Storytelling as Learning Tool

On Monday I’ll be giving a brief talk to the Langley cohort of Simon Fraser University’s Learning & Teaching with Technology Field Program about Personal Narratives as a framework for learning. Not particularly adept at the nomenclature surrounding and separating ‘frameworks,’ lenses, methods, and mostly considering myself self-taught when it comes to this stuff, I have long-found stories to be a vital part of my teaching bag-of-tricks, and will be sharing some of what I’ve found along the way with the group. As an introduction, I’ve shared the following post on the class’ Posterous account, but it’s private; so I’ve shared it here in the hope that those of you out there – who have really done all the teaching in this supposed ‘self-teaching’ I’ve been doing – might leave us a comment, a story, a link to some reading, or pass this post along to someone who might. 

Why Sharing Our Stories Matters: Story by Bryan Jackson from unplugd on Vimeo.

As a means of collecting some of the supplemental material I would attach to a discussion of Personal Narratives and Storytelling in the classroom, I thought I would put together a post here that you may find useful in extending the conversation post-“Institute.”

As a general introduction, the above video is a story I told in a canoe in Algonquin Park last summer at the Unplug’d Education Summit. The purpose of the “un-conference” was to bring together educational stake-holders to synthesize our individual essays (each filling the blank in the title, Why _________ Matters) into a book organized by thematically grouped chapters. You can download the e-book here, and learn more about this year’s event at Unplugd.ca.

While the whole process revolved around a socially constructive framework, my essay centered around the idea that “Sharing our Stories” matters: that each of our individual truths construct a shared “truth” or objectivity; and that if we follow this through to its logical conclusion, the skills required to realize, share and synthesize our stories become essentials in creating a healthy culture (democratic, social, educational or otherwise).

From both a personal and pedagogical perspective, this aspect of joining the personal and the collective through stories holds great interest for me, especially as we consider that our digital tools provide ever-more opprortunities to share unique pieces from our individual corners of the world with tribes and swarms and communities beyond our own local geography. Indeed:

…our understanding of authorship is, at the present time, caught between two regimes: one a system of knowledge production informed by Enlightenment-era notions of the self, the other is a world of “technologies that lend themselves to the distributed, the collective, the process-oriented, the anonymous, the remix.” As we step into the future increasingly governed by the latter, we move, in some ways, back to an earlier era: a move away from a culture of isolated reading — the individual reader, alone with a book or a screen — towards a more communal engagement, the coffee-house or fireside model of public reading and debate in which literary culture historically originated. Long before print culture, storytelling was not a solitary experience but a group event. Houman Barekat on Planned Obsolescence 


In its more classical sense, education concerned itself almost exclusively with Aesthetics, or the “broader sense” that Wikipedia describes as “critical reflection on art, culture and nature. Educators today would do well to be aware of an emerging New Aesthetic (which is described here in a specific fashion that need not be completely digested or accepted to be relevent to our discussion).

Simply put, the New Aesthetic concerns itself with how the digital world and the real world are starting to overlap and intermingle in interesting, routine and unexpected ways.  As search engines, online ‘bots’, spam generation engines, online mapping tools, google street view, machine vision and sensing technologies proliferate, our everyday life in the western technologically advanced world is starting to bristle with new types of augmentation and hybridity. Interview with Bruce Sterling about the New Aesthetic


As we move into next week, I hope we can play around with some of these emerging tools to begin to tell our own stories and begin to create possibilities for storytelling (digital or otherwise) as a means of individual and collective learning in your classrooms.

The main point I like to stress in talking about storytelling in our emerging media/digital landscape is that despite our new modes of communication, the act of telling our individual and communal stories is fundamental to the creation and maintenance of our culture and in this way is at the center of what education strives to achieve.

As one of my teaching idols told me on the day he retired, “Any class you teach is just another opportunity for kids to practice forming communities,” a sentiment I find myself agreeing with more the longer I teach, and a process in which I find stories increasingly fundamental.

 

Early Demos from My New Fake Band

In a few different broadcasts over the past year, I’ve messed around with some of the various filters and effects available with the free version of Nicecast and found its dials and visual interface both a lot of fun and helpful in the makeshift studios I’ve set up in my classrooms and house.

With a new one-man-band on the horizon, an extension of a #ds106 Visual Assignment, I turned to Nicecast and recorded a live session that yielded the following tracks. Ladies and gentlemen of Camp Magic Macguffin, I give you Dactyloceras lucina!

Not generally in my “wheelhouse of sound,” I was going after a certain, heavy, atmospheric texture that seemed appropriate for my randomly generated band name and album cover. “Goth soul,” Alan Levine calls it, which GNA Garcia clarifies as “rhythmic Emo-noise,” which is what I think I managed to create.

Dactyloceras lucina – Untitled Jam 1 by Bryanjack The stupidity that keeps us from knowing any better by Bryanjack

Family Legend

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Campire Stories

A little twist on the Family Legend assignment from the Daily Create let me bring this neighbourhood legend to the Camp Magic Macguffin campfire. 

They had come from Burnaby, had the MacDonalds that came to reside on Garcia Court, and beyond the neighbouring suburb were from points across the breadth of Canada and back into Europe. Both branches of the family we knew reached the old countries of England and Scotland eventually, but had each traced vastly different routes across Canada to the coast.

Mr. MacDonald’s family had splintered out of a line of Joneses in Ontario and settled in southeastern British Columbia near the American border where towering mountains are ringed by lingering smog of a half-century’s smeltering. Mr. MacDonald’s father had worked in that smelter, and he and three siblings were raised in a narrow two-story house near their elementary school. The family lived above the gouge of the Columbia River and knew well the hoards of river moths that owned the dusks and dawns of summer with a singular and biblical tenacity.

It has struck me each time I’ve heard it told that Mr. MacDonald never passes over the subject of his hometown in conversation without mentioning these moths. His eyes sharpen and he pointedly engages each person within eye and earshot in his narration; there is no mistaking the onus he places on the regular emergence of the hovering pests.

“You have to drive with your windshield wipers on,” I have seen him marvel. “And the town hides itself indoors, sure to seal every window and door – even though you could at best keep only ninety percent of them out!”

Listeners cringe at this image, and Mr. MacDonald relishes their discomfort. “Oh yeah!” He often repeats important details for effect, stalling and indulging brief cul de sacs and dead ends before continuing with the story. These productions never seemed scripted until I began to hear these various narratives told and retold by Mr. MacDonald, and then also by others on the street, word for word.

This particular story of the onslaught of minuscule beasts wobbling as they rise from the Columbia River Valley inevitably meanders to the recounting of the childhood of Mr. MacDonald’s youngest brother, David. (No one fails to mention, in this telling, that Brandon bore such a resemblance to his father’s brother that once Brandon had reached the age of fourteen, they were christened “DavidBrandon” for the duration of several family gatherings that spanned almost a decade.)

It is told that as a child David never harboured the town’s apprehension for the river moths, and would await their nightly coming tide at the crest of the bluffs above the river. Standing bare-chested toward the setting sun, he would watch the air thicken above the flat pools on the Columbia and hear the million hatchlings popping onto air. The hum would drive in a cloud toward him on the hill and his heart reportedly raced as the million moths reached and engulfed him before sweeping over the bluffs like a humming wave. They would fly through his hair and glue their wings to the sweat of his arms and legs, and he would let the ones that could land and begin to crawl, trekking his skin and covering him from head to toe. Only once the night’s flight had subsided would he walk the steep grade of the hillside and descend slowly into the freezing depths of the river. The moths that resisted at the surface of the water would come unstuck once submerged, and David would rise from the water clean, washed with the first boilings of the next night’s hatch.

I heard this story for the first time at a cul de sac barbeque at the end of my driveway. Mr. MacDonald had put his silver beer down to do the telling, and as many as fifteen of us looked on as he reached the dramatic finish, painting his brother as a shining martyr of these moths. Perceiving that I was perhaps the only one present who had yet to hear this tale, he nodded to me for what I assumed was my appraisal of the tale.

I said meekly, “Didn’t anyone ever go out there with him?”

