First Banjournal

With the TALONS class setting out on its annual In-Depth Study, I wanted to get a little documentation going of my own efforts in learning the banjo. Having recently been given a rented (for three months) banjo from Long & McQuade in Port Coquitlam for Christmas (thanks mom and dad!), I’ve spent the last couple of weeks plucking away at the first few chords I looked up and trying to apply what I know from the guitar into my new instrument. You can see what this amounts to in the video above, as well as a few of my goals looking ahead at my relationship with the banjo:

  • To improve my fingerpicking by expanding beyond my thumb-and-index finger style.
  • Learn how to use different banjo tunings, and expand my ability and knowledge of different chords.
  • I didn’t mention this in the video, but I would also like to begin to learn different scales, and how to play lead riffs for the banjo when playing with others.

Beginning in semester II, I’ll have a daily opportunity to explore the project, and will be seeking out mentors in the spring. My parents gave me a few L&M gift certificates to invest in some banjo lessons, and in addition to getting some ‘expert’ help, I’ll be consulting with fellow guitar teacher and banjo player, Mr. Mancell. Playing on a daily basis with my guitar class should also provide a great study in seeing what I can do with my new musical acquaintance, and I’ll look to document my progress here, as well as on Youtube or Audioboo.

CEA Guest Post: My Guitar Class is more than a Class

Many thanks to Max Cooke for inviting me to lend a voice to the Canadian Education Association‘s series on Innovation in Education, where I offered a story about the evolution of my guitar class, as inspired by retired Gleneagle drama teacher Richard Dixon.

As a mode of teaching, Richard transcended innovation and went about continually inventing his classroom environment out of blank space and the unique personalities that filled it. And while many of these plays were banged out on a typewriter, and others were written into formatted word documents to be printed out and memorized, I always come back to believing that it is this type of invention and innovation our classrooms so badly need today, just as they always have.

On his last day of school, Richard and I were talking about the new guitar class I was going to be teaching the following September, just down the hall from what would no longer be his classroom’s black box. I told him that aside from being excited at the prospect of the course, I didn’t know where I wanted to take it just yet. 

“The important thing to remember,” he said, “is that every class you teach is just another opportunity for students to practice forming communities.”

You can read the whole post on the CEA blog. See the other contributions to the series on innovation here. Thanks again to Max and CEA for the invitation, and to Richard for the eternally sage advice.

Christmas Ethics in Grade One

Grade One Audience

Without taking away from the stellar work that the other two groups in Philosophy 12 contributed to our Ethics’ unit endeavour to create teaching/learning materials for a younger audience (middle school on downwards), I wanted to share a recording I made of Iris, Megan, Greg, Zoe and Toren’s group’s presentation in a grade one classroom on Friday afternoon (the file is too big to post anywhere other than here on my site).

You can listen to the participatory magic the group brought to life in the way of a story, a singalong, and even some Christmas cookies if you like, by clicking the link below (sorry, I couldn’t manage to hyperlink the cookies).

Max’s Christmas Story by Megan (story), Iris (song), Greg (song), Zoe (illustrations), Toren (editing/photoshop/cookies).

The other presentations (a cinematic interpretation of the ethics at work in the film, The Hunger Games, and a Choose Your Own Ethical Adventure Youtube series) will be available on the Philosophy blog shortly. Some of the lessons learned from the peer and self-assessment is posted here.

Web Radio in the K12 Classroom

Digital Storytelling

Giulia Forsythe's Digital Campfire

I’ve had the good pleasure the last few years to have been able to enrich my personal learning network, as well as add to the constellation of thoughtful individuals that interact with my classroom(s) through the DIY magic of distributed web radio. Even casual readers of this blog will recognize the religious fervour that has often attended to my posts about the magic of #ds106radio, an organic offshoot of the Digital Storytelling course DS106 run out of (originally) the University of Mary Washington, in Virginia, as well as (these days) a host of other institutions around the world. In addition to becoming at various times my own open-mic coffee shop, where I’ve written, rehearsed and workshopped almost every song I’ve ever written, DS106Radio has also played frequent host to many a TALONS lesson, field trip, celebration, and a regular spate of Gleneagle’s Music Department showcases.

