Getting Google-ly At #EdTechTeam Connecticut Summit 2017

Local Edcamps and Google Summits are the best professional development opportunities to learn the best technology platforms and practices to 10X student learning. Today’s #Edtech Team Google Summit in Manchester, CT was filled with engaging sessions to boost the potential of Google Suite in the Classroom.

Google Innovator, Jeff Heil @jheil65 was the opening speaker addressing moonshot thinking, quality instruction, and rethinking teaching. He raised questions about core beliefs, amplifying student voice and choice, and Google’s Project X as a model for classroom learning.

Brooke Whitlow presented “The WRITE Stuff with Advanced Docs” offering a Doctopus and Goobric Demo to efficiently evaluate writing in Google Docs.  Both of these add-ons for Google enable flexible, efficient rubric-based grading of Google Drive resources. As I re-evaluate the assignments that I create in Google Classroom for student reading and writing quests, these add-ons can help organize my evaluation of student work while at the same time allow me to offer effective feedback on their work.  Here is a step-by-step guide to using Doctopus and Goobric.

Revenge of the (Google) Sheets led by Jedi Master, Jesse Lubinsky @jlubinsky offered advanced tips to effective sort and filter data in Sheets. Again, there are many add-ons for Google Sheets that can help manage data and sheets for mapping, power tools, and even QR Code Generators. Save As Doc allows you to convert any Google Sheet (Think Responses for Google Forms) for printing and improved readability.

I led the session Getting Going With Gamification to introduce elements of gamification. In the session we defined gamification versus game based learning and looked at aspects gamification to utilize with our students to increase voice, choice, and adventure based learning. I discussed how to get started with gamification and build multi-layered games to engage and motivate both teachers and students. Below are the slides from the presentation.

Great teachers never stop learning and as Jeff Heil shared this morning, “We are here because we want to do what’s best for our students and to be better teachers for the students we serve.” There are so many amazing add-ons and technology tools that can help teachers and students succeed.

Through confidence, perseverance, respect and understanding you can accomplish the greatest of challenges that come in life. Never fear the idea of stepping out of your comfort zone. Never fear the idea of breaking free from traditional lifestyles. Believe in yourself and you will be able to overcome the trials you fear the most.” — Ryan Hudson @rhudsonsb

Snowboard Athlete & Public Figure

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Flipped Writing Instruction

This week I had to be out of the classroom for meetings and I wanted to make sure my students had productive writing workshop to begin working on literary essays. I decided to make screencasts to review the elements of essay writing: introductory paragraphs, building better body paragraphs, and writing a conclusion. Using Screencast-O-Matic, a free screen recording program, I recorded my mini lesson to go along with each slide deck covering the elements of and essay. These screen recording were to help my students begin writing their Multi-Paragraph Outline for their literary essay.

Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul wrote the book Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach (Heinemann, 2016) describing how students can access instruction independently, in small groups, and at home through flipped learning.  Johansen and Cherry-Paul write,

“Flipped learning is a blended approach to instruction. Catlin R. Tucker (2012) defines blended learning as a hybrid style in which educators “combine traditional face-to-face instruction with an online component” (11). Teachers “flip” lessons online so students can access them at school or at home and work at their own pace. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams (2012), leaders of the flipped learning movement, state that “time is freed up to explore and discover concepts in an inquiry-based fashion” (46). Troy Cockrum (2014) says educators can use flipped learning to transform their learning environment. As with other teaching methods, flipped learning can play a central or a minor role in your writing workshop.”

With the ideas presented in the book fresh in my mind, I took my slide deck that I would have presented in my classroom as a large class lesson and screen-casted each lesson –recorded my voice thinking aloud through the elements of the essay. By screen casting my lesson and posting them in Google Classroom, my students can reference the videos when they get stuck writing. The notes that my students take from the flipped lesson go into their Interactive English Notebooks to help students to learn strategies like six ways to start an essay. The videos let students manage their own writing workshop time, work at their own pace, and return to key elements of essay writing throughout the school year.

