Category Archives: Social Media

On The Art of Overextending Oneself

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My accumulation of Social Media pages is more cluttered than my actual life…if that’s even possible. Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Part two in my two-part series on Social Media in my life, which originally ran in GeekMom May 28, 2016. Read Part one here.

A while back I purchased a generic book at the local Barnes & Noble called 500 Drawing Prompts. It had no publisher listed. I just found it among those impulse book buys often seen in the store entry.

Drawing is one of my earliest joys, and I had been wanting to do more for fun and peace of mind. This book consisted of blank pages, some divided into two or more sections, with a brief drawing prompt: “bowl of soup,” “vampire,” “sun,” “alien spacecraft.” I thought this was a fantastic idea, and I would do one prompt a day for 500 days to keep my mind and creativity challenged.

I’m officially 197 days behind schedule.

This is typical of my thinking. I can’t just purchase something and think “this would be fun to have.” I have to turn it into an over-the-top goal to add it to a daily, weekly, or monthly regime. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing anything? Right?

I’m also behind on translating a screenplay-cum-book outline into prose. The story and plot are finished, I just need to translate the format. I promised myself one chapter a day, but this soon crumbled into one chapter every three weeks. Not good.

I maintain a stack of books, comics, and magazines to be read. Behind on that, too. My friends and family have purchased me some of the trendy adult color books “in case I’m ever bored.” Hahahahahahaha. Sorry, couldn’t help it. Sad thing is they’re pretty cool. I’ve got the Doctor Who and Sherlock books, one of the Harry Potters, and one I purchased for myself that’s an extreme mystery color-by-number. Of course, I’m working on a DIY for GeekMom later utilizing these books. I can’t just enjoy coloring for no reason, now can I?

I’ve mentioned this “buzzing bee” tendency briefly in my James May post, but since then the clutter has continued to accumulate. Not in a “hoarder” way, I promise. I try to maintain a tidy home: another distraction. I have to make sure I go through one room each month and purge, dust, straighten, and organize. I just can’t calm it down, which is why social media has not only become an outlet for me but a bit of a curse.

See, I work out of the house. This is a situation ideal for me right now because I get to be available for my family when they need me. It’s also bad because people assume that means I’m primarily a stay-at-home mom. I respect these parents greatly because I know how much work is involved, but I also have to make sure I keep up with my actual paying job as news (calendar) editor for a monthly local arts and entertainment guide. Most months, I actually have to work nearly all night for several nights in a row come deadline. I’ve been an insomniac for ages, so this fits fine, except for the occasional “wall hitting” emotional and physical crashes.

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I have so many things I want to make, read and enjoy…but I need to simply my schedule.

For years, the only “social media” I had was email. I checked before work in the morning and before bed. Less than an hour a day. About the time my second daughter was born, six years ago, we joined this thing called Facebook “just for family.” I only spend about a half hour a day tops on that, despite the fact I somehow have 370 friends. (I don’t know that many people, do I?)

I soon started writing some posts for a site called “IHOGeek” and started my own blogsite, both on WordPress, to keep all my posts together in one place. In about a year, I had built up several stories and started checking my “stats” (story hits) several times a day, a bit obsessively.

Next came Pinterest. I started it just to share my stories and projects. I only planned on having three boards. That’s morphed into 139 boards, 98.4 thousand pins, and 13.1 thousand followers. I’m really not sure how this one got so out of hand, but I look at the most of the time I do my late night work.

When I got picked up by GeekMom, I quit working with IHOGeek just to keep my schedule under control. Around the same time, my husband wanted to start a family site we called MinionFeeding101. I did three posts a week for the family site, of which I was getting pretty proud. Unfortunately, my husband’s schedule wasn’t conducive, so after two years of trying to build it up, he called it quits. The site is now dormant until I can get him back on board.

Still avoided Twitter. “Nope. Not doing it,” I thought. I heard comedian Ricky Gervais compare it once to the world’s largest bathroom wall, and every time I’d seen it I tended to agree. My husband was using Twitter for our MinionFeeding101 images, as well as Instagram, so I felt I didn’t need even mess with those. If I need to share an Instagram photo for GeekMom, which I haven’t done in awhile, I’ll do it through there.

I kept building up the sites. I joined DeviantArt because you can’t just draw for yourself anymore, and I share everything from GeekMom and DeviantArt on my Pinterest boards–and sometimes on Facebook. I started a Tumblr site and found I don’t like Tumblr at all. It’s the moronic slacker roommate of Social Media sites. It’s just a series of fan gifs and the occasional “I hate you if you don’t agree with my social view” memes.

I started to share my older movie-related posts on a site MoviePilot but found it similar to Tumblr in intelligence. I eventually got rid of my pages, but the process of getting my work OFF MoviePilot was an ordeal in itself.

Not long after, the wonderful uniting of the GeekMoms and GeekDads to create an even more diverse group of geeky parents occurred, and I made sure I joined them on the collaborative message board site, Slack. With so many great writers having so much to say, following that can be a little daunting. I keep up, though, even if I don’t often reply. It’s like the message board equivalent of being in a big room full of people of all walks of life having interesting conversations. You just don’t know where to jump in, or if you’re even invited into that particular circle right now.

That should be plenty to keep anyone busy and well linked (oh yeah, I joined LinkedIn primarily for my “day job” contacts). Honestly, I don’t like it. You’re not going to see me doing much on that.

And then I gave in and reluctantly joined Twitter last September.

