Category Archives: Art


Friday night. Been a long week: a good week. Getting to know new students. Learning names. Exploring personalities, understanding needs, finding doors. Already talking familiar ideas in class: writing, music, art, identity, expression. Sharing. Finding our groove. Re-framing pedagogies, conscious to include words like inspire and empower. Trying new things, thanks to my new colleague and old friend Paula G. Hands down! Speak, share, inquire, discuss. Write. Create. The goals this year are simple:

  • Connect on some level with every student all 100+
  • Enlighten student thought through lens of  Yugen, and if possible capture snippets of yugen through all we create.



Giddy Enthusiasm

Sometimes things are happening in your class that keep you excited at all hours of the day. You see kids fully engaged during class time, and BIG AND- they are participating in an ongoing month long project outside of class as well. You watch as pieces of this project come trickling in at all ours of the night, on weekends, during other classes. You know you are not meddling and teaching too much; you can feel your scaffold strengthening as the students produce content that exceeds what you thought they were capable of.

I am engulfed in such a unit! It is wonderful. It has little to do with tech really, but the tech knowledge, skills and tools we have in place are making everything run smoothly. When people ask me how I use technology in my classroom, I am always a bit stumped. I use it the same way I do in my everyday life- to gather, create, share, capture life around me with a community of people.

In grades six, seven and ten we are in the middle of a viewing text unit. Grade six is watching How To Train Your Dragon, grade seven is watching E.T. and grade ten is watching The Wall. We began by discussing the idea of reading a film.  After deconstructing each respective film, we looked at various types of shots. Last week we moved onto looking at scenes as shots and students have begun to create their own 8-12 minute films.

It was at this point when I realized that we needed a quick detour into photography. I wanted the kids to realize the similarities between basic photography concepts and film making. After a quick lesson on how to take Great Shots, we began our Daily Shoot! This experience is what has me so excited. Over the weekend I was in Hong Kong for a conference, but I was thrilled to see at least 80% of my students participating in the exercise. They would go to this page, find the prompt, take their pic and post (with tags and titles) to their appropriate page.

Some highlights:

I am hoping that they will see that shots like these will make great openings to their video scenes. We have already discussed music and camera movement to heighten suspense and creating mood.

The Posterous gallery has been great as it teaches them how to sort and tag their pics, and it allows everyone to see what everyone else is doing.

Giddy is the best word to describe how I feel about this unit so far. Giddy and proud and excited and …..well seems like there are many words. But, what does the tech look like? How can I teach other teachers to do this? Not sure. We are using iMovie, Keynote, Posterous, cameras, blogs. We are filming, shootings, tagging, writing, drawing. It is hard to know where the tech starts or stops. It is hard to know if this is Art, English, or Film. We are simply caught up in a storm of creating. Unaware of where we will end up, we use whatever tools we need, we learn skills as they become necessary and hopefully we will have some pretty amazing films to share, but if not…if the films are only mediocre, we already know we have learned so much. And that is all that really counts.


Stain What You Find

Last time I did this, some amazing things occurred. It was January 31st, 2011 and I had just finished my first 31 days of a 365 Daily Shoot- an exercise where you try to take a photograph everyday for a year.  I was following “assignments” from The Daily Shoot (a now defunct website) and was quite pleased with my pics. I shared a quick post on my blog about the fact that I had finished my first month.

A few days later, Zac Chase told me that he had shared my pics with one of his English classes. The next week resulted in a somersault of poetry and music across continents. You can read about the events here and here. If you didn’t read about this story last year, I recommend you take a few minutes and read through the posts and comments.  It was a truly inspirational week of cool free flowing organic events.

Which brings me to this post. January 31st! Last time I only made it 94 days and lost the thread. I was working with a DSLR l and now I am almost strictly working on my iPhone. I have sworn that this year will be different. I will do my best to make it all 365…sorry 366 days of 2012.

Take a look at the shots and meet me on the other side for a little reflection on the process of daily photography in general and this batch in particular.