Check out the three videos I have made so far. I can see myself creating a few others to touch upon leading in and leading out of textual evidence and formulating a claim.

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Awe Struck: Poetry & Art Collide with Chihuly

The New York Botanical Gardens is currently showcasing artworks by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. There are more than 20 installations, including drawings and early works that reveal the evolution and development of Chihuly’s artistic process during his world renown career.

Chihuly is known for his vibrant glass sculptures. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Glass as an art form is relatively new in regards to American art history. Glass as an art form did not flourish until the 1960s. Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade. Due in part to the influence of Dale Chihuly and his founding of Pilchuck Glass School, glass has taken on an unique form of expression and art (http://www.chihuly.com/learn).

Chihuly’s work and installation at the New York Botanical Gardens is breath-taking and inspiring. In fact, The New York Botanical Garden, in partnership with Poetry Society of America, presents a Poetry Contest for kids in elementary, middle, and high school who live or study in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Students are invited to submit poems (written individually or with student collaborators) inspired by the installations on view at The New York Botanical Garden. The poems are judged by Newbury Award Winning poet, Jaqueline Woodson.

Here are three of my favorite poems on display with Chihuly’s work.

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Sapphire Star

Oh Sapphire Star, your beauty and grace
To see you completely
I’d have my eyes, detached from my face.
You are simple and complicated, but never overrated Whenever I see you, my amazement is automatically instigated. To pronounce your greatness, I’d have to say it with my mind When I rst saw you

You put your signature on my subconscious
Which will forever be signed.
You are a ne work of art, seeming to be made by da Vinci You have my awe, and everyone else’s
Across every sea.
Sapphire Star, you have also taught me a lesson
That of which my heart and mind is taped
To be yourself
No matter who you are
Or what type of abstract shape.

 

Marcus Lopez-Pierre, 6th Grade
Success Academy Midtown West New York, New York

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Sol

Spirals like the way dance makes my hips move left and right
Overjoy people’s faces with the vibrant colors, allusions
Loops like the way natural hair does in its natural state bouncy and coily

del

Dazzles you with brightness that may blind your eyes in a snap of a hand Exquisite like the sparkles sparkling on a disco ball
Luxurious for everyone to enjoy going beyond what they can imagine

Citrón

Curves like the way a worm slithers back into its habitat
Injects you with freedom into a new world like Chihuly
Ties all the pieces together to make it unique
Rams all the ideas, differences in your mind that it suddenly goes “poof” Ongoing into my brain was rst a little thing that wasn’t possible

Now it’s a large scale glass curling sculpture Sol del Citrón

 

Essence Sanders, 8th Grade

Harlem Academy New York, New York

 

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Skillfully Sculpted

Glistening in the sun The way water does On days where
The sun

Like a diamond Sparkles
On its throne in the sky

Fountaining up
With bubbles Perched
Where the
Column of water Breaks at the top Into a petaly array And cascading down Sending ripples out From its landing point

Delphinium Sibley-Wilson, 4th Grade
Bronx Community Charter School Bronx, New York

 

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The Hero’s Journey: A Study in Film

Years ago I attended the National Gallery for Art‘s Summer Workshop focusing on Mythology. I spent a week in Washington, DC with fifty other educators learning from academics, teachers, and visiting every museum in the District. One evening we attended the National Air and Space Museum to see an exhibit highlighting the Joseph Cambell’s The Hero Journey through the lens of George Lucas’ Star Wars. The exhibit paralleled two stories, making visible a plot structure and trope that plays out continuously in film and story canon.

Joseph Campbell, an American mythological researcher, wrote a famous book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  As MythologyTeacher.com points out, “in his lifelong research Campbell discovered many common patterns running through hero myths and stories from around the world.  Years of research lead Campbell to discover several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through (no matter what culture the myth is a part of).  He calls this common structure “the monomyth.” It is commonly referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.'”

monomyth

When George Lucas was writing his drafts of the early Star Wars movies he had read Joseph Campbell’s work and there is a clear structure of the Hero’s Journey in Lucas’ films.