I’ve pretty much concentrated on this one to share my work and build a reputation for sharing others’ creative achievements. I’ve amassed a few great artists and writers following me, and keep this on most of the time I’m working as well.

Does this social media attraction, sometimes distraction, sometimes borderline addiction, affect my everyday work? Most definitely! All these little social media pages and projects often weave themselves into my day, particularly when I’m bogged down with the mindless calendar duties. I need to have something on another screen in order to feel my mind is getting some stimulation. Yes, I have multiple monitors, just like the Batcave.

Without social media, my “need to keep busy” nature would fill in those gaps with more work. I tell myself that would be a good thing because that extra work would actually be productive rather than time wasting. I still have my projects lined up, and if I find myself at a time when I can just relax, I get a little jittery. I walk around the house thinking “what do I need to do; there must be something?”

I don’t have a smartphone, so I’m able to ignore this lure when I’m not working online. That’s a good thing, at least. I can walk the dog, wait for appointments, and sit at a restaurant without staring at a little flat rectangle (unless books count), but I’m not any better than anyone else here.

I check it often while I work on the computer. Who read my articles? Who liked my crafts and DIYs? Who put my artwork under their “favorites?”

Not only that but everything I do I wonder, “will this make a story?” “Do I share this one on Facebook or Twitter… or both?”

Oh sweet Mother Mary, what the heck is wrong with me?

I have to ask myself: why do I need that many people connecting with me via cyberspace, and why can’t I do anything without wondering if it needs to be swept out of my real-life world and into that social media web?

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Talent and good intentions don’t fill pages, sitting down and actually working on a project will.

I worry at times we’re all turning into the Wall-E scenario where we live vicariously through experiences on or screens. A 2015 CNN story stated teens and tweens spent around 9 hours a day checking their social media sites, and a 2016 report from Pew Research Center said 62 percent get their news via social media.

I do tend read news sites online more, but thankfully my teen doesn’t have a cell phone. Her social media (only Pinterest and e-mail allowed right now), is an after homework activity she spends about two hours on, at the most, on a little laptop computer she uses at her desk. She often gets bored with that and reads her fantasy and manga books. At least she’s bucking the trend.

I mentioned last week in my first half of my Social Media series, ‘Grand Tour’, DriveTribe, and The Social Media Fan Frenzy, people have this “big bowl of M&Ms” access to their favorite celebrities, via social media.

As far a maintaining our own sites, and sharing our own work, it’s more like a huge, fancy, decadent buffet. There’s so much we want to try, so we’ll just try a little of everything. This is especially true if you’re a creative type. Artists, writers, photographers, and musicians find social media outlets essential for sharing their work.

Unfortunately, like a buffet, it’s really easy to pile up the samples, until you’re plate if so full you can’t possibly consume it all and not be sick.

And, I’m absolutely stuffed.

So what do I do? What can we all do? We’ll, I believe the key to maintaining a healthy diet is moderation. Don’t eliminate, but cut back what we don’t need.

This should extend to my social media use. I get art and story ideas from Pinterest and DeviantArt. I’ll keep it. Tumblr is empty calories. I’m getting rid of that one soon.

If I’m not doing my actual editing or working on a story, there’s really no need to be on these sites. I’ll continue to keep only Twitter going while I’m editing, but everything else should return to the “once in a morning and once before bed routine.”

That way, I can get on top of my reading, my DIY projects, my workouts, my book, and that continually lurking sketchbook. I think I’ll get on that book right now and fill a few pages.

But first, I need to check Twitter to see who those 12 notifications and one DM are from.

Image: GrammarlyQuotes.

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The Social Media Fan Frenzy: Case in Point “The Grand Tour”

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When the show formerly known as the Amazon Prime Motoring Show is officially became The Grand Tour, the hosts’ legions of social media fans are made sure everyone knew it.

Part one in my two-part series on Social Media in my life, which originally ran in GeekMom on May 12 2016.

After months of speculation, my boys of W. Chump & Sons, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, have finally settled on a real bonafide, official name for their new Amazon Prime Motoring Show, The Grand Tour.

But what I was most interested in as a result was this question: this trio knows how to amass fans on social media, but how much access to our favorite celebrities to we really need?

To provide the background:

Clarkson, May and Hammond’s announcement came at a good time, with BBC’s new Chris Evans-led Top Gear cranking up the trailers for their premiere on May 29.

Their simple name, Grand Tour, (which is perfect for their new “no studio tent tour format”) has been met with, as expected, a flood of social media hits, especially they are looking for more stops on their “grand tour,” an announcement made via their individual twitter accounts and the newly-created show’s Facebook page.

“So, the Grand Tour (GT for short) will come from a tent, which we will put up in a different location every week,” Clarkson announced on his Twitter page. “Your town?”

Within three hours of posting this, Clarkson got more than two thousand “likes,” and nearly 500 responses from “please come see us,” fans worldwide. Both May and Hammond had similar responses. Yes, I told them to come to Texas, but hey, I always need story material, and I’ll let them drive my dad’s Mustang GT, a family heirloom of 50 years.

Of course, they’ve also been staking their social media deck in other ways. All three individual hosts announced their own official Facebook pages within the past month and those now join several already-popular “former Top Gear hosts” fan sites.