Mr. MacDonald laughed and said, “DavidBrandon always wanted to know the same thing.”

Arthur C. Clarke Blackout Poetry

Though it’s not a newspaper (as the original #Ds106 assignment prescribes), I had the idea this afternoon while my teaching parnter was teaching the Arthur C. Clarke short story, “I forget thee, Earth” to give the front page of our handout the blackout poetry treatment.

The text of the new work, Art Clark’s “I forget Earth…” is below, should anyone want to give the piece a Tom Woodward “snowball” and turn the text into something else: song, dialogue, a rock opera…

Ten years old, his father
took up Administration and
Power, the uppermost and
swiftly growing Farmlands.

Great, slender plants
creeping towards the sun,
Down the domes to meet
the smell of life.
Everywhere,
inexpressive in his heart

no longer.

Breathing dry cool air,
residential levels, purged
of smells but ozone.

Here, little father, onwards.

Reach to the observatory.
Never visit, but sense rising
excitement.

One goal: life, outside, surface wide,
and pressurized. Servicing scout car[‘s]
circular door.
Tense expectancy, settled down in
cramped cabin.


Poetry is Nothing

A few weeks ago I saw a post by my “Internet-twin” Jabiz Raisdana that included a few photos and a poem beginning, Poetry is Nothing…

Poetry is nothing… – Based on a poem by Jabiz Raisdana by Bryanjack

As I’ve had inspiration to do a few times before, I took Jabiz’ lines and picked up my guitar, began strumming a few chords, and almost immediately had the thread of a melody line to fit with the first stanza. Within a half hour, I had recorded a demo of the song, and sent it back to Jabiz.

This week, the poem continues to lengthen its tail, as I’ve introduced it to my guitar class.

Shared Solitudes

Looking upTonight you reigned in triumph, and I hope that you each savour what this experience has revealed of the possibility you hold within yourselves. You will know success in this life for what tonight has taught you about the personal nature of success, the irrationality of fear and the necessity of friendship. Do not despair that you only get to experience the tonight’s of life but once apiece. They are only tests to give you strength for the examinations you will be soon be free to embark upon under your own steam. We owe it to the present moment, and to our present selves, to live as the sum of our experiences, and with tonight you mark certainly that you possess the raw material to write your own life’s work of eminence. I stand in awe at your strength and determination to courageously explore, discover and express your unique voices in this world.

A Letter to my Students, on a Night they were Alive

I talked the other night, at the conclusion of this year’s Night of the Notables, about our relationship with the dark. I alluded to our recent practice of Night Solos, and how they put us in touch with an elemental piece of ourselves that comes with an immersion in a solitary unknown. It seemed a natural connection to make after watching the same group of TALONS become transformed on a stage they shared in fluid harmony that transported and transfixed an audience made of the class’ extended family community.

Deep seatsParents, friends, alumni, administrators and school board trustees, a scattering of internet radio listeners from across the continent, and graduates of a program that has roots in our district back to the mid 1970s – all gathered to indulge and rally around spectacle that this year’s cohort inevitably finds to represent their admiration and investigation of a kindred spirit, someone who “left a ding in the universe.”

In many ways, this has always been the story of Night of the Notables. But this year has seen the TALONS program run with two full grade nine/ten cohorts totaling 56 learners. In the seven years since I attended the first incarnation of the district gifted program’s as a new teacher who gave one of my future colleagues my TOC card, we’ve all come a long way through this week, where the gallery walk and “cocktail” hour was barely enough time to scratch the surface of each of the TALONS interactive and illuminating learning centers, and the grade tens were briskly off to the theater for the presentation of speeches.

Deadmau5A traditional rite of passage for the grade tens, this year saw the formally individual podium speeches transformed into two half-hour series of interwoven monologues, each presented in the characters of their eminent people.

The unknown isn’t as mysterious as we might think,” I borrowed from Stephanie‘s address as astronaut Roberta Bondar before continuing on about sitting alone in the dark.

“If we’re all sitting in the dark alone, we can explore and discover that unknown – which is all that any real learning is – just like we can give speeches, and create something new and magical and precious and ours, if we are supported by each other, all sitting in our own dark.”

Clint's Acceptance SpeechThe people on stage the other night were able to do it because everyone in the audience was up there with them, whether they were sitting in the dark as peers, or mentors, alumni, parents, and whether they did their sitting five years ago, or will years from now.

Thank you for being here to share this evening with us.

“That which you create,” Jonathan Toews wrote in his Notable address in 2010, speaking as IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, “Is yours to rejoice in.”

Indeed."That which you create is yours to rejoice in."Check out the TALONS Flickr set of Night of the Notables here.

TALONS Class Blogging 2011 – 2012

Linked from the TALONS Blogging page on this site.

TALONS (PM) 2011-2012 As a personal professional development and learning tool, I began this blog during the spring of 2009 as a means of connecting to the web and the world in the most personalized manner possible. After experimenting with Twitter, Delicious, and an English Department blog at work, having my own blog seemed the natural course of things.

Two years ago I brought the TALONS class into the fray. A two-year program for gifted high school learners in our district, our class tackles English, Socials, Science, Math, Leadership and Planning curricula, augmented with experiential service learning projects, cultural events, and outdoor adventures in the local school community, and beyond..

At the best of times, it can be trying (for students, but also the program’s two teachers) to stay on top of the class’ varied passions, interests and Ministry mandated topics. But with blogs, I began to think as our online communication took shape over the summer and ensuing school year, each student (and again, teachers) presented, recorded, and reflected upon their individual learning, in addition to supporting one another in a fluid and ongoing narrative built around the topics of wide-reaching curiosity, as well as the course material.

TALONS teachers have long held as their goal to dissolve the lines between our diverse subjects as often as possible – supporting essay theses with biological arguments, using math analogies during the study of history, and many other as-yet-undiscovered connections – and are continually astounded by the depth and individuality in the class’ blogging.

For two years this blog served a living record, and synthesizer of TALONS student blogging, but has since seen these responsibilities delegated to the  class blog, Defying Normality, its Flickr account, Youtube Channel and subject-based wikispaces:

Some of the memorable learning experiences shared on this blog during the 2009 – 2010 school years are:

The RSS Feed to follow this year’s TALONS Learners’ blogs can be viewed, and subscribed to here, as can the class’ comment feed. Our individual bloggers this year are:

TALONS Facilitators

Grade Tens

Grade Nines

Canadian Conversations

Yup.

Yup.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have had a number of conversations with Unplugd participants Tom Fullerton, Andy Forgrave and Stephen Hurley, as well as #ds106radio folks like @drgarcia and @easegill about the nature of the Canadian experience or identity. Spurred on by the inspiration of attending the first “uniquely Canadian educational summit,” the discussion of just what it means to live in Canada, how the landscape influences our national character, and how the immensity of our country factors into the dreaming and expression of its artists, thinkers, and politicians, has continued to fill my thinking. In advance of our author panel coming up this Thursday evening, I thought I would attempt to synthesize some of this thinking and delve into some of my own piece of the Canadian narrative.

Let me debunk an American myth: I take my life in my hands.

Gord Downie

Canada is a big place. And the creation of that mythological Canadian character, that supreme individual in whom resides the imagination of the country is as immense as the space between our scattered cities.

Margaret Atwood has characterized the chief concern of Canadian literature as Survival, and the breadth of citizens living out this central theme in our national life has ranged from the colonists of Susanna Moodie, to artists such as Tom Thompson, and athletes like Sidney Crosby.

Terry Fox.

Gordon Downie.

Iceage Leftover

Erratic Behaviour

These are people with a vision expansive enough to see the whole country, and channel the exaltation of a people bound to one another and their local communities by distance, weather, mountains, plains, and the scattered tribes of NHL franchises, hometown heroes, and brief flirtations with international notoriety. But for the fringes of ‘civilization’ freckled across the 49th parallel, the True North of long nights and longer winters, of hockey played on backyard ponds, and of an intimate awareness of our cohabitation with a visceral wilderness are the everyday experience in the great wide open that separates us all, in our cities or outside of them. And it is against this sparsely populated landscape that the characters and authors of our national narratives lived and recorded their lives in monuments of necessity and invention, art and social artifact.

There exist in great abundance across the country these ‘soul homes,’ where in the unmolested forests from Haida Gwaii or Gros Morne we can touch, and see, and breathe the dawn of not only our Canadian story, but modern human society, and the birthmarks of the very Earth itself. To experience a sunrise against a mountainside bearing the scars of the most ‘recent’ ice age (10,000+ years ago), or swim in a lake scoured into the surface of a two billion year old rock, is to immerse oneself in the immensity of the Canadian experience and imagination. We are greeted daily with the reality that the Edge – of the province, country, ocean or time itself – (if there even is an edge) is well beyond our ability to conceive of it. Oceans rise and fall. Mountains collide, erupt, and crumble. The glaciers come with regularity, and over time our mammalian cousins evolve to live in the sea, then upon land, only to return eventually to the oceans. Life in Canada, from cedar trees, to orca whales and Prime Ministers, is waged against the unavoidable landscape of immeasurable time.

August 2004

Echoes in a Timeless Battle

And despite the fact that North America’s First Peoples had managed in this tidal cycle of ice and evolution to live productively – if not in many cases quite comfortably – from coast to coast and north of Hudson’s Bay across the arctic barrens, the European settlers who would write the initial passages in our young nation had left a native landscape that had been subdued by the hands of men and machines for centuries. From landed nobility to indentured servants, Canada’s first settlers had little reason to expect that land, even in the ‘untamed’ New World, would do anything but surrender to the development of crops and the sweep of human progress 1

It is into this terse relationship with the land that Susanna Moodie, and later Tom Thompson, wandered out into their own North Woods and created, in paint and prose, artifact and expression of the energy and life force of the very land itself. And while many did, and many still do cling to the cities 2, there have always been Alexander MacKenzies, and Emily Carrs, and Terry Foxes, individuals who have pursued in themselves a relationship – a conflict, really: survival, waged against the country’s wilderness, and the limits of understanding our country’s character.

In line with the focus of my #Unplugd11 essay and anecdote, I continue to write the story of our country’s/countries’ unfolding narrative with these individual thoughts, and the perspectives of my friends and colleagues. I am able to continue forward from the summit replenished and inspired by time spent talking, telling stories, singing songs, and forging meaning in the ways people of this place have for millennium: beside lakes and campfires, in canoes, and surrounded by residents of a landscape that has shaped each of us.

  1. Of course, they may have also been terrified, scared witless as you or I would be setting out to colonize Mars. But I like to imagine proper French and English gentlefolk encountering the north woods of Ontario with formal-wear and tea sets.
  2. Whose character and value I don’t begrudge or discount, but aren’t the aspect of the Canadian experience I’m after here.

Why Doodling Matters

Why Doodling Matters

Why Doodling Matters by Giulia Forsythe

One of the extra-special pieces of the Unplugd experience was not only being able to spend some time around an actual campfire with #Ds106Radio fire-mate Giulia Forsythe, but being able to collaborate with her in preparing the second chapter of the summit publication, “Why _______ Matters: Voices and Choices.” In addition to being tapped to collect the various chapters’ themes and stories in visual representations and sketches, Giulia’s own essay, “Why Doodling Matters,” took the shape of a visual essay that continued to develop over the course of an afternoon on the couch in the Edge’s Points North cabin (though, to be fair, I disappeared before Giulia delivered a lengthier treatise on the wonders of iPad file storage and transfer).

Giulia’s essay begins at Temple Grandin‘s notion – highlighted in an excellent TED Talk – of the world needing All kinds of Minds, and makes a powerful, visual argument for the necessity of thinking in doodles:

As Temple Grandin says, “the world needs all kinds of minds.” and some of those minds “think in pictures”. Doodling is a form of external thought that allows you to visualize the connections you are making while thinking. In the conscious mind, doodling can assist concentration and focus but even in the unconscious mind, while doodling and day dreaming connections are made. As Steven Johnson says, the “mind’s primordial soup” can lead to “serendipitous collisions of creative insight”. Doodling has allowed connections to be made between people and ideas, the magical space between. These aspects can lead to better problem solving. By sharing my thinking through visual means, my most important connections have been to people, by way of sharing my perceptions of their ideas, presentations and words back to them.