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Star Wars is not the only films that follows the Hero’s Journey. Many of Disney’s Films also use this plot structure in their animated feature films: Finding Nemo, Mulan, The Lion King, The Incredibles, and Moana. Additional movies include Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda. Major feature films like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Spiderman, Matrix, and The Hobbit also follow this trope.

I am using The Hero’s Journey with in my Media Literacy class to teach about plot structure, character motivation, and theme in the stories they write and films they create. I started by asking students to think about what qualities they associate with heroes. Are heroes born or are they made? Are there heroes in real-life or must they be larger-than-life? Who are the heroes in our society.

Students viewed short films about the Hero’s Journey to understand the monomyth. Then we brainstormed possible movies, books, and stories that would fit within this structure. Students were given a graphic organizer of the The Hero’s Journey to map out a text on their own. The graphic organizer on MythologyTeacher.com was clear and specific to help students articulate their understanding. I found out among my students that not many have seen animated Disney Films, The Hunger Games, or the new Spiderman Homecoming movie. With this in mind, I will be showing the class the movie  Spirited Away by MIYAZAKI (2001), one of my favorite filmmakers.

Many of Miyazaki’s films follow the Hero’s Journey and are great to use with students. Once we view a film in it’s entirety together, we will discuss and plot out the Hero’s Journey in the film. Students will use this foundation for writing their own Hero’s Journey story that they will make into a movie. Additionally, students will apply the foundations of film knowledge (Types of Shots, Color, Sound, and Style) to effectively tell their Hero’s Journey story.

 

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Building Quests for Independent Learning: Classcraft’s New Feature

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I am so excited for Classcraft’s new feature that allows teachers to build quests for their students. Classcraft states, “Quests enable teachers to turn their lesson plans into personalized, self-paced learning adventures for students to embark upon in the game. Your entire curriculum can take the form of an interactive map — each point representing an activity or resource that must be completed to go further.”

I have just put together a reading quest based on a social justice book unit. Students have a choice to read I am Malala, All American Boys, or Warriors Don’t Cry. Since students are reading books in small groups, the quest feature allows all students to work at their own pace to complete different “checks for understanding” assignments that will highlight their thinking about the text.

Here is a breakdown of the Social Justice Quest:

The Story – Throughout history there have been moments when people have been called upon to stand up for what is right. They have witnessed injustice, hatred, intolerance, and have decided that they cannot stand aside as a bystander. Who are these upstanders and how do they change the course of history for all of humanity.
Mission 1 – Perception Reading Expedition

You have read the backstory, been introduced to the characters, and seen injustice presented in the text. Now, complete this mission to unlock the journey of a true hero.

Answer the questions on the google form related to your social justice book.

Warriors Don’t Cry https://goo.gl/forms/X5HoTnSFU29nl2S92

I Am Malala https://goo.gl/forms/Pc6S1uFiAs9zmo1Z2

These Google forms include 20 basic comprehension questions based on the first 100 pages of the books. Student responses will be assessed using the Google Add-On Flubaroo

Mission 2 – Alliances

We often look to models and mentors for wisdom. These people’s lives are a testament that being an upstander takes strength and perseverance.

What aspects of Mahatma Gandhi are a model and mentor for your main character?

Articulate how your main character best exemplifies the philosophies and practices of Gandhi.

To learn more about Gandhi’s beliefs and complete this task click here.

Again, students will write a short response for this task on Google Forms which will be evaluated by the teacher. 
Mission 3 – Evaluator Mission

When we get to the end of a story our mind is filled with questions, thoughts, connections, and reflections.

  • What surprised me? What did I wonder?
  • What did the author think I already know?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

Before you make it to the end of the Social Justice Vision Quest, you must complete the Evaluator One Pager Mission.

One Pager Task: Your task is to showcase your understanding of your social justice book in ONE PAGE. Please follow the guidelines and check off each box as you complete each step.