In the last week, I have been talking to a few of the administrators in our district about the how and what of distributed web radio, and in an effort to collect some of the power and relevance to K12 learning such a setup could offer us, I wanted to share some of what I’ve been able to be a part of because of this wonderfully easy, open-source technology solution to building community and communion around shared sound. 

But first, a little history.

The following audio documentary was recorded with a few of the people who had seen DS106Radio grow out of a conversation around a dinner table into a powerful node in each of our networks. Here you’ll hear GNA Garcia interviewing Grant Potter, Guilia Forsythe, Alan Levine and myself about how we’ve seen the radio evolve and effect our lives and professional practices. Alan points out near the end that without the inception of the radio, we wouldn’t even know each other, which, given the amount of time, face-to-face or otherwise, we’ve spent revelling in one another’s company over the past two years, is a humbling thought. (That’s Zack Dowell providing the acoustic musical bed; Jason Toal provided the actual bed.)

Listen to a mini – DS106Radio Rockumentary

But without veering too wildly into my own personal affections for the station, I want to focus here on sharing the ways I’ve explored in bringing my various classroom spaces, and beyond, to the web, often using free software on my laptop, or a $6 app on my phone. It is my hope that with a few examples to get things rolling, we might see some momentum around sharing audio in Coquitlam classrooms.Lunchtime Jams on #DS106Radio

Lunchtime Jams

Almost as soon as we figured out how to ‘go live’ from my laptop and iPhone, my music classroom became a regular performance space for my guitar students, and then a host of other interested individuals to share informal jams, songs and laughter with an audience that just as quickly fell into the habit of tuning into the sounds of the school’s music wing.

An early hit:

Concerts Live Streamed Around the World

It seemed a natural experiment to try running an evening broadcast of our school’s Spring Concert, in 2011, complete with student DJ’s to narrate the evening’s activities, backstage interviews with performers, archived recordings of the Music Department’s tour to Cuba, and even a request by an Internet listener for the in-house crowd to shout, “DS106 Radio For Life” (the station’s immortal tag line).

Since then we’ve broadcast almost every one of the concerts at Gleneagle live onto DS106radio, sharing the ephemeral sounds of the performing arts with an international audience who can recognize our lead trumpet players and vocalists by the tenor of their solos, and who know that in Coquitlam, there are some crazy-talented kids that love to share their art. How many schools or districts can claim the same notoriety? (If they can, I would bet they’re spending more on marketing than we are.)

Class Activity as Public Learning Project 

Last spring, a guitar class I was teaching took on the grandiose endeavour to convert itself into a Thirty Person Rock Band, a process that in addition to being shared on Youtube and Instagram, was conducted almost entirely live on the #ds106radio air, where people were able to tune in and play along with our rehearsals, band meetings, and triumphant last day of school show in the Gleneagle foyer. Our listening audience served as mentors, cheerleaders, and a reflection of the raw energy the creation of live music can bring to a community, and shared in the celebrations at the end of the term.

You can see how it all unfolded on Storify, here.

Sharing our Classrooms with Specific Audiences


It was a great pleasure last year to share in a day of #RadioforLearning with #ds106radio K12 sister-station 105theHive, where my guitar class joined in a day of cross-country broadcasting with classrooms in Ontario and northern Manitoba. As the Hive’s rolling live broadcast took reading exercises from rural Ontario north toward Hudson’s Bay, Gleneagle’s Music Department shared its guitar presentations with an audience that wound up reaching listeners in South America, as well as Hawaii.

Essay Feedback as Podcast

Back in 2011, I brought the audio elements of DS106 into the TALONS classroom as part of our This I Believe essay unit where, in addition to submitting individual essays as recorded spoken word pieces, the class collaborated to remix and synthesize the different threads into larger audio compositions.

In an attempt to fold my essay feedback into the process I had asked the class to engage in, I created my own synthesis of the collective learning into a twenty minute radio show of my own to serve as feedback and commentary on the larger lessons of writing and storytelling that I saw in the group’s essays.

Field Reports & Outdoor Education

Some of the most powerful learning opportunities we bring to our students happen outside of the classroom, on field trips or other opportunities for place-based learning that are effectively captured in photographs and videos, perhaps; but these events and experiential learning also opportunities for capturing vital audio artifacts that might otherwise disappear into the ether.

Remixing the Class Discussion

Just this past semester, one of the #Philosophy12 students recorded a few days’ worth of investigating Epistemology, and the notions of Opinions, Beliefs, and Truth, and posted the files for download on Soundcloud. As a possible extension of these open educational resources, I thought I would try my hand at remixing the contents using the GarageBand app on my iPad. The cognitive value in sifting through an hour of recorded audio to pull together a narrative, or logical argument is something that I found both incredibly challenging, and entirely relevant given the emerging digital landscape of the read-write-sing-remix web, where the original artifact of learning is further-evolved to include new reflective perspectives.

Everything above is just the beginning… 

I’ve tried to pull together as many different examples as I could over the course of a few days, but there may be a few notable broadcasts or events that I’ve neglected to include here. GNA Garcia used to broadcast concerts and conversations from her job at a highschool in Philadelphia. And the Hive folks have been creating live and canned shows for almost a year now (!). Matt Henderson started a terrestrial radio station with his kids in Winnipeg, and I’m sure there are other folks out there podcasting, sharing Audioboos, and finding other ways to explore the power of audio in their classrooms.

But I hope what I’ve shared here can serve as a catalyst and motivation for folks in my own back yard who may want to jump into an experiment with a Coquitlam branch of web radio over the course of the next semester. I’m hoping that local English, Music, Journalism, and other teachers start getting their phones out, warming up their GarageBands and Audacities, and seeing where our own digital campfire might take us as a learning community.

For life.

Greatest Work of Art Ever?

Getting the lowdown


Following this evening’s cultural adventure into the city for the Vancouver Opera‘s presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s Pirates of PenzanceI wanted to share a favourite Radiolab episode of mine that introduces Wagner‘s epic  Ring Cycle (the title was actually the subject of a bet on the bus ride home, I was told).

It might seem hyperbole to claim, as many Wagnerites do, that The Ring Cycle is “The Greatest Work of Art Ever.” But the grandeur and power of this monumental work have permeated our culture from Star Wars to Bugs Bunny to J.R.R. Tolkien.

WNYC’s “The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania” asks what many of the uninitiated must wonder: “What’s the big deal?” This journey, intended for both devoted fans and newcomers alike, visits with a diverse cast of characters who weigh in with their answers to this complex question…

Having been able to meet a few of the people, and see the inner workings of tonight’s performance – even getting a chance to stand on the Queen Elizabeth Theater stage – and just what it takes to put together a single performance of an Opera, we glimpsed the inner working of the staggering achievement of a veritable town of committed individuals working at the top of their games.

Wagner’s Ring Cycle, or at least the picture of it painted here, is a sprawling attempt to document the heights of the period’s musical themes along with the richness of Germanic mythology that pervades the English language, as well as forms the foundation and archetypes for almost all of western civilization’s history  and storytelling. In strives to attain epic in its every breath.

I’ll admit, when I came across the episode billing something I had scarcely heard of as The Greatest Work of Art EverI was skeptical. But Jad & Robert help introduce one of the most daring composers who ever worked in one of the world’s most grandiose art forms, and it’s difficult to argue with the scope of the Ring’s influence.

Think about it: Star Wars, Bugs Bunny, JRR Tolkien.

If “Everything is a Remix,” we’re all stealing from Wagner. Led Zeppelin perhaps most of all.

Adventures in the ‘self-reinforcing virtuous cycle.’


Coming across this stellar mashup of the LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down” and Miles Davis’ Elevator to the Gallows score made me think of Gardner Cambell’s question from a month ago:

What is the real meaning and appropriate function of the Internet itself? 


Gawker introduced the video by saying, “The Entire Internet has been a prelude to This Mashup of LCD Soundsystem and Miles Davis,” answering the question and quoting its author who says it contains, “No editing or other tricks, just 2 youtube videos played at the same time.”

Maybe everything really is a remix.

 

Epistemological Wayfinding | Remixing Philosophy12 Discussions

Many thanks to Greg for capturing Wednesday and Thursday’s class discussions on his phone and uploading them to Soundcloud, so that we can catch up with what was discussed in a few sprawling conversations that made use of Santa Clause, Tetris, triangles and paradigm shifts to grapple with the development of personal ideas surrounding human knowledge, truth, belief and opinion.

In addition to being able to stream the contents of the conversation, Greg has made the files available for download, so that participants are free to download and repurpose the materials into new philosophy resources.

I parsed the first ten minutes of Wednesday’s class into a few audio remixes:

Epistemology Remix Side 1

Epistemology Remix Side 2

Gleneagle joins the Six String Nation

Jowi & a gossip of Talons

We were lucky tonight at Gleneagle to be paid a visit by Jowi Taylor and his wonderful project, the Voyageur Six String Nation Guitar.

Iris meets Jowi & Voyageur

After meeting Jowi this summer at the Unplug’d conference, it was a great pleasure to have him tell this Canadian story as a fundraising event involving so many learners and parents in the Gleneagle family, gathered to bask in music created on a mythical instrument. Having been in the shoes of someone invited to play Voyageur at an evening like this, I was excited and anxious to share this particular aspect of the experience with two young musicians at school. It is a terrific honour to play after knowing the origin and essence of so many of the instrument’s parts, and manages to supply a perfect and personal moment of Canadiana for performer and audience alike.

Andrew closing the show

Iris and Andrew each wowed the audience tonight, with Iris playing an original of her own, and Andrew delivering a deft cover of a City and Colour song. It was a joy to see them bringing the guitar to life and smiling through it all for their friends in the audience, and they should be commended for putting a perfect cap on a great evening celebrating community.

…a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle.


I woke up this morning with the lofty goal of revisiting Gardner Campbell‘s keynote from the Open Education conference that went down in Vancouver this week, The Ecology of Yearning. However, the gods of the Internet didn’t agree and the archive seems to have gone missing for the time being, so I will hopefully return to it soon. In the meantime, I’m digging into an older presentation from Gardner called “Teaching, Learning, and the Digital Imagination” that is hosted on Youtube and his blog.

Even though the talk is only a year old, it synthesizes so many ideas that, even in a year, seem foundational to vastly greater heights. Beginning with Clay Shiky’s quote,

We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race.


Gardner discusses the “Digital Imagination” as a vision of the Internet’s transformative potential. Far more than a data management system, or the efficiency of email, he frames our appraisal of technology’s value or purpose in the tradition of under and mis-valuing innovation. Just as we mistook the true innovative potential of the electric motor, the question is not, to be sure, How can the Internet make us more efficient? but What is the real meaning and appropriate function of the Internet itself? 

Gardner, round one.

Photo Courtesy of @drgarcia

Even as I generally find this sort of argument quite compelling, I was especially struck with the power of the idea that in practicing, refining and education we are striving – one might even say yearning – to oblige a “moral responsibility to be of the most use to civilization,” and that the Internet creates the possibility of a “self-reinforcing virtuous cycle” that I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to witness over the course of the last week with Gardner and other educators out of no more technology than guitar amplifiers and a few printed lyrics and chords.

Audrey Waters highlighted the connection that has become tradition among the DS106 tribe in Vancouver,

I started to write this post, and then found myself spending the evening at a musical jam session with Campbell and others. So there’s that. And that’s actually a wonderful ending to a wonderful beginning of the day. Because jamming is sharing. Jamming is collaborative creation. Jamming is learning. Jamming is process. “Make art dammit,” as DS106 commands us, with the emphasis, I think, on the “make” more than than the “art.” And at the end of the evening with the music ringing in my ears, Campbell’s keynote makes perfect sense, and there’s nothing much to say.


Being able to play music with Gardner a few times this week – including two attempts at the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” among others – added a different authenticity to his words this morning, though. He wasn’t speaking abstractly about his thinking that technology might prove the platform for a heightening community’s potential; he was speaking specifically. Shouting, really. Singing, explaining deftly to a crowd of ecstatic participant-revelers that, “Her name is Gloria.”

Poetry is Nothing… in the woods.

I wrote a few weeks ago about team-teaching a wilderness journaling activity with my TALONS colleagues along with my oft-mentioned Internet brother Jabiz Raisdana, using his poem-turned-song “Poetry is Nothing” as an introduction to a solo-walk around Hicks Lake, in Sasquatch Provincial Park.

Having turned the corner here in metro-Vancouver toward fall and winter, I thought I would post the video of a very warm afternoon (the last official day of summer 2012) and a writing prompt that travelled a long way to get there.

Special props are due to Liam, who rose to the occasion and supplied the harmonica solo.