My muse James May’s official page is listed as a “Health and Beauty” site, and has already gained more than 1.5 million followers, including many of the more than 2 million followers he pulled from Twitter.  Clarkson, listed under “scientist” and Hammond, listed as ‘Pet,” have amassed several thousand on their sites (although Clarkson leads the trio’s Twitter following with more than 6 million followers). Hammond, however, added an Instagram page recently and he’s moving up in followers.
Jeremy Clarkson got 12,000 hits, just for saying the name of the new show will be announced, but James May can get 8.8 thousand likes for a picture of Richard Hammond in an office plant and babushka. Really? Images: James May and Jeremy Clarkson official Twitter pages.

Jeremy Clarkson got 12,000 hits, just for saying the name of the new show will be announced, but James May can get 8.8 thousand likes for a picture of Richard Hammond in an office plant and babushka. Really? Images: James May and Jeremy Clarkson official Twitter pages.

But wait, there’s more. On almost the same day this trioannounced their Facebook pages, they announced their longtime collaborator, television Executive Director Andy Wilman, first official partnership with the “ambitious new digital media platform that will connect global audiences with motoring content,” DriveTribe.

The concept of the site is to structure car enthusiasts into “tribes,” depending on their own unique personalities and characteristics.

“Gamers have got Twitch, travelers have got TripAdvisor and fashion fans have got, oh, something or other too. But people who are into cars have got nowhere,” Hammond said in the site’s official press release. “There’s no grand-scale online motoring community where people can meet and share video, comments, information and opinion. DriveTribe will change that. And then some.”

They won’t be running the site themselves, as it will be under the leadership of tech savvy mavericks Ernesto Schmitt (founder and CEO of Beamly), and Jonathan Morris (previous CTO of Financial Times online). This news didn’t matter to fans. They are already vigorously glomming onto the site, which officially launches this fall, just like the newly christened Grand Tour.

Whether you love or hate these three, you have to admit, they are covering a lot of social media ground. Having followed this saga, I’ve begun to realize how much social media has become the quickest, most efficient, and sometimes most disturbing way of celebrities connecting with the public.

When I was a young teen, the information about a favorite actor or musician was limited to whatever read in magazines, saw on the television or movie screen, or heard on the radio. I kept my favorite station on all afternoon to hear the news of the latest single coming out. We didn’t have cable, so I found my music video fix weekly via Friday Night Videos, or when I visited friend’s house who had MTV. MTV, when you think of it, was kind a precursor to Twitter. We really didn’t want to watch anything, but that awesome video might come up next. Better keep tuned in just in case.

Today, with YouTube, we can see our favorite video anytime (and again and again, if we wish), be it music video, movie trailer or clip, or recent interview. This, in addition to a celebrity idol’s (or their “personal assistantsP) “insta-posts” on social media, make it way, way too easy to keep up with those famous folk who at one time in our world seemed so much further away.

This is the type of easy-access information current I like to refer to as the “big bowl of M&Ms” communication method (no product endorsement intended). These fingertip means of finding about — and reacting to another person — are just so tempting. You’re not really hungry, and these little tidbits of fun aren’t particularly good for you in large doses, but what’s one little handful here and there? We just want to see what our favorite celeb is up to. We’re not obsessed. Right?

We just check a Twitter feed in the morning, a Facebook exchange a little later on. Have they posted anything on Instagram? We take one “small handful” after another, and next thing we know the bowl is near empty, (along with the time we’ve had allotted for actually productivity), and we’ve successfully (albeit unintentionally) cyber-stalked a few high-profile strangers.

Now, before I sound like I’m wagging a judgmental finger at fellow computer-users, I need to point out I dip into that bowl often, as well. I’m an avid follower of this threesome. I’m also a writer and editor working from my home in my “day job,” which means that big, nummy colorful bowl of chocolatey candy-coated information is constantly right in front of me…and it is near impossible to ignore. I’ve had plenty of handfuls, believe me.

I follow all three of these men, and respond often, but I don’t expect a response. I do however, expect something else: I want people to read my work and make my little projects. I do this by constantly reposting my favorite posts. I don’t feel bad about doing this, since I’ve seen fellow writers and artists do similar. As a writer for GeekMom, I especially like to write about my geeky passions that I hope resonate with others of similar fandoms.

There are some great things about being able to connect with celebrities via social media:

• It is easier to get updates on the someone’s latest project, for example, we all now know about Grand Tour. Celebrities pushing a project don’t have to rely on the network or movie company to get the word out anymore. Sometimes, a simple “Watch for me tonight on BBC-Four” is all they need, and fans tune in. Often times, the fanbase becomes the best form as information sharing, since one good comment or interview will get retweeted, and shared countless times. Heck, I know what’s going on with people I don’t follow, because so many others retweet something. Twitter is the world’s largest informational ripple effect.

• It creates a “community” in a seemingly more isolated society. We read again and again about how people are plunging more into their own little isolated, narcissistic online worlds while becoming detached to those around them. I often worry about this. However, I’ve noticed a flip side to this issue. People who might otherwise have nothing in common are connecting via a similar “fandom” (often a person) via social media. I’ve made some “acquaintances” from all over the world, just because clicked “follow” on @MrJamesMay. Some people consider social media friends as one step away from “imaginary friends,” but really I’ve discovered it’s like having pen pals (which I did have as a kid, and no one said I was delusional). One “Twitter friend” direct messaged me about writing tips, and another read a Tweet about an online course I was taking, and offered to send me a book that might help. I will never meet these people in person, but it certainly is a treat to have them in my life. That’s pretty cool.

