Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Project OpenBook

I think this is a fantastic idea (and I'm getting involved):

*Used with permission

Check it out here

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Music Resources for Children

The annotated bibliography I've been working on is up and running now--just click on the page above to see it.  I'll keep working on it; there are still many books to read, but if I wait until I'm finished you'll never see it.  So here's what I've got so far...hope it is a useful resource! 

I'm thinking someday it would be nice to have pages for art and literature, too.  We'll see...

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Thought

“A man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend.” (G. K. Chesterton)

I came across this quote in an article about teaching worldview, and it really struck a chord. How often do we make a decision about the truth of something based on pure logic or scientific reasoning? And how do you measure that against the strength of a story, poem, song, painting, or movie? Or the roadmap of a life? Or a moment in history?

It seems to me that those who can grasp a philosophy and make it crystallize within a work of art, or a single act, or a life well-lived wield something very powerful.

Capture my imagination, capture my heart.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Captain Arsenio: Inventions and (Mis)adventures in Flight

Captain Arsenio: Inventions and (Mis)adventures in Flight
Captain Arsenio: Inventions and (Mis)adventures in Flight written & illustrated by Pablo Bernasconi, Houghton Mifflin Books, 2005
Captain Arsenio is an engaging character—a dreamer of a different sort. Maybe some people would call him a fool, but there’s something about his optimism, creativity and lack of critical thinking skills that, well, I guess it reminds me of my kids. In a good way. You know the elaborate plans kids make for building robots, creating works of art and constructing castles? This book is an embodiment of those dreams, and what might happen if somebody actually acted on them.
Manuel J. Arsenio was a careless cheese master, blacksmith, scuba diver, and ship captain. Though he was given the easiest of missions in each of these careers, he still couldn’t complete any of them successfully. This problem may be the reason he left those jobs behind to enter the distinguished pages of aviation history.

This is a fictional work told as a biography, full of quotes from Captain Arsenio’s 1780s “diary”. It documents six of the projects he came up with in his quest to build a flying machine. The inventions are ridiculous and fun: the Motocanary, the Aerial Submarine, and the Illusion Burner, among others. Although Arsenio always has high hopes, (“It cannot fail!”) the pages from his flight diary reveal the true story. It pays to read all the fine print in this book, too: the notes in the flight diary give blow-by-blow reports of each flight, showing “panic points”, maximum height reached, and time elapsed, accompanied by dry notes like, “A complex way to demonstrate a total unawareness of the laws of physics.” You’ve got to love the guy for his cheerful persistence in the face of failure.

My kids and I laughed at him, but there’s something just a little familiar about him, too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Motivational Power of Chocolate Chips

Middle has been working hard on violin. She listens well, she’s precise and energetic, and she really does a beautiful job. But she’s also a little dreamer-girl (no surprise there). Recently we’ve been dealing with some sound and bow-control issues that I suspected were a result her looking everywhere except at what she was doing. Getting her to watch her bow has been a challenge; it’s not easy to focus on something so close to your face, and besides, there’s so much other interesting stuff to look at!

So today during our practice session I put a handful of chocolate chips in a dish, brought it out to her, and told her, “We’re going to play a game. These chocolate chips are all yours. But every time you look away from your bow or your fingers while you’re playing I get to take one for myself. You can eat whatever is left at the end of our practice.” And what do you know, watching what she was doing wasn’t nearly as hard as we thought! She kept every last chocolate chip.

This wasn’t my original idea; I first heard about it from another teacher years ago. I used it today because nothing else I tried was working and I wanted results. But there was a funny side-effect I hadn’t considered. Middle heard the difference in how she played when she was watching her bow, and she liked the results. Suddenly it wasn’t only about the chocolate—she began to understand what attentiveness means, and she caught a glimpse of what it could do for her playing.  I don’t know if it will stick—we’ll see what happens tomorrow, and next week, and next month. But because of the external motivation I offered, she got a taste of the kind of internal motivation that could help her for the rest of her life. And here I thought it was just a bribe.

Monday, June 7, 2010

On Refusing to Condescend

I ran across these words from Jack Prelutsky last night, on what he didn’t like about a lot of children’s poetry from the late 19th and early 20th century:

It was a Victorian tradition, and it had two unfortunate tendencies. One was a sort of greeting-card verse that was sickeningly sweet and condescending and had no literary merit. The other was poetry that was moralistic and pompous; everything had to have a message, and that was condescending, too. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Children aren’t stupid. The main differences between children and adults are that children have had fewer experiences—because they haven’t been around long enough to have as many as we have had—and they are short. Children love to learn. They learn quickly. So I never condescend when I write for children.
--From “In Search of the Addle-pated Paddlepuss”
ed. by William Zinsser, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990

Good stuff. We love Prelutsky’s poetry. I think the best thing about his writing is the fun he has with words—their sounds, their rhythms, their meanings, the images they conjure up. Just think what his poems would be like if he assumed children wouldn’t be able to handle certain words! I’m so glad he refuses to condescend.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Song of Middle C

Song of Middle CSong of Middle C by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Scott Menchin, Candlewick Press, 2009

I used to have temper tantrums over art and music. Other things, too, I’m sure, but I remember getting the most intense about drawings that didn’t turn out like the picture in my head and practice sessions that didn’t go the way I thought they should. During one of those meltdowns my mom told me once (in exasperation), “A real artist can make something out of her mistakes. Things rarely turn out the way you want them to. But a true artist can use what she’s got.” I don’t know how well I heard those words at the time—I remember thinking she had made it up on the spot to calm me down—but they sank deep and stayed with me.

Song of Middle C reminded me of my mom’s wise advice. The girl in this story is about to play in her first piano recital, and she is completely prepared. She’s been practicing her piece, “Dance of the Wood Elves”. She listens to what her teacher Miss Kari says. She’s excited and confident and wearing her lucky underwear. But things change when she gets on stage and it’s time to perform (that’s the tough part, isn’t it—things are never the same when you get up in front of people!) I love her solution (wish I had that kind of spunk), but I love her teacher’s response even more.  As a teacher and a musician, I spend a lot of time working on both technical and musical precision. That covers a lot of ground, but there’s more to artistry than that. In Miss Kari’s words, “True artistry requires—” –well, I think you should read the book.