Now that we have come to the final week of the semester and school year (where did it all go???), the Thirty Person Rock Band Project, since baptized as the Bears, is trying to make its various pieces “land” in time to showcase the fury of the past few weeks’ endeavour: to make rock music.
As a group, we’ve been working on an aesthetic: amidst countless jams, we named the band, developed a logo, flyers, dance moves, and set out to write a song around a bass riff developed by the original Bear, Florentine.
At present, we are preparing to showcase our work this Thursday in a brief set to be played in the parking lot after the second-to-last 3pm bell of the year rings.
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.”
In a year that has seen much public discussion of the teaching profession in British Columbia, it’s important to do a few things every day to remind ourselves that we are incredibly lucky to do this job. This spring’s Thirty Person Rock Band project has made for many such opportunities, and with four weeks of school left, it feels constantly like we’re just beginning. It’s a good place to be.
Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an expedition, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.
And here we have come to that familiar time of year, when the TALONS class steadies its gaze on the stretches of highway out of town, into the Gulf Islands, out across the Straight of Georgia, and this year, up the Sea to Sky Highway. (Most of) the groceries have been bought, and the classroom fills with equipment and assorted adventuring regalia – tents, rope and tarps, coolers and stoves, reams of Gore Tex and stray hiking boot laces – by the day. Even the academic subjects are doing their part, lining up Socials units on geography and our study of the Salish people, and a science project in plate tectonics with a trip into the heart of the Coast Range and the traditional territory of the Squamish Nation.
The Adventure Trip constitutes a five day experiential exam for the TALONS’ Leadership 11 credit 1, and the result of months’ work toward the class’ PE 11 and Planning 10 courses (all three completed over two years in the TALONS program, in addition to the core subjects of English, Socials, Science and Math), but is also another signpost in the journey that each cohort travels together. Inevitably, the trip becomes an immersed expression of each group’s individual character: a chance for each member of the class to confront, and explore, their role in the collective.
As learning opportunities go, there isn’t much like it, and it is startling to behold that yet another of these adventures is upon us, perhaps the grandest yet.
As a midterm for the grade nines, and final for grade tens. ↩
Among the more ambitious spontaneous projects I’ve attempted as a teacher, the 30 Person Rock Band project came out of a conversation with my guitar class about what our next endeavour should be: songwriting, another recording of individual or group progress, a performance, or… something a little bigger. Something we’ll discover as we go, together.
So to start, we are asking for input: we don’t yet know even what we don’t know, and in the interest of finding a suitable starting point, we are hoping that you might help us with the initial creation of individual and collective responsibilities. We’re hoping that, whether you’ve played in a band or not, you might be able to help us delegate responsibilities to make the 30 Person Rock Band Project a collaborative and successful undertaking.
Inspired by the brilliant Scott Lockman‘s Slices of Life project, and wanting to begin this semester of Digital Storytelling 106 in a manner that would lead to an inspiring next few months spent blending pedagogy and creative expression, professional development and a variety of different learning communities – that is what this Life-Long Learning is all about, isn’t it? – I thought I would share a slice of life from last Saturday’s epic adventure at Whistler / Blackcomb.
Reunion with an old friend
Scott’s slice of life story is a perfect example of the #ds106 community in all of its authentic and on-the-fly glory: uncovering the power of relationships mediated (and empowered) by our digital tools, as brought about by a course that is everywhere and nowhere, connected seemingly by the strings of vibrating energy prophesied in theoretical physics. Though it’s been described (by Tom Woodward, though he is probably not the first) as “an online course meets Woodstock,” I think the string theory analogy may fit closer to the dream of DS106’s version of EduGlu-as-the-Unified-Theory-of-Everything (in pedagogy). Tom continues with his Woodstock comparison, “You take a guided online experience and mix it with both chaos and, more importantly, community.
…to push yourself beyond your creative comfort zone, time for us to wrestle honestly with the future of education through praxis and engagement and, more than anything else in my book, it’s time to make some damned art already. Let’s go!!!!
To think that it’s only been a year…
It’s only been a year since I started recording music, spoken word experiments and podcasts as my own creative projects, and began weaving the same emphasis on the shared creation of (physical and digital) learning artifacts into the inquiry, assessment and reflection taking place in my classroom. It’s only been a year that I’ve begun to think about terms like personal cyber infrastructure, and begin to see the next horizon(s) of education as a means of preparing citizens to create a new, more hopeful world. It’s only been a year that I’ve been so completely surrounded by people who see their own path to becoming their best selves, and who are constantly challenging me to become mine.
This has all been on the one hand personally inspiring and meaningful in a transformative way, and on the other a challenge to see the chaos of the #ds106 as part of its ultimate aim, and Jim’s (along with a host of others who have brought this idea into being) genius as an educator.
Because he did all of this on purpose. Not by knowing where it would end up, but by knowing (suspecting, maybe?) how to encourage (again, borrowing from Tom Woodward): commenting, community, and creativity.
There was no way to know that I would hear Scott, a few months back, talking from his Japanese morning to my Canadian evening about an informal daily check in, or simple creative act. “I’m going to narrate my own life,” he promised the few of us assembled across the strands of DS106 Radio airwaves.
And even after that broadcast, there was no way to know that he’s go out and do it (45 times, as of this posting). Or that a year later he would be teaching his own sections of DS106 at Temple University, in Japan (or that Michael Branson Smith would be teaching the course at City College, in New York, either), taking the simplicity of Martha Burtis, Tim Owens, Alan Levine and Jim’s EduGlu setup, and bringing more stories and students into the wild frontier of online learning that strives to unleash potential than constrain it.
Which is what I hope to not only take away, but bring to #ds106 this semester. Last year a number of the TALONS spring assignments were created through the lens of the we jam econo motto, and at various times our grade nine/ten cohort took on the nick name #DS105, phoning in expert testimony to Jim’s DS106radio broadcast celebrating Songs to Grow By and crashing more than one of the open university course’s parties. I expect that the spring semester provides even greater impetus, and more avenues, to share the the learning in our classroom, as well as in the school beyond.
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.
Tonight 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.
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.
Parents, 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.
A 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.”
The 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.