Week 24 is in ‘da books! Below are this week’s highlights!
1. Author Visit – Trudy Krisher is coming in just 3 days! We are so excited! In preparation for our discussion of her novel, Spite Fences, we have been preparing a display of items that would be found in Zeke’s Cart (a main character from the novel). Students are bringing in ‘white elephant’ type items that we will do a creative writing around under her guidance on Monday. Can’t wait to share that with you!
2. Assembly Line Production – We also did a fun activity this week in Social Studies, engaging in a hands-on experience with the pros and cons of assembly line production. I had students time themselves and compute average production time per item (and yes, they got to eat the final product, a cookie ‘burger’). Needless to say, this activity was a big hit! They loved it, and they even cleaned up after themselves and asked if we could do it again. I liked exploring this important element of our modern economy and discussing the benefits and potential chllenges it causes as well.
3. Valentine’s Day Activities – On Friday of last week, my Language Arts class also completed this Valentine’s Day Close Reading activity. We have been focusing on close reading and finding supporting evidence all year in all classes, so this was a good review. It’s also kind of interesting to learn facts you didn’t know about this popular holiday.
4. Readbox Doors – You may have seen my earlier post about the Readbox Bulletin Board I put up in our cafeteria. Well our student-run art club also made some additional Readboxes that could be displayed throughout the school. I think they turned out great!
5. Just For Fun – I thought I’d share with you a project I recently completed. If you follow this blog, you know I love to hand make all my gifts (whenever possible). I found this awesome pattern on steotch.com and it just makes me chuckle every time. My husband is always making ‘Ermahgerd’ jokes, so I mostly made this for him. If you like ironic, snarky cross-stitching, then head on over to steotch’s website or etsy page for some laughs.
I hope you had a great week and that you aren’t totally frozen or buried in piles of snow. It is bound to warm up soon, so hang in there!
::spooky voice:: OOoOOoOoooH, Friday the 13th! ::knockonwood:: nothing goes wrong today! I don’t really believe in superstitions, though. I hope the students are well-behaved today! Here are 5 highlights from this week:
1. Author Visit – First, my best news – we are honored to have a visit from Trudy Krisher! She will be visiting our school in just 10 days. We are so excited! I can’t believe how lucky we are! More to come on that later!
2. Would you? Our students are doing their own self-designed Science Experiments, which is a fantastic, student-centered, inquiry-based lesson. So a student came up to me and handed me 2 cups of water, asking, “Would you please take a sip from both of these and tell me which one is tap water and which one is bottled water?” I can’t believe it, but I did it. I had so many questions (Are these new cups? How did you get the tap water? Did you DO anything to this water?!?), but I took a leap of faith and gave it a shot. Turns out, I was wrong! I thought the more metallic tasting water would have been tap water, but it was actually the bottled water. Hmm!
3. Coloring Book – I’m working on my next coloring book on – you guessed it – dinosaurs! It will be a gift for all of my little nieces and nephews as well as a new product up on TpT. If you are interested in any of my other coloring books, they are Zoo Animals, Rainforest Animals, and My Animal Coloring Book.
4. Cooking – I got back into cooking this weekend. I had really fallen off the wagon this winter, eating lots of soups, fried eggs, and pasta, because I had been hit with one virus after another and I went for the easy/quick fix foods. Well I had forgotten how meditative, relaxing, and fulfilling it is to make your own foods from scratch. This weekend I made Bacon-Topped Spinach Meatloaf and Broccoli Egg Bake, two of my favorites. Lots of protein and vegetables for the win!
5. Stir Crazy – Okay, we are all going a little nuts around here. Me, my students, even my dogs. Winters are HARD! I feel so bad for this toy monkey, but then I realize he is pretty much a metaphor for my life. We are in the heart of winter and in for at least another 2 and a half weeks of freezing temperatures. I miss sun! At least I have little dogs who can get a lot of exercise just playing inside. For my students, on the other hand, indoor recess isn’t cutting it. We need an outlet for all our energy! Maybe a roller skating field trip?
