“Today is the day!”

Honestly, this is embarrassing.

I distinctly remember standing before you in August claiming that I would publish the goings-on of the classroom on a weekly basis. What happened?

Already, the end of the year is whispering in my ear, reminding me of my gross shortcomings.  So despite the enormous lapse in time, I take a deep breath and jump in to write this blog post.

After all, some events are worth waiting for…

Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETA) is still waiting for a message from alien lifeforms.

Leap day takes about four years to come around.

Waiting for a blue moon might take 2-3 years.

Depending on the altitude in which they live, black alpine salamanders wait for their young to be born from two to three years.

Additionally, an elephant’s gestational period is close to two years before the opportunity to nuzzle their young is possible.

Since the cartoon the Jetsons, we have patiently been waiting for flying cars, meal pills, antigravity, jumpsuits and teleportation.

It may take a month or more of waiting for your child’s teacher to publish a blog post.

As author Richie Norton states, “No more tomorrows. Today is the day.” Hard to procrastinate if you live by this mantra.

Despite my silence on the blog, your children have not been silent. Here is a summary (albeit lengthy) of what they have been up to since the last post.

IMPACTS UNIT

Students researched a country’s history of natural hazards and the impact these hazards have on the country’s lenses of sustainability (environmental, economic, and society). NGO’s were then researched to determine which would best help their country become disaster prepared to reduce risks. Findings were compiled into a written proposal and a visual presentation prepared to present to the UNISDR panel (group of teachers) in a bid to receive funding to implement disaster preparedness programs. See a sampling of the end results below.

Watching the final presentations filled me with great pride. Students were poised, articulate and well-informed. It was, indeed, a moment to savor.

If you would like to peruse some written grant proposals, take a look at ChinaPhilippines and India.

WORD STUDY

Investigating the morphology and etymology of <mitigation> was a challenge that required students to learn enthusiastically. Once the denotation of <mitigation> was uncovered, students tackled the morphology of the word. The following hypotheses represents their initial thinking…

* <miti + gate + ion>

* <mit + i + gate + ion>

* <mitigate + ion>

* <mit + i + g + ate + ion>

To determine which hypothesis, if any, was accurate, students had to prove the morphemes. Students brainstormed words that used the identified suffix(es) to check their theories. Once satisfied with the accuracy of the word’s affixes, students moved onto determining the base. Here they used Etymology Online to determine the root.

Proving the base element was most challenging as the students were reticent to let go of their theory that <gate> was the base element. Progress was stunted because many were looking for what was familiar, a word they recognized, in <mitigation>. I found it extremely challenging to allow students to make mistakes without giving them hints of how to find the correct answer.

Sounding like a broken record, I continued to ask students to prove their theories and asked about connections between the etymological root of the word and the denotation.

With determination, students found <mit> as one base element coming from Latin mitis meaning “gentle or soft”. With reluctance, students let go of the idea that <gate> was another the base element, however they needed guidance in the end to uncover the second base <ig> coming from the Latin root agere meaning “to do, make or act”. This was an exciting find as they connected this root to the one they uncovered in <proactive>. Meaning, base elements <act>, <ig>, <ag> all come from the Latin root agere.

Eavesdrop on a couple of conversations…

Investigations were recorded on a poster.

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Next, we will be studying words related to dystopian societies.

BLOGGING & PERSONAL NARRATIVES

Once students completed their March Slice of Life Story Challenge, we paused our blogging to work on the craft of writing and produce a piece of more substance. When visiting author, Jack Gantos was here, he claimed, “We are all full of really good stories.”  Taking his advice, students started their narrative with a small moment of their life and then stretched it out using magnified moments, internal monologues, dialogue and show, not tell.

Through several focused rewrites, students revised their beginning, strengthened their word choice, varied sentence beginnings and lengths, added figurative language, applied other literary techniques such as alliteration or repetition, and finally, tightened their ending. Before hitting the publish button, students edited their conventions and formatting. What you see published, is purely student work. They are proud of their accomplishments, as am I.

Writers need an audience, so I need your help. Please take the time to read your child’s narrative as well as two others and  leave a comment sharing what spoke to you about their story. Your time and attention to this matter is much appreciated. You can find the student blogs on the right hand sidebar of my Wonderland blog. As I am writing alongside the students, my personal narrative, Childhood Stupidity, is my latest post.