Is it obvious that is has been raining here in Jakarta. The images do not lie. It has been grey and wet this January. But as you can see the days are highlighted with color and light as well. Once more, I am in love with this batch of photos. I wish I had time to take a few of the photos and expand them into a more auditory experience. I invite you to take these photos and add your meaning and experience to them, as Zac’s class did last year. Let’s see if anything comes of them this time around.

The Process:

We do not tell stories through images. The images tell our stories on their own. When collected and batched and examined,  we can see patterns and narratives of our lives which we usually pass us by when we are busy with the act of actually living.  By documenting at least one photograph everyday, we can look back and notice the thread of who we were by what we saw and what we chose to capture.

In addition to the dissection of our lives after the fact, taking a daily photograph has helped me look more closely at my life as I am living it. Take today for example. It was nearly 3:00 pm and I realized that I hadn’t looked closely enough at my day as it was passing me by. I took a break from rubric writing and forced myself out into our campus. I strolled about simply looking. Examining and looking for something interesting, something beautiful to capture. Here is what I found:

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame

I was thinking about starting some kind of daily photo assignment with my students. I think they will find value in being able to document their lives in Flickr sets. They will appreciate the downtime to wander around campus learning how to “look” at the world. Need to think more about this. Any ideas? What to do something collaborative?

If you are not trying a dailyshoot I highly recommend giving it a try. I thought that not having the structure of The Daily Shoot would prove challenging, but I am enjoying he freedom to snap at will and sort through what I have for the pic at the end of the day. In other news, I have been trying to keep an eye on The Daily Create over at DS106.

Creativity is not some romantic magical muse that only a few people can access. Creativity is the ability to fully immerse yourself in the essence of life and stain what you find with pieces of your self. The only thing you need to do to be creative is to be alive. Open yourself up to experimentation and see what happens. It may feel silly or not important, but only when you say yes can to every shot will you find the spark you need.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Intrepid Flame


Interested In Us

I can’t believe we have only been in school for a week. I often feel like a tornado, who touches down occasionally to stir up some dust, only to take flight again. Lost in the clouds, in an adrenaline infused buzz that is nothing if not invigorating.

image by RaGardner4

I am shuffling several To-Do list at the moment. This from a guy who has always mentally calculated his tasks. I will not bore you with the litany of items populating said lists, but I will briefly mention that the only thing that is calming me down is the current loud guitar in my headphones and the ease with which I am writing these words.

Let’s do some stream of consciousness and see where we end up: Rolling out this blogging platform is great, exciting, perfect. Tedious, painful, time consuming. It is one thing to be given a blog and told to sell it to kids, but it is another to create a system-wide platform from scratch. Dealing with back-end issues, teachers doing too much, others not doing enough is proving to be exhausting. I have never been a type-A systems guy. I can do ideas. Give me design and inspiration, artistic management and I will deliver, but organization? Action plans? Timetables have never been my forte.

I am learning. I am stretching. I am growing. I love it. Everyday is another set of problems that I am somehow instrumental in solving (Or am I creating them?) Honestly, I haven’t felt this jazzed and energetic about a project in years. I have already mentioned the stress and the problems, but that is not where I want to dwell. Simply put, I am dealing with a massive year long roll out that I am trying to get out the door the first month back to school. Simple solution: Slow down. Breathe. It will get done. Look back at what has already been done and take pride in that. Is my oft forgotten mantra.

In addition to all the tech-coach stuff, there is of course my classes this year. Grade 6 Language B, a grade 7 Language A, and a grade 10 Language A class. I have met with them all at least once, and I have decided to start the year by focusing on two main ideas: Community and self as writer/artist.

I am emphasizing that English class need not be a den of grammar death and academic boredom. It is not all spelling tests and essays. We have been talking about what makes community: shared goals, trust, honesty, communication, love (at least respect), connections. I have brainstormed community with all my classes and they have all come up with basically the same things. Apparently identifying components of  a community is much easier that creating one. We have discussed the value of building a safe place built on trust to help foster creativity and expression.

Which brings me to the second big idea for the year: What does it mean to use writing as a tool for expression? I am a firm believer that people who do not understand the power of writing will never be great writers. I want to create writers in my class. I am not interested in students who can write an essay or pass an IB exam. I want to create artists. My thinking, obviously, is that once you tap into a persons creative core, the rest will follow. Anyone who understand writing, can jump through the hoops, but it is difficult to do it the other way around.