While in Delaware this weekend, we decided we simply HAD to visit Winterthur (pronounced Winter-tour or Wint-a-tour if you’re in a big ole’ hurry). Winterthur is a house museum of American material culture and handcrafted, decorative arts as well as a sprawling 60 acre garden. Winterthur was founded by Henry DuPont – yep, ‘the’ Dupont family with their vast family fortune. Mr. DuPont, who inherited Winterthur, lived from 1880 to 1969 and made Winterthur into the treasure it is today. During his lifetime, he expanded Winterthur into a 175-room mansion filled with historic architecture (that he had transported piece by piece from other historic houses across the United States) and decorative arts (such as George and Martha Washington’s china).
There are 6 floors, and we toured the 2 floors that contained the DuPont’s living quarters and guest rooms. We viewed the grand double staircase, the sitting room where the DuPont’s enjoyed the wedding receptions of their two daughters, the dining room (the DuPont’s kept on staff one footmen for every two houseguests), several tea rooms and sitting rooms for playing bridge, pianos, fireplaces, and other beautiful bedrooms and staircases. Each room is exquisitely decorated. I loved learning that during the Great Depression, when many families had to part with their beloved family heirlooms, DuPont saw to it that – since he had the means and the desire – he rescued as many handmade and historical American artifacts as he could and painstakingly had everything restored and displayed within his museum/home. I’m certain you could spend days there and see barely a fraction of what this museum has to offer.
Since my friend Erin and I are both Art History majors (and she is a curator of decorative arts and material culture at a museum), we were both completely geeking out at all the beauty. There were original American Chippendale furniture, wallpaper transferred from China, tea sets, handcrafted embroidery, original wood flooring, chandeliers imported from Europe, silver services, and so much more. After our house tour, we visited the Downton Abbey exhibit.
We learned that the director of Winterthur has a connection with the director of the Downton Abbey show on PBS, and he conceived and curated the idea for this Downton Abbey costume exhibit at Winterthur. It is not a traveling exhibit, and the costumes will be returning to England after this exhibition. We just HAD to go and see it! And I tell you, it did not disappoint. There were costumes from nearly every character on the show as well as detailed explanations of the meanings of colors, fabrics, cut, and style. It was interesting, for instance, to juxtapose the Flapper-inspired, controversial dress of Rose’s character with the dowdy and voluminous dresses sported by Isabelle Crawley – displayed just a few feet from one another. I also enjoyed how several displays incorporated a video projection of key scenes from the show in which the costumes were featured.
One thing I learned, for instance, is that lavender is the color of mourning. This is why the women of Downton don lavender gowns to George’s christening, since Lady Sybil has recently passed. I also learned that women were required to wear corsets at all times (no big shocker there) except between the hours of 5pm and 7pm after a long day of outdoor sporting activities. She would have to endure the corset again for supper, but it’s nice to know ladies were granted a brief reprieve.
After touring the house and Downton exhibit, we retired to the gardens for a few hours of leisurely strolling and sight seeing. DuPont was also a trained horticulturalist, and he designed each of the gardens, paths, and views throughout the 60 acre estate. The peonies were in full bloom, as were most of the azaleas. We enjoyed the Enchanted Woods, Pinetum, Azalea Walk, Reflecting Pool, Koi Pond, and many of the historic and impressively large trees (one is 250 years old!). The Enchanted Woods is adorable with little faerie homes, a giant bird nest, bridges inhabited by trolls, and a faerie circle of mushrooms – it is said that if children enter a faerie circle, they may disappear! (sensors produce a mist so the child appears to ‘disappear’ into thin air!). Everywhere you look there appears to be a bench or a perfect place to curl up and enjoy the view, have a picnic, or read a book.
One story I enjoyed in particular was in regards to an old redwood tree on the property. At one point, the tree became diseased and might have died. DuPont – from his love of nature and preservation – decided to save the tree, so he called in an arborist. The arborist devised a plan that is akin to a root canal – he bored out all of the diseased interior of the trunk, flushed the cavity with a light bleach solution, then reinforced the tree with rebar and many tons of cement. The plan (though ridiculously expensive) worked, and the tree is still thriving to this day.
I would highly recommend that you visit Winterthur if you find yourself in Delaware – it is well worth the time and money. A guide suggested that mid-April would be the most beautiful time to visit, when many of the flowering plants will be in full bloom (such as the cherry trees).
