Sunday, December 27, 2015

Proud, silly, and profound

Three moments stand out over the past couple of months around my delight and amazement at having found my calling as a teacher of string games. I made a deliberate choice to transform myself from a technologist to a teaching artist, and I credit that intentionality with the greatest influence in making it happen. I've had a lot of good luck and warm support along the way. The first moment was largely negative--I was trying to help my wife order sunglasses online, using a tool in the web browser where one is supposed to see how any frame you select would look on by seeing them superimposed on the photo we had just uploaded. All we saw was grasshopper-like bug eye frames that appeared two to three times bigger than any normal sunglasses would be. I just gave up. It seemed clear to me that no amount of tweaking or redoing was going to make this tool work so as to give a very picky artist a satisfactory view of her glasses. This refusal to proceed on my part was frustrating to my wife, who really needs sunglasses to drive safely. But we were not saving anything of real value by spending our time and energy with this alpha-level software, and we were losing a lot of time. If the tech's not easy, I no longer feel any obligation to figure it out. All I ever do for trouble shooting is to re-start the device. If it fails the second time, I'm done.

The next moment was overhearing the school district's site technician for our site talking a staff member through how to fully shut down an application, instead of just closing its open windows. I remember how long it took me to understand that lesson, and thought about how many times I'd passed it on. I felt a bit of pride that there might never have been technicians who would take the time to give such instruction without the work I did pioneering technology training for teachers, not just for administrators. When I started using computers with students for them to connect with a global community of learners, it was revolutionary to think that these devices had uses outside of the financial and administrative realms, and to assert that teachers deserved support for using the computers that way did not fit in with the plans or budgets then being considered. It was a struggle, where for a few brief years we made some headway. By the time I abandoned technology in 2011 or so to focus on string figures, it was clear that all opportunity for students to use technology for creative and communicative purposes was gone, and the tech was now only for testing-related tasks.

The third, profound moment is not a single one, but many, spread out over the past months of launching this new career as a teacher of string games, a Teaching Artist, a movement and graphic and visual and performing arts teacher, and a singer, of all things! It's liberating beyond my wildest dreams to think that I can sing in public, with relative strangers able to hear me. I've never felt comfortable doing that before. It's still not exactly what I'd call comfortable, admittedly, but I'm doing it... And still shiver with amazement each time I get to share with someone that I went back to work full-time in order to be able to realize my dream of teaching string games in the public schools.

Singing louder than the guns

Thinking a lot about singing, launching a Utube channel of a capella folk songs, coming out as a pacifist activist and advocate, perhaps that's the second -ist word after artist that I'll allow a provisional re-entry to my vocabulary, as I try to give up on all other -ists besides artist...
The title line is from Phil Ochs' "When I'm gone..."
Phil Ochs with guitar

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Oh Canada!

Welcome to Canada

“You are here and you are safe. You are here and you are loved. You are here and you can stay.”Canadians greet the first group of Syrian refugees who just arrived in Toronto.

Posted by AJ+ on Friday, December 11, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A re-telling of the Thanksgiving Story

Well done, Franchesca "Chescaleigh" Ramsey. And kudos to MTV for airing it! 

Everything you know about Thanksgiving is wrong ft. Franchesca "Chescaleigh" Ramsey.

Posted by MTV on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

The "fun bio" as a way to introduce oneself to a group

A few weeks ago, I encountered this request on joining a group I stumbled upon through the Rhizomatic Learning Network:

Introduce yourself by creating a "fun bio," the opposite in tone and content to the one you would put on a job application or post to your professional website. I found the assignment fascinating, and came up with a basic draft in a matter of moments. I've editing a bit, and added a tagline that was not at all part of the original inspiration, and I'm quite pleased with the result:

  • I grew up with Red Diaper Rash, the uncomfortable friction generated by rubbing Too Much Personal Freedom against 1950's Anti-Communist Hysteria. It took the Summer of Love to begin to soothe the itches, followed by a Decade of Communal Living, which rendered me Unsuitable for the Real World. After a Lost Decade as a Successful Traveling Salesman, a Decade of Re-Discovery becoming a Constructionist Classroom Teacher, and a Detour Decade as a Digital Storytelling Evangelist, I'm now coming into my Real Identity as a Teaching Artist, creating Collaborative String Game Stories as a Fun Path to Brain Balance and World Peace. May all  learn to be Even-Handed and Open-Hearted, with strings or without.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Loops and Knots, Ins and Outs

A worksheet for the first and second graders in my string classes this coming week:

Loops and Knots, Ins and Outs: What’s the difference between weaving 

and sewing?