• It makes celebrities seem more like the humans they are. My mother used to lament that celebrities used to be “larger than life,” and had a mystique to them. I’ll admit some celebrities should take a lesson in decorum and poise from the past, but I do like the fact we can catch them “off the red carpet” sans make up and glamour. This is by their own accord, too, not through the lens of some paparazzi. They tweet pictures of their food, pets and family gatherings, which in reality are no more interesting then those of non-celebrities. Of course, like other human beings, people tweet or share Facebook posts to brag about something, and their “hey look where I am” tweets can be a little annoying to those of us with little disposable income. I’ve written before how I refuse to call myself a “fan” of any one person (I still do), because I don’t think people who opted to work in a pharmaceutical lab or run a family restaurant should ever consider themselves of lesser valuable than those who chose a career in front of a camera. Social media sites are pretty good levelers. A celebrity might photograph their feet overlooking the edge of their yacht, but their nappy toes are as ugly as everyone else’s.

However, there are also many problems with this quick-and-easy celebrity access as well:

• It’s a bit voyeuristic. There’s no “out of sight, out of mind” element, anymore. If a benefit of Twitter and Facebook feeds is making celebrities seem more, “human,” the dark side is they are inviting people too much into their lives. Is this a bad thing? Well, it is a little in the realm of “too much information.” Do I really need to see a crumb-covered lap, or every single view from a jet plane (often clouds)? No, but many of us feel we need to, and comment away. I even used Twitter to voice this concern in regards to one celebrity (okay, James May, dammit) who got more than three thousand likes for showing a picture of a half-eaten boxed dessert, and inquiring who took the other half.

“I can’t get enough people to read my stories, and this guy gets thousands of responses for bitching about a @#% pastry,” I wrote. I got a few likes, while that half-eaten pastry gained several more comments, not to mention a few invites from people willing to bring him a new one. Awww.

Also, it’s always nice to see people’s friends and families online, but I worry about too many people see what someone’s kids look like. This is the protective parent in me. I do include photos of my own children in my work, but they don’t get nearly the views a celebrity gets. I think if I were pretty well known, I would lay off the online reality show, and just post my silly projects for a while. I don’t always trust the cyber world.

• It creates a pied piper effect. Some celebrities are pounced on anything and everything they tweet or post. Sometimes, they even pose a question to their followers, and “Ping!” “Plunck!” “Tweet!” the responses pop up like magic. They dangle those quips, and the followers are there and ready.

I really don’t like it when celebrities use their fan influence to promote a political candidate or stance, but I won’t get into that issue, especially in this weird year in both the United States and United Kingdom.

I will include the names of bands, actors, artists, authors and more in my own posts, mostly in regards to something I’ve written or to promote something creative I think others would love to learn about.  I usually hashtag things with #MakeThings and #Draw for visual arts, #Write to help introduce people to my favorite writers, including comic book authors, and #WeAreTheMusicMakers for all things music related. I’m not afraid to admit James May has influenced my #MakeThings hashtag, but some people base their entire twitter names on the fact they are someone’s fan.

I’ll post about someone, but not directly to them, if it isn’t an actual reply. At least I try not to.

This leads to my final thought:

• Social Media can lead to a fandom run amok, and create obsessive addiction. This is something I’ve noticed following my former Top Gear hosts and other celebrity types that is kind of scary. There are fans who wake up every morning, and immediately direct a “good morning” post to their celebrity idol. I’ve also seen a few who do what I like to call “Twitter-baiting,” not just on occasion, but several times a day. I have to add, I do genuinely like many of these people, so I’m not giving any specifics or real tweets. These are typical of the comments:

“Hey @celebrityperson, what do you think of this picture?”

“I had a bacon sandwich today, I bet you would love this @favoriteactor. What do you have to say about that?”

“You’ve talked to me before, @personIlove, why won’t you respond again? Don’t you care anymore?”

Many people do this, and I’m not saying those who do are lesser people. Some of them are pretty funny and intelligent, but honestly too much of this practice creeps me out a little. I’ve seen one person whose happiness was based on the fact one celebrity responded to his Tweet. He spent a considerable amount of time trying to get him to do this again, with increasingly depressing and self-deprecating comments.

Please people, we’re better than this.

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Questions, photos and snarky comments: what else could a fan want? I bet Rainn Wilson has sold a few more books, thanks to his buddy Nathan Fillion. Images via Nathan Fillion official Facebook and Twitter, Mark Hamill official Twitter and Chris Pratt official Instagram.

Send  amusing anecdotes to celebrities sparingly. I’ve done this just for chuckles. Don’t, however, hang all your hopes upon hearing from them. I can’t stress this enough: celebrities don’t know us. We know who they are, quite a bit about them thanks to their own over-sharing, but we don’t know them, either.

I love James May’s style, on air persona and writings, but I don’t love him. This is because I don’t know him. Haven’t and never will meet him. I do, however, truly adore my husband and kids with all my heart. I love my pets and my friends and family, not always in that order. They are my reality.

When it all comes down to it, the responsibility of controlling our online relationship with celebrities lies with us, the information consumer.

I really can’t blame the “celebrities,” as much as I’d like to bust their egos at times, but their image is their product. Even on social media, I think they are in some way sharing an amplified version of themselves to help gain followers and fans, and, in the long run, sell records, movie tickets, books or whatever they’re pushing. In short, their outreach to their public is nothing personal. It’s business, and I don’t blame them. I would do it, too.

