This glorious stretch of time when everyone and everything “anyone ever knew” was being photographed, watched over, and sung to sleep by a Canadian hurtling around the planet a dozen times every day, has come to a close. But then, it seems a beginning, too.
How sadly strange and unique does it seem to find a public figure who inspires, yet is humble, has fun, and lights that spirit of optimism. It doe snot happen in politics, our sports figures and pop culture celebrities ring more as ego focused money chasers. Why are there so few who humbly inspire by example?
“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting,” Clay Shirky has argued, “until they get technologically boring.” The same may be said of space. As a destination — as a place, as a dream — space may be, ever so slightly, losing its former mantle of foreignness, its old patina of awe. Instead, the final frontier may now be experiencing the fate that befalls any frontier: It stops being a frontier. Its settlers come to think of it, more and more, as an extension of what they know … until it becomes, simply, all that they know. Until it becomes the most basic thing in the world: home.
Space is becoming ordinary. And that means it’s about to get really interesting.
Whatever the reason though, it has been a marvelous ride to share in, Commander Hadfield. You showed us our home planet and took us with you into space, showed us pieces of the future, and broadened the boundaries of our imaginations.
Thank you for all of that, and that which lies ahead.
Something that I haven’t given as much blog attention here as I would have liked so far this semester is the vibrant community that has sprung up around our school’s Introduction to Guitar class. Having had students post their work regularly to a wiki site in past years, I wanted to incorporate some of the design lessons I learned in #Philosophy12 and create a site that could function as a hub of creation, collaboration, and community that would serve not only our school’s face-to-face guitar students, but also offer wayfinding musicians on the open web a place to play, learn, and offer their own expertise to one another.
…it is not a class that teaches guitar but one where you can learn guitar.
And while I think the course has always functioned this way as a ‘closed’ system (even though we have shared our exploits on Youtube, #ds106radio, and other places), the energy and inspiration that our open online participants have so far brought to the class has increased the creative combustibility of the group by several orders of magnitude. There are folks in Japan, Ontario, Australia, Singapore, and even Ontario-azona strumming along with #IntroGuitar lessons and assignments, sharing stories of their instruments, their struggles (and triumphs) of playing music, and making meaningful musical connections with the face-to-face students who meet daily in our school’s choir room through videos, blog comments, and listening to performances in class.
One such connection that has been working its way through the course community began as a poem shared by a student of Jabiz Raisdana, in Singapore.
Having made some trans-oceanic songs written with Jabiz over the years, I opened up a Google Document and began sanding the poems edges and syllables with some chords and a basic melody. I recorded this so that folks could follow up with what I had made out of Michelle’s orginal poem, and posted the works on Twitter and the #IntroGuitar blog.
Over the weekend, Nathan John Moes continued to work with the chords and Michelle’s lyrics and added this version of the song that has been stuck in my head since Sunday night.
Which all would have been amazing, right? A poem gets posted late at night (I might be adding that piece to the narrative…) on a student blog in Singapore, and a week later it’s spawned a song that has been amended, added to, and recorded by a few teachers in British Columbia.
Of his work putting the song and the recording together, Colin said:
...this is totally uncharted territory for me.
Totally uncharted territory, for a guy who isn’t even getting a grade or credit for the course and – beyond that – has been playing guitar for more than ten years.
And yet still, the ball bounces, and rolls. This morning Leslie joined the party all the way from Lima, Peru, Camrose, Alberta, offering the fifth (!) incarnation of the poem accompanied by her ukelele.
But this is likely not the end of this particular story, with chapters, verses and tomes yet to be discovered.
We all start out in our educational careers (meaning when we were in kindergarten) knowing intrinsically the value of sharing. Somewhere between there and graduate school, we lose track of this simple concept, be it worrying about intellectual property rights or fearing theft.
The open ecology of the internet can undermine this learned and limiting stinginess. In this session we want to celebrate the True Stories of things that happen to educators when they share something openly on the web. We asked colleagues to share with us a video of their own stories of something surprising, valuable, powerful, or just plain inspiring that happened when that piece of media, that document, that video, that blog post, became valuable to someone they did not know before.