NOVEL STUDY

Currently, students are engaged in reading a dystopian novel of their choice. The term ‘dystopia’ was coined by the British philosopher John Stuart Mill. According to Wikipedia, J. S. Mill first used ‘dystopian’ in a speech before the British House of Commons in 1868 regarding the government’s Irish land policy: “It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable.” A life of destitution, tyranny and terror is summoned when visualizing a dystopian society.

Dystopian fiction, although set in the future, explores modern issues that have reached drastic proportions producing nightmarish conditions.  Corrupt governments convince their people society is fair and sound, a utopia, not the dystopian community it really is. Dystopias are written as warnings – reminders that humankind must tread carefully to prevent such chaos from becoming a reality.

The protagonists of dystopian fiction are dissidents, standing up against oppression for the greater good; teaching us that it is important to be an upstander and make a difference. Students stand alongside the protagonist, soaking up their empathy for others and courage to stand up for what you believe in. As Neil Gaiman states, “Fairytales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” As students help the protagonist “slay the dragons” of these dystopian worlds, they learn their dragons can also be slain.

Students are taking part in Socratic seminars and threaded discussions to dialogue about the provocative themes that are emerging in their novels through setting, character and plot development. Here is a sneak peek into a threaded discussion on Lois Lowry’s novel, The Giver and another threaded discussion on the second book in her series, Gathering Blue. To view a discussion, click on the COMMENTS button in the top right hand corner of the document and all will be revealed.

That’s it for now. I will try not to let so much time lapse between posts, although my word is a bit suspect based on my actions.

Building Global Citizens

WORD STUDY

Global citizens can be defined as problem solvers that are future focused. They understand growth is necessary for both the individual and the community in order to promote continued progress. They understand that to make the best possible progress, it is important to be proactive.

This week, students investigated the morphology and etymology of <proactive>. Once the denotation of <proactive> was uncovered, students began hypothesizing possible morphemes of <proactive>. The following hypotheses represents their initial thinking…

* <pro + active> –> proactive

* <pro + act + ive> –> proactive

* <pro + ac + tive> –> proactive

To determine which hypothesis was accurate, students first had to prove the morphemes. Students brainstormed words that used the identified prefix and suffix to check their theories. Once satisfied with the accuracy of the word’s affixes, students moved onto determining the base. Here they used Etymology Online to determine the root. Many groups looked up <active> because they were certain <pro-> was a prefix. Some looked up <act> because they were certain <-ive> was a suffix.

Etymology Online uncovered <act> as the free base element coming from Latin agere/actum/actus meaning “to do; set in motion.” This left students with the correct word sum of <pro + act + ive> –> proactive, which they quickly connected the meaning of the root to the dictionary definition stating proactive meant to set something in motion before it becomes a problem. Good thinking.

Finally, they were challenged to find as many related words to <act> as they could, showcasing their thinking in a word web.

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LANGUAGE ARTS/SOCIAL STUDIES

We are close to wrapping up the Impacts Unit. Students are making final additions and revisions to their written proposals asking the UNISDR to fund their country’s disaster risk reduction plan and finalizing their visuals for Thursday’s and Friday’s presentations.

To ensure both the proposal and presentation are effective, students learned about Aristotle’s rhetoric – the three means of persuasion: logos, pathos and ethos.

In their final rewrites, students are looking to inject emotional anecdotes, supporting statistical data and credible sources into their proposals to feel confident their appeals are persuasive.

To help your child prepare for the presentation, please allow them to practice the art of persuasion on you.

The students have placed so much hard work and effort into this project; they should be proud of their accomplishments. I know I am proud of them.

BLOGGING

And all the while, students continue blogging. Please check out their voices on our classroom blog, Wonderland. Student links are on the right sidebar.

Impacts & Opportunities

IMPACTS Unit

Currently, students are well into the integrated Impacts Unit in which they have been studying the patterns of natural hazards within a country and working on developing a proposal to persuade ‘representatives of the UNISDR’ to fund a disaster risk reduction program for their assigned nation.