  • Use a sheet of blank, white computer paper(8 ½ X 11).
  • Make sure the title of the novel is located on your one-pager. The title should STAND OUT.
  • Include a graphic representation on the part of the book you are focusing on (drawing, magazine picture, computer graphic, a symbol)
  • Your one-pager must include color (markers, colored pencils). No pencil is allowed.
  • Answer three (3) questions (see below) regarding the book and include two or more textual quotes to support your response.
  • Personal Response: A comment, an interpretation, a connection, or a review. Please do not include a summary.
  • Fill up the entire page
  • Place your name in the lower right hand corner.
One-Pager Scoring Rubric Points
Answers three reflection questions with  specific textual quotes to support response. 10
Graphic Representation that ties to the quotes. 5

+5 Awarded for Original & Unique Artwork

Thoughtful, well-written response 10
Title clearly stated… stands out 5
Presentation: Fill page, uses color, no pencil. 3
Name in lower right corner 2
Total (40 Points Maximum)

 

All American Boys – One Pager Questions

  1. Describe Rashad and Quinn. What makes them dynamic characters?
  2. What is your impression of Spoony, Rashad’s brother? Do you find him to be a good brother to Rashad? In what ways are these two brothers similar? How are they different?
  3. Quinn states, “On Friday nights, there were only two things on my mind: getting the hell out of the house and finding the party.” Why do his responsibilities at home make him feel such a need to escape? In what ways has the absence/loss of his father impacted how the family functions? Are they in any way similar to your own? If so, in what ways?
  4. For what reasons do you think Quinn begins to feel connected to Jill? How would you characterize their relationship, and how does it change over the course of the novel?
  5. Guzzo states, “People have it all backward. They do . . . I’m sorry, but my brother did the right thing. He has to make tough calls.” When his brother attacks Rashad, Guzzo is around the corner from the store, so he doesn’t bear witness to the assault. Why is Guzzo unable to come to terms with the truth about his brother’s actions?
  6. Consider the variety of settings for All American Boys; name the three places you believe to be most important to the story.
  7. Jill tells Quinn, “I don’t think most people think they’re racist. But every time something like this happens, you could, like you said, say, ‘not my problem.’ You could say, ‘it’s a one-time thing.’ Every time it happened.” Do you agree with her assessment?
  8. Quinn states, “And if I don’t do something. If I just stay silent, it’s just like saying it’s not my problem.” How does this moment show that Quinn is actively choosing not to be a bystander? Though difficult, do you agree it’s the right decision?
  9. How does the discovery of the spray-painted tag, “Rashad Is Absent Again Today” change the dynamics about how students at the high school are able to deal with the event? In what ways does this initially non-spoken symbol become an avenue for reflection and conversation among both the student body and the faculty?
  10. All American Boys is told in a dual first-person narrative. How would the story be different if someone besides Rashad and Quinn were telling it? Do you think changing the point of view would make the story better or worse? If you could, would you want another character’s perspective to be included in the novel? If so, whose?

 

Warriors Don’t Cry – One Pager Questions

1. What are 2-3 ways different white students respond to integration at Central High?

2. What role does peer pressure play in how white students respond to African American students?

3. Melba says she feels both proud and sad when she is escorted into school by federal troops. What do these feelings say about who she thinks she is – as a citizen and as an individual?

4 What role does Grandma India play? Why is she an important to Melba? Provide at least three (3) well substantiated reasons to support your assertion.

5. Explore the role Link plays. Why is he important in the book? Provide at least three (3) well substantiated reasons to support your assertion.

6. Why is the book called Warriors Don’t Cry? Which character or characters is/are the “warriors” in this play? Explain providing at least three examples.

7. How does Melba change as the story progresses? Be sure to clearly state your thesis and explain fully the instances where her behavior or attitudes change.

8. Based upon your reading of this book, what role do you think religion played in the Civil Rights Movement?

9. In the context of Melba’s story, what does it mean to be a warrior? What qualities does a warrior in this story need to possess? Provide at least two direct quotes from the book to help explain your answer.