 Links to the Montessori Kit with Five Sequential Sewing Activities

Can people make clothes without weaving?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two rules and three goals of string learning

After many years of using "Never Around the Neck" as a Rule, my #1, I've changed that to

  • Always play safe with the string

so that the whole range of things not to do, of which around the neck and various horse associations strings always seem to bring up in kids are at the top of my list, becomes open-ended and complex.

Rule #2 has also morphed as a result of my full-time experience with 250 kids a day:

  • Strings are only for String Time, which you mostly only get in my class
One of the teachers asked me to have the students keep their string in my classroom, so they wouldn't have to deal with kids bringing the strings back into their classroom. I've compromised so that on their last day of the week with me they get to take their strings home with them. Their out-of-class practice time is so important, it's where they connect with friends and family and perhaps spark some deeper interest. At first I thought the request somewhat silly and annoying, but it's actually been very helpful. I have envelopes I use in class for the students to keep their strings until the end of the week, so I have them put their strings away early if we're going into activities, like singing, where I want their total attention to something quite different from string. 

When they need to have the string ready for a practice, but I need to make a correction or addition to the instructions, I use "No strings on fingers!" as a way to rein in a lot of very involved children. It's much easier when the students have desks, and I use the command to show me a triangle or a rectangle on top of their desks with the string as a way to get them to stop. 

My Ah-Ha of the evening, which came as I was watering the garden, was what I realized as I said them were the Three Goals of String Learning:

  • Respect the String
  • Inspect the Loom
  • Thank the Source

The idea of respecting the string came to me as I imagined how the students will deal with the new classroom arrangement they'll have next week: instead of the circle of chairs which we've been in for the last three weeks, we'll have four large rectangular tables arranged in the center of the room as one big table, with all the chairs around the table, and art supplies and string and yarn of all kinds in the center. So if I'm going to put out my personal collection of mostly natural fibers of all kinds and types for the students to be able to inspect and use, I'll need to set up guidelines about how to treat these threads and strands with respect--literally, to look again at something you think you saw, and try to go to another level with the same thing.

Inspecting the loom is basically what we are doing all day--using our fingers as a kind of loom, and learning the basics of weaving--how the threads catch each other to form loops and twirls and arcs and knots. We practice a lot with finger games, and it's a marvel to see these first and second graders, many of whom have never imagined themselves as dextrous in any way at all approaching the level of skill they now show with less than three weeks of a few repetitions per week. I can feel the genuine interest in setting a personal challenge and asserting the need for help to achieve it – "I want to learn the Magic Carpet" – which many third graders have expressed now that they have strings long enough to attempt it. The drop spindle I brought it has attracted some interest, and next week I hope to have an example of some weaving in progress. By November I'm hoping that even the first graders will be able to grasp more of the meaning of fiber in their lives.

Which brings me to the third goal: Thank the Source. I hope to have students come away with the knowledge that the things we use for our games, clothes, and often our shelter, are woven materials that come ultimately from our earth, perhaps as petroleum, the source for the synthetic fiber the students mostly use for their string games, almost as much of it from plants, like cotton and flax and sisal, and a preciously small portion from animals, now that wools and furs are almost exclusively high end goods. In each source area, there are processes to acknowledge and appreciate, and workers whose skill and care deserve our thanks.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Rainbow of Circles

Whoopee! Got approval from the principal to do one of my wild and crazy ideas: to give the kids an experience of how to make a circle, each one gets measured with a piece of string, then we go outside and take turns holding one end of the string in the center and having the child trace the circle her height makes with playground chalk. Eventually we'll get almost three hundred concentric circles...


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Three Big Words, Four Little Words: My Seven Word Curriculum Plan

I am now more than half way through the second week of my two-month Residency in String Games, teaching 80 first graders, 80 second graders, and 100 third graders how to do string figures. I have each class (eleven classes!) for three 40 minute periods each week.

As part of a personal exercise in curriculum development, I chose not to write lesson plans for any of the classes. I've had so much experience teaching string games to all the primary grades that I knew I could wing these introductory weeks, and I knew what vocabulary and skills I needed to put into place to sow the seeds for later plans I hadn't really detailed out yet in my mind.

