Slice of Life: Chapter 27

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Today’s Slice of Life is a convergence of communities.

I write this as part of the ongoing Slice of Life project being guided by Two Writing Teachers but I also want to invite anyone and everyone to contribute to this week’s Day in a Sentence feature. After first settling in Australia, and then traveling off to Israel, the Day in a Sentence is back home here.

In some ways, the Day in a Sentence is a nice companion to the Slice of Life and I hope there continues to be some cross-over between the two writing communities that I am part of in this Internet world. The Slice of Life, which is nearing its end, is a collection of bloggers who are reflecting on their days through their posts over the course of a month. The Day in a Sentence is a weekly entry into reflection and sharing through a single sentence or writing prompt. (see some of the archives)

Day in Sentence Icon

If you are a regular Day in a Sentence contributer, I invite you to head over to Two Writing Teachers and follow some of the Slice of Life threads. If you are a Slice of Life friend, I warmly invite you to contribute some words to our Day in a Sentence feature.

Here is how Day in a Sentence works:

  • You think about a day of the week or your entire week
  • You boil it down into a single sentence (no special prompts this week)
  • You post your sentence here by using the comment link on this post
  • I collect all of the sentences, collate them and publish them on Sunday
  • Feel free to hyperlink to podcasts, or photos, or other files, if you want
  • That’s it!

Here is my sentence for the week:

I’m realizing that I need to spend less time on the keyboard and more time in real life, and so, a little withdrawal is necessary.

Peace (in community),

Slice of Life, Chapter 26

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

There was a bit of a silent revolt in my classroom yesterday.
It was the second day of our standardized testing — three sessions of reading comprehension known as MCAS — and they were met in the morning with a schedule for the day that included the testing and then a session of Math Lab, which is an additional math class they get twice a week instead of recess. They could not believe that we would be doing Math Lab after all that testing. One of the other teachers had hinted that perhaps we might skip Math Lab and they latched onto this like crazy glue.
First, they tried to bargain with me.
Then, they started to plead with me.
Finally, they got together and began to write.
They developed a petition, had everyone in the class sign it and then presented it to me in the most dramatic reading imaginable.
This is what they wrote:

“We, the people, signing this today want to state that we were promised recess but instead, we got Math Lab. Just think of us, sitting there all morning, taking MCAS. And you are just going to break our little hearts and tell us that we can’t expend our energy outdoors, in a recreational way?
(the class)”

I told them that I would take their petition under advisement and so it sat on my desk during the four hours of testing.
During our morning meeting later in the day, I then announced that, due to the persuasive nature of the petition, there would be no Math Lab today and instead, we would have extra recess time. A cheer went up.
What I didn’t tell them was that this had been the plan all along and that I had only written Math Lab up on the board so that I could surprise them later in the day.

Peace (in action),

Slice of Life, Chapter 25

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

We’re starting to see the history of our city through the diamonds of baseball. And, like most things, it begins with a book.

Last weekend, the local Little League held a Baseball Equipment sale. Families donate things that don’t fit anymore and then they come to find things that do fit. It’s a nice reciprocal trade agreement that benefits the kids. But there are also usually a bunch of odds and ends that I always find fascinating. I picked up a couple of baseball books that I know the boys are loving. As I was perusing the book table, one book in particular caught my eye.

It is called The Last Hurrah: Baseball in Northampton and in it, writers and historians Brian Turner and John Bowman explore the world of the early days of baseball in our city, from the various semi-pro leagues that sprouted up around town in the early days to the legends of the day that still spark the imagination.

The book was developed as part of a series at the local historical society. Inside, there is a wealth of photographs of baseball teams and baseball diamonds, and all sorts of characters who made their way through the area in the days before baseball took hold as America’s Pasttime.

One interesting fact: Northampton is the oldest place on record to indicate that one of the teams was integrated with black players. The writers used historical evidence to place a black player on the Northampton Meadowlarks in 1878 (his name was Luther Askins). This is not too surprising if you know that Sojourner Truth lived here and was a local leader. Frederick Douglas was also a regular visitor. Still, this is the kind of fact that makes me proud to be here.

My son was also interested in Stu Miller, a local boy who went to pitch in the Major Leagues. And then there was also the story of Buck Weaver, who played in Northampton before going off to the Chicago White Sox and then being implicated, along with others, of throwing the 1919 World Series as part of the infamous Black Sox.

It’s pretty fascinating stuff, and it made it all worthwhile when the older son, after digging into the book for quite some time, announced: “I guess this place isn’t so boring after all.”

History is all around us. You just have to know where to look.

Peace (in the ballfields of yore),

Slice of Life, Chapter 24

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Our family’s church is raising the roof. Literally. Figuratively. Musically.

Let me back up a bit. Our church — The First Churches of Northampton — is an historical site in our downtown. Some version of the church has been a centerpiece of the city for almost 350 years and the congregation was the home to religious firebrand Jonathan Edwards. The building has burned down a few times, yet the community has remained. The church plays host to a variety of social service agencies and its rooms are often used for musical and artistic acts through the years. It is an integral part of this place.

Last year, however, the roof on the church began crumbling in the sanctuary, and engineers started to notice structural damage to parts of the building. The sanctuary was quickly closed and the entire massive pipe organ was dismantled and put into storage (what an operation that must have been). The cost for repairs? $2 million. Yes, that is two million dollars, much more than the church community can afford on its own.

So, some folks are organizing a huge music concert in early April called Raise the Roof at the nearby Calvin Theater in hopes of raising awareness and earning some money for the project. I had tried to get my band involved but it was too late. My children, however, will grace the stage of the Calvin as part of their children’s choir. (lucky ducks).

My own connection to this church is not quite as strong as the rest of my family. I am not religious, by nature, although I am spiritual.  I fall a bit on the agnostic side of the world (hoping I don’t fall off the edge.) This church is such a wonderful community of caring people and the sermons are always so interesting and insightful such that I always feel at home there.

The music director has allowed me to compose and then produce choral pieces for the choir and pipe organ. I have played my saxophone with the choir, too, on more times than I can remember. The pastor organizes family football games in the winter that are loads of fun. It is a given, and it is accepted, that some kids may cry during the service, and that is just fine for everyone. It is a sign of a healthy congregation, the pastor reminds us. The church even developed an environmental covenant to advocate for respect and responsibility for Earth. These are all things that I adore and love about our church.

Yesterday morning, as I sat through the Easter service, I reminded myself to appreciate this warm and loving community and to support its campaign to “Raise the Roof” and get the sanctuary back up and running. My appreciation of the congregation and its people constitute my slice of life today.

Peace (in spiritual paths),

XO Explained: from students


Here are two very neat animations developed by students to explain two features of the XO Laptop. These come from the Nortel Learn-It program and the videos were created by high school students.

First, check out how the mesh network functions:

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And now, check out how the Daisy Chain Relay (connecting to other XO users) works:

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So how did they do it? Lucky for us, reflection is part of this program and they created a video to explain how they made the animations using their own ideas and flash:

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Peace (in student-driven work),

Slice of Life, Chapter 23

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

“Daddy, when is Bella coming home?”

The query comes from the back seat. We are on our way back from the store. Today, I kept the music off. He fills the gap with conversation, just as I had hoped. My afternoon had been spent in meeting trying to rejigger our class schedules next year to make more time for math while not losing too much of our other content areas. My brain was too full of school stuff. I needed family time.

“She’s not coming home, honey.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s in heaven.”

Bella was our family dog, and we had to put her down in December. Every now and then, the little one still wonders about why Bella isn’t meeting us at the back door with wagging tail or greeting him in the mornings at the bottom of the stairs. Or barking her head off at every animal or human walking near our house. We even miss (kind of) the tuffs of white fur scattered around the house. (I still use her pic as my avatar)

“Dog heaven?”

“Yes. Dog heaven.”


“What does she do there?”

“She plays. She runs. She watches over us.”

“In Dog Heaven?”


“Hey — that’s just like the book!”

When Bella was dying, I brought home a book called Dog Heaven as a way to explain where our dog was going and why we could celebrate her spirit in our lives even after she was gone. The older boys got it, but for the youngest one, it was and is too abstract. Thus, the questions — the same questions — emerge from time to time as his mind tries to grapple with loss. Every time he counts out our family or names each of us, Bella is right there in the mix.

I ask, “Do you miss Bella?”

“Yes. But she’s in Dog Heaven. Right?”


“Is she happy?”

“Yes. She is happy now.”

“She’s not sick?”

“No. She’s not sick anymore. She’s happy. But we can still miss her. I miss her.”


“I’m hungry. I need a snack.”

A few hours later, in an eerily similar conversation with my middle son, he presented me with a craft that he had made at an after-school program in which someone from a local animal shelter teaches children about caring for animals.

“I made this,” he said, showing me a cute little cat craft. It had the name of our elderly cat — Coltrane, for John Coltrane, the legendary saxophonist — painted on the front.

“So, when Coltrane goes to heaven, we can remember him,” he added.

My kids amaze me every day.

Peace (in understanding and remembering),

Just One More Book: My Review, part 3


I got a podcast book review published over at Just One More Book again (this is number three!) and you can do it, too. They make it so easy for anyone who loves books to give your own insights. They even have a phone number you can call and leave your review as a message. Does it get any easier than that? (no)

I reviewed Mole Music by David McPhail this time.

Take a listen

My previous reviews were:

Peace (in books),

Supporting Al and the MiniLegends


I’m still thinking about Al and his MiniLegends and the shut-down of their blogging project. Now, Steve Hargadon has interviewed Al Upton via his Classroom 2.0 podcasting series, and it allows us a chance to hear Al give voice to his project in person.

Just now, I notice there are 207 comments on Al’s blog showing support and offering ideas for Al and others who are using blogging in education.

Thanks Steve! (And check out all the other cool podcasts and projects that Steve has been undertaking)

Take a listen to Steve’s interview with Al.

Peace (in support),


Slice of Life, Chapter 22

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

I’m slicing into the local news today, focusing in some smaller stories that seem to have some bigger reverberations in the world. I suppose we could all do this kind of slicing and allow the local to become an inroad into the global. Such is the power of the Slice of Life concept, right?

So here goes:

Slice One: Our city may be closing one of our elementary schools. I don’t teach in the small city where I live but my kids go to school here, and so my wife and I are following these developments quite closely. I was a newspaper reporter here in this place the last time an elementary/neighborhood school was shuttered and it was not pretty. The reason for all the talk by the mayor and School Committee about ending the life of one of the four elementary schools is, simply, money. The school budget is about $800,000 out of whack for next year. We have consistently been on the wrong end of the state’s calculations under a School Reform bill from about 10 years ago because we were already supporting our education system to a fair degree. Those are the districts that got punished under School Reform. The poor districts got an infusion of money. The rich ones didn’t care. The rest of the middle has been mostly left to fend for itslef, and that has meant cuts every year since I can remember. Teachers are laid off, left and right. The arts program is reduced to rubble. Textbooks are out of date. (you probably know this story well)

I don’t think the school where our sons go is on the list for getting closed but larger class sizes, more disruption and other intangibles are certainly part of any package for an infusion of an entire elementary school across the district. There is a lot of distress in the air.

Slice Two: At a neighboring town, the middle school administration has decided to clamp down on the student newspaper. The middle school journalists were concerned that students were having no voice for change in their school. They developed a survey. They administered the survey. They collated the data and created charts. They were about to publish the results (which show that almost 80 percent of the kids at the school feel left out of all decision-making) when the principal yanked the newspaper from their hands. The administration apparently told the students that the wording of the survey and they way they gathered data was faulty and unethical. The ACLU has stepped in to support the students. It is a bit ironic that the students create this document to show how voice-less they are and then they are stripped of their voice. An update in the newspaper says that administrators were really most concerned about the quality of students writing in the article. Can’t you see them with their big red correction pens, standing over the news and chopping out word after word? Perhaps that is unfair to stereotype the administrators, but when it comes to freedom of the press and student expression, I have some pretty strong feelings.

Slice Three: Finally, on a positive note, a local band is making it big! And they ain’t young pups either. (And, alas, it is not my band). The Young @ Heart Chorus is a group of elderly residents of our city — led by their energetic and young music director — who has toured the world and they now have a documentary movie that has been made about them. The movie is being released this week by Fox Searchlight Films (which is apparently a wonderful movie, according to David Ansen of Newsweek, who wrote about the flick this week and gave it kudos for entertainment and emotion). The Young @ Heart Chorus is not your traditional elderly chorus singing traditional. They choose hard, modern rock songs (they’ve covered Sonic Youth and ColdPlay) and make them something different with their life experiences. It is so heartening to see the possibilities of music transforming people — both the performers and the audience. They also have a wicked sense of humor, as evident by this cover of The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

See video here:

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Peace (in rockin’ out the years),

Space: the new (literary) frontier

George Mayo, who helped pull together the Many Voices for Darfur project, is at it again — this time, he has launched an online magazine to showcase student writing. It is called Space and it is an offshoot of the YouthTwitter Project that he and others (including friend Paul Allison) have begun as a way to connect students together.

George is using Google Docs as a main platform for the online publication and students submit pieces of writing through YouthTwitter. I really wanted some of my students to get some “space” and so we joined YouthTwitter as a classroom account (for now) and submitted six short stories based on the Chris Van Allsburg book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (which I wrote about before and even did a podcast book review). I used Google Page Creator to put the stories on their own webpages and then shared the web addresses via YouthTwitter.

One day, I read a concrete poem that George submitted (about concrete poems, appropriately enougy), so I figured I would submit some writing myself — a concrete poem in the shape of a saxophone that I created a few years ago and share with my students every year.

Today is the first publication date of Space and it is a nice mix of student work. I would love to have my students move more into hyperlinked poetry (next month, I hope!) and multimedia creations (I have some burdening moviemakers in class). I think the digital platform holds some interesting opportunities for students to compose and publish for a real audience (always a good thing).

Space might even inspire me to venture into hyperlinked poetry myself, something I have considered but never pursued. Thanks, George, for the inspiration.

Peace (in publication),