Sure, we could argue there have always been obsessive fans who buy every album, watch (and now purchase or download) every movie or show, and fill their shelves with every book, but it used to be our fandoms were limited to the stage, screen and red carpet. Now, we have access that goes far beyond this, awaiting every breath a celebrity takes, waiting for them to mention their breakfast so we can pounce upon his or her tweet with our own replies.

If we “respond” just as a way to be part of a silly chain of people creating a progressing story started by a celebrity comment, or mention that celebrity as a way to share our interests with others, that’s fine.

Just as long as our lives don’t hang in the balance of hoping that stranger on the other end of the cyber connection gives that all-important “like,” or moreover an actual comment.

Yes, I’ll be taking The Grand Tour along with Clarkson, Hammond and May, but if it doesn’t stop my way, I won’t be lying in a fetal position devastated that three strangers who make me laugh aren’t looking in my direction. I worry many other followers of celebrities (any celebrity) do invest too much in the approval of those in the public eye.

What we need to realize more than anything, is even when we do take part in this social media celebrity watching, it should be for one reason and one reason only: to have fun.

One of the best and cutest examples of this was a Tweet I saw from a dad with a young son a few months ago concerning another well-followed celebrity, actor Chris Pratt.

“My 5-year-old son just informed me he will direct the next Jurassic World film. How’s your schedule looking next month @prattprattpratt?”

I don’t know if Chris Pratt ever responded to this, but in this case, I sure hope he did.

Taking Virtual Field Trips with Google Cardboard

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Google Cardboard and a smart phone, a package for VR trips. All Images: Rick Tate

The Google Expeditions Pioneer Program has been visiting classrooms nationwide to help students and teachers learn more about incorporating the immersive learning opportunities of the “virtual field trip”

The program utilizes the Google Cardboard viewers to help students bring abstract concepts to live and give them a deeper, more personal understanding of the world beyond the four walls of the classroom.

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Human geography teacher Chris Kapuscik leads his students on a virtual field trip.

This includes a sort of virtual travel kits, with a tablet for the teacher and cardboard viewers and phones for reach students. My husband, Rick, requested to be part this program when we first purchased our own Google Cardboard device earlier this year. His high school was one of a handful of schools in the West Texas area chosen to receive a visit from program’s representatives, and get a hands-on test drive of Google Expeditions’ educational options.

These “field trips” come in the form of 360° photo spheres, 3D images and video,  and ambient sounds. These are annotated with points of interest, and other details that make these virtual trips easy to incorporate into the curriculum already being used in schools.

To make the experience even more memorable, entities like The Wildlife Conservation Society, PBS, the American Museum of Natural History, the Planetary Society, and the Palace of Versailles helped contribute to the program’s curriculum development.

One of the things that have made Google Expeditions so popular is the enthusiasm not just in the classroom, but also from the parents.

Google product manager Jen Holland said the feedback from parents for this program has been “stellar,” and may parents have signed up for the program hoping their son or daughter’s school would be selected.

“Many parents are volunteering on the day of the visit and after the visit are looking for ways to incorporate Expeditions further,” Holland explained. “Many PTA boards have also asked our team to run Expeditions at their monthly meetings so parents can check Expeditions out.”

In many communities, including my own border region, the multicultural landscape in schools is growing more visible, and Holland feels the immersive Expeditions experience gives students a better way to share their own cultural backgrounds with each other, not to mention learning more about their own nation’s history.

“Expeditions allows students to get a deeper and more personal understanding of cultures and historical events,” Holland said. “With Expeditions, students can immerse themselves in the 360 degree panoramas and explore in a totally new format.”

This is an experience, she said, that just isn’t obtained via other learning resources alone.

“Videos and textbooks don’t have the same immersiveness that Expeditions provides; students get the opportunity to ‘walk in someone’s shoes,’ and can get a glimpse into the various rich cultures that are out there,” Holland said. “They can explore museums, parks, city centers all from the confines of the classroom.”

One of Rick’s colleagues, geography teacher Chris Kapuscik, said the students’ response to the experience was phenomenal.

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Physics teacher Austin Campbell gives his students a look at the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, via Google Expeditions Pioneer Program.

“I was fortunate enough to bring two of my classes to the Google cardboard simulations, and the students reactions were priceless when they first put on the Google Cardboard glasses,” he said. “The room instantly filled with positive noises as the students were visually transported to another world.”

He said one of the ways he knew the demonstration was successful, was the student were still talking about what they saw and experienced when they left the presentation.

“As a teacher what I really like about it is the capabilities of bringing something to life for the students,” Kapuscik said. “I saw students for the first time this year seem to be really into the class, and students that didn’t normally talk were talking. The interactions that they had with each other were unique.”

What Kapuscik personally liked about using the Google Cardboard is teachers of several different subjects can be able to use these visualization techniques to supplement a lesson. This ability extends to students’ ability to use this program in their own homes. Even if students or school districts, don’t have the means to physically travel to other places in their country or around the globe, this program can help bring the world to them.

“In the home, kids can learn about new places and gain a sense of curiosity that would reflect on their education,” he said. “It would kind of be like they are learning without knowing they’re learning. I could already think of several ways I would use this in my class if I had my own set.”

Kapuscik said he hopes to see immersive visual experiences like this become a more frequent tool in the classroom.

“If they don’t become more common, then we need to find a way to make it more common because technology like this is only going to benefit the whole educational experiences,” he said. “As a teacher, not only would I be able to teach about a place but if I can bring them there it would help students internalize their learning.”

To learn more about GeekMom Lisa’s family’s experience with this program, see her post How Does Google’s Cardboard Hold Up?

Story originally ran in GeekMom on Dec. 20, 2015.

 

Ten Pieces II and CBBC Envy

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nobachforyou“Classical music is a little bit like having a spaceship. It can take you anywhere you want.”
— Dominic Wood (of CBBC’s Dick and Dom) in Ten Pieces.

We listen to a ton of music of all genres in our home. I’m proud to say my 6-year-old, who enjoys Yo-Yo Ma, can identify Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Cello, BWV 1007, as quickly as she can The Ramone’s “Pet Sematery,” the latter of which she just recently quit referring to as “Don’t Put Me in the Berry.”

Over the past month leading up to Halloween, we had been playing several “dark classics,” including, among other pieces, Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and especially the goose bump-inducing Bach masterpiece Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Therefore, I tapped into the wonders of world-connecting Internet, as well as my insatiable journey for all things educational, and spiraled myself into a corner of frustration, as I tried to access the video content of BBC’s young people’s programming branch, CBBC’s, classical music film and outreach program for secondary schools, Ten Pieces II.

I had forgotten they were working on this until I ran across a Vimeo clip of one of my favorite actors, Christopher Eccleston, introducing “Ride of the Valkyries” for this project. It looked, for lack of a better phrase, absolutely fantastic. The production value was outstanding, and I couldn’t wait to see and share this entire film.

There are other cool aspects of the Ten Pieces II film, CBBC’s secondary level answer to last year’s successful Ten Pieces program and film for primary students. This included introductions by stand-up comic Vikki Stone and rapper Doc Brown, performance poetry with poet, musician, and educator, Chris Redmond, and a “Ten Pieces Megamix” presented by DMC World DJ Champion Mr Switch. The purpose of both these films is to introduce new generations to some of the world’s most celebrated classical pieces, as well as for use in a school curriculum.

However, the icing on the cake for me was with the opening piece, in which my personal creative muse, presenter James May, introduces, you guessed it, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565.

Quick lesson for those who don’t know: “BWV” refers to the cataloging system of Bach’s work, or “Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis” in German. But, I digress.

I couldn’t wait to share these with my kids, as well as view them myself. Also, having both May and Eccleston introducing these pieces gave me reason to believe somebody out there created this program specifically for me (for use as an educational tool, of course).

Plus, CBBC offered a free DVD to secondary teachers, something my husband would have loved to apply for and use in his high school world history and geography classes, as he often discusses the artistic contributions of different eras and cultures.

Then, I saw that dreaded phrase: “Available for UK schools only.”

Of course, *sigh* of course.

Oooh, but they have the “chapterized clips” online, so we can just pull these up and watch them as we need them….or not:

“Sorry, CBBC games and videos can only be played if you’re in the UK,” so says the site.

Aaand, there you go. That location-limited practice sometimes called geo-blocking. This isn’t done out of spite, but rather, often to keep the licensing budget under control. Even so, it still feels like being left out of the “cool music kids” club.

Once again, I get to witness a resource with tremendous teaching and entertainment potential from another country, and am stymied by that little reminder social media hasn’t actually physically shortened the miles between the continents.

Now, obviously, I realize there’s a little bit of a geographic gap between North America and Europe, and it isn’t practical to supply American schools with free DVDs. Shipping cost alone is impractical. I am also aware licensing fees are a pain in the backside, when it comes to making video content accessible overseas. I completely understand this, but I don’t have to be happy about it.

The representative I contacted about this from the BBC Ten Pieces team was very helpful. She told me there is an ambition to make this film, which is funded by U.K. license payers, available internationally, but this likely won’t be a quick process.  Fair enough.

This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve felt a little bit of international malcontent for lack of instant gratitude in the cyber world, but this latest disappointment had me thinking. Instead of grumbling about what I can’t access, I’ve come up with some ways to use what is available to us educators, parents, and music lovers west of the Atlantic.

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Ten Pieces and Ten Pieces II was created with U.K. students in mind, but there is still some great of content for available for everyone “across the pond.” Images © BBC.

Grab ALL the Downloadable Content Available.

Teachers from all over can access this free information—and CBBC happily provides this—including grade-specific arrangements of each piece, posters, composer profiles, lesson plans, and repertoires.

There is also audio content available in the form of free downloadable mp3s, performed by the BBC Philharmonic (Ten Pieces II) and BBC National Orchestra of Wales (Ten Pieces). Yes, these audio clips are accessible by everyone.

However, the Guide to the Orchestra eBook is available for U.K. devices only. Oh well.

Know Where to Dig for Videos…Legally.

There are ways for American viewers to see content on U.K. sites.  BBC Worldwide on YouTube does have a CBBC channel as well. Currently, there aren’t any Ten Pieces II clips, but there are performances from the original Ten Pieces available for viewing.

Sometimes you can get lucky and find a clip on the BBC News Channels, but other times it will just link you back to the U.K.-only sites.  The YouTube content is really the best bet.

Back in the day, we actually purchased a used DVD player so we could set it specifically for our U.K. purchased discs (we had accumulated a lot of Michael Palin travel discs). One would think it would be easier to convert videos online.

Well, if you’re really desperate to see something, there are legal VPN

Of course in most of my cases, you can “wait it out.” It seems like all videos like these end up on YouTube or Vimeo eventually, and since it was one of these sites where I ran across the Eccleston/Wagner piece, as well as Dick and Dom’s introduction for “Mars” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” in the original Ten Pieces film, there’s a pretty good chance, others will follow. Just have patience.

Take Advantage of Good Old American DIY.

By using the downloadable resources that are available for everyone, it is actually easier to find video clips and audio downloads available to American viewers.

One of the resources from Ten Pieces is a downloadable repertoire. Use this to put together your own iTunes disc, since all of the pieces listed are easy to find and purchase. It may not be the arrangements used in the CBBC program, at least you’ll have a similar playlist.

I have to point out there are wonderful resources for American teachers out there just waiting to be discovered, from sheet music to online clips, and instrument-specific materials. The K-12 Resources for Music has links to hundreds of sites for educators and parents, but keep in mind not all of them are current or active.

The downloadable The downloadable content is there for a reason. Use it! Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The downloadable content is there for a reason. Use it! Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Take advantage of these domestic resources and combine them with what you can from the CBBC programs. Find recordings by the New York Philharmonic or Boston Symphony Orchestra, to help illustrated the lesson plans provided online by CBBC. Come up with a fusion of the best of both sides of the pond.

As far as making this internationally available, maybe if enough interest were shown for these films from North American schools, I would like to see digital downloads offered for purchase for a nominal price. I’ll just put that thought out there, and walk away.

Classical music, and all music for that matter, is such a uniter of people from all over, it only seems right to pool the American and European programs and resources available, and really create something spectacular.

These Ten (or Twenty) Pieces are a good place to start.

Originally ran in Geekmom on Nov. 9, 2015, since then the author is happy to announce James May’s clip featuring Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is now available via YouTube!

The Incredible Mind of James May

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How much do I relate to James May? For starters I will be forever bothered by the typo in this photo’s “goal list.” All images by Lisa Kay Tate

I had to fire a Time Lord.

I’ve had a little cut out picture of actor David Tennant on the base of computer screen for a few years, now. He seems like a likable guy, and he is a great actor, but he’s never been my favorite. I don’t even particularly find him physically attractive (don’t tell my daughter this, please, I might get tarred and feathered), but I’ve looked the little speck square in the eye every day for several days on end.

You see, he was my “muse.” When my writing work load became increasingly larger, I found myself getting distracted by everything from the temperature of my tea to Facebook, which was where I ran across a meme of a judgmental little Tennant in full Tenth Doctor gear standing next to the text “YOU Should be Writing.” He was right. I should have been, so I got distracted again, printed out the picture and stuck it to my computer as motivation.

I talked a little about the importance of getting a muse a couple of years ago in my To-Do List post to help keep me in tune with my goals.

Well, I’m at the point in my life right now where I’m tired of the criticism and need some full-on sympathetic, and empathetic, encouragement. I’m tired of little snips of inadequacy from a former Time Lord, so I “retired” the image to my daughter’s bedside bulletin board of wiry British actors. For a short time, I was “muse-less,” guided only by deadlines, guilt, Chinese gunpowder tea, and Monster Energy drinks. Not a good mix, nor really a tasty one at 3 a.m.

Then I “discovered” James May.

I’ve known who May is for some time, everyone who watched the first 22 seasons of Top Gear UK does. I begin to delve into his work more and more of recent, when I begin mainlining the show, as I mentioned in a my Father’s Day Top Gear article. I got hooked on his Toy Stories, his Man Lab, his Big Ideas, his 20th Century specials, Things You Need to Know, and even his and wine expert Oz Clarke’s slightly buzzed road movies. I kept on a steady stream of his mind-filling online Head Squeeze web videos, now reborn sans May as BritLab, while working on otherwise mind-numbing computer jobs.

Somewhere in this video muddle, I found a kindred spirit. My husband holds the title as my “soul mate,” but May’s mind comes closer to my way of thinking than anyone else’s. Is it possible to have a “brain mate?”

This isn’t to say I don’t have plenty of role models and influences in my life. No one person can take up that mantle. My family, friends, educators, pastors, and a cadre of writers, musicians, and great thinkers help fill those hefty shoes.

However, I’ve resolved myself to only have one actual “muse” and May now claims that title with absolutely no competition.

I’m not planning on giving a laundry list of May’s professional achievements. Instead, I want to touch on the very nature of this man, from what I’ve casually noticed, that makes him so uniquely appealing to everyone and anyone with a maker’s mind.

Therefore, here are my main reasons May is my new, and I suspect permanent, muse:

I get him! And, whether he knows it or not, he gets me. Watching his Toy Stories achievements in particular, I completely felt for his failures and setbacks. I’ve personally teared up in frustration when some grand scheme of mine didn’t work, no matter how insignificant it seemed to the world around me. There’s still a rocket out there in the West Texas desert with a roll of undeveloped Kodachrome, likely with a picture of three idiots looking up at it from the Sul Ross Range Animal Science parking lot wondering, “where the hell did it go?”

I’m not trying to speak for all GeekMoms, but I’m reasonably sure we all share a fondness for Lego bricks. Fellow GeekMom Maryann Goldman has written some great pieces on them, and Judy Berna even wrote about May’s own Lego house project in 2011. Seeing how May has brought people together to achieve projects like this house was, and still is, inspiring.

He did this with his plasticine garden, and his 1:1 scale model of the Spitfire model. I loved seeing these teenagers get into these projects. I’ve already built models with both my daughters, as my father did with me as a young girl. We even tried…and failed…to get one to run on salt water. Don’t ask.

