My Holiday Song: ‘A Gift of Peace’ to you

A few years ago, my good friend, John, and I went into a local recording studio to put down tracks for a song we had written (years before that) as a holiday gift of song. Each year, I try to share it out and hope our Gift of Peace brightens your day. The video was shot and produced by my eldest son.

While it was written as a Christmas song, I hope its message of passing the peace to one another might resonate whatever your beliefs might be, religious or not.

The song is on all streaming sites, and I got a kick the other day of hearing it again on Pandora. If you search A Gift of Peace (for Christmas) by the Lullabyes, you should be able to find it.

Gift of Peace on Pandora

Peace (in the world),

More Poems in December (Another 5 Day Write)

Floating Lantern, Patong“Floating Lantern, Patong” by enjosmith is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I love that I get a pleasant and inviting email every month from the folks at Ethical ELA, enticing me to come back to the community there to write for just five consecutive days each month.

It’s like a little lantern of creative spirit burning that I almost always forget is there, and then it’s dark, and there’s this light, and each time, I wonder why I forgot the lantern that helped me write poems is there. And I remember again why it’s powerful when so many teachers-as-writers come together to share and comment.

Here, then, are my five poems from December’s five days, each with a theme. Reading them again, with fresh eyes, I realize that I like them best in reverse chronological order, but I am not going to mess with the days here.

Day One (Gift)

Her frosted fingers,
pink with purple eyebrows
along the edge of nails,
gently pulls on the tube,
the wrapping paper of red
and green and yellow trees
rooted in a white forest
now dancing like confetti
with the winds of tomorrow,
as today sleeps forever on,
dreaming of yesterday,
while she revels in her role
as goddess of the earth

Day Two (Compass)

North bring us here or
South sings us there or
East lures us home or
West leaves us alone,
this tiny needle of hand-made iron and Earth’s faint p / u / l / s / e
still, and always will, spins
for us

Day Three (Translation)

Maybe language is no longer
useful, and what we need most
to believe in is to breathe in
the winds, for us to sing and hum
some ancient hymns, together

Now, let us begin …

Day Four (Map)

It’s not so easy to see
how this map is tree,
and the tree, a map,
connecting you, to me –
roots touching underground
fiber filaments stretched
in darkness, with faith,
so that when I falter, you won’t,
and I won’t, when you falter, either,
for I depend upon you
and you, upon me:
This map is tree
not always easy to see

Day Five (Before)

Before the first letter I typed before this one
and then the one before that one, too,
and then another, typed chiseled scratched,
as well,

Before this invisible shape of poem of
gathering of lost and loose thoughts
tangled themselves together, like magnets
on the hill

Before even wonder, the string
of the balloon I’ve been holding appears,
and the poem appears, and remains,
motionless and still

Before there’s any indication what shape
my words might take in the moments
of just starting to write something,
I think I will  

Peace (in sharing),

CLMOOC: A Year of Hope Awaits Us All

CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaborative) has remained connected and strong over the years, and come together for any number of projects. As the terrible 2020 rolls to a close, the CLMOOC friends — led by Wendy — took on the idea of creating a calendar for 2021 that expressed HOPE.

After weeks of gathering art and music and poems, CLMOOC has put out the 2021 calendar and you can grab one for free from the CLMOOC site. Whether it’s something you keep handy, or look at when you need some light, or just a reminder of how people can come together to create something beautiful … it’s a gift from all of us to all of you.

See the CLMOOC 2021 Calendar of Hope (and download, too)

Peace (with heart, mind and spirit),

Book Review: You Look Like a Thing and I Love You (How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place)

It’s not easy to wrap the head around the role of algorithms in our social networks and our other online spaces but there they are — always on and always working and maybe causing trouble with unanticipated consequences. Just look at how algorithms push bias and racism, and lead us towards uncharted waters.

Janelle Shane, in her book You Look Like A Thing And I Love You does a fantastic job of explaining the ins and outs of algorithm design and workings, while keeping the mood light and entertaining with humorous stories and simple doodles — but never pure fluff. You’ll learn about mathematical modeling and algorithm coding and be reminded, again and again, how dumb algorithms really are.

It’s the human programmers that are the problem. That, and the ways that algorithms obscure what they are doing deep inside code, so that even as they are learning from past experiences and making adaptations to become more efficient in their job, it is not always clear how they are doing the work they are doing, once launched into their tasks. Shane dispels notions of algorithms taking over the world at any time in the near future, but she does warn that we need to have more openness and clarity about how algorithms work, so we can fix them when they go wrong.

Shane knows her topic well, and knows how to explain it to a non-programming audience. I found her book both entertaining and informative.

