Admittedly, this is the Casa (not Soundlab), but that is the 12 string Grant was playing in the Soundlab recordings).
Originally dropped in Alan Levine’s Storybox, which I think was supposed to remain a one-stop shop for media content, Grant Potter and I recorded a bunch of songs sitting around the Soundlab kitchen table back in September of 2011 that I’ve played on #ds106radio a time or two, but thought I would share here. I’ve spent the last week assembling different pieces of music, writing and presentations to be collected and shared on a separate page of this site with the hopes that assembling these works in such a way will lead me to the ‘next’ place in each of these extra-curricular directions.
As a kick off, and look back, at some of the music I feel fortunate to have made in the last year, here are a few choice cuts from the Soundlab Sessions, with Grant Potter.
On Monday I’ll be giving a brief talk to the Langley cohort of Simon Fraser University’s Learning & Teaching with Technology Field Program about Personal Narratives as a framework for learning. Not particularly adept at the nomenclature surrounding and separating ‘frameworks,’ lenses, methods, and mostly considering myself self-taught when it comes to this stuff, I have long-found stories to be a vital part of my teaching bag-of-tricks, and will be sharing some of what I’ve found along the way with the group. As an introduction, I’ve shared the following post on the class’ Posterous account, but it’s private; so I’ve shared it here in the hope that those of you out there – who have really done all the teaching in this supposed ‘self-teaching’ I’ve been doing – might leave us a comment, a story, a link to some reading, or pass this post along to someone who might.
As a means of collecting some of the supplemental material I would attach to a discussion of Personal Narratives and Storytelling in the classroom, I thought I would put together a post here that you may find useful in extending the conversation post-”Institute.”
As a general introduction, the above video is a story I told in a canoe in Algonquin Park last summer at the Unplug’d Education Summit. The purpose of the “un-conference” was to bring together educational stake-holders to synthesize our individual essays (each filling the blank in the title, Why _________ Matters) into a book organized by thematically grouped chapters. You can download the e-book here, and learn more about this year’s event at Unplugd.ca.
While the whole process revolved around a socially constructive framework, my essay centered around the idea that “Sharing our Stories” matters: that each of our individual truths construct a shared “truth” or objectivity; and that if we follow this through to its logical conclusion, the skills required to realize, share and synthesize our stories become essentials in creating a healthy culture (democratic, social, educational or otherwise).
From both a personal and pedagogical perspective, this aspect of joining the personal and the collective through stories holds great interest for me, especially as we consider that our digital tools provide ever-more opprortunities to share unique pieces from our individual corners of the world with tribes and swarms and communities beyond our own local geography. Indeed:
…our understanding of authorship is, at the present time, caught between two regimes: one a system of knowledge production informed by Enlightenment-era notions of the self, the other is a world of “technologies that lend themselves to the distributed, the collective, the process-oriented, the anonymous, the remix.” As we step into the future increasingly governed by the latter, we move, in some ways, back to an earlier era: a move away from a culture of isolated reading — the individual reader, alone with a book or a screen — towards a more communal engagement, the coffee-house or fireside model of public reading and debate in which literary culture historically originated. Long before print culture, storytelling was not a solitary experience but a group event.
In its more classical sense, education concerned itself almost exclusively with Aesthetics, or the “broader sense” that Wikipedia describes as “critical reflection on art, culture and nature. Educators today would do well to be aware of an emerging New Aesthetic (which is described here in a specific fashion that need not be completely digested or accepted to be relevent to our discussion).
Simply put, the New Aesthetic concerns itself with how the digital world and the real world are starting to overlap and intermingle in interesting, routine and unexpected ways. As search engines, online ‘bots’, spam generation engines, online mapping tools, google street view, machine vision and sensing technologies proliferate, our everyday life in the western technologically advanced world is starting to bristle with new types of augmentation and hybridity.
As we move into next week, I hope we can play around with some of these emerging tools to begin to tell our own stories and begin to create possibilities for storytelling (digital or otherwise) as a means of individual and collective learning in your classrooms.
The main point I like to stress in talking about storytelling in our emerging media/digital landscape is that despite our new modes of communication, the act of telling our individual and communal stories is fundamental to the creation and maintenance of our culture and in this way is at the center of what education strives to achieve.
As one of my teaching idols told me on the day he retired, “Any class you teach is just another opportunity for kids to practice forming communities,” a sentiment I find myself agreeing with more the longer I teach, and a process in which I find stories increasingly fundamental.
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.
After being introduced to the Dactyloceras lucina – a species of moth of the Brahmaeidae family found in central and west Africa – I went a little further with the image search, consulting Flickr’s the Commons under the search tag for Interesting and found my base layer, which I then uploaded into pixlr.com, an online photo editor that let me add text and diffuse the picture to give it the grainy/painting effect.
Other than not creating a square image – as I believe is one of the requirements – I also think I could have done a better job capturing the essence of my randomly generated quotation, which I’ll share in full here as a fond greeting to my camp and bunkmates, but also an acknowledgment of Camp Macguffin’s initial honeymoon period (I mean, not in Bunk X, but for the other campers):
The only thing that lasts longer than a friend’s love is the stupidity that keeps us from knowing any better.
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.”
Imagine a life where possibilities are opening at a speed that veers unpredictably between exhilarating and terrifying. The familiar, precisely because it’s familiar and safe, still tugs at you, but even so, you want out because your old life constricts as much as it comforts. Besides, your social milieu, which often feels like an endless struggle to achieve, or resist being slotted into some arbitrary niche—pretty, ugly, smart, dumb, athlete, klutz—is changing fast. You feel driven—by inner need and outside pressure—to make choices. Meanwhile, the manipulative, often harsh, powers that be, who created the larger world they’re busy shoving you into, have clearly not done a bang-up job of it, either in their personal lives or as part of society. And they want you to get out there and ?x their mistakes—just at a moment when worry over the imminent demise of their entire socio-economic structure is never far from the surface. It can be cruel and scary out there. Dystopian, even.
Chances are, anyone not imagining this life, but actually living it, is a teenager.
In some ways, I guess it is natural that the TALONS class would incorporate into its evolving storytelling and myth-making the influences of dystopian literature, fan fiction, and the classic zombie film. In the background of the class’ study of novels, history, and current events, math and science, the approaching Adventure Trip (constituting the class’ Leadership 11 Final Exam), the class blog has become the setting for unfolding video, and literary riffs on the classroom setting, as well as TALONS characters enacting both a five part series of zombie films and an epic, multi-authored fan fiction bringing the Hunger Games to the afternoon corhort.
There is no avoiding the violent nature of the Hunger Games, and each post begins with a variation of the following caveat:
(Warning: The following post depicts scenes of violence, using fictionalized examples of real people. Please do not read if you might find any of this offensive / disturbing. This narrative is for educational purposes only. Any references and ideas taken from the Hunger Games trilogy are the strict property of the brilliant Suzanne Collins).
But what I find remarkable about the TALONS versions of each story – and perhaps what constitute each genre’s appeal with today’s young people – is an awareness and an articulation of the human qualities that perpetuate our survival in desperate times, whether in real life, a zombie movie, or young adult fan-fiction. Each are excellent examples of using an existing structure of genre or plot-line to tell a story that is uniquely personal.
Check them out (and don’t miss the informative ‘Legend‘ to help see into the intricacies of the class dynamic at work in the story):
The platforms stilled, each tribute squinting in the sudden light, trying to adjust to their surroundings. They were standing in the middle of a field of grass, an enormous ancient stone city before them, practically crumbling before their eyes. Behind them was a forest, thick with every kind of tree, green and lush with life. The tributes looked around, dazed by the beauty of their surroundings. For a moment, all thoughts of death and murder disappeared out of their heads, but seconds later, the gong sounded and each tribute shot off their platform, scattering in all directions.
Morning came and Bronwyn wasn’t prepared. She had hardly slept that night after yet another cannon had roared, causing her to wonder who had died this time. She exhaled softly and packed up quickly, sliding down the tree ready for day 2. The moment she hit the ground, she heard the sound of feet running. She ran and leapt behind a bush, peering through and seeing, to her surprise, Leanne. She was standing in the middle of a clearing, holding a badminton racquet. Bronwyn frowned. A badminton racquet? What kind of a cruel trick was that? But suddenly, the small hole Bronwyn had been staring through darkened as someone stood in front of it.
Chelsea climbed up the tree, searching for a place to stay. Sean climbed close behind, trying not to look down. He didn’t know why he had saved Chelsea, but he had. Shaking his head, Sean called up to Chelsea that he had found a branch. Swinging sideways, Sean landed on the branch and pressed himself against the trunk, closing his eyes and listening for any noises. Instead, the anthem played and Sean blinked and looked up at the darkened sky.
About half an hour later, Alisha was happily roasting several chunks of meat over a spit. She leaned forward and studied them carefully, inspecting them and making sure they were cooked thoroughly. Then, with quick and precise hands, she whipped out a handful of Japanese Yew berries and stuffed them into the meat.
Humming to herself, Zoe loaded up Jonny’s crossbow, and crouched down, lying on her belly and began to aim. Alisha had been right. Only one could win.