Today, I had the privilege of attending the 26th annual Art of Writing Conference at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This is my 7th time returning. The Art of Writing Conference is a truly amazing experience where hundreds of young authors and artists, grades 1-12, come from across the state to meet at the Milwaukee Art Museum for a day of exploration and writing.
We begin the day by breaking up into small grade-level groups of about 10 students from different schools, and we tour the museum together. Our goal is to choose a few pieces of art and discuss the artist’s message while also looking for a way to connect personally to the piece. As a former docent and an Art History major, this is definitely my favorite part of the day. The students do some very deep reflecting and thinking on the art – oh you would be so proud! They have such profound and touching things to say. I never get tired of the museum tour because each group of students sees something different – even if it’s the same piece I’ve viewed with hundreds of students before them, I always hear something new.
Later in the afternoon, we gather for a silent hour of writing or sketching. The authors generate a first draft of their writing piece, which is a 500 word personal narrative inspired by a piece of artwork we viewed in the morning. We sit at a table in the middle of the gallery – what a gift to be able to write surrounded by world treasures! After a break for pizza in the Calatrava, we engage in Writing Workshop: peer revision, editing, and writing a final copy. Then, voila, their work is published in a few short months! We all return to the museum for a ‘Book Release Party,’ and the students get a copy of their published work.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to be inspired by the art, authors, and artists. I wish I could take all of my students every year, because it is such a unique opportunity.
By the way, there was a really cool surprise for me this year. They start the conference every year with a video about the conference and the writing process. It features video captured from previous conferences. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself up on the big screen in the auditorium! Here I am leading my group of 8th graders last fall. Of the hundreds of people there, it was neat to be in the spotlight!
Happy ‘Stomp Out Bullying Day’ – aka ‘Blue Shirt Day!’ It is a day to stand in solidarity and educate about bullying and cyberbullying.
My sweet students made these awesome posters, which we hung up around the school. They also created videos, poems, and raps to share with the class. We did this during PBIS time (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports), a time built into our school schedule for character building.
Did you celebrate ‘Stomp Out Bullying Day’ at your school?
Do you ever get the urge to be creative? I know some people are just creative all the time, but I like to think that I’m a healthy mix of practical and creative. Unfortunately, the creative side doesn’t get as much face time as I would like. The result is that every once in a while, I get the ‘creativity bug’ and I go on a major binge. I’ll stay up late painting a mural, spend all afternoon knitting a hat, or find a new Pinterest project to occupy my weekend. A lot of these projects sit unfinished (shhh… let’s not talk about that…)
Well this weekend, I just felt like drawing. I love to draw. So I sat down and started drawing zoo animals. (I really desperately can’t wait to have my own kids so I can decorate their nursery!) Well after a while, I had a pretty great collection going! I made 25 total. Here are some samples, and some ideas of how I would use this in an elementary classroom, if I had one. These would be some really fun activities to do before a field trip to the zoo!
In Art, explore different art materials to create texture and shading.
Or, create a cool graphic design!
In Science, label the parts of the animal. Draw the animals habitat.
Write details in or around the animal about the lifestyle and eating habits.
In Language Arts, write a story or poem inside or around the animal.
Use the animal as an illustration in your own book.
Do a research project on the animal and use the printable as a note-taking sheet.
For Math, take a poll to see which animal is the class favorite. Use the animal printouts to make a giant bar graph. Use multiple printouts to represent proportions and ratios (ex. 1 lion to ever 5 elephants).
For Social Studies, research the current topics around an animal. Is it frequently in the news? Being used to help society in some way? Endangered? Create a large mural with several habitats, and allow students to place each animal correctly.
In Foreign Language, use the printables as posters with the target words (ex: name of animal).
For your classroom, determine each student’s favorite animal, write his/her name on the animal, and place it on the desk as a name plate.
Yay! The Back-To-School Fairy stopped by Room 204!
I’m very excited about a few things I ordered in the spring. Back to School shopping is such an exhilarating activity – it’s something I’ve loved to do ever since elementary school. Ahhhh…. the smell of new supplies! It’s better than roses!