At the beginning of the unit, students were presented with the following GRASP scenario…

  • Goal: Your goal is to secure funding for your country for disaster risk reduction.
  • Role:  You are the Head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness
  • Audience: Your audience is representatives from the United Nation Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)
  • Situation:  As a UN member state located on the Ring of Fire, your country is potentially at risk for an earthquake and/or tsunami. You need to persuade the UNISDR to fund disaster preparedness in your nation.
  • Product:  You will prepare a written proposal to representatives of UNISDR making the case for your country

To build the background knowledge necessary to develop a disaster risk reduction proposal, science classes have had students research plate tectonics and the Ring of Fire – analyzing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the natural phenomena resulting from the earth’s shifting plates. In math, students analyzed statistical data of their country’s natural hazards to identify predictive patterns and formulate generalizations about their country’s need for disaster risk reduction.

While in Humanities, students have been researching and synthesizing their understandings of the geographic profile of their country, the impact a historical natural disaster had on their country’s economy, environment and society, and NGOs that provide aide in a disaster as well as disaster risk reduction programs.

This week, students will be culminating all these understandings into a written proposal as well as planning and creating their mode of presentation.

This unit has presented many challenges for the children as they have had to tackle difficult scientific and mathematical concepts as well as formulate their understandings in the abstract form of writing, all while working collaboratively. This is no easy task, as they are learning to listen to, consider, and compromise their ideas collectively. I am proud of their display of flexibility and diligence.

Slice of Life Story Challenge

We continue on with our second week in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Some students are thriving at the opportunity to write every day, some are struggling. The goal is to write about a slice of life every day in the month of March, but if your child is distressed with the pace, encourage them to write 2 or 3 posts a week rather than 7. I will be having this chat with them on Monday.

To offer support and encouragement, I write a slice every day along with the students on our classroom blog, Wonderland. Once I post my daily slice, the students post their slices in the comment section of my post. Please feel free to click on the slices and leave a positive comment on their writing. Everyone loves an audience!

If interested, you can view my two slices, “Dear Students” and “Power of Words” that summarize the wise words of last week’s visiting author, Jack Gantos. What a gift his workshops were!

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Critical Reading for Critical Thinkers

17th-century copper engraving

Think. It seems a simple task. According to the Oxford dictionary, to think means to use one’s mind actively to form connected ideas; to have a particular mental attitude or approach. As simple as the definition is, teaching ‘thinking’ is a complex undertaking. Despite its complexity, fostering critical thinkers should be a fundamental cornerstone in all classrooms.

Over the past couple of weeks, students were faced with reading challenging articles on the conflict between China and Tibet conflict and synthesizing their understandings in a presentation to be shared with the class. To navigate the complex texts, students engaged in active reading strategies. PQRST is one of the strategies students used to make sense of the articles handed to them. This strategy requires students to annotate their questions, connections, and understandings as they engage in each step of the following process.

When PREVIEWING, students are coached to pay attention to the features of a text – headings, subheadings, captions, diagrams, bold and italicized words. At this stage of reading, students begin wondering about the topic – making predictions about the content of the text.

Following the previewing of the text, students focus on QUESTIONING. During this stage, I encourage students to turn headings and subheadings into questions to provide a focus, followed by a reading of the text, flooding it with questions that pop up as they work their way through the article. I advise students to be patient and embrace confusion at this stage as they attempt to formulate the gist of the text.

The next stage reinforces the idea that multiple readings deepen understandings. Students are asked to READ the article once again, this time chunking the text – summarizing their understandings or noting connections as they go. Additionally, I encourage opportunities to discuss the text with a partner during this stage to further solidify understandings.

SUMMARIZING follows reading. It is at this stage that I encourage students to make sense of their newly formed ideas by organizing them into a mindmap that categorizes and summarizes the information. At this point, students have interacted with the text multiple times helping them to move beyond understanding and form critical opinions about the content. It is at this stage that students may get into heated dialogue about the topic. This is my favorite stage of the process, as students demonstrate they have established a conclusion and can justify it with evidence and interpretations.

When needed, to help prepare for an assessment, students can TEST themselves on their understandings by quizzing one another using the mindmaps.

Although multiple readings, annotations and mindmapping may appear tedious, it is important students are offered ample opportunities to engage in these strategies. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. I am going to need your help to reinforce these strategies, when applicable, to Humanities homework.

Friday’s presentations on the conflict between China and Tibet provided evidence that the PQRST strategy was effective in developing an understanding of a complicated issue. Students were able to communicate to an audience their perspective of the issues and provide possible solutions based on their research.