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We’ve been gardening in Play-doh for years, now I feel a plasticine bouquet is in the cards.

One of my earliest creative memories was collecting broken glass in the arroyo (desert) and wanting to glue them together to make house-shaped votives. My dad let me fill my pockets, but knew full well this was going to crash and burn after multiple attempts at trying to use Elmer’s school glue as adhesive. I was three. It just got worse from there. Backyard haunted houses, Millennium Falcon mock-ups, and re-creations of all most of Indiana Jones’s artifacts as home decor (did I mention the latter is a current project)?

He strives to keep kids off electronic devices. No, he’s not saying get rid of all things electronic. He even did a great piece on how digital cameras work. He has repeatedly said on Toy Stories, and at other times, how today’s youth, and adults, need to get their faces away from living in their smart phones and hand-held video games, and explore more creative venues.

Again, I get this. I don’t want to rip these conveniences out of people’s hands, but I don’t—and will not—own a smart phone. My children do not need, nor own, cell phones yet, either. My oldest does have a Nook reader, and I allot an hour a couple of times a week for my youngest to play on the iPad, but we don’t keep these things permanently embedded in our hands as a primary form of entertainment. Believe it or not, we are doing quite well, thank you, and we still love technology. Don’t tell me how much I would love my smart phone and would use it all the time. Yes, everyone who tells me this is right. I would use it all the time. Ergo, I’m not getting one. I don’t need that extra distraction.

His parents, especially his father, are big influences in his life. May has not only had his parents on Top Gear and other shows, he has said numerous times how much they have influenced him. His father got him into model building, and influenced his design for the perfect paper airplane. He’s even joked about his mother’s aggressive driving prompting his moniker as the careful driving “Captain Slow,” by means of “childhood trauma.”

I hope I inherited a lot from my mother. Her creativity, her ability to do anything for her children at a moment’s notice, and her compassion for others’ well-being. I didn’t inherit her ability to talk to anyone and make friends. I’m actually consistently afraid to be around people I don’t know, except on a professional level, and sometimes I’m shy to the point where I come across pompous. I’m not, I promise, I just need to get to know you, first.

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I’ve added a May-inspired “Get Excited and Make Things” reminder to one of my project areas….here’s hoping it works.

My father, however, influences me to this day. An in-flight refueler in the U.S. Air Force, he gave me an appreciation of both planes, and of those who serve in the military. Having put himself through college as a mechanic and a motorcycle racer, I spent a lot of time with my dad, brother, and his friends in the garage watching him work on our cars. This grew a love of all things that go. As an educator, he showed me the importance of a passion for learning. He was also my influence in spiritual matters, morals, and a strong work-ethic. I feel both privileged and proud to be my parents’ weird kid.

He has to constantly be doing something. Anything! Plus, his interests seem to be all over the place. I’m not saying he’s scatter-brained, he can focus for hours on creating a Mechano erector set motorcycle chain or re-build a model train engine, but I wouldn’t let him go too long with no project to pursue.

When the “Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson vs. producer’s face” fiasco surfaced, he and fellow presenter Richard Hammond demonstrated loyalty to their long-time friend and left the show after his dismissal. The trio has since been picked up to do a similar show on Amazon Prime, but in the interim May created “JM’s umemployment tube” YouTube channel, where he made Shepherd’s pie and poached eggs in his kitchen, and filmed Hammond’s inability to hit a golf ball.

My long-suffering husband understands this part of my own nature too well. There’s a box of plastic water bottle pieces in my garage waiting to be made into to hot rod-inspired flowers (I’m planning on selling these, I swear). There’s always some project-centered mess awaiting completion, books to be read stacked on my nightstand like a Jenga game, and ideas for other things buzzing in my head like bees. In short…keep me busy or I might explode.

Finally, there’s that little detail that he is actually a music major, and plays piano well enough to “go pro,” in my opinion (and I have written plenty about chamber music in my day job). Instead, he’s incorporated this talent into his other work, and even used his appreciation of Beethoven to discuss how electronically mixed music just doesn’t hold up to capturing the creative essence of the human mind. YES!

But, why do I need a muse?

When I go through bouts of middle-aged self-pity, one of the things I lament about consistently is somewhere “I took the wrong path in life.” This has been happening more and more….and I’m still about a decade away from menopause. (Won’t that one be fun?)

“Where, oh, where did I go wrong,” I agonize like an overgrown toddler to my husband, who is always compelled to ask, “Well, what exactly is it you want to do?” Honestly, I never knew, until I saw what May was doing with his talents, and the pooled talents of those close to him.

That’s it! I want to celebrate creativity, ingenuity, the human mind, spirit, and soul with playful abandon. I want to mature in my interests, responsibility, and intellect, but I by no means whatsoever want to “grow up!”

I might not be able to live that dream, but May is, and I hope he wakes up every morning unabashedly thankful he is able to do this very thing.

As much as a dreamer as I can be, I’m a realist as well. I’m not writing a fan letter hoping it will one day reach May’s awareness, but I can still give him my appreciation.

Thank you, May, for helping me find my true muse, who now occupies the front of my computer with attractive and calm encouragement. Thank you for doing what so many of us wish we could, but don’t have the means, funds, or opportunity. Thank you for representing the collective creative minds of the childlike…but not childish…adult.

I only ask you one thing. Don’t stop.

Originally posted in GeekMom.com September 4, 2015.

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Muse or no muse, please try out May’s paper airplane design. It is well worth the short time it takes to make.