What I ordered:
Manilla Folders – one for each student
Stickers (yes, even 8th graders love stickers)
Lightbulbs (I have several lamps in my room for when we are using the SMARTBoard and the room lights are off)
Invisible Tape + Dispenser
EXPO Markers for my whiteboards
Twist-n-Write Pen/Pencil – have you ever tried these? They are fantastic!
An ELECTRIC Stapler! I squeal with excitement!
An ELECTRIC Pencil Sharpener! Be still my heart!
Another crazy super-powered stapler that can do 30 sheets at a time (P.S. WHY do my students always manage to break these? I buy 2 new ones every year!)
A Magnetic File holder (This is where I have students turn in their work)
I have a few things yet that I will be purchasing with my own money:
Candy (incentives). Since I must be mindful of nut and dairy allergies, I usually get Smarties, Dum-dums, Jolly Ranchers, Peppermints, etc. Even those aren’t safe from allergies, however. I had a student who was allergic to food coloring 🙁
Granola bars and snacks for the students who forgot breakfast/lunch.
A silver Sharpie so I can try out this new idea I saw on Pinterest for a Reading Graffiti Wall. Expect a detailed post once I have finished it!
Some fashion duct tape so I can make flags on my pencils. They always walk off!
I’m curious to see how much of these supplies I actually use this year, given that we are going one-to-one with iPads. I know there will still be a significant amount of handwriting, and we aren’t going completely paperless yet. I imagine my supply list will dwindle each year as we get used to relying more on our electronics.
Do you think there is anything I missed? Do you have some Back-To-School items that you always purchase?
Have you heard of Blackout Poetry? This is a really simple, effective, fun way to introduce poetry. EVERYone can do this. As I tell my students, you don’t have to create something from scratch – the something is already there. It’s up to you to liberate the poetry from page – find the secret message and reveal it.
Laura Randazzo, one of my favorite sellers on TpT, created a FREE Blackout Poetry product that my students have classroom tested and approved. We began by watching the free Prezi that she created. If you aren’t familiar with Prezi (nickname for Presentation), it’s basically like an online Powerpoint, but way more fun. You don’t need any special equipment – just Internet access. This Prezi walks you through the process of creating Blackout Poetry.
Teacher Tip: I warned them the day before our lesson to bring dark markers to class (and I rustled up as many as I could find in my teacher stash as well) as well as scissors (in case they wanted to trim their poem).
To prepare for this lesson, I chose several dozen of my favorite classroom novels. I hauled my pile to the copy room, opened each book up to a random page, and copied it. That way, we aren’t destroying any books. Since my students sit in groups in my classroom, I placed a pile of copied pages at each table group and asked them to pick a page that ‘spoke to them.’ Warning: advise your students NOT to read the page. This will put an unshakable idea into their head about what the page should be about. BIG mistake! It’s best to just skim the words, like scanning the food in your refrigerator, for a basic idea of what you want. There was a lot of discussion and paper-passing, but my students settled on their final decisions within a few minutes.
After we watched the Prezi, I asked my students to start with a pencil and look for a special word (anchor word) from which they could build a message. “But Mrs. D., what should the message be about?” Great question. I asked them to think about themes we have learned through our novels and short stories throughout the year. Think about universal messages about life, truths, or observations about humanity. That seemed to be a great place to start for the vast majority of my students. The more advanced poets didn’t need as much direction and just dug right in.
Once they had a potential poem sketched out in pencil, I directed them to try out their poem on a classmate. Ask for a reaction and feedback. Make any necessary revisions, then finally go for the marker and start blacking out what isn’t needed.
As an extension for some students, I invited them to insert a blackout image that complimented the poem. As you can see in the sample images below, the students rose to the challenge!
The beautiful results were then displayed for the remainder of the poetry unit 🙂
A real challenge in middle school is getting an increasingly large group of apathetic students excited about reading. I don’t mean to say ALL of my students – I definitely have some voracious readers – but there is always a hefty, vocal group that seems proud to proclaim indignantly, “I don’t read.” Well, harumpf. What’s a teacher to do with that kind of attitude? I understand that as an English Language Arts teacher, it is my job to get students excited about reading. Confetti, cartwheels, iPhone giveaways – whatever it takes! Okay not really. I’m not a performer, I’m not rich, and I don’t work miracles. I do my best to give students authentic, fun, motivating reasons to pick up a book (aaaaaand actually read/finish it). Of course I have to give a nod to my favorite teacher-author, Kelly Gallagher, who writes about just this topic in his book Reading Reasons. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!
