A character, even if it is based off of oneself, is not real. His or her experiences don’t have to follow the way of the rules of the world. The character is given a blank page every five hundred or so words, a new chance to create his or herself, a new chance at being somebody, a new chance at redemption, a new chance at life. So embrace your inner character. After all, everyday is a new page that we should not be afraid to write.
My sister saw this poem scrawled on a wall in Saskatoon in the summer of 2010, and shared it with us when she got back. I copied it down and carried it around in a journal for a few months before turning it into this song:
Sometimes, it can feel as though the objective of a lesson – so often a shared synthesis of ideas that comes from everyone pulling in the same direction, as we say in Talons – is elusive to even the instructor, or facilitator, whose job it is to bring about and make meaning – data – for the concerned parties (learner, teacher, parent), until each group’s unique questions can be asked, and looking ahead at the next few days and a wrapping up of the unit on Canadian rebellion, I struggled to answer a few of the ‘regular’ questions:
How might this unit / project connect to the group’s collective and individual self?
In this case, I was trying to make the study of history connect with the class’ consistent call to actualize ourselves in the learning environment, and personal lives as students and citizens, and in some small way perhaps echoing Jim Groom’s call to:
...make open education in praxis fun, accessible, and basically rock!! DS106 is the beginning of this movement, and it isn’t about me, just look around ds106. I mean people all over the world are doing Colleen‘s Playlist Poetry assignment, she is shaping this class not only by her willingness to create and participate, but by our ability to connect that urge with many, many others who share her desire. That is the beginning of a new dynamic that is not simply transactional. The idea of creative teaching hopefully re-imagines that locus—and I need to spend some more time framing this out more because I know it’s right. I feel it deeply in my heart of heart’s, and as Gardner notes in the discussion above, it is time to reinvest our hearts in the process of teaching and learning—I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment and I want to make it so.
I wanted the Talons to take their reading and evolving understanding of our national, and current, history, and give it voice in whatever way they might see. But it can be difficult to generate this type of inspiration without a concrete goal, or set of instructions. My vision, though complex and potentially multi-faceted as the personalities and perspectives in the class, and across the world, was simple at its heart: I wanted the class to tell the story of Louis Riel, and the Red River Rebellion, and in doing so tell the story of our class, each of us, in encountering our history, and one another, at this moment in our shared development.
What else is there in life, really?
I was inspired and enthralled in this idea, as well, by my recent drive-time listening to the Radiolab podcast episode, “Who am I?” delving into engrossing scientific radio journalism in support its episode’s thesis: “The self is a story the brain tells itself.”
RadioLab.org – “The Story of Me”
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And somewhere in there, in reflecting on the recent action research of the class’ blogging community, and the developing narrative of the class’ collective, and individual successes and struggles, I thought that the best outline I could offer the lesson and upcoming group project was the simple challenge of the brief essay I had written the night before. It is – to date – the strangest introductory material I have given to a history class.
the will of humans to be free.
We are taught the nature of history,
and government, communication
storytelling in the name of
a pursuit of knowledge,
of ourselves, and the breadth of our nature
to be capable of making something,
and living the best life we can.
If each person who was given
the opportunity to express their perspective
in life did so, with the tools at their disposal
to record and publish their thinking
across distance and time
we might know some fraction
of the truth in a world inhabited by a people
whose singular defining characteristic
is to staunchly resist the very changes
which contribute to our progress.
But these struggles each represent a powerful
theme in and of themselves about the truth
of humanity’s story:
that an indominable human will inevitably overcome
a beaurocratic means of suprressing it;
that new ideologies can shatter the expectations
and realities of the old; and that an age committed
fervently to its ideals is rife with the opportunity
to be exposed by people few and brave.
And we well these people’s stories,
and attempt to in some way understand them
and the moment they ineherited, and chose
to stand up, and not submit to the expectations
and realities of their day, so that we might recognize,
in our own selves, and our own times, those things
for which we need to stand up.
Throughout history, we read of continuous examples
of peoples who have through violence and ignorance
have had their rights supressed by regimes
both tyranical and democratic.
When people have acted in haste or fits of passion,
incorrectly, this has resulted in many deaths.
Our present moment asks that we stand and be counted
as lives lived to the best of our honest knowledge
about what our actions mean.
We study the lives and times of men like Louis Riel
to know what others
have been willing to stand for,
when doing so has not been easy.