Of course the presentations were not without the usual bumps and bruises of awkward pauses, over-reliance on scripts, and factual inaccuracies at times, but overall students should feel proud of their accomplishments. I look forward to future presentations.

An example of a finished product…

Making Sense of Our World

Social Studies: Mapping Our Place in the World

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“Our love affair with maps is as old as civilization itself. Each map tells its own story and hides its own secret. Maps delight, they unsettle, they reveal deep truths, not just about where we come from, but about who we are.”  Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Cartography, an intriguing science of drawing maps that began as early as the 15th century with Ptolemy and accelerated during the age of exploration as explorers bumped and felt their way around the world recording their discoveries in conjunction with their beliefs. Perusals of maps from long ago are not only works of art but a curation of knowledge, political agendas, and philosophical beliefs. Maps of old revealed more than location; they disclosed a story. Of course with advances in technology, conjectures became more exact, and the stories, well, they became more subtle.

In today’s digital age, maps are indeed more accurate, yet not without bias. Bias is simply more hidden than in previous periods of time, which is why it is important to view such cartographic depictions with a critical eye. To avoid falling into the trap of ‘believing what you see’, viewers need to be encouraged to ask questions such as…

  • What type of map is this?
  • What is its purpose?
  • What distortions are evident?
  • Why has the cartographer chosen to distort the map in this way?
  • What information does the map reveal about the world?
  • From whose point-of-view is the map shown, and what do they have to gain from it?

Although these questions have not been made apparent to my students, they are subsumed in our overarching Essential Question, “What is my place in the world?” Students have been investigating the various ways in which geographers make sense of this question by utilizing the imaginary grid system of latitude and longitude to pinpoint and identify the location of places, exploring the five themes of geography to understand the interaction between human and non-human factors, and uncovering the challenges behind showing Earth’s surface.

As we delved into maps, it didn’t take long for students to notice the challenges in representing a spherical planet on a flat map. While plotting the location of capital cities around the world, one student made the statement, “This map is a disgrace to my country.” Already, the map’s intentions had become suspect in the eyes of a young viewer. This led other students to investigate the shape of their home country on the map to see if it too had been ‘disgraced’. Many agreed the map being used was indeed a disgrace to many countries, and that I should find a more accurate map that was more ‘fair’.

Although this is not where I had planned this particular lesson to go on this day, interest in why shapes of countries are distorted on some maps was piqued, making it a central point to revisit in later lessons on the different types of maps and the information they reveal. I’m curiouser and curiouser as to what questions the variety of maps will stir up in these young minds as we move through this unit on the core concepts of geography.

Students aren’t only learning how to navigate their way around maps, they are also learning additional skills such as how to read and take notes from non-fiction texts and synthesize their understandings in a paragraph centered around main ideas. Cornell notes, mind-mapping and other graphic organizers have been introduced and encouraged to help students identify main ideas and organize their thinking in a well-developed paragraph.

Language Arts: Learning How to Navigate through Life via Literature

Poetry

We acquiesced to Halloween by embracing the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe on Thursday. No, it wasn’t “The Raven” or even “The Tell-Tale Heart,” instead we went with his lesser known, but nonetheless, beautiful, “Annabel Lee”.  After identifying the narrative behind the poem, students fell into the rhythm of its verse – lulling the audience with the beauty behind its tragic love story. With only one practice, tables of students performed their assigned stanza. Forgive me for the poor quality of video; filmmaking is certainly not a strength.

Novel Study: The Graveyard Book

In The Graveyard Book novel study group, students have been investigating the elements of literature and the techniques authors use to reveal them to the reader. Since the start of the novel, students have been working to understand the protagonist, Bod and his home of the graveyard. Bod’s world has been turned upside down as he is forced to leave behind his home and family and make the graveyard his new home.

Author Neil Gaiman plays with our biases and generalizations regarding graveyards by creating an environment that symbolizes protection and education rather than death as we might expect. Bod has to make sense of his smaller world and how it fits in to the bigger world outside of the graveyard just as we have to make sense of how our smaller communities fit in with the global community.

Setting, mood, characterization and theme have been explored through symbolism, metaphors, similes and personification. To glimpse a view of what your child has been studying, please see the RESOURCE page of our Graveyard Book website. To get an overview of their studies, delve into the presentations and look over the documents students have been working on in class. Below are  a few photos of students in action discussing and collaborating on their understanding of all The Graveyard Book has to offer.

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