Ambidexterity is a big word that I introduce in all my string classes, and I've developed a clear way to communicate the idea of the brain development facilitated by bilateral activity: I explain to the kids that when I say, "Eyes on me," one of the calls I use when the class has been engaged in a practice session and I need their attention, what they need to do is look at my left eye--I point to it, and explain a bit about how I lost my right eye in an accident. Then I talk about how it's really not a big deal, because the eyes are wired differently from much of the rest of the body--each eye connects directly to the vision centers in the brain, and they can see by just putting a hand over one eye that the world doesn't really look much different with only one eye. I'll often talk a little about depth perception, and how I make mistakes several times a week about how big something is or how far away it is, but it's not that hard to figure out the mistakes--moving your head a little is almost the same as binocular vision.

But think about how different things would be if you had only one hand, or arm, or leg.

Most of the bilateral parts of the body are each wired to the opposite side of the brain, so bilateral activity, and especially manual ambidexterity, creates new pathways across the two hemispheres which can then be used for other connections between the ordered and the intuitive sides of our mental capacity.

That's the first big word I teach the kids. The other two are "Repertoire" and "Portfolio." I start almost immediately talking about how they each need to keep a mental checklist of their personal string repertoire, because they're all going to be helper teachers, and we as a class need to know what they can each teach us. And as we go on learning more and more, I'm going to be asking them to create a Portfolio that shows what they know. I had first thought of manila folders or envelopes for each student, and then I remembered how we used to take large pieces of construction paper and fold them to make student folders.

Our four little words for the two months are:

  1. Circle
  2. Sequence
  3. Cycle
  4. Spiral

I'll write more about what the plans are around those words soon...

Here's a worksheet I developed for seventh graders--there will be quite a different format for the primaries!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Two Month Residency as a Full-Time String Game Teacher!

A friend I visited yesterday, bringing back her table to set up for her birthday party, remarked on how good I looked. Really these days I am glowing like the King's Favorite Jester. A local elementary school where I've substitute-taught many times, and know the staff and administration, called a week ago Friday to ask if I would do a two-month long-term substitute job for them, replacing their music teacher, who had to take a leave of absence. I said I couldn't teach music, but would be happy to teach string games. They said, "Whatever you want to do is fine."

I've just completed my first full week as a an official Teaching Artist, teaching string figures as my art. I am humbled and amazed at how the universe answered me, so clearly and directly: I remember saying to Dan in one of the Connected Learning Drop-In sessions a year or so ago, "What I really want is for someone to pay me to teach string games full-time!"

Since one student did say "I miss doing music," I am pondering how to have each grade level (First, Second, Third) learn a different song, which they will share in our culminating performance. Here are my notes so far:

  • 1st: Make new Friends
We Are All Kin=Family=where we get the word “kind”
  • 2nd: A song about the seasons--any suggestions?
Things change, and then they cycle around again
  • 3rd: This Land Is Your Land
You and me Makes a We: How do we talk to and listen to (and talk about) people who are different from each other?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Artifacts vs. art, product vs. process

Artifacts vs. art, product vs. process

Assessment is not a spreadsheet -- it's a conversation.
 – Joe Bower, for the love of learning

One of the many benefits to teaching string games is the obvious way we can see and experience the difference between process and product in learning. We can assess directly the outcome of our teaching, “Has the student mastered the figure?” through their demonstration of the process of successfully producing a particular string figure. There is no product, per se, there’s only the shared experience of the student demonstrating and the teacher witnessing. The figure was observable, momentarily, and then it was gone.

Absent a video or photographic record,

or some crude (or elegant) “pin-down”

 of the figure onto a piece of paper, there is no artifact to the learning. Requiring that there be such, in the real world, is of use only to a third party. Between the teacher and the student, the experience of demonstrating a learned process and having it witnessed is all that each needs to be confident they can go to the next step in this student’s learning journey.