You can download Giulia and the rest of the Voices and Choices author group’s contribution to the Unplugd publication, as well as Giulia’s doodles that accompany the other chapters as they are published over the next month. Our group will also be participating in an author panel on #ds106radio this Thursday evening (6pm PST / 9pm EST), and discussing our individual threads in the chapter’s conversation. In addition to Giulia and myself, they are:

Why Choice Matters: A Story Shared by Kathy Cassidy from unplugd on Vimeo.

  • Kim Gill – “Why the Tool Matters”

Why The Tools Matter: A Story Shared by Kim Gill from unplugd on Vimeo.

  • Rodd Lucier – “Why Irresistible Challenges Matter”

Why Irresistible Challenges Matter: A Story Shared by Rodd Lucier from unplugd on Vimeo.

Why Perspective Matters: A Story Shared by Andy McKiel from unplugd on Vimeo.

#DS106Radio, 4Life

It will come as no surprise to those that know me that I have been swallowed whole by the vortex of not only Jim Groom‘s Digital Storytelling 106 course, but its off-shoot creation, #DS106radio:

…a free form live streaming station that has been setup for this course, and it is being used as a platform to broadcast the work being created in the class, and a space for live broadcasts as well as for programming shows. The whole point of this experiment is to encourage any and all members of the course (as well as beyond it) to produce something real for anyone who wants to tune in. It’s also provides a global, 24 hour/7 day-a-week happening for the creations of the course and much, much more. And more than anything, ds106 radio is place where anyone can submit their work and help program the course radio station in order to commune and share around works and ideas while at the same time making the web safe for democracy.
Screen shot 2011-06-10 at 12.59.31 PM

Thinking out loud is dangerous business

Over the past many months, this has created the venue for Talons lessons and projects that have made use of diverse online media and communications in storytelling and culture-creation, given our music department an audience for tour updates and recordings, and introduced me to a tribe of people I have seemingly been searching for the whole time I have been exploring online education and communication (and dare I say a lot longer). It is profound to have made such intimate connections through the avenue of shared sound that, meeting one another for the first time (when the disparate crew who make up the broadcasting core assembled in Vancouver for the recent Northern Voice conference), many of us walked into a room dressed nearly identically, and set about spending a weekend jamming out to mutually loved songs for hours on end without an awkward moment.

"I feel immediately lucky to be bearing witness to this…"

With the new inspiration of having faces, and visceral memories, to put to names and Twitter-handles, I set about getting my own devices set to broadcast live on #Ds106radio. After being initially stymied by Ladiocast (despite Tim Owen’s idiot-proof tutorial), I downloaded the Papaya Broadcaster for my iPhone, and made my first forays into the live-broadcasting arena: performing acoustic road trip songs for Mikhail Gershovich‘s family while they drove through California, watching Kevin Bieksa finish off the San Jose Sharks in this year’s Western Conference Finals with friends all over the continent, and providing radio-listeners with impromptu jams and musical interludes from the choir and band rooms at Gleneagle. This cover of Bob Dylan’s “I shall be released” was broadcast live and captured by Scott Lo, in Tokyo, Japan:

I shall be released (Bob Dylan cover) – #DS106 Lunchtime Jam Session 05.27.11

Eventually I graduated to using Nicecast to broadcast from my laptop, and with the help of Talons peer-tutor and recent #ds106radio convert Olga, set about the task of sharing our Music Department’s Spring Concert live on the radio.

The Future is Now.

The Future is Now.

And while it might have only actually landed at points across North America, the audience for last night’s show was made up of the 450 students, parents and teachers that packed into our theater, and these fine folks:

Both coasts!

Both coasts!

You can listen to the concert in its (near) entirety, below (use the comments in the blue bar to navigate between sets and interviews):

Gleneagle Year End Concert /LIVE #ds106radio by grantpotter