It’s fitting that two of the TALONS alumni that originally gave me the guitar pictured above are actually in Introduction to Guitar this semester. I’m glad that they’ll get to see some of the story of the TALONS guitar that they might not have been privy to in the last two and a half years of its life here in a post that hopefully gives you here an idea of some of the power of musical instruments as totems of community, of place and of the people that connect them to us.
Clayton was actually the (or, a) prior owner of this guitar as his classmates neared the end of grade nine, and were plotting a year-end present pour moi, he volunteered it as a possible canvas that Immy could adorn with some personal and TALONS-related icons and symbols in paints and felt-tipped markers. A group of about ten or fifteen of the grade nine cohort showed up on a day near the end of June in my office to present the guitar to me, and if I recall, in my gushing surprise, I said something like, “Ohmigod, you wonderful, wonderful children.”
Which they are. Which they were.
Since then the guitar has accompanied me and the ensuing TALONS classes everywhere; it is my and our “travel guitar.” Even if the action is a bit high, and it doesn’t hold its tuning perfectly, it is too pretty to only live indoors. And its story is too good to not introduce it to new people.
One of the first ventures the guitar got to take was back east and into Algonquin Park, at the inaugural Unplug’d Educational Summit. In feeling particularly blessed to be invited along to Unplug’d, where so many of my educational idols were going to be collected, I was proud to bring the class’ guitar to the event, as it has been through my working relationships with TALONS learners these last few years that any of these people would have ever heard of me. Sitting on the dock at the lake, singing Tragically Hip songs in the back of a canoe, and getting to lead a campfire singalong with forty educational leaders from across Canada was a supremely memorable experience, and one that the TALONS guitar played no small part in.
Somewhere out there on the lake, it was becoming clear that what GNA Garcia had tweeted to me upon seeing a picture of the guitar was true:
The gift of a musical instrument is actually a gift to all of the people that will ever hear it.
What a thing to contemplate: that these objects are conduits for community, and connections between people. I started thinking – although I was only just starting – about what it meant to be someone who wielded one of these instruments, and how musicians can be vessels of sorts as well.
But more on that later… this is about the guitar, not me.
Since then, I’m happy to report, the guitar has made it on plenty of TALONS trips – into the woods on the Sunshine Coast, to Squamish, Hicks Lake – and on a host of my own adventures – family vacations to Vancouver Island, camping on Galiano. It’s the guitar that seems to deserve to be taken on adventures, and played outside, and to acquire more stories.
In its way it is its own entity: a magical and powerful object, and one I’m grateful to have encountered, and to keep encountering, every time I pick it up or hear it played.
Thanks Clayton and Immy for introducing us!
[Photo credits starting at the top: In its natural habitat, by Me; Dr. Alec @courosa Couros playing the guitar by @GiuliaForsythe; Canoe Strumming by @GiuliaForsythe (she was also paddling the canoe); Conservation & Song by @Aforgrave.]
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 institutionsaround 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.”
In what unconsciously turned out to be a culmination of the Fall’s Learning in Public project, guitar class this spring challenged a group of individuals to create and rally around a mutually agreed-upon idea for a new kind of class activity. Nothing overly complex, the Bears became an elemental symbol around which we were able to create a basic, guitar based rock and roll band that brought diverse classroom traits and talents to the forefront of our daily work.
Let me state here that I have little formal training as a music teacher, have never really played in a band (save a few student groups where I served much more an eager sponsor-teacher than bandmate), let alone led one, and had no idea throughout the process whether the endeavour would be successful, let alone what direction it might take on a given day.Initially, the class formed into small groups that functioned as committees responsible for various elements of the band’s life cycle: project management, branding, media, songwriting, arrangement. What the band became, every step of the way, would be built out of an individual and collective commitment to the cause: that of the continual creation of the band.