10. Melba’s experience at Central High School happened more than fifty years ago. Why is it important to discuss it now? What could happen if Americans don’t learn about the struggle of the Little Rock Nine?

 

I Am Malala – One Pager Questions

1. Would you have had the bravery that Malala exhibited and continues to exhibit?

2. Talk about the role of Malala’s parents, especially her father, Ziauddin. If you were her parents, would you have encouraged her to write and speak out?

3. How does Malala describe the impact growing Taliban presence in her region? Talk about the rules they imposed on the citizens in the Swat valley. What was life like?

4. Mala has said that despite the Taliban’s restrictions against girls/women, she remains a proud believer. Would you—could you—maintain your faith given those same restrictions?

5. Talk about the reaction of the international community after Malala’s shooting. Has the outrage made a difference…has it had any effect?

6. What can be done about female education in the Middle East and places like Pakistan? What are the prospects? Can one girl, despite her worldwide fame, make a difference? Why does the Taliban want to prevent girls from acquiring an education—how do they see the female role? *

7. Talk about the Taliban’s power in the Muslim world. Why do you think  it continues to grow and attract followers…or is it gaining new followers? What attraction does it have for Muslim men? Can it ever be defeated?

8. Malala witnesses her immediate surroundings change dramatically within a short time period. Describe the changes to both Pakistan and Swat throughout I AM MALALA. How does Malala experience and respond to these changes? How is Malala’s character influenced and shaped by her surroundings?

9. Discuss Malala’s relationship with her mother. What influence does she have on Malala? In what ways does Malala’s relationship with her mother compare/contrast with her relationship with her father? Did it surprise you to learn that Malala’s mother did not know how to read yet her father insisted that Malala be well educated and learn all that she can?

10. In Chapter 5, after Malala does not win the class trophy at the end of the school year, her father tells her “It’s a good thing to come in second because you learn that if you can win, you can lose. And you should learn to be a good loser not just a good winner.” What do you think about this advice? How do you think it builds Malala’s character?

11. Would you have been as brave as Malala at this point in the story? In what ways do you feel like you relate to Malala?

 

Mission Complete – Reading Ace

Social justice means moving towards a society where all hungry are fed, all sick are cared for, the environment is treasured, and we treat each other with love and compassion. Not an easy goal, for sure, but certainly one worth giving our lives for!

Medea Benjamin, co-founder Global Exchange and Code Pink

We know that within our world and throughout history that not everyone has had equal opportunities or access to resources that should be a given right. Books have the power to help us see the world for what it can be and stand up for what is right. You are a reading ace and now you must make choices that show what you have taken to heart from the stories you read.

 

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Writing to Learn

In her book Writing Across the Curriculum in Middle School and High Schools (1995), Rhoda Maxwell states, “Writing is not used in content areas so that students will improve their writing skills, but because students understand content better when writing becomes part of their learning activities.”

We write to learn, to deepen our understanding, emphasize skills and strategies, to deepen thinking, look for clarity of ideas, it even acts as a toolbox for our thinking.

The Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects address the importance of both content and form to develop students’ writing skills. One of the best ways to encourage students to become critical thinkers and strategic learners is to incorporate writing into the content areas. The CCLS place a strong focus on argument writing and informative/explanatory writing. The CCLS call for students to become well-rounded individuals who write different types of texts for different purposes and audiences.

Writing doesn’t just happen in English class, nor should English teachers be the sole teachers of reading and writing. Here are three places content area teachers like science and humanities can help teach writing skills:

The Thesis Statement/Claim – The thesis is the map of an essay. It not only states the argument but also gives an indication of the organization of the essay. All subjects must standardize the need to see one thesis statement in a student’s argument regardless of content.

Evidence – Evidence is the quote, the computation, the data, the statistics, and the findings. Evidence backs up the argument made in the thesis statement.

Commentary – Commentary is individual thought. It is not just about translating the data but also bringing a new layer to the information.