Peace (coded for now),

Slice of Life: Maybe You Were Un-Googled, Too

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

At first, I thought I was alone. Then I realized, nope, it’s not just me. It’s everyone.

Google had crashed down and with an hour until students, I sat there, at table, on our first day back into a Remote Learning status, wondering how I could reach kids if they didn’t have access to Gmail and Google Classroom. We still had Zoom, I figured, but kids follow the links and codes they keep in email and in Classroom.

Huh. I was stumped.

Luckily, we start our day a bit later in the mornings than other schools as we are an elementary building and so by the time we were getting near the start of the day, Google had been kicked back to life by some engineers somewhere. There were a few glitches (an activity I had planned using Google’s Jamboard got funky on us at one point and we had to abandon it).

I’ve written many times of our reliance (all of us) on single platforms, and how precarious that can be, and yesterday’s outage at Google showcased just how roped in we are into its many educational applications, and how school can come to a screeching halt if it falls apart (a number of high schools in our area went to a two-hour remote delay because of the Google problem).

I don’t have any solutions, and when we talked about it at our staff meeting, it seemed as if no one else did either, other than to shrug it off as another technology hurdle that Google seemed to fix quickly enough. Maybe so. But I’m not so sure, although I have been impressed that Zoom and Google and other educational platforms have remained mostly standing and stable with all of the push to online learning across the country and world.

Yesterday, though, it felt like a reminder of how delicate the tower is, and how one pin, pulled, might make the entire system collapse on us. And then what?

Peace (pushing the reboot button),

Video Game Design: More Adventures in Storyboarding

Light Thief Game Storyboard

I wrote last week about my sixth graders making a final push into Gamestar Mechanic before it closes up (due to Flash), and how two of my three classes were designing games based on environmental themes after reading the novel, Flush. My third class read The Lightning Thief, and so they are starting up a video game project of a Hero’s Quest, using Percy’s adventures as their story-frame concept.

As with the other two classes, I have been working on my own video game, too, to show them my process and to share my design thinking, staying about one day ahead of where they are. So, I will be sharing my storyboard for Rescue Quest game in class today, and then finishing my game tonight.

Peace (finding the adventure),

And We’re Back … to Remote

Remote Control, Television - TV-controller“Remote Control, Television – TV-controller” by espensorvik is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I started the year with my sixth graders, in remote setting, and then we were in a Hybrid Mode (half and half) since early October, but with numbers spiking in our region and in the small town where I teach (and in our school), we shift back to remote again next week. A message from the administration came through late last night — we will be in today, to gather things up and get ready for more isolation times.

As always, flexibility is the key to teaching this year, but the mindset for preparing for remote vs hybrid is like rusty gear that needs some oil, and the prospect of hours on the screen again is NOT something I am looking forward to.

Ah well. Staying safe and healthy is what’s first and foremost on my mind. We’ll make our way through.

Peace (humming it),

Book Review: How To Write One Song

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is always an interesting read, or listen. In his new book – How To Write One Song — Tweedy turns teacher and cheerleader, urging people to find ways to be creative. Or, as the title suggests, to try to write a song.

Tweedy is certainly a talented songwriter, as far as I am concerned, and I liked the folksy voice he inhabits here, in this book, as he tries to explain the magic of being creative — of losing yourself in the moment of making art out of ideas and inspiration — and then moves into his own routines and practices around writing songs.

I’ve read enough books about writing in general (and the teaching of writing, which is what I do with sixth graders) to know there is nothing revolutionary here in terms of his advice and suggestions, but I appreciated the way he pulls it together, and his explanations of how to stitch ideas to music (even if you only know an elementary level of any instrument) to recording demos (he advocates finding a simple record/play app) was helpful.

For me, a songwriter myself, the best parts of the book were when Tweedy tries to find a way to explain what happens when he loses himself in the making of a song, and how three hours or so can go by, and he comes up for air, invigorated and inspired by a few verses set to simple strumming of his guitar.

Tweedy reminds us that creating art is something unexplainable at times. But when it comes together, it can be something beautiful, in both its outward expression (how it looks, how it sounds, etc.) and the inwards satisfaction of the one who has created it.

I kept nodding my head at these parts, appreciative of his way of grappling with artistic expression in ways that just cannot be fully explained in words or writing. In that, is the magic, and why I (and maybe you) keep coming back to the guitar or piano or whatever to make music.

Nothing energizes me or enlightens me or gives me comfort like when I am writing a new song that has some kernel of truth and possible beauty to it (even if that beauty is only in the eyes and ears of the beholder).

Tweedy also put out a new album  – Love is King — that he references in the book and Rolling Stone Magazine has a good interview with Tweedy.

Peace (strumming it),