One of the ways I try to motivate students to read is through my DVD Case / Movie Poster project. It is a project with reading, writing, language, expression, and art – a great way to hit multiple Common Core standards at once. This project has lots of elements that get kids excited: technology, critical thinking, creative writing, photography/images, and the critical elements of publication and display. Here is a glimpse of the final project, which is explained in more detail below:
You are looking at the display cases in the front lobby of our middle school. Each and every student got a chance to have their final DVD case (or movie poster) on display for the entire school. In addition, my students got some one-on-one time with 6th and 7th graders to share their project. They read their summary and review quotes on the back, explained the layout and image choices, and answered any questions their audience had – all in hopes of inspiring the student to go and read the book for themselves.
Here is a closer look at a DVD project:
And a collage of my students’ work:
Students begin by selecting an interesting book (can either be a novel or a biography) that is at their appropriate reading level. I introduce this project about 6-8 weeks ahead of time to get students enough warning to finish the book.
After reading the book, students will write what I call a ‘Review Quote’ (a book teaser summary that discusses the theme/message) to promote the book. To do this, we look at the backs of many books, even visit http://www.rottentomatoes.com and http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews to get a feel for the rich language of a teaser/review.
Next, the students will create either a DVD Case or a Movie Poster to promote the book through images as well as words. They really love this part, and I’m not just saying that. Rarely do I hit the money with a project where every single student is working, but this is it. And everyone is working at his/her own pace and area of expertise – artists, techies, writers; they all find their niche and even help one another.
On the day where I introduce the project, I bring in dozens of DVD covers and movie posters for students to view. We discuss similarities and conventions such as the size of the font, placement, purpose of images, etc.
After introducing the project, I wind up giving students 3-4 more days of in-class work time. Now that students have their own iPads, I may cut down this time and expect them to do more homework. On the 5th day, we do the printing and final touches, such as laminating the movie posters or putting the DVD covers in to the cases (I bought 100 from Amazon for about 25 cents each, totally worth it!). The 6th day is for presentations.
I am excited to do this project with the iPads this year, because students can actually go out and take their own photographs. Their goal is to match the mood of the book through color, layout, font, and images. They really do quite a bit of critical thinking with this project.
One of the only problems I have run into is that if their book has already been made into a movie, some students rely very heavily on the movie images. I had to make a rule outlawing this. The results were great, as this ultimately pushed students to be original and dig deeper into their own interpretation of the book.
Something that I learned last year, and will be repeating this year, is that some students like to make their own movie poster / DVD case from scratch, and others need a template to get started. Here is a template I created in Pages for the DVD Case. Students can ‘drag and drop’ their own images:
The final product can be displayed in your classroom, hallway displays, or as part of a gallery in which you promote the books to other students. The Library Media instructor at our school asked if she could display them in our Library, too!
If you want to purchase and download my DVD case / Movie Poster unit from TpT, the following items are included: * Common Core Standards for grades 8-12 including English Language Arts and Literacy in All Subjects * Suggestions for modifying and differentiating this lesson for students at all levels, from heavy support needed to extension ideas. * Essential Questions * Rubric * Project Description Student Handout * Sample Writing ‘Review Quotes’ with “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry * 2 Sample DVD Cases with “Peak” by Roland Smith, and “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore * 1 Sample Movie Poster * Word Spectrum – ‘interesting’ to ‘boring’ – 65 synonyms students can incorporate into their writing * 5 Pages of detailed lesson plans and teacher tips including guided writing, peer review, modeling, small and whole group discussion.
I loved teaching this unit and collaborating with our school’s Art and 21st Century teachers. We found that this unit hits on a LOT of Common Core Standards and curricular goals, which was a huge plus! By working together, we strengthened student learning and participation. Students have told me that this was their favorite project all year!