Not that these aren’t all things I was and am passionate to discover. This year my own musical growth has snowballed toward just such a learning opportunity, allowing me to frame my role as ‘teacher’ during the process as that of ‘lead learner,’ something we hear and talk about a lot as teachers, but which can be difficult to create deliberately. In this case, my purposeful treading of water mostly consisted of the necessity of keeping the project moving forward the only ways I knew how: creating opportunities for each of the committees, and the individuals composing them, to imagine a possible next step for the project, and then motivate and guide them in carrying it out.
This all being said, the success of the band was in the hands of the class as much as I could make it; I made an agreement with them – not unlike one that I feel like I make in most classes, but in this case it was explicit: so long as we all acknowledge that we can create something special here, I am going to hold you to the goals that you each set for yourselves to be a part of that process.
Whether we are successful or not has less to do with my expectations of the individuals in my class than my facilitation of the learning experience, where ideally each learner holds themselves to their own expectations.
What I’ve found that this ‘agreement’ helps bring about is an environment that is able to capitalize on the unique talents in the room. Once the band got going, people learned to arrange mic cables and amplifiers to maximize the effect of our sound; others wrote songs, led rehearsals, and created a logo for the newly minted Bears (that we eventually screened on T-shirts); various members of the band ran around with a videocamera, or various iPhones and iPads, to record and document the process, and on the second to last day of the year – following the chaos of locker-cleanout – we promoted and played a gig in the front entrance of the school that people had been alerted to by awesome hand-drawn fliers (complete with QR codes linking to the band’s Facebook page).
All of this happened in five weeks, during which I was away for a week on a TALONS class trip, and many members of the class were preparing to graduate high school. Like Ray Manzarek said of the year he and Jim Morrison formed the Doors, “we had a strange visitation of the energy,” an energy that is the intangible vibration of musical community and communication.
I start each guitar semester by telling my classes that humans evolved a wiring to participate in music; that our ability to stomp our feet, beat drums or chant in concert and unison literally set our ancestors apart from others who might not be so in tune (pardon the pun) with one another, and that communicating in music established the pathways and connections in our brains that eventually allowed us to develop language, and begin to know ourselves and one another in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
On those first days of guitar every semester, we usually begin by snapping our fingers in time with one another, or passing bean bags through the air to a shared rhythm to learn one another’s names. I tell them that the ability to sync up like this is so innate that a person will be able to more exactly join in rhythm with another person than with a device like a metronome, and that when we make music with others, we are communicating in the oldest of ways, reaching back into the fabric of what makes us us, and creating something that is in ways universal, and at the same time deeply personal.
There is a momentum to performing live music that members of the group need to each be responsible for, the essence of musical connection that allows other players, and an audience to participate in the raw energy that the intersection of rhythm and melody is capable of creating.
This is a skill only learned by doing.
In the video of the Bears final performance, the band struggles to hear one another in the fray and excitement of the crowd and the moment, and the bass and drums are a bar ahead of the rest of the band until the first chorus. They/we work this out though, and as “We are the Bears” reaches its musical climax – in the moment between Sarah calmly saying, “Step away, bro,” and Kevin’s blistering guitar solo kicking in – the monthlong project’s goal is realized: the band has created a moment of visceral rock and roll, and brought it to their audience.
For the students in the band – not to mention their teacher – this is an incredible power to discover, and begin to wield, something I talked about with Brian Lamb and Giulia Forsythe after this year’s Northern Voice jam-after party in Vancouver: how to collectively keep the ball – the energy, the timing, the essence of a song – in the air between so many different hands, and how this is a visible skill when playing or watching music, but finds its way into so many different aspects of life, learning and the relationships we form with other people.
On the last day of class, many of the Bears made a point of hanging around for a few minutes to take pictures with one another, shake my hands and otherwise linger in the magical atmosphere the guitar classroom had been transformed into by their efforts.
“This class was more than a class,” one of the young men who was graduating told me on his way out the door. “Just what it was, I’m not sure. But it was pretty great.”
Hopefully we all spend the next little while trying to put our finger on just what it was, and how we can each do it again.
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.
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.