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Posts from the ‘Life & Learning’ Category

A brilliant typo

It’s coming to the end of the semester and student minds are beginning to focus on assessment tasks and performance exams.

A student came to me with an early draft of an essay that was part outline, part drafted text, and in it there was a brilliant typo. The student had either mistyped or autocorrect had it’s way and changed mediation to meditation.

The essay notes read like this:

Learning is meditated by the child’s behaviour. Meditation is key concept in child development and culture- it enables the child to interact with their individual development.

Although it wasn’t what they meant, it stuck with me so much that a few weeks later I told the student I thought it was actually the most meaningful typo I had come across and I wanted to write about it. There are so many things that I profoundly like about it. Firstly there are key concepts of learning, behaviour, children, development, culture, and interaction. That might just be a whole world right there. It made me think about how they worked together, like a steampunk model of the universe, orbiting and balancing with one another. Image CC-BY-NC-ND by Andrew Poole

The associations with learning, especially at exam time, are anything but resembling a child’s behaviour. Children play. Learning should be play, or at least incorporate elements of play as fundamental – play as in experimenting, experiencing, first-hand, where you are at the helm, making the rules and experiencing the consequences of how concepts work or not in practice, in dedicated time, deliberately, and with all our attention. Playing is hard work, and can include incredible precision. The difference between play and work? Perhaps this has to do with ownership. My work becomes play when I feel in control of the parameters, and also when I am allowed to fail, or have iterations to get to the final product. When we play a game, outside in the field hiding behind trees, and someone spots us and we’re ‘out’ then oftentimes the rules get adapted so we can continue. Are we not engaging in a new strategy? Persisting, demonstrating some form of resilience to continue toward the goal. Having another go so we might ‘win’, or climb the tree, or stand on the mound in the middle of the field, or get to whatever the goal might be.

Going back to the inspiring typo:

Learning is meditated by the child’s behaviour.

I imagine these melting into one, becoming transient stages of one another. The link for me was the ‘is’… back in school I loved grammar, and although it doesn’t apply to this sentence, when there is a simple state of being verb, the subject and predicate commute – you can reverse the sentence. In this case there is a helping verb, so it doesn’t work, but I took the principle and applied it to the concepts:

What if learning is a form of behaviour and this in turn is a form of meditation?

In different traditions, various types of activity can be prayer, so perhaps different activities can also have meditative qualities. I don’t know if I really know what meditation is. I think if I thought I understood, I would be wrong as well, so there’s comfort in admitting that I don’t know. I do know that reflection, stillness, and activity are all important components in my learning and it helps when I can regain my childlike mindset. I don’t mean a mindset of folly. Just as exams bring out the worst connotations of learning, sometimes the idea of being an adult somehow invokes images of being through or finished with all that experimenting, learning, growing. Am I going to get taller? No, I’m an adult. Am I going to stop growing? No, I am childlike.

See where I am coming from?

so if I rewrite the brilliant typo to demonstrate what it made me think, it could go like this:

Learning, childlike behaviour (play), and reflective Meditation is are key concepts in child my development and culture- it they enables the child me to interact with culture their individual and development.

without all the visual edits, and put into the right order, here’s where it took me:

Learning, play, and reflective meditation are key concepts in my development. They enable me to individually develop and interact with culture.

It was the best typo. Thank you to the student for being willing to share that developmental draft, and for letting me write about it. Featured image CC BY-ND–NC by the-sillies. Above image CC-BY-NC by Lee Davenport

I have a dream, about music and you

I have a dream and a vision and I believe in connection, and that collaboration allows the creation of far more than one mind could see.

I would like to invite you, whoever you are, wherever you are, to participate in a collaboration contributing to a piece for a concert-type event at my university at the end of April.

It is a positive action event to affirm life, music, and each other called ‘Singing for Unity: Hear our Voices’. It coincides with a certain 100 days, when many of us might like a reminder of the positive aspects of education and the arts. This event is not about politics, but about people, music, and life.

All sorts of contributions are invited: spoken word, music, poetry… It is open.

I would like to make two things- firstly a song. (Yes, I know I play the cello) The old Dylan song – The times they are a changing. I love it. Now here’s the invitation. I had in mind something like the giant internet choir project of Eric Whitacre, but then I thought, hey wait, I can think broader….  And I reached out to a friend in Arizona who recorded sent me an audio track of the chords HERE

and I thought wouldn’t it be great if this could become something more? Remixed into something- a bigger work? The song is the basis and I invite people to contribute how they see – with your dream, your vision. The event will have contributions people from across disciplines at my uni, and I thought it would be a great thing to include the wider educational and artistic community as well.

I would love to have images, music, a verse without words and with different instruments. I would love to have everyone send me their voice, or a talking head, or even just some words that I could edit in over an instrumental section where people said something – a sentence.

 

I believe in connection.  (that might be what I say)

 

Maybe people’s ‘I believe’ sentences string together to become a poem in themselves. (You can see this idea developing as I type.)

I am good at ideas, but I need you to make them work, so please take up the invitation. Feel free to contribute anonymously or as you, however you feel comfortable, to either (or both) of these two things (to interpret as you wish):

1.     A contribution to ‘The times they are a changing’, which could be sound, music, image. The basic song is based on the Peter, Paul, & Mary version (because I really like that one) and the guitar backing is here:

2.     A sentence, in audio, typing (you could always leave a comment below, and I am happy to string them together), or a video of you saying something positive. I suggest the beginning ‘I believe’ or ‘I will’ or ‘I am committed to’…

Feel free to comment on the post, email me, or you could even post a letter! (that would be exciting!) Hope you join me as a named or anonymous contributor.

(featured image ‘the way the wind blows’ by Thomas Hawk CC-BY-NC)

Meeting people: On all sorts of levels

I attended #OER17 with many different goals and hopes, but all were surpassed and I came away having learned a most valuable, topical, and poignant lesson about our world and how we interact. I met people. Meeting people is something that we do and teach, or at least teach about, in so many ways. In my Psychology of Learning and Teaching class I even teach about meeting people – the value of social interaction, social context, the self, how children develop, but this day was a landmark revelation for me. I was aware not of teaching through the rear-view mirror of McLuhan but of not realising we are riding bicycles while others are driving on the same road with us. It is challenging to verbalise. This is a personal reflection with pedagogical implications.

Read more

Making music everywhere: Cello Weekend 2017

Music everywhere. Cellos everywhere. Smiles, laughter, learning, good work, new strings, new learning. It is difficult to sum up what a magnificent weekend has just happened with 25 amazing cellists: students, professionals, teachers, children, parents – so many walks of life. There was incredible generosity to support from so many different angles- from a private donor, to three string companies each supporting us with strings, one sponsoring one of the workshops, and then there were the parents and teachers. We had cello cake and cupcakes! Oh my goodness… and the teacher who sat with the youngest students throughout the whole weekend to make sure they didn’t get lost.

Have a little look into what we got up to:

The recordings are taken with my phone as rehearsals went on (you can even hear me counting in the background…) and the music over the last few photos was recorded at the concert – by me, with my phone, while conducting. It was at that moment I thought – oh drat! I could have made a good recording with the zoom recorder in my bag… the bag over there… It’s tricky to get all the planning right when you are planner, orchestrator, director, and deliverer, and if the recording was the only thing that slipped, well that’s pretty good for me.

This last piece was composed by the gal singing, and I had talked to her and said we had a cello orchestra, so why not write out a string accompaniment? She made it easy, and that was great. We did not, however, get to rehearsing it. So only a very few (the youngest members) had heard it before we performed it. The thing is, it is a lovely song – about ‘our perfect world’ and the lyrics say – I’m dreaming of our perfect world, and you’re there… come, take my hand… – It is 100% positive. When we played it, the orchestra could be relatively together and in tune, despite not having played it – and it was a lollipop at the concert, not the main works, so perfection wasn’t the aim for this one – it was about the experience. But, because it was easy, people had enough spare attention to enjoy, look around, and soak it in. I had no score, only the parts, so I was looking at the players the whole time, and something magic happened. One by one, they began to smile at me. It wasn’t everyone, but about 5 just grinned, and I thought,  This, this is why we make music, why we teach, what it really means to learn. 

Ok, I get sentimental, and I admit to being very optimistic and enthusiastic, and it is without apology. I was moved by those smiles, and by the support of people – parents, partners, babies (yes we really did have a 2 month old baby at the Cello Weekend), and unseen supporters (Thank you Charles!). Thank you to everyone who attended and who made this weekend possible. To the University for the use of the Chapel, to the string companies: D’Addario, Jargar, and Larsen, and to the players. You are truly amazing.

I very much look forward to next year’s event.

Save the date: 

Cello Weekend 2018

April 14-15

Community in four words

Sometimes in the midst of the storm there is calm. I felt that today for a brief moment. Oh there are many reasons to feel the storm today. I don’t want to go there – I sat still for a moment and read the very eloquent post by danah boyd (thanks to Bonnie for tweeting it) and thought, mmmm (that’s code for ‘yes’). I admit to skimming the post and then read carefully, backwards- starting at the end – and thought.

(that’s not an unfinished sentiment. It was my action: I thought.)

Community. Trust. Communication. Personal. Stories. Interest. Talking. Inquiry. Curiosity. Care. Friends. Time.

It made me think about how we transmit and value information about one another. Last night I on a video call with America and Australia and Brazil talking about a new archive of ethnomusicology materials, and I was struck by the story that people told through their research – living for decades with distant cultures and stressing the importance of context and having access to all the notes, audio, soundscapes of the places and people. One bit of information in isolation was nothing. To me, as someone who didn’t know, it was at best misleading, and at worst – well I cannot imagine – and that is the nature of ignorance.

When we do not know about something, there is a need to genuinely learn and to teach, and in today’s push-button world, people have sometimes lost the art of explanation, conversation, and (I dare say) an awareness of others. I don’t mean this in any base horrible way, but in simple things.

An everyday example: I was speaking to a lady in her 70’s the other day and she explained how she was using her phone more, but her family didn’t know how to explain to her. Her granddaughter said to just google it, but had not explained the three touches needed to raise the search engine page on the phone, and so it was a mystery without obvious instructions and she was frustrated. I would be too.

There is an art to teaching, and we are all called upon to be teachers, whether in a school or not. Partly that is because we are all learning. Learning, teaching, developing, growing – unless we stop that awareness of ourselves and those around us, and that sort of stopping is different to standing still (because there can be great reflection in that); that is a choice to decay.

News, fake news, community and trust, – from one end of the spectrum to the other. I was struck in danah’s post that she hints at calling upon people from across layers of society to realise and want to make a difference: that people having a choice, but she says “I’m not sure that we have the will, but I think that’s part of the problem.” She is so right. It is like someone who struggles with any addiction, be it food, money, power – it is part of what fuel’s you and it is not easy to choose to live differently than those shouting pretty loud. You can shut your eyes, but closing your ears, now that’s not easy. -but it is possible, and that’s where community comes into it. Each person can make a difference in the world. One kind word, one wave, one song. Whether you reach one or one thousand, what you do has an impact beyond what you can see.

Tomorrow there is a positive thing happening on Twitter. Bonnie Stewart has cast an invitation to share 4 word stories about what community means. It’s all part of the #Antigonish2 movement. I’ll be there. Hope you will join us too.

Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Phil Norton

Finding the words

It has been a month since I posted anything. A month. Sometimes finding the words to express joys, sorrows, and for me now – the digestion of thinking – it’s a translation issue. It is hard enough to go between words and music, let alone begin translating living into words. The past month has encompassed a lot of living and it is through the people we meet and the stories they tell that inspiration takes hold yet again.

I seem to listen best when the lure of routine is broken and there is the luxury of space. What do I mean? Every so often my job includes travel, and personally I crave connection and interaction with those beyond my immediate experience. When in a different setting, physically, culturally, environmentally, there is a necessity for either adaption or calcification, as a form of perseverance or protection I suppose. I would like to think I am open to experience. There are also times we (certainly I) am not always receptive to stories, life, to the water we swim in and the air we breathe, but over the past month, I was. Read more

There’s a Mastodon in the room.

Pull up a chair. This is an invitation the the first impromptu, un-conference to be held for educators, learners, teachers, people, and well – for you. Where, how, when? (2 min read)

The #MastoParle Event: Feb 14-17

It will be held on Mastodon. Mastodon is a relatively new platform that was introduced last November by a developer called Eugen. Please don’t switch off at the mention of a new platform – give the idea a chance and read on – I’ll be brief, promise. It is an open source, chat platform that appears to have many similar features to a commonly used bird site, but there are differences. A small group of academic-tech-friendly-type people happened to find Mastodon when it first came out and it was the strangest surprise party where people from across the globe met on what happened to coincide with the American Thanksgiving weekend – so people had time. -perhaps that was why it began with such a flourish. The door is open and ‘us’ is inclusive –

This community feel, has been described by users as a coffee house, or parlour where people could wander in and out freely, and there is always seemingly a chair at the table, no matter how talkative or quiet you are. That community feel is worth building, ESPECIALLY at a time like now, when there is so much noise and angst about. This is not to suggest ignoring current events, no no no, but we as people, as teachers, as learners, as humans need to still live and nurture hope and the spark that sustains us.

So please join in-

Mastodon, as a platform, has been developed, and continues to develop in response and conjunction with it’s user community. Want a new privacy feature – suggest it, and like magic, it happens. Want to sort how to tag/follow/thread a conversation? Let’s hash that out as a collective and if you can code, jump in and suggest specifics. Now the nature of development is a high-end feature that separates Mastodon from many other platforms, but there are also practical differences that work on the ground level.

A big difference is 500 characters instead of 140. Sounds simple? Remember many of the greatest inventions are simple, and with hindsight seem terribly obvious. 500 characters gives space to provide context, space to tag a dozen people, space to explain without endless strings of 1/ 2/ 3/ with half sentences and using every replacement character – instead of forcing ppl 2 go w/out, ifysim? It becomes a conversation, and feels like a c o n v e r s a t i o n where people pause to digest, breathe, and perhaps have time to consider before replying. Within the education people there is certainly an aspect of blue sky thinking, and because the community is, as of yet, small, there are very valuable conversations happening across a range of topics – from daily happenings, to ponderous reflections on learning and the world around us.

For this event we’ll use the hashtag combining Mastodon and Parler (as in to talk) #MastoParle and you can think of it as the mingle time at a conference or before a concert or lecture or whatever event – that chat time where very often valuable connections happen.

The MastoParle Event via https://mastodon.social/about

Feb 14-17

Drop in when you like, say hello. If you are completely new, use the #mastoparle tag and hopefully someone will welcome you – don’t be alarmed if there isn’t an instant response – remember there is breathing time in these conversations!

Image by Seth Youngblood CC BY-NC-ND

Featured image by Kevin Harber CC BY-NC-ND

I, myself, as a tree

(3 min read) My son used to go for long walks with us and his grandparents and as we followed the footpaths through the woods he would look up, stretching through his open fingertips and say, ‘tall like a tree!’ It is an enduring and lovely memory of mine. Today I asked my class to do a related activity, having to do with the concept of self, and we nearly had enough time to discuss the takeaways. My university music students paired up and set about drawing their partner as a tree, or some form of vegetation of their choosing. The instructions were to NOT tell or show the other person your drawing.

This caused much hilarity with my room full of music students. It began with a few people saying, but I don’t know how to draw?!? but despite the lack of formal training, everyone got on with it and there were smiles and giggles and there were a few questions – what about? How do I? I assured them that there were no wrong approaches or wrong drawings. It was fine.

After a few minutes, when they had finished, I asked them to use another piece of paper and this time to draw themselves as a tree or plant. Oooh, this was more challenging. I had in mind a couple of iterations – but we only had time for a first drawing. If we had longer we could have drawn ourselves as our ideal tree, or as the tree we think others perceive us to be. As it was, just the act of drawing a tree-self-portrait was perfect for today.

Lastly we went around the room and showed, first the self-image and then the other person’s portrait. They were always different, and some were heartwarmingly thought through.

…She is an iris, because it is beautiful, complex, and a lot stronger than it looks…

and that self portrait was of a cactus in a pot.

How often do we tell people the good we see in them?

Without communication, there is only guesswork, assumption, and potential for misunderstanding. So much of teaching is about communication.

I didn’t have a partner as there were an even number of students, but I did draw a tree and also asked the internet what sort of tree I would be, and I got two replies, one in words and one in ink. My tree was mainly lines, and it went off the page. (I think of myself as a big tree, with old roots, and outstretched branches.)

“A fairly tall tree with many different sized branches growing in different directions with a sturdy trunk that holds the branches together and also moves gently in the breeze.” – Blinkey

by Ronald_2008

Applied imagination: Are the walls real?

Last week I had the privilege of teaching on the Applied Imagination module at the University of Warwick. Imagine, a two-hour session in a studio that was a copy of where performers stand in a play, with lighting rig all around, a catwalk above, black brick walls and everything that makes a stage – except the audience. What a setting. This was our stage.

The class consisted of 18 from across the different disciplines offered at the university, and our session began with a recap from them (for me) of their understanding of working within a discipline and branching out to cross-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and even trans-disciplinary. They used the analogy of boxes. (I thought of shoe boxes) One discipline stays within the box, cross jumps from one box to another, inter uses the boxes to make a linked fort-type structure, and trans- that’s when I piped up and joined the discussion with the analogy that you just tip all the boxes out and make a pile in the middle.

This class was like that – we were a mix and were all together. I didn’t even introduce myself beyond: Hi, I’m Laura. They had all read the chapter ‘Whole Students’ from my book, and so they did know something of me. I didn’t need to be put into any other boxes. I began with telling them that when thinking of all these boxes – oh there are so many boxes, in life, in education, in people’s expectations of us, the list could go on – when thinking of these boxes, the walls aren’t real. Are they?

(gosh that was heavy. Did I really say that?!?)

(I did)

Of course the walls are real, but very often they are built by people and sometimes even built by us. That was something to keep in mind, in the background as we went through various activities and discussions. The overall themes were:  Read more

Standing up and showing up

This post is about hope and standing up for one another. The unfolding events of the past six months or so have troubled me. Nobody likes to see a bully or a hater normalised. Nobody likes to see bad news. Nobody likes to be told and shown how destructive … the negativity is all over the place, like a cancer. Well it’s not really all over. You can choose not to watch the tv, choose to block the ads, choose not to sign up to the tolerances and looking the other way, but that is not easy. It takes choice and action – some might say agency.

(featured image CC BY-ND by Mike Keating)

Last night, Jan 20th, there was an event at my university, initiated by one of my students, and we organised it together. It was a positive event to change our perspective and combat all the ugliness that can invade and cloud our vision. We wanted to celebrate unity, love, and join together in solidarity with one another and with the extended community. We did this with words, song, poetry, music, and by being physically present. It was more than a conversation and went beyond agreeing or disagreeing with something – we were doing something. Everyone there showed up and stood up -All manner of people were represented in those taking part – multiple nationalities, various mother tongues, students, teachers, administrators, senior management, alumni, people from other universities, able, disabled – in a wheelchair, blind- old, young, men, women, and we came together. Voices were heard to speak for and represent those who were not there, but wanted to contribute. We sang together. We sang the March of the Women by suffragette Ethel Smythe, a song she conducted with a toothbrush, through the jail cell bars while imprisoned. Original songs and poems were shared about loss, healing, distant friends, and about expression, hope, and unity.

One brave gal stood up, and before performing said, I don’t play on my own (I don’t think colleagues knew she played at all) and she sang about sending hope to friends on distant shores, with the wonderful lyrics, ‘give me a smile and I’ll send you a rainbow.’ Someone else sang a Woody Guthrie song acapella – about a plane that crashed as it was flying ‘unwanted’ workers to Mexico – ‘deportees’. We were invited to join in with the refrain – ‘adios mes amigos… you won’t have names on the airplane, they’ll just call you… deportees.’ Quiet voices could be heard singing softly in the cold chapel, darkness all around outside.

It was enormously moving. There was hope – with Maya Angelou’s ‘A brave and startling truth’ and some very moving words about the motto from Trump’s maternal family clan motto, from Scotland (his grandmother was an immigrant): ‘Burn without being consumed.’ The speaker reminded us that this is something for us, now, to stand with one another, to stand for one another, -and I thought of the candle that passes it’s light to another without diminishing- we must not allow ourselves to be consumed, certainly not by ill.

We took our turns and everyone played a part, and after having arrived feeling the weight of- well feeling melted and consumed by events across the globe, we left with smiles and laughter, and even hugs. We left with hope and strength.

It wasn’t quite planned to have that outcome, but it happened, and it wasn’t a nation-wide, county-wide, or even city-wide event, but a small gathering. What I most hope to convey in telling a little about it is the amazing feeling that unity and solidarity that standing with one another brings. And what gifts of talents, words, research, and personal inspiration come forward to support peace, togetherness, and hope when an offer is opened and people are invited were truly unexpected.

I encourage you to consider doing something similar, or coming up with your own idea, and even if there are 5 people present – never underestimate what good can be achieved.

Here are some of the things that were read out:

Image CC BY by Rhett Maxwell