Monday, December 8, 2008

Jam Session Learning

For me, going to a conference is not really about the conference, per se, it's more about the juxtaposition of the travel, conference events, visits with friends and other schools, and mostly stepping outside of individual school context for a fresh perspective. So while I'll go on to post and share about some specific conference sessions and related reflections and ideas, I first want to frame those posts with some of the extracurricular experiences I had while spending 8 days in my Washington state hometown and commuting by ferry boat each morning to the Schools of the Future World Summit hosted by Microsoft.

One of the highlights of my trip (besides the conference) was spending an afternoon and evening with two of my best friends. The three of us went to school together K-college, and spent just about every free minute outside of class in any given basement, writing music in the form of several permutations of rock band. We called ourselves Injured By Green, then Wish Cotton Was A Monkey, then The Chucks.

I bring this up for two reasons:

1. In the process of writing the literature for my MEd Plan B, I came across a metaphor for learning in the 21st century that I've been expanding ever since: "Jam Session Learning." So I talked about this with my buddies, one the leader of a development group for a high profile technology company, the other a professional jazz musician. Amongst a lot of ideas, several floated to the surface for the purpose of this post.

First, having a band sticks out to all of us as one of the most significant learning experiences of our "school" careers. Our jam sessions were a time and place to debrief and process all the information we had gathered during the day or week, and make something new, make sense of it. And for contrived school projects, we had a natural group of diverse learners playing off each others' strengths and compensating for challenges. We remembered taking our English class vocabulary list and writing song lyrics around them. Similarly, as high school freshman, it was hard to get into the music scene in our little county, so we decided to put on our own rock show, giving our band a place to play. In the process, we had to acquire a venue, rent a PA system, hire the bands, market the concert, and have a cause. We did all of this ourselves, and by the end of the show, each band (6) walked away with over $1000 and we donated truckloads of food to our local Food Bank. Funny that we didn't really think anything of this experience until later in life, as I'm hearing about schools like Hip Hop High and High Tech High. The concert bleeped on our collective radar screen when a Facebook group popped up for people throughout the years that had in some way been a part of the music scene in our county, and the concert was the subject of random reminiscing. These are concepts that I plan to explore in more depth as I synthesize my conference week and blog here.

Reason #2. I haven't blogged much lately. I think it started to feel like it wasn't part of my job, just something extra. I'm going to grad school full-time and teaching full-time and expecting a child for the first time. But mostly I've let myself get stuck in a place that David Foster Wallace describes in "The Nature of the Fun." Basically, he describes how writing starts off as really fun because it's honest. Soon, once an audience develops, self-consciousness challenges the original fun. The writer has some expectation of the audience's expectations, and just like that, the writing becomes "shitty."

So every year, my band entered the school talent show. Freshman year, we were the defending champions. During the rehearsal, there was a double controversy with our performance. First, we wanted to play two songs but were only allowed one. Second, we had a particular lyric that was objectionable to the school, not because of any "swear" words just because of the idea. Naturally, we problem solved and made a tough decision. We used a cymbal roll to make two songs into one; and, we said we'd change the lyric, but on stage, we didn't change it.
I'm not inspired to be inappropriate, but after the SOTF conference, I've realized how significant this blog is to my professional development and how important it is to remember the nature of this fun.

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