We have spoken about the tender fragility of our creativity and imaginations. We have thought about how most adults we know don’t actually write. Create art. Take photographs. Get silly. Open up and play. The consensus was that there aren’t too many of these adults in their lives. They have few artistic role models. I made a promise to help them see that we exist. That there are people who write books for the fun of it. People who juggle several art projects at a time because it feeds their soul. We  also discussed the fact that once you allow your creativity to wane, worrying about grades and school,  jobs and bills and life, that it is difficult to bring an imagination  back to life.

Yeah, the tech stuff is stressful. Yes, I am also now also thinking about my cohort in Shanghai, but I am smart enough to know, that it is in my classroom  having conversations with kids that I feel the most alive. Want proof? A fellow teacher’s daughter is in my grade 10 class. I just received the following email:


just thought i’d let you know what ________ told me about her first English class today….. and i quote…..”he’s amazing! You can just tell that he really loves teaching and he was actually interested in us”She came home really excited about learning and spent time telling me about the class. A good start to the year!!

So thanks!

And really, is there nothing else that matters more than a student realizing that after one meeting?


Do You Love Me?

If you blog for long enough, I suppose, you will eventually begin to repeat yourself. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of repetition, but who is to say that revisiting themes is necessarily a bad thing? So I apologize if I have written about this topic before, but my good friend Ari over at We Buy Balloons recently emailed me a link to this article with a request to write on the subject with careful consideration, as the affliction mention in the article is the same from which he claims to suffer. Although, I have linked to the article itself, I will quote it at length below, so please stay with us till then end. In short the post claims:

The Internet measures everything. And I am a slave to those measurements. After so many years of pushing much of my life through this screen, I’ve started measuring my experiences and my sense of self-worth using the same metrics as the Internet uses to measure success. I check my stats relentlessly. The sad truth is that I spend more time measuring than I spend doing.

I used to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment when I wrote an article or came up with a joke that I thought was good. Now that feeling is always delayed until I see how the material does. How many views did my article get? Did it get mentioned the requisite number of times on Twitter and Facebook. I need to see the numbers.

And I define myself by those numbers.

I judge the quality of my writing by looking at the traffic to my articles. I assess the humor of my jokes by counting retweets. My status updates, shared links, and photos of my kids need a certain number of Likes to be a success. How am I doing? That depends on how many friends I have, how many followers, how much traffic.

What David Pell describes in his post, what bothers my friend Ari, and those of us involved in this game called social media is the feeling that our thoughts, our art, our creations, our words, and in turn ourselves are only as valuable as the amount of attention they receive from the network of “friends” we have been able to cull from the web.

Before I try to offer up answers or justifications of why this need for affirmation isn’t as big of a problem as many think, let me first admit that I check my stats.  I am pretty stoked to be nearing 3,000 followers on Twitter. I google myself often and enjoy hearing my voice echoed back to me via the web. The question I suppose we are left asking is, is that a problem? Is wanting/needing affirmation a bad thing? Is it vain or needy to place your self-worth in the hands of others? Before we get to that answer, I want to make a claim that this discussion has little to do with the Internet. (*The need for acceptance and identity creation has implications for our students. I will try to touch on this idea at the end of this post.) Sure the Internet has made it easy to see how much attention each pixel of our collective self receives via Re-Tweets, views, Likes and other affirmative statistics, but I claiming that the need to be heard and accepted has always been a  part of our human psychology; the Internet has only exacerbated  our ability to monitor it.

