Things I Know 196 of 365: I made something

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.

– Carl Jung

I didn’t figure this would make me as excited as it has. I mean, I’m the guy who goes on an on about having students do authentic things in class, ask them to create real and meaningful stuff as part as their learning.

That’s me.

That’s something I believe.

Still, when it came time for me to create something, to then connect that creation to various channels of public consumption, I didn’t figure on my excitement about the process and its results.

In projects past, I’ve worked alongside my students to experience as many of the steps as possible with them so that I might have an understanding of what I’m asking them to do and what that might entail.

Still, being the teacher has gotten in the way in those processes. Turns out, when the temptation is to say, “I can’t help you right now, I’m building my own,” I tend to favor actually putting down what I’m doing and helping students find solutions for themselves.

The closest to creating I’d done as a classroom teacher was unit, project and lesson plans. Again, those were not the ends. They were the means to helping others create.

While all creation is in some ways a means to helping others create, the creations of a teacher planning teaching take on a different tint of inspirational tone than the artist whose work is destined for the gallery, museum or mantle.

And so, I created.

Where before there was story reliant on transmission by word-of-mouth alone, I made something more readily consumable and polished.

As part of my work at The Freedom Writers Foundation this summer, part of my duties are to support and leverage the network of more than 200 teachers from every state, several Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Taiwan.

I realize I don’t write about it much, but these are remarkable teachers with whom I am proud to be associated. They teach in private, public, and parochial schools. They work with students behind bars, after school and on any number of non-traditional paths. They range from the novice to the recently-retired.

For my money, they represent one of the richest mosaics of American education you’re likely to find.

As part of my time here, I wanted to work to find a way to help communicate the stories and identities of these teachers to one another and to the outside world.

I’ve long said one of the reasons it’s so easy and popular to beat up on the teaching profession came from the almost complete and utter failure on the part of teachers to tell their individual stories.

A few weeks ago, I set out to find a sustainable way to capture the stories from around North America and then share them with the world.

Yes, writing them out is fine, but I also wanted to something more personal, more intimate.

And so, last week, I set to work creating the Freedom Writer TeacherCast as a regular way to record and share the wonderfully diverse array of experiences of these teachers from all walks of life.

Once I’d begun, the lessons I attempted to impart to students setting out on similar projects came flooding back. Get more material than you need. Find the human story. Story, reflection, story, reflection and so on. Edit forever. When you think you’re done, edit some more.

Episode 1 launched Tuesday. We became subscribable on iTunes today.

It’s no Moth or This American Life. Still, I’m proud of it. It reminded me of what I can do and gave me a laundry list of all the things I want to do better next time.

If there’s room in your summer and you can fit it in between relaxing and family vacations, take some time to create something new that could not have existed without you. I was most fulfilled with the project in those moments toward the end when I could see what I wanted it to become, but was faced with a million tiny adjustments that stood between me and that ideal.

Go, create something. When you’re done, I’d love to see it.

Things I Know 42 of 365: I can’t anticipate imagination

Imagining something like 9/11 wasn’t failure of preparation, it was a failure of imagination.

– Paraphrasing of Diana paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld paraphrasing someone Diana couldn’t remember, but the sentiment stands.

The Building History Project was pretty imaginative. Changing up the way my students complete 2fers and revise using Google Docs felt like imagination. The free choice in reading and accompanying structures of learning about my students’ reading skills and preferences strikes me as a creative remix of some old ideas.

Still, I’m me. Just me.

My ideas are going to seem stymied compared to the collaborative creativity of students who have far fewer years of being told they can’t do something.

For the past few days, we’ve picked up on the collaboration we started with Jabiz Raisdana last week.

My role has been minimal. Halfway through a class period, I played Jabiz’s song composed of the students’ responses to his Flickr set. Then, I played Bryan’s. Then I played Noise Professor’s. Then, I read this message Jabiz sent my students through the collaborator e-mail function of the shared google doc we’ve created to track the project:

Then I said, “Ok, what do you want to create?”

The ideas broke down into four basic groups: music, text, photos, film. Still, I was worried that might be too limiting, so I asked if anyone wanted to do something else. A few hands were raised, so “Something Else” became the fifth group.

After a brief show-of-hands poll asking who was interested in participating in each of the groups and telling them to take note of who else was raising their hands, I gave the key instruction: Ok, create something.

And they grouped up. They were lying on the ground, sitting around tables, sitting on the window sill, discussing how to make something that didn’t exist yet. No one asked how long it had to be or when it was due. I’m not anticipating either of those pieces being problems.

I sat in on a few groups.

In one music group, they’re planning on recoding Jabiz’s original song. Newon asked, “Mr. Chase, can you e-mail Jabiz and ask him for the chords from his song?”

If I’d designed what they’re doing, I’d never have imagined asking for chords. I probably would have limited the groups to four as well. Voices would have been silenced.

I showed Newon how to find Jabiz’s e-mail address in the google doc and message him.

Checking e-mail after school, I found this:

None of my state standards, call for me to have one of my students in Philly e-mail a teacher in Jakarta to get the chord progression for the song he wrote based off of my students’ poetry, but I’m going to stick to my guns and say the learning’s still valid.

Eventually, I wandered over to the Something Else kids.

Tim said he was working on a way to create a piece of sculpture inspire by and including Jabiz’s photos and the photos coming out of the photography group. He was doodling on the dry erase tables to show his friend TJ what was flitting around in his imagination.

Ian told me he wanted to create a piece of art incorporating the original lyrics and inspired by Noise Professor’s mix of the song.

At that point, a music group checked in to say they were going back to the original comments to add lyrics to their version of the song.

Meanwhile, Luna decided to create a space to hold all of the creations and asked if she could be the webmistress.


Then she named the project – Stones.

She ran it by the class who had no problem with it, and Jeff came over from the photo group to make sure they could embed their posterous account on the page.

And I checked in, and watched.

I asked questions and offered ideas.

Some were answered and accepted. Some were ignored. I took no offense.

Creation’s a great way to wrap up a Friday. Sure, we took vocab quizzes and edited analytical essays and read books. By the end of the period, though, we balanced it with creativity.

Rumsfeld and Diana would be happy. And you have no idea how difficult it is to please both of those two people at the same time.