The real goal is to help all students master the knowledge, procedures, and skills of the academic disciplines that run the secondary school curriculum, and which serve as the gatekeeper to success in college, work, and other facets of adult life. Teachers working to improve adolescent literacy instruction must integrate the teaching of reading and writing more fully into academic content areas.

When teachers take steps to incorporate more writing into the content areas, students begin to deepen their understanding of the steps they are taking to solve problems and to learn. They expand their capacity to answer the “why,” to understand the big ideas, and to see the real-world relevance of what they are learning. Through various literacy-based content activities that are purposeful and meaningful, students develop the skills required to successfully master content and increase problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Here are 10 ideas to think and apply in any content area and classroom:

Create Reader’s Theater on Mitosis

Debate whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat

Write a research paper and find information Boyle’s Law: The inversely proportional relationship between pressue and volume on a confined gas

Have students write and produce a music video on factoring

Create a screencast the influence of global warming on glaciers

Write a newspaper article on whether your school should invest in Solar Panels on the Rooftop

Start a classroom blog for students to reflect on classroom inquiries

Design a RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) choice project for students

Write a persuasive letter to your state senator on the first amendment and whether or not to revise the constitution

Have students script and record a podcast on a science topic they want to know more about

The bottom line: Teachers should create assignments for real audiences and with real purpose that require students to read, write, and  think critically.

 

Writing to Learn

Short, exploratory, unedited, & informal writing opportunities

Public Writing

Planned, audience driven, drafted and edited

Notes

Lists

Sketches

Brainstorming

Charts and Graphic Organizers

Journaling

Freewrites

Exit/Admit Slips

Mapping

Research Papers

Articles

Proposal

Projects (RAFT, Brochure, Webquests, Newspapers)

Essays

Stories
In lieu of essays:

Make a cartoon strip

Design a questionnaire

Write a play

Create a teacher’s guide

Create a scrapbook

Write a television show script, poem, commercial, song, monologue

Write a letter

Write a press release

Design a slide show, Prezi, or Screencast

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Poem A Day Challenge

I was recently inspired by an image on Twitter when someone shared their classroom bulletin board for #ABookADayChallenge. The image showed 180 Polaroid Photos turned backwards, each numbered along a grid to be turned over with an image of the picture book shared every new day of school. I thought, how cool to read aloud picture book everyday of school and share the joy of reading and books with students.

The #BookADayChallenge started back in 2009 by author Donnalyn Miller as a public declaration of to the commitment to read one a book a day for every day of summer and now it has morphed into a school year challenge.

Thinking of my own middle school students, I thought what are other ways that I can read aloud short sections of text (four periods a day) daily to my students to participate in the Challenge and share great books. I thought about picture books and whether my students would feel as if I was reading down to them with picture books. Yes, I know that picture books are written for all ages and I have read many picture books aloud to my students over the years with no quarrels. My thoughts extended to poetry. What if I read aloud a poem everyday of school to my students to jumpstart class, celebrate words, begin a discussion, and make connections.

Newbury award winner and poet, Kwame Alexander says, “The power of poetry is that you can take these emotionally heavy moments in our lives, and you can distill them into these palatable, these digestible words and lines and phrases that allow us to be able to deal and cope with the world.”

And so begins a new school year with #APoemADayChallenge. The read aloud will be a bell ringer and appetizer for the classroom activities for that day. The plan is to choose poems that connect with our inquiry units and build community.

Here are the poems planned for the first week of school:

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

A Journey by Nikki Giovanni

The Sweetest of Nights and the Finest of Days by Judith Viorst

Smart by Shel Silverstein

Additional Poems to be included this month:

So you Want To be A Writer? by Charles Bukowski

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel by Sherman Alexie

It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers by Margaret Atwood

My First Memory (of Librarians) by Nikki Giovanni

Hanging Fire by Audre Lorde

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John F. Kennedy as a Writing Mentor & Model: Writing & Social Action

This week I took a trip to The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA. The museum is “dedicated to preserving and providing access to the legacy of the 35th President of the United States.”

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Among all the artifacts, photographs, and videos, JFK’s writings were at the forefront. The museum and library present the depth of John F. Kennedy’s writing from his schooling days, his honors thesis that was turned into a book, his writing Portraits of Courage, and the countless speeches he wrote (along with his aide, Ted Sorenson) and presented during the time he was in office. It is intriguing that the Museum begins with information about JFK as a young person and highlights his lack of focus and academic rigor in high school. In fact, it is clear based on his high school grades that school was not JFK’s priority. His French teacher wrote, “Jack’s work varies from excellent to extremely poor. . . he has to make the decision between mediocrity and worthwhile work, – and Jack should never be content with the former.” As one progresses throughout the museum, it is clear that JFK’s work moving forward was more than worthwhile.

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Looking at Kennedy’s writings it is clear that he borrowed from many models and mentors himself to produce one of the greatest speeches in American history. Kennedy’s inaugural address taps into key themes Kennedy wanted to convey to the American people at the beginning of an era:  peace, freedom, service to others, and personal accountability. The speech itself contains contributions or borrowings from, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and president Lincoln. It has been said that the line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do from your country” was adapted from Kennedy’s headmaster at Choate.

As a writer, Kennedy was always revising his speeches and looking at the original scripts, one can see the revisions he made in his own handwriting to get the words out just right. His words are meticulous and thoughtful. He used his words to present ideas about war and peace, the possibility of the space program, to advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, when facing a moral crisis and efforts to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation, and to celebrate great writers and artists.

As a teacher, I am always looking for models and mentors for my students to understand the writing process, the craft of writing, and how words are powerful to move masses of people to change thoughts and actions.

Author and teacher, Kelly Gallagher writes in In The Best Interest of Students (Stenhouse, 2015), “students benefit when they pay close attention to models before they begin drafting, they benefit when they pay close attention to models while they are drafting, and they benefit when they pay close attention to models as they begin moving their drafts into revision. Mentor texts achieve maximum effectiveness when students frequently revisit them throughout the writing process.” Kennedy’s writing can be used to study history and the craft of writing. So many of his speeches are mentor texts for our students.

As JFK wrote in the speech for Dallas before his assassination (and was never able to present), “The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence.” Throughout his 1,036 days in office, John F. Kennedy’s words were clear and full of conviction, precise and provoking. Aren’t these the same characteristics we want to see in our students’ writing and thinking?

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Empathy & Compassion: YA Titles to Build Bridges

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are 917 Hate Groups in the United States. That means there are close to one thousand hate groups in the United States. Today in 2017.

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Photo from splcenter.org

The events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this past week are disturbing and upsetting.  At the same time, as a teacher, I look to current events to guide my teaching in middle school.  As a teacher and a human being I promote empathy, compassion, and understanding among ALL people both in and outside of my classroom.

For summer reading I requested students choose any book they wanted to read that had a theme of social justice. Social justice and Reconstruction are where we begin in September. Students will participate in many conversations about social justice and injustice based on events that took place this summer as well as in the books they read while on break. We will continue to address social justice throughout our reading and writing units over the course of the school year because teaching students to be critical thinkers and compassionate people is just as much as a learning target and goal as any Common Core Learning Standard.

In response to Frank Bruni’s op-ed piece in the New York TimesI Am a White Man. Hear Me Out” (8/13/2017), Colette M Bennett’s blog Used Books in Class writes,

Reading provides the reader the experience of seeing through another’s eyes. That is the definition of empathy. There is research that supports the link between the reading of stories and empathy.  Therefore, my response as an educator to Bruni is that the bridges he seeks can be bridges that are built by reading stories.

Reading is at the center of my middle school English classroom and reading and sharing books is key. In response to building bridges, conducting conversations about current events, and promoting tolerance, here are four YA titles worth reading.