I think the need to be heard and told we are valued is not only at the core of human psychology, but intricately connected to the very purpose of art. Yes, I understand that much of art is personal and cathartic. Why the artist creates is a question that we will never answer, but we can all agree that while some artists create art for the sake self-healing, many also create art to connect to others. Art is the ultimate act of sharing and openness. Audience is an inherent part of art. It has to be. The dance between creator and observer is what makes art so powerful. Let’s face it most people who create, write, paint, perform are needy. We have a void in our souls that can only be filled when others connect to our creations. We feel alive when our art helps others see who we are.

by Ari Zeiger

I have had this need to share and connect with people for as long as I can remember. Does this make me vain or needy? Lacking in self-confidence? Perhaps. But that is the nature to which I have grown fond. The spaces between a robust self-esteem and crippling anxiety is tenuous at best. The difference between the vain rock star and the nervous introvert can be nothing more than a pair of sunglasses and a bottle of whiskey. What I am trying to say is that, while the Internet magnifies our anxieties about whether or not we matter, most artist have always needed to be told they are relevant. Before the Internet did not authors worry about book sales, artists by number of guests at openings and paintings sold? While stats, numbers, sales, and reviews have always been a part of sharing, statistics have never slowed art down. I am sure the first caveman looked for a round of grunts and nods after he first sketched a picture of the hunt on the cold stonewall.

When I was younger, in my twenties, I would scribble poetry, stories, and other random observations into journals. These thoughts were very similar to my current blog posts, Tweets, and other ideas I share online. Back then I would scatter these journals on coffee table tops and would love when people would flip though them at parties. I would watch them wrinkle their faces in confusion or smile in understanding. I could feel them entering my consciousness through a shared understanding of not only who I was, but who they were. I was just not smart enough to leave a little comment box at the bottom of my journal pages, because I wanted more than anything to hear what they thought.

It is true that the web can enhance our neurosis and self-doubt. It can cripple the act of creation if we allow it to magnify our fears and misgivings. It can force us to place our self-worth in the hands of a fluctuating audience, and yes this can have disastrous effects, but this is not the fault of the web. This neurosis is rooted in our collective human psychology of needing love and acceptance. There are people much smarter than me with more letters after their names, who I am sure can write much more intellectually than me on the subject, but that has never stopped me from offering my opinion.

Each person must decide how their self-worth is derived. Each one of us has to decide what we are worth despite the Internet not because of it. Some days we feel like we can carry the world, while others we need to be told we are special. Understanding this dance and going with the flow is the most important thing an artist can learn to do. This was true before the web and it is even truer now.

It is nice to have a post re-tweeted and shared and “liked” and commented on. It makes us feel like our ideas are important and that others “get” us. It is great to make a film and get a couple thousands hits on Youtube. It feels warm in the heart to watch people connect to you words. It feels great to recieve emails from people who say they get what you are doing. Saying they respect you and your work. It is nice to go to conference and have drunken peers say they admire you. It is great to have fans. It feels good to be loved. How can it not? But the question we must ask ourselves is how much of what we do is for them? How much is for me? And how much is for us?

I could get wrapped up in the numbers, and I admit that I sometimes do, but I am learning that I  share and let spill what I cannot hold inside. All I can do is hope that others connect. I have the audacity to write  a book about my life and think people will care. That is the biggest cry for attention I can think of and that has nothing to do with the Internet or numbers, but I have found the less I worry about the numbers and focus on creating honest work filled with energy and passion the more the numbers tend to rise; the more comments I receive. Someday this fragile network I have cobbled together could all dry up and I could end up writing a blog no one reads, or scribble back into journals I leave on coffee tables in vacant rooms. A book no one buys. Either way, I know that  sometimes I create art to help lighten the load and guide me through the darkness and sometimes I share what I share for you dear reader and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Show me you understand. Show me you love me. Show me I matter. Leave a comment. Re-Tweet. Like me on Facebook. Let this post get a 1000 hits. Let it go viral and get me a book deal. Let it shine a light on all the world and make me a god! Or just skim it, mark it as read, and chalk up to more gibberish coming to you through your informationally overloaded brain. There will be more tomorrow. I am valuable whether you tell me I am or not. How do I know? Just a promise I made to myself as a child. It is not too late make yourself that promise right now….let’s see what you got!

I will save the my thoughts on how young adults deal with the dance between confidence and anxiety and how the new online social reality is affecting their identity creation for another post, or maybe in the comments. But I will say that right now I am listening to the Beatles and this is a great first step to helping young people understand how to deal with the world wide web: