centered

It’s taken me a few days to really think about a “totem” that captures the essence of my identity. This is part of our explorations at Walk My World, and the idea for this learning activity is to consider a representation of self, something that connects you to who you are.

I chose my Martin tenor saxophone.

I have been honking out notes on this particular tenor saxophone for more than 30 years. Although in childhood, I had aspirations of becoming a professional musician, that plan never came to be. I did attend high school summer programs that immersed me deeply in music and even spent a year in a music program in college. But it was clear that I didn’t have the focus and intensity (maybe dedication), nor the innate talent, to succeed in a very difficult field filled with amazing musicians and not a whole lot of job opportunities.

And yet, I still play music with my saxophone. Each week, I gather with my bandmates in Duke Rushmore and we play for two hours. A few times a year, we gig out. I have a gig coming up in a few weeks, in fact, and we are working on our set list for that night. I’ll never claim to be a great saxophone player, and my ability remains fairly limited. I play because I love the act of making music, and my saxophone is one way in (the guitar is another, although that is primarily for songwriting).

Music continues to enrich my soul each week, each year, and I find some deep connection with the old Martin saxophone.

Plenty of times, I have thought: I wish I had a Selmer, not this old tenor. The saxophone can be a bit moody at times, and it has a rich deep bottom but the top of the scales are a little thin. It might be me. Or it might be the two of us — the saxophone and I. Still, I strap it on to play and it feels comfortable, like a blanket you pull over you, night after night. You know how it feels. That’s how I am with this old Martin.

We know each other.

saxophone shape poem

And when I think of how many turns life has taken, there’s something to be said about some consistency. I am happily married, with a family, but that saxophone has seen me through some other, turbulent times. There were years when the sax collected dust in the closet. Still, I would pull it out and play now and then, getting lost in the music, working through some emotions that words (spoken and/or written) could not articulate. Allowing me to make music just for myself is a gift this saxophone has given me over the decades.

It’s my totem. My charm. My saxophone.

Wonderful World, sax solo from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peacd (in the muse),

RIP: A Remix Manifesto

(Here is an old post in my draft bin …)

Thanks to Laura for her blog post that sent me to the site for this documentary, RIP: A Remix Manifesto. I need to check out how I can watch this (since YouTube, ironically, blocks the content in the documentary because of proprietary issues), as it dive into the things I have been trying to wrestle with when it comes to remixing content, making something new from something that already exists, and the way technology puts more tools in our hands to do that.

Anybody seen RIP: A Remix Manifesto? The reviews seem mixed (remixed?).

Peace (in the remix),



Book Review: Hatching Twitter

I still remember the first time that someone tried to explain Twitter to me. It was Bud Hunt (aka Bud the Teacher), and he was visiting Western Massachusetts for the National Writing Project. We were all at dinner in Amherst and he started to talk up Twitter, which had only just launched from the ashes of the Odeo podcasting site. Bud talked about it as best as he could, and admitted he was struggling to explain why Twitter mattered. But he predicted tweeting would take hold and it would be important to teachers as a way to network and share resources.

So it is. Just the other night, I stumbled into the #Engchat conversation on Twitter (where Brian Kelly was hosting a conversation about using audio in the classroom and “writing for the ear”) and for the next 30 minutes, I was hooked into sharing and exploration of voice and audio with a boatload of other teachers around the world, expanding my knowledge and never leaving my home. It was more valuable than many elements of formal PD I have sat through over the years.

I thought back to Bud’s dinner table talk as I read Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal by reporter Nick Bilton. The story of Twitter has many twists and yes, many betrayals of friendship, as the platform moved into the mainstream from start-up mode. Bilton did extensive research and hours of interviews to get into the moment of Twitter’s emergence as a media powerhouse. Twitter began as an offshoot of Odeo, which I remember using as an early podcasting site, and grew up into something still emerging, right?

What struck me is how important the “creation myth” of Twitter became to the four founders of Twitter (Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey, and Biz Stone). Each in their own way tried to shape the story of who “invented” Twitter, if Bilton’s book is to believed. Some of the four (Dorsey) were doing it intentionally, so as to gain a foothold back into leading the company forward. Others (Glass) got lost in the faded history of Twitter.

The other story that drove Twitter is the essential question of Twitter: is the status question told in 140 characters one about you/me (what’s your status?) or is it about the world (what’s happening?). What story are we all telling? That debate over a few words led to divisions within the company itself.