This is the essence of a student-centered approach to learning, and an essential realization if we are to acknowledge and rectify the imbalance in so many schools today, where almost all attention is on pedagogy--on what teachers do and say and present--and little meaningful attention is given to mathetics, the study of how children learn, what they are actually doing as they process their own skill and knowledge expansion, what meanings they give to those acquisitions, what use they can give now to their new skills and knowledge, how they can work together with their class- and school-mates as they relate their growth to the real world in which they live.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Not a ranger, a gardener of love

The "Ranger Me" Challenge never grabbed me, and I couldn't quite figure out why. I could have just moved on and payed attention to something else, but something made me want to figure out what was bothering me. Then I realized, it's putting myself in a uniform.

I knew from about 11 or 12 years old that I was subject to the draft, and that I was not going to register or serve in the military. I am a lifelong pacifist, out of political conviction, not religious, although Khalil Gibran was a kind of mystical inspiration. I began assembling my dossier to establish that I was a Conscientious Objector to War by the time I was 13.

So putting myself in a ranger uniform just didn't work. It's also uncomfortable in that many Park Rangers are armed and sworn police, with the capacity to use deadly force. I cannot imagine being in a position to use deadly force. I have never struck another human being, or held a weapon since pre-teen archery practice.

I decided to try to research a bit the historical rangers, and the mythical rangers, Aragorn/Strider from Tolkien, but still pretty militaristic. There was a Norwegian archer who was a conceivable model, but she's pretty fierce, too.

So really my alter ego as a Steward of the Earth, a Protector of Parks and Wildlands, is the Gardener of Love I was back in the 70's:

That's the communal outhouse on the hillside behind me, and hillside above that outhouse is the one that we terraced for a vineyard, which I wrote about in "Markings on Her Face."

Mike Rose's #celebrateteachers post

Wonderful post from Mike Rose, apropos of the #celebrateteachers tag:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Worms, gardening, and curation

My mind is wandering, and there are so many interesting and curious things to notice as the #CLMOOC meanders into a a 5th Make Cycle, Stories and Spaces. This is sort of that, in its way, more on my lifelong love affair with worms. Their undergroundedness, in particular, makes them essentially unphotographable in their native habitat without elaborate preparation and equipment. But I could sort of snap a fake photo of them at work by lifting off the burlap coffee sacks which cover their workspace in my backyard bricoleur's worm farm:

This is the frontline team, in the bin which regularly gets new buckets of kitchen scraps to go to work on, every week or two get their whole space disrupted by a "turning," mixing up the bottom layers where those workers who think they might be getting done here start trying to see if they can get out through one of the drain holes, and the few brave pioneers who've been working on all the fresh stuff at the top and maybe are feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and are hoping to have some fresh recruits to their ranks [odd how military language is creeping in here]. So once everything's been mixed up again, and the burlap sacks put back in place, I thought it would help the groupness of this #PhotoFriday essay I planned to write in response to Kim's call if I also singled out a random individual from the group:

This little guy is the Chosen One, but what's it to her? All she ever wants is to get back underground, away from this useless [to her] light which only means the danger of drying out, so she wriggles along, fishing in the interstices of the burlap for a way to make an exit. She finally found one, and I actually made a little movie of her escape.

Our Blatantly Obviously Sexually Mature Chosen Specimen of the Worm Group Makes Her Daring Escape!

I just love worms. There was a short-lived radical magazine during my youth called "Root and Branch." Thinking about roots and the underground, unseen parts of plants mattered to me then because of the feeling that persisted for me throughout my childhood, from my earliest memories up to entering a more public world in junior high and high school, and only began to fade--or rather, transform--in the early 1960's, of being part of a very small group of radical outcasts, the failed communists who did not succeed anywhere--we lost Spain, we lost to the witch-hunters, even the bastardized versions of communism as a system of government were utter failures with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuba was the one spot where perhaps there might be a glimmer of hope for some success... So, in my interior emotional landscape, we were probably better off hidden underground, not likely to be able to pull off realizing any of our dreams anyway, even if we could crawl up into the light. 

Then came the explosion of the Sixties, and that reticence flipped to its arrogant opposite--we were the future, the Vanguard of the Revolution, the visionaries able to deconstruct the entire public sphere and remake it into an egalitarian, loving community of Free People. Of course, not everyone was ready, but those who were would form the vanguard, go back to the land, learn to nurture and heal the earth, and thereby save her, us, and everyone in one swell foop! And that meant gardening, not really farming in the conventional large-scale sense of tens and hundreds of acres, but not backyard scale either: we had three full acres of relatively flat fertile land, three year-round creeks meeting on the property, a herd of up to 30 goats, and various chickens and other animals, including a pig for slaughter and a cow who was inadvertently slaughtered out of our ignorance of proper husbandry. There was not the currency, caché, nor confusion about the word "organic" then--it just made sense, sort of, though Rodale's earnestness seemed somehow discomfiting, and we were more drawn to the European tradition of biodynamic farming, a more honest and resonant term in any case. It was the British as colonists in India wanting to create self-sustaining farms not needing external inputs who developed the concept of mixed animal husbandry for manure, and crop rotation and cover cropping for soil building, which we implemented as best we could. I wrote about some of the work we did there building terraces in "Markings on her face."  Among the many jobs I did there was to become a keeper of worms, and among the worms in my garden now are some distant descendants of some of those worms, quite possibly, as I've brought some of them along from each garden I've tended to the next, over these almost 50 years.

Among the most important of the gardening lessons I've carried over into many other areas of my life, and now to curation, is the balancing of positive and negative orientations and behaviors as one cultivates. While cultivars deserve as much room as they need to grow as big as the cultivator might want them to, there's nothing competitive or aggressive about the volunteers which happen to be growing near the cultivars--they are not enemies, that word "weed" is a piece of vile profanity, not be uttered in humane and compassionate gardening/curating circles. They have availed themselves of the opportunity to grow where there was room, and if you, gardener, want to give that room over to one of your chosen pretties, well, go right ahead, but spare me, the volunteer, your moralizing, just say thanks for creating the pathways for worms and roots to follow later, and leave a few corners and nooks around the edges of your garden for some of my sisters and brothers to survive. The cultivator's attention should be on the positive energy she is directing towards the chosen plant, not on the removal of the surrounding volunteers. Their removal allows access to the ground, the surround, where the real cultivating takes place, where soil is rustled and nestled and fed with worms and compost, so that she can hold the water and the nutrients the cultivar needs. The magic happens underground, where our fingers wriggle around.

It is nice to see what emerges above ground, too.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Discipline Systems

The last make about systems has had me a bit puzzled. Having had a multi-year immersion in one of the most system-analysis driven fields of social "science," studying sociology and anthropology at Reed College in the 1960's, I was both fascinated and repelled by the ways that perception is filtered by system model that one is using to examine a topic. A few #CLMOOCers have expressed skepticism about the distortions that can result from a system model being imposed on a situation, our tendency to make the information fit into what the system frame says should be there.

Then I realized that a lot of my hesitation about the whole topic is rooted in my ambivalence about the elephant in the room: by far the most common way that teachers use or encounter the word "system" is as part of the compound, discipline system.

I work mostly as a substitute teacher these days, and whenever I go into a classroom, the kids almost always want to point out to me the system that their teacher uses: points, charts, clothespins with names on them, red/yellow/green stripes where those clips get stuck and then moved around, hangman games in progress on the whiteboard with POPCORN PARTY! written underneath... The variations are multifarious, but the bottom line is almost always that there are rewards and punishments built in, there are labels attached to kids, and the whole thing seems so complicated and beside the point... Usually I just explain to the kids that I know I won't be able to understand their teacher's system very well, so instead, let's just agree that we're going to be kind to each other today. It almost always works, because I can also offer a meaningful reward: if we can all get along and get the work that the teacher has left for them done a little early, then we'll have time for some string games, and they will each get a string of their own that they can take home with them.

This is not to say that I am opposed to any and all discipline systems. Especially when there is leadership at the school which lays out clear expectations and has set up workable procedures for dealing with challenging behavior, a system can be a great thing. But I am a strong believer in Alfie Kohn's basic approach, laid out in Punished by Rewards: the more externalized the system and the more demanding it is of compliance, the less likely kids are to be interested in learning for its own sake.

The need of the school to fulfill its "in loco parentis" obligation and keep everyone safe is one thing, but using a military and hierarchical model for decision making and the distribution of power within the system of the school never seems to work very well. I've been looking for resources about the Brazilian businessman who has a TED talk about abolishing hierarchies in his multinational company, and Google has failed me so far (I have the reference somewhere on my dead computer, and haven't been able to retrieve that particular bit!). I recall him talking about how the military abolished hierarchies in the buildup to WW Two, because they knew they had to gear up a lot of people to a lot of stuff quickly, and collaboration would be a much more efficient approach that command and control.

There are systems approaches to collaboration, of course, but there's something in my anarcho-communist roots which rebels whenever I see the word "system."  Nevertheless, here's a pretty diagram of a system promoted by the US Department of Education, just because I feel like I need a graphic of some kind in here...

Also, here are my notes on the etymologies of the relevant words:


discipline (n.) 
early 13c., "penitential chastisement; punishment," from Old French descepline (11c.) "discipline, physical punishment; teaching; suffering; martyrdom," and directly from Latin disciplina "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge," also "object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline," from discipulus (see disciple (n.)). 


disciple (n.) 
Old English discipul (fem. discipula), Biblical borrowing from Latin discipulus "pupil, student, follower," said to be from discere "to learn" [OED, Watkins], from a reduplicated form of PIE root *dek- "to take, accept" (see decent). But according to Barnhart and Klein, from a lost compound *discipere "to grasp intellectually, analyze thoroughly," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + capere "to take, take hold of" (see capable). Compare Latin capulus "handle" from capere. Sometimes glossed in Old English by þegn (see thane).


system (n.) 
1610s, "the whole creation, the universe," from Late Latin systema "an arrangement, system," from Greek systema "organized whole, a whole compounded of parts," from stem of synistanai "to place together, organize, form in order," from syn- "together" (see syn-) + root of histanai "cause to stand" from PIE root *sta- "to stand" (see stet). 

Meaning "set of correlated principles, facts, ideas, etc." first recorded 1630s. Meaning "animal body as an organized whole, sum of the vital processes in an organism" is recorded from 1680s; hence figurative phrase to get (something) out of one's system (1900). Computer sense of "group of related programs" is recorded from 1963. All systems go (1962) is from U.S. space program. The system "prevailing social order" is from 1806.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Collaborative games/example with string for #CLMOOC

As I jumped into Terry Elliott's Thoreau Game in the #CLMOOC, creating a HackPad for String Games, Terry challenged me:
  • Can we use a particular string game to analyze or deconstruct? How about to empower? How does it empower with its string design?  I have lots of questions to tease out that deep deep knowing that rests within you and yearns to be free.
Here's a first response:

First activity: find a group of 3 or more people. Make a string figure length loop of string, about 1 meter or a little more than a yard in length (you can also use the rule of thumb: hold the string in one hand, stretch out the other hand, and as far apart as your hands reach, plus a few inches, is good for most figures and accounts for differences in handspan) for each person.

Then make another piece of string that long enough so that all the people in the group can stand in a circle and loop their own piece of string over the bigger loop:

Making a star with string

This group in the photo above is not following my directions! 

But they didn't make any mistakes, either--

In fact, the shot is from an open exploration session with middle school students, where after some group instruction in a new figure they were given time to explore in my collection of string figure books, and this figure attracted the most attention and participation by the largest group.

If they had done it right, each point of the interior pentagon would be formed by a single string, looped over the center but with each end held in a different hand. Then each person reaches out to each side to hold hands, and as they do they form the points on the star.

This works with any number of people, who then form a polygon with the same number of sides as people. I just did it as the introduction to a professional development session, with the observation that we had to be equalizing the tension and the spacing of our loops to make the geometric figure look right. 

The biggest obstacle I face when confronted with the idea of games is how competition is embedded in so much of the discussion. What I like are collaborative games. I love the way this one is extensible to any size group!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"how improbable it is that any movie at all turns out to be good..."

This post's title is a quote from a piece in Vulture by Adam Sternbergh,

Serena. Photo: 2929 Productions
Why Did This Movie Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper Go Straight to VOD?

I've not seen the movie, nor any of the movies by either star referenced in the piece. I was fascinated by his concluding analysis, answering the question he poses in his title. His answer is that productive collaboration is quite difficult, as he enumerates the many parts and processes that go into making a movie that didn't work in this case, despite all the evidence that everything should have worked, given the levels of talent involved.

It's the importance of the collaborative process in such a venture that I want to highlight. Here's his final paragraph:’s a much more rare artifact than a really bad movie: It’s an incompetent movie. Unlike more famous movie disasters, it plays out not like the product of one unchecked monstrous ego but of a thousand tiny decisions gone wrong. The editing is incompetent. The pacing is incompetent. The scenes don’t logically flow from one to the next. The soundtrack sounds like it was generated by a computer-soundtrack algorithm set to “mournful fiddle.” Serena is a bracing reminder of how much expertise goes into making even the most uninspired movie — how dozens of people with wildly different skill sets all have to perform well or the whole project is imperiled. The stars may be the ones with their names plastered over the title, but if you’re Jennifer Lawrence, trapped in Serena like Rapunzel in her tower dungeon, your powers of self-salvation are limited. You can’t reedit the film or rescore its music or re-scout its locations. In the end, the lesson of Serena isn’t how remarkable it is when a movie like this goes badly, but how improbable it is that any movie at all turns out to be good. 

It's likely that an insider to the movie biz would say, "It's really all the director's fault, ultimately, as she has to be the one making all those decisions about who does which job and how they do it." Yet clearly that's beyond anyone's capacity. So how does one identify exactly what are the ingredients that should go into making a complex collaboration successful? 

My own experience in elementary school classrooms, both as a student at a school which did not give grades, ever, and as a teacher who hated the kind of correcting that goes into grading, is that pride in a group product was the key to a successful collaboration. We needed to acknowledge ourselves as a we, and to agree that the we mattered, meaning no one gets left out, and then work together so that everyone succeeds in doing their part. 

It's harder to make that stick around the goal that everyone knows their times tables, or has their book ready for the Book Fair, than that everyone should know Jacob's Ladder by the end of the day. But if the class has done that kind of group goal-setting with string games first, then the other, longer-term goals get easier to reach.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Progressive Education in the 1940's

Part of my presentation on "The Myth of the Digital Native." I went to such a school in Los Angeles in the 1950's, student-centered, collaborative, no grades ever given. By then the public school climate had already changed radically, but that private progressive school is still going strong! Westland School's brochure reads like a brief for authentic education...

Friday, June 5, 2015

The scythe vs. the weed-wacker

Alerted to this video by a conversation in the IGDA Learning and Education Games SIG. Here's part of my contribution to the thread, prompted by the Washington Post article by  Kentaro Toyama.

Thanks so much for the scythe v. weedwacker video. I'm already thinking about ways I can incorporate it into my teaching--doing a consult with a dual immersion (Spanish/English) academy locally starting on Monday, for a Summer School session. I'd love to see a similar side-by-side video of someone with a broom v. leaf-blower. Both are great examples how the non-fossil fuel based traditional solution has obvious advantages. I'm not sure a sweeper could beat the time of the blower as the scyther so easily beat the whacker, but in each case there is the huge advantage of avoided noise pollution as well, and the personal health benefits to the worker v. the exposure to toxins which inevitably accompany our energetic systems.

In part of the thread, someone asked for opinions on one-to-one computing programs. This was part of my response

When I see a child with a device, my first question is "Who's telling it what to do?" Is the child in charge, creating or at least interacting, or is the device telling her what to do--usually, "Sit still and follow orders!"?

One-to-one programs can be wonderful. I've seen a few that seem to be working well. Again, is the child using the device to create and express herself? Is she attending to the repertoire of skills she's mastering with an eye to her own goals, assembling a portfolio, banking Digital Badges in a BackPack that's categorized according to her interests and goals? Does she have a sense of continuity and self-awareness about her learning? These are not new-age or technology driven concerns. These echo the timeless goals of good education.

RE: Is the choice of iPads as the device for a one-to-one program a good investment, v. the choice of another device? That's one question. For me the much more important question is, what's the ratio of the investment in the people to the investment in the devices – and especially in the software, in the details of the ownership and use of materials, and technical support – my rule of thumb would be, at least twice the amount of money should be going to hiring internal on-demand support, and providing learning and curriculum development time to the teachers who will use the devices, than is going to outside vendors, and make that ratio even bigger if you can. There's really no need to purchase curriculum and "text book" access. Use the Open Source materials which already exist, and give teachers time to adapt them to their particular situation.

There's so much back-stage hustling by sales people and administrators about these deals. If there's the potential to make a purchase, why not give this year's eighth graders the year-long assignment to collaboratively develop the plan for the implementation for their successors. Give them the budget numbers, let them form teams, and research, develop, and evaluate a variety of plans and approaches. If each classroom has just one device, say, it might be most cost-effective to outfit every classroom with homemade raspberry pi rigs, and the seventh graders get to build and assemble them next year...