Because it never it easy,
and surely will not be when it is our turn,
whether we are standing for our lives,
our minds,or own opinion
in a world where everyone’s
from New Orleans’ orphans
to the Kings of Spain,
is exactly equal.
I know teachers tend to throw out mixed messages, “Be open, share. Be careful, be scared.” This could be an authentic real world experience to create something beautiful with a larger group of people than those within our immediate community. (I invite other teachers to share this Flickr setand this post to see where it can go. Ask your class to leave poems, stories, haikus, comments anything. Maybe we can write a book, record an album…)
There are many things we can do with the images, the words, the connection. I hope that at least a few of you will share a few ideas in the comments below. I don’t know who will respond, but that is the beauty of sharing in whim 1, if you throw enough out there, occasionally something beautiful will come floating back.
The above photos were shared on Jabiz Raisdana’s blog with an invitation to Zach Chase‘s students to join into the fun with the proposition that if enough comments, poems, phrases and inspiration and were left on the photos, Jabiz would write them into a song that he would share for future mashup, remixes, or…?
What will you do with it? Download it. Remix it. Add your voice to it. Set it to images. Create a video. Rap it. This version is only a draft and is not even close to being “done.” Tear it up!Stones by intrepidflame
And while I mightn’t have “tore it up,” or reinvented any of what had previously been created or recorded, I sat at my kitchen counter after work on Friday, donned a set of headphones, and spent the better part of an hour adding my own voice to a project spanning both North American coasts that had gained its initial motivation and impetus from an unmet friend in Jakarta, Indonesia. In kind I offer my own addition to the project in the hopes that it inspires others to lend their own creativity, perspective, and voice to collaborative expression that would have unthinkable even five years ago (to me, anyway), but is today the sort of thing that can be accomplished on a Friday afternoon, between work and dinner.
We’ve been talking about the benefits – personal and collective – that come with sharing a lot this week in the Talons class. Seeking an elusive objectivity in media and student reflections on the recent tumult in Egypt and across the Middle East, the class has moved past a definition of the (capital ‘T’) Truth which linearly separates Right & Wrong, or Truth & Lie, to an understanding that we can only know what we might collectively deign in shared exploration, conversation and reflection, and that this process must be ongoing.
Yesterday we distilled some of the more potent aspects of these expressions in a Typewith.me page that we hope to continue to shape, sculpt and share in the coming weeks, as a first experiment in working with the web as not only a research and publishing platform, but collaborative space wherein there are few, if any, limits.
Share, and be vulnerable: it may just be what we’re here for.
To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love ourselves with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee; to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this, just to be able to stop and instead of catastophizing what might happen just to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable is to feel alive?'”
If it is true, what Liam wrote yesterday, that, “Collective will is the most powerful force in the universe,” then we are truly onto something here. Let’s keep it going.
Today, Zach Chase writes, looking back on what a week it’s been, is the day you jump in and create something.
Bryan’s note: this is so the title of the book / album / movie. ↩
In response to Chris Kennedy‘s recent post of British Columbian edu-bloggers, and in the spirit of referring my fellow bloggers (and blog-readers) to the people that I read, I thought of putting together a short list of a few noteworthy local student-bloggers. I hope that their blogs can further become hubs of communication around their evolving educations, and that their voices might be lent to the rest of ours in a larger conversation about the future of education.
At the risk of highlighting the myriad astonishing aspects of the entire TALONS class set of blogs, I highlight these three student blogs as diverse examples of young learners continually creating the blogging medium in their own image. Arranged from oldest-to-youngest.
As I said, these are but three examples of young bloggers I have had the good fortune to meet and work with, and who challenge me to be a more prolific, progressive, and productive blogger with each new post. I’ve seen posts recently by Dean Shareski andWill Richardson asking about student bloggers pro-actively creating their own online brand, above and beyond what their class and student-blogs might ask of them, and heard Andrew B. Watt ask much this same question sometime last spring.
But I haven’t been referred to too many sources of student-blogging leadership (outside the international Student Blogging Challenge, and Comments4Kids program, which both tend toward the elementary, or middle school grades), and would appreciate (as would the Talons class, I assume) any leads and links you might be able to leave as a comment to this post.
Sitting down to recast an updated listing of the RSS feeds, Twitter favourites, and podcasts I make a habit of perusing on a daily weekly monthly basis, I would be remiss to not isolate one of these sources of infotainment above the others — the unparallelled public radio institution that in all honesty, I cannot praise highly enough: This American Life.
My love for public radio goes back to a few consecutive summers I spent living in the woods at the Gus Blass Scout Reservation in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Outside our tents on Saturday afternoons, furiously packing our things for a weekly twenty-hour furlough into neighbouring Conway, or Little Rock, the Saturday broadcasts of NPR would accompany us into cars and down the dusty road leading back to civilization and the comforts of home.
Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered and Morning Becomes Eclectic quickly became a part of my weekend routines. Doing laundry, drying moulding sleeping bags and pillows, and catching up on massive debts of sleep accrued in the sweltering wilds of Camp Rockefeller, I was kept ample company by the likes of Diane Rehm, Robert Siegal, Mr. Keillor, and others. And even now I am never far from a host of disembodied voices that accompany me (in podcasts) on road trips, insomniac nights in bed, runs around the inlet trail in Port Moody, in headphones, car speakers, and the tiny drone of my iPhone’s audio output.
These days, there is an unequivocal champion in garnering my listening attention. His name is Ira Glass, and he hosts a little show called This American Life. Part gonzo journalism, part contemporary American fiction, part living history, This American Life is many things to many people, and difficult to describe. The long and the short of it, as Mr. Glass prefaces every episode, is that “Every week we choose a theme and then bring you a number of stories on that theme.” Where each show goes from there, well…
We view the show as an experiment. We try things. There was the show where we taped for 24 hours in an all-night restaurant. And the show where we put a band together from musicians’ classified ads. And the show where we followed a group of swing voters for months, recording their reactions to everything that happened in the campaign, right up through their final decision. And the show where we had a story for each of the Ten Commmandments. Or the one where our producers all collected stories for a weekend at the same rest stop. We also occasionally do our own versions of stories that are in the news, including award winning economics coveragePlanet Money. that spawned another entire program called
We think of the show as journalism. One of the people who helped start the program, Paul Tough, says that what we’re doing is applying the tools of journalism to everyday lives, personal lives. Which is true. It’s also true that the journalism we do tends to use a lot of the techniques of fiction: scenes and characters and narrative threads.Meanwhile, the fiction we have on the show functions like journalism: it’s fiction that describes what it’s like to be here, now, in America. What we like are stories that are both funny and sad. Personal and sort of epic at the same time.We sometimes think of our program as a documentary show for people who normally hate documentaries. A public radio show for people who don’t necessarily care for public radio.
To get started, or to even see if This American Life might provide an introduction or addition to your podcast, or talk-radio listening, subscribe through iTunes, or check out the website’s Favourites Page. You can also browse through more than ten years of the award-winning program in their archives (which is handy, as downloading old episodes on iTunes costs 99 cents). It is honestly difficult to find an episode not worth your time.
Some of my recent favourites:
Notes on Camp – Fittingly, this episode tells the “Stories of summer camp. People who love camp say that non-camp people simply don’t understand what’s so amazing about camp. In this program, we attempt to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between camp people and non-camp people.”
The Georgia Rambler – The This American Life team heads to Georgia to retrace the steps of 1970s “reporter Charles Salter [who] wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal called “Georgia Rambler.” He’d get into his car, head out to some small town, and ask around until he found a story. This week, nine of us go to Georgia to try it out for ourselves, in small towns all over the state.”
Origin Story – An eclectic collection of “little-known and surprising stories of how all sorts of institutions—from a controversial legal precedent to a Hollywood teen dance flick—began. In one story, a man tries to set the record straight about his life’s achievements, which he says include inventing thumb wrestling and popularizing the eating of shrimp in the New York area. And the story of a seven-year-old old boy trying to figure out where he comes from.”
And if I’ve yet to see you thus far, even the Simpsons know how cool Ira Glass and his little program are (though I would probably skip the Condiments episode):
After a few days of waiting to see what all the fuss was about, I finally saw Google’s Superbowl commercial. I had read Ira’s account of the narrative based in a series of Google searches, and was intrigued by the charm of the commercial is in its brisk, simple rendering of narrative through the universal ‘lens’ of Google searches. And there is the connection to Michael Wesch – of The Machine is Changing Us fame – and Marshall McLuhan carried in the youthfully eclectic and seemingly unconscious use of Google to:
… fully explain the full reach of our contemporary information gathering tools, from the academic to the frivolous, from the mispellings (“louve”) to the mis-searched (needing to add “France” to Paris is one search), from the maps to the photos to the comments on a location. This, for all those wondering what “students need to know,” is what students need to know.
It would be great to see students use this method of “storytelling via screencasted Google search queries” to tell other stories. What story would you tell? If your Google history could talk, what stories would IT tell?
And I think that this could \ should only be the beginning of our use of digital forms and perspectives to tell our stories. As Wesch declares modern media and its mediums of Google, Twitter, Flickr and a host of other 2.0 tools capable of shaping “the possibilities for community, for identity construction, and ultimately for self-awareness,“ I can think of no more straightforward statement of education’s purpose than these three goals.
With the continuous advent of new communicative technologies becoming the norm, and mastery of an ongoing and fluid range of tools following suit, it is an exciting time to deal in exploring narratives and self-expression with young people (they’re the ones who know their way around the tools anyway).
Yesterday I gave my class a brief quiz to assess their knowledge of the parts of speech, as well as sentence parts. Twenty questions, multiple choice, during the grammar unit.
This is not, they tell me, fun stuff.
And I’ll admit that putting together their quiz the night before, trying to come up with examples for them to cull for nouns, verbs, and prepositions, subjects, objects, and predicates, I had been at a loss to add a luster to this most staid of assessment practices. My grammar professor in university – author of this terrific defense of being a stickler for English proficiency – composed worksheets and quizzes that were quirky glimpses of his personality I remember grinning at in homework and major tests, and I often like to do the same in my own material. But with the students’ blogs so rife with examples of original, captivating prose, I took the opportunity to piece the quiz’s examples together from their own words.
It took thirty seconds for a few smirks to turn to giggles and quickly exchanged glances between rows, and for a minute – during a grammar quiz – the class collectively grinned.
Here is the test in their own words:
1. If I peer out of my grated window, I can see the women outside the prison gates.
2. I remember my western films and drawer full of t-shirts.
3. Twenty-five years later, I came back, this time with a camera in hand.
4. She was struggling to run the house while looking after small children and living with an alcoholic husband.
5. The problem with being truthful is that it doesn’t always sell.
6. Everyone in this room is one of two things: a little kid or a grown up little kid.
7. There is no point in trying to barricade the city against German tanks that can easily blow the lovely French capital into a heap of rubble.
8. Our fingers had blisters, our voices got hoarse and our muscles ached…but it was worth it.
9. Without music, the inner me would dry out.
10. This universal language cuts through all barriers of time, place, race and culture.
11. Only now as adults, do we begin to understand the search for answers to the questions that matter most.
12. I stood up for what I believed in, and I was not afraid to fight to get it.
13. Our hope and determination led us to several victories, and at first it looked like all of our aims would be met.
14. I felt a surge of warmth run down my arm and into his and I knew that I did not hold him accountable for the actions of others as he had the courage to ask for forgiveness.
15. It was dreadful, knowing that our country had abandoned us, and if we didn’t catch a plane in the next 3 hours, we would be killed.
16. The government was very powerful, and gave us a daily terror.
17. Once Gibson found out about the Broadcaster, they called me up and I went out and talked to Tim McCarty and we wrote up a contract that day, which stated that I would help McCarty with designing the guitar, and it put my name the guitar as well.
18. We are a team and we must remain together.
19. Magic is the feeling of the beauty of the unknown, like listening to music, painting, stories, and art in general.
20. A mirror, a single pane of shimmering reflective glass, had started it all.
I continually find it interesting which songs become “the Songs” in my Intro to Guitar course. Composed of grades nine-through-eleven students, the class of thirty students represents every walk of life in our suburban highschool: choir and band kids adding to their repotoire of musical genius, athletes and academic high achievers who were seeking balance between Physics, Calculus and AP History, goth kids, metal kids and everything from Taylor Swift to Train to Nirvana in between.
I print out booklets of songs suggested by the class, or which I remember being helpful when I was learning guitar (as a 22 year old, and decidedly not a natural musician), and am always surprised when songs like “Wonderwall,” “Let it Be,” and “Heart of Gold” become the Class Songs ahead of the likes of Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson (despite the fact that “Since You’ve Been Gone” contains an outstanding guitar riff lifted from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
Perhaps the biggest surprise of these songs has been Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Something about the chord progression (the same as in other such megahits as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” and Bush’s “Glycerine“) and the comically earnest melody performed by Steve Perry brings out an exuberance not usually seen in kids who until then had been reluctant to sing during our class jam sessions.
When it came time to assemble a group of our vocal jazz students, and a handful of guitarists and other musicians to host a Christmas sing-along during our final week of school, the initial rehearsals made it clear that a rendition of “Don’t Stop” should be worked into the set list – otherwise composed of “Winter Wonderland,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “All I want for Christmas (is you),” and other traditional numbers.
Shortly after, it was decided that we should change the lyrics to suit the season, leaving the vocal acrobatics, infectious piano riff and shimmering guitar solos intact. And thus was born: “Don’t Stop Believing (in Santa Claus).”
Just a North Pole girl, livin in a snowy world
Took the magic sleigh going anywhere
Just a South Pole boy, marched with a flock of penguins
He took the magic sleigh going anywhere
Reindeer against the moon
Chevy Chase in National Lampoons
Christmas Eve and I can’t sleep
It goes on and on and on and on
Strangers waiting, sleeping on long winter’s naps
Their Santa’s searching in the night
Red and Green light people living just to get some presents
Santa’s flying through the night
Bein’ good to reach my goal,
No one wants a lump of coal.
Sending Santa the list I made
Just for this day
Some were bad, some were nice
Some were picky ’bout their rice
Oh the list don’t end
It goes on and on and on and on
Strangers waiting, sleeping on long winter’s naps
Their Santa’s searching in the night
Red and Green light people living just to get some presents
Santa’s flying through the night
Don’t stop believing
That Santa Claus is real
Red and Green Light People
I came home from work Friday afternoon and thought I would take the opportunity to both hone the lyrics to our budding Christmas Carol and experiment with Google Wave, and posted this message on Google’s new revelation to a group of teachers, technologists and bloggers whom Malcolm Gladwell might characterize as Mavens or Connectors:
Song Parodists Seek Collaborators
Here’s an idea for a wave: In preparation for a Christmas sing along in Gleneagle’s front hall, a group of vocal jazz and other music students are rewriting the original lyrics to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” We plan to record our live performance, and share it via the web. It would be pretty cool if others were to join in here as well… international musical collaboration, anyone?
Feel free to add suggestions where they may be necessary, or include others in the project by invite whom you feel would be able to contribute to a project of this nature.
So far, members of this wave are:Bryan Jackson – guitar teacher at Gleneagle Secondary. Jeff H. – guitar student (and student ensemble co-leader) at Gleneagle. Elaan Bauder – teacher in Coquitlam, and co-conspirator in Waves and technology; Lindsay Jackson – Bryan’s sister, and documentary filmmaker living in Coquitlam. Sue Waters – Edublogs.org’s own Sue Waters was looking for a Wave to join over the weekend, I heard. Plus, it would be cool if Sue had musical connections in Australia… Dave Truss – SD43 Teacher & Administrator currently living and working in China with his family. Dean Shareski – Originally invited Bryan to Google Wave, and knows a heck of a lot about shar(eski)ing things through video.Jeff Utecht – Former West Coaster living in Thailand, where he works with a great many classrooms at an International School that would no doubt be a great addition to the proceedings.
With connectors already on three continents, I sent out a request to my Twitter network “seeking #music teachers who would be interested in a collaborative student performance.” Within a few hours I had three more responses, adding teachers in Comox Valley, BC, Philadelphia, Pa, and Vancouver, BC to our ranks.
As this swell develops into an outright wave, I am thinking that we need to run with this. That Google Wave needs to be a blog post, and our performance and development of the song must be shared. In the two weeks left before (our) school lets out for the winter break, it would be something to create a movement that could encircle the globe. Whether that means synchronized, streamed performances, or collaborative recording and video-editing, Skypes and other forms of communication, we will have to see. With the publishing of this post it seems that the direction is no longer mine, or even the small collection of students’ who developed the idea and have spent the last few lunch hours rehearsing in my classroom.
It is everyone’s.
Help up spread the word by ReTweeting this post, and have potential collaborators contact me or search for our public Wave by entering the following in a Google Wave search box:
with: public Song Parodists Seek Collaborators
I haven’t tried that search yet… I will update this post as I recieve feedback on the Wave being reach-able or not.