Hatching Twitter is one of those books that made me think of my daily media life a little different. We take technology for granted. But behind the tech that succeeds (as opposed to the multitudes that don’t), there is always a story of creation and there are always people shaping those creation stories. Bilton’s book about Twitter shows how messy that endeavor can become once the money starts flowing.

Peace (in the tweet),

Not a Totem but a Memory Map

Map of Childhood - #walkmyworld totem
The current Learning Event for Walk My World is to explore the concept of a “totem” which is an object that connects you to your past, your culture, your family, your sense of self. I’m still thinking of the object but that thinking had me remembering the apartment complex and neighborhood that I grew up in. I used the Paper App to sketch out a Memory Map of where I spent my childhood.

I left out a lot, I realized, but then maps are always filtered experiences, right? The tree fort, the Big Rock (left over from glacier times, or so we were always told), the river, the woods and the bog were all central elements to growing up for me. Alas, the woods and bog are now covered in housing developments, and I did not put the giant fallow farmer’s field in the map, either, which is also now nothing but suburban houses as far as the eye can see.

It’s been years (maybe a decade) since I went back to this neighborhood, and I don’t feel any strong urge to do it now. The Memory Map here helps situate me, and reminds me of stories (falling in the river during an ice storm; getting bonked on the head by a hammer while standing under the tree fort; playing ice hockey on the bog in winter; having crabapple wars in fall) that cling to me as personal history.

Peace (in the map),

Songs About Writing: A Weavly Remix

I started searching for songs about the process of writing (thanks to a post over Two Writing Teachers) and I’ve been meaning to use Weavly for video remix. This seemed liked a good time to give Weavly a try. What songs about writing am I missing?

Director’s Notes

Weavly makes it easy to clip together videos from Youtube and other sites. I did some initial searching for other people’s posts about songs about writing, inspired first by this post over Two Writing Teachers. Then I tried to remember any songs that I knew about writing (I had that Natasha Bedingfield song in my head and could not remember her name for the longest time … and there it was, at the original post that inspired me to do this … doh), pulling together the videos into the Weavly editor. The trickiest part was finding the verses/choruses that I wanted, and cutting the clips. I wish there was a better way to fade in and fade out (I have the same problem with Popcorn … the transition from one video to the next is often a jolt).

I like the animated Beatles video at the end … it has a natural stop …

I’d also say that my collection is very white, right? I did some searching for hip-hop song that dealt with writing but came up empty.

Peace (in the remix),

Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish

Coming on the heels of finishing Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting with my sixth graders, I picked up Jennifer Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish merely on a whim as part our independent reading. I see it is on the New York Times bestseller list, and as a teacher, I love to discover new books I can recommend to my students. I was pleasantly surprised to see more than a few thematic overlaps between the two novels. Holm’s book explores the scientific element of tinkering with the aging process while Bobbitt uses unknown magic to explore the concept of living for forever.

Tuck Everlasting, of course, is a classic, and now in its 40th year, the book continues to resonate with young readers on many levels. The discussions we have in the classroom about the moral ambiguity of character’s choices and the desire for youth is always rich and deep. It’s beautifully written and I love teaching it.

The Fourteenth Goldfish is not in the same category, although it is a rather fun read. The story revolves around 11 year old Ellie, whose scientist grandfather discovers a way (via a certain jellyfish) to turn back the hands of time and become young again. The grandfather is now a teenager, living with Ellie and her mother, and the results are often funny. The plot revolves around Ellie helping her teenager grandfather recover his scientific notes from the company he has been booted out of.

It’s only at the end of the book, as Ellie considers the power and responsibility of science, that the deep questioning comes into play, and I was itching for Holmes to dig deeper than she did. The book is aimed at an upper elementary audience, and yet I think Holmes could have gone farther and still had the funny, entertaining story that she develops in The Fourteen Goldfish.

What Holm’s book does well is to show the power of scientific discovery and of asking questions, of being curious, of being open to the “possibilities” — as Ellie’s grandfather teaches her, even as Ellie herself begins to understand that some scientific discoveries come with a cost (the Atomic Bomb). Holm also name-drops plenty of scientists in the novel, sparking interest in the history of discovery.

Peace (in the life lived),

Knowing that I Don’t Know What I Need to Know

Fork the Fedwiki

This is learning … and I can feel it in the pull in the back of my brain. I dove into something called the Federated Wiki, as part of a Happening that is taking place in March around Teaching Machines, with Audrey Watters. I won’t do justice to explaining a Federated Wiki (this is part of what is making my brain work overtime), but it is, as I understand it, a series of connected wikis hosted on different servers that intersect with each other. You can “fork” other people’s pages and make them your own, and you can view the “history” of the fork of your own page to see if anyone adds anything that you can use to make your entry better. My friend, Maha, noted that this allows for “multiple versions of knowledge” as opposed to one single Truth created collectively, as is the case is most wikis. (i.e., we all edit the same page.)

Listen: I don’t know what I am doing.

I barely know the questions to ask about what I am doing in the Federated Wiki that has been set up for me by the Happening folks (thanks!). But I am in there, absorbing the tutorials that Mike Caulfield has embedded, digging in here and there, and I can feel my mind grasping to understand the larger picture. I’d appreciate a visual map of what a Happening is, and what the nodes of a Federated Wiki looks like, and yet, I am perfectly happy that there is no map. I’m making my own mental map as I go.

(Ward Cunningham, who originated wikis, is behind the idea of Federated Wiki)

Because, this is learning. This is how you encounter something new and try to make sense of it. There’s confusion. There’s grappling. There’s the little moments of “aha” followed by more moments of “what the @##$%%” as something you think you had a handle on suddenly falls apart. Hopefully, that is followed by another “aha” moment. Or maybe you turn to others in the community and ask the question: how did you do that? And, how do I do that? Help. Help me to understand.

This is what it means to be a learner again, and to be frank, teachers like myself (if I am honest about it) sometimes forget that very intense and uncomfortable feeling of being lost. A good learning experience, however, helps you find your way, and guides you to the other end not just smarter for the struggle, but more expansive in your knowledge of the world. We forget our students might experience this on a regular basis.

My learning process has been laid bare this weekend. I am learning about how I learn. Yes, I am interested in reading about and contributing to the topic of Teaching Machines, with Audrey Watters and others. I am also interested in learning something completely new, something outside my regular comfort zone. I am wading into unknown terrain with this Federated Wiki Happening and it is both driving me a bit nutty (not in a bad way) and pushing me to make sense of the unknown.

The gears are turning. I’m learning.

Peace (in the think),

Further Poetic Remix: Identity

Yesterday, I shared out how I remixed Identity by Julio Noboa Polanco and made a new poem from Polanco’s words. Today, I take a step forward into remix, by using my poem and a video version of Identity, weaving them together via Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker. The result is a mix of words and images and sound.

Feel free to remix it yourself. Just hit the remix button on the Popcorn video.

Peace (in the remix of the remix),

A Poetic Remix: Breaking Through the Surface of Stone

In one of the learning cycles for Walk My World, we’ve been asked to read and think about two poems — Tupak Shakur’s The Rose That Grew From Concrete (actually, a song lyric, right?) and Identity by Julio Noboa Polanco. So much gets done with Tupak’s metaphor (amid some complaints that it is probably a bit too obvious), so I cast my eyes to Polanco. I have not read the Identity poem before, and thought I might try to deconstruct and then reconstruct the words into my own poetry remix. (I hope Polanco won’t mind).

I found myself focusing on some key phrases, including “breaking through the surface of stone,” which I found very evocative. Taking the words of the poem, and them moving words and phrases around, with the concept of keeping the theme intact but making it into something new, this remixed poem is what emerged for me. It’s still about identity, about being an individual, but I tightened up the stanzas and found my own voice inside Polanco’s lines. That what remix is all about …


And my voice:


Peace (in the poem),

Book Review: Cool Careers in Video Games

I saw this book — Cool Careers in Video Games —  in our latest Scholastic Book order catalogue and used some of my “classroom points” to pick it up. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but given my students’ high interest in gaming, it makes sense to have it as a resource. I’m glad I grabbed it. The book is full of short non-fiction profiles of people in the video gaming industry, from writers to programmers to animators and more, with a nice balance of men and women.

The questions often have a focus on advice for students who are interested in gaming, and while most riffed on the theme of “follow your passion and dream,” there were a few who noted how math skills and writing/communication skills are critical.

What I most liked about the book (its former title apparently was Hot Jobs in Video Games) was the introduction overview of the world of the gaming industry, as it provides a handy progression of how a game goes from an idea to being published, and all the work that goes on in-between. And I like the glossary at the end, where there is a multi-page list of all of the different kinds of jobs and skills one would need to become part of that emerging job market.

As far as I can tell, you can only get Cool Careers in Video Games through Scholastic books.

Peace (in the game),