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Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) takes place in Mississippi in 1955 in a town next to where Emmitt Till was murdered. The protagonist, 13 year old Rose Lee Carter, is living with her grandmother, working in the cotton fields and dreaming of a better life. The writing is powerful and gets into the heart and mind of a young African American girl struggling between what could be and the violence of what is. This book can be used parallel to primary sources about Emmitt Till, Jim Crow South, and Brown vs. Board of Ed.
Alan Gratz’s Refugee (Scholastic, 2017) tells the story of three different young people who escape their home country for a better life and for safety. One story is of Josef, a young boy living in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994 hoping to safely make it to America and Mahmoud is a Syrian Boy in 2015 looking to escape with his family after the ongoing violence and destruction in his homeland. The three young people are connected in the end but the journey they embark on is harrowing. 9780545880831_mres

 

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer & Bray, 2017) is powerful and poignant. After reading Jason Reynold and Brendan Kiley’s All American Boys (Scholastic, 2015), I did not think there would be another book as honest, raw, and gripping for young adults about police violence and brutality. Angie Thomas exceeds my expectations. The book gets at the heart of matter and puts down on paper the difficult questions many are asking about race, violence, and humanity. f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9f41mrnaqoygl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

 

 

American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad (Knopf, 2017) is a post apocalyptic story about a divided United States after the Second Civil War breaks out in 2074 and leaves America fractured. The protagonists is young Sarat Chestnut, a tomboy who comes of age during this frightening war torn time. There are so many parallels to what is happening in our world today that will leave the reader with disturbing thoughts about the direction we are heading.

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Building An Escape Room Activity for the ELA Classroom

Ever since I participated in the Escape the Bus at ISTE 2017, I have been thinking how I can create an escape room experience for my students the first week of school. Already armed with Breakout EDU kits, I have been deconstructing the box to make the puzzles, ciphers, and locks bigger and more complex. Scouring blog posts and Pinterest for ideas and inspiration, I have created five puzzles for our Escape Game (based on seventh grade ELA material) to introduce the storyline of our year long game in eighth grade English.

First, students will view the iMovie trailer I created to set the story for the year. The future and the safety of the entire world hangs on students ability to unlock mysterious BOOKS and secrets they contain. Books are a guide where students, if they can, uncover and discover the secrets in a world where people can’t read.

Then, students will receive a puzzle piece to match them up to a specific group. Students will have to put their puzzle pieces together to find their group members. Students will be competing against each other and the top three teams with the highest score will gain XP.

One puzzle is based on a tic tac toe cipher or the pigpen cipher. Using the cipher, students will decode a list of books that I have read this summer, search the books along the book wall, and find the next clue hidden within one of the books.

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Sample Cipher Clue:Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 8.57.39 AM

Within one of the book titles will be three numbers that will open a small lock box. Inside the small lock box are two more puzzles to solve about Plot & Climax. Students will have to match the correct elements of plot along the plot pyramid to open a number lock. This idea was inspired by Taylor Teaches 7th on Teachers Pay Teachers who has 8 different ELA based Escape Room Resources on TpT.

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Another puzzle includes using QR Codes to view different movie clips and for students to identify types of conflict presented in the movies. The order of the types of conflict help to open a directional lock using the key below.

Lock Paper Scissors has great ideas and resources for building an Escape Game. The Lego Puzzle box shared on the website caught my attention and I am commissioning my son to create two of these to use with the Escape Game. I will hide a book title or famous quote inside the Lego Puzzle Box for students to uncover another clue.

Another puzzle includes matching popular book titles with the correct plot summaries. Once students complete and match the correct titles and summaries, students will receive an envelope with a secret message written in invisible ink.

I still have three more puzzles to create. I am thinking about something related to punctuation, grammar, and prefixes and suffixes. Additionally, I might use a reading passage that has parts of it blacked out for students to answer questions. Adding music to set the tone is important. The key is that throughout this experience students are working collaboratively. Additionally, this gives me some insight to what my students already know and where to begin within my curriculum to meet learning targets.

Have you created an Escape Game for your classroom? I would love to know more. Share your insights and knowledge in the comment section of this blog.

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