“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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Zooming Out

Istvan Banyai’s wordless book, Zoom, reveals its story in small doses. Just as the reader believes they have grasped the story, he zooms out a bit more to offer an alternative point of view. This clever technique leaves readers questioning and hypothesizing with every turn of the page, sweeping them into a world of wonder and delight.

When delving into all things words, it is this world of wonder and delight that I want to create for my students. Traditionally, many of us were taught ‘vocabulary’ by memorizing definitions of lists and lists of words. The more lists, the more rigorous the unit of study. Such an approach reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s wise words,

“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”

Simply learning what a word means, kills it. End of story!

Zooming out, Banyai style, allows a word to live and breathe – to possibly become a part of who we are.

Your children have been zooming out over the past few weeks to uncover the bigger pictures of the words from our recent word study. Our story began with an essential question that allowed students to first zoom in:

What does the word mean?

Once the words were presented in context, students tapped into their own experiences and knowledge and delved into a variety of dictionaries in order to best understand the words’ meanings. Once a group consensus was formed, the denotations of the words were paraphrased and recorded. Coming to an agreement on the paraphrases presented some interesting conversations as students compared their notes on their researched understandings and lobbied for their interpretations of the definitions.

Following the discovery of the denotations, students explored the connotations (emotions) of their words. This exploration was linked to word choice and the knowledge that it is a word’s connotations that can help create the emotional atmosphere of a story.

We then zoomed out to get a bigger picture of the words by investigating,

How is the word built?

This part of our story involved the morphology of the words. Students learned that morphemes are a word’s smallest units of meaning; how they work together to reveal a bigger picture of the word.

It was discovered that it is a suffix that begins with a vowel letter that can cause a change in the spelling to the element before it. Ahhhh, that’s why a final silent <e> is dropped off, or the final letter of a base element is doubled, or an <i> is changed to a <y>; it isn’t magic, there are logical reasons for these changes.

Students discovered that base elements are the heart of a word’s meaning and that they can stand on their own as a free base element or remain bound to an affix (prefix or suffix) in order to make sense. Additionally, the roles of prefixes and suffixes were explored. To process all this new information, students engaged in conversations with one another about what was understood and what questions remained in a cooperative learning structure called, “Find Someone Who…”

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Zooming out even further, we discovered that a word is much more than it’s denotation and connotation. A word is more than its morphemes. A word has a history. For this part of the story, we investigated,

What is the word’s history?

Using John Ayto’s Word Origins dictionary and Douglas Harper’s Online Etymology site, students uncovered the etymology of each word. It was discovered when a word came to be used in English, what language the word originated from, and its root and meaning. Time was allowed to explore the root and meaning of each word and compare the meanings to the word’s current definition. There was a flurry of questions during this phase, ranging from, “How do I read this entry?” to “I wonder why this word means something different now?” Instead of concluding the story, students were zooming out with their questions to view the bigger picture.

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Armed with a deeper understanding of each word, we zoomed out a bit further, making connections to Margaret Wild’s picture book, Fox. Students created a literary sociogram that allowed them to explore the relationships between the characters of the story through their newly formed understandings of their vocabulary words.

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Students now had a much bigger picture of each word; they were ready to be assessed on their knowledge. One of the questions on the final assessment asked the students to choose one of their vocabulary terms and share all they learned about the word. Here is one student’s response (as written) to the question:

“The dictionary definition of the word reflective means to engage in deep thought. Though the connotation, the more critical part of it is to always be thinking if you did the right thing, how you can improve in the future and so on. The word’s root language is Latin: L. flectere which means “to bend”. This makes sense as it connects to the denotation, your thoughts are always changing and you can easily “bend” your actions. The word sum of the word is: re + flect + ive –> reflective. The prefix is re-, the bound base element is <flect>, and the suffix is -ive. The connection between this word and the book, Fox, is that Magpie (in the end), ends up having to decide whether to stay and die in the desert or go back to Dog. It is a very huge thing to think about, especially since she has a burnt wing , but then she remembers how Dog had helped her and how she had left him, so she chose to go back home and apologize to him.”

This student understands the layers of the this word’s story.

Students were also asked to reflect on the process of their word study. There was a quite a range of responses as far as what they felt was important, but they all mentioned the process was meaningful (of course I understand this may have been to please the teacher). Enjoy the following snapshots of a few of their responses:

“If you know more about a word then you know its true meaning. It unlocks a new world where you can sort of understand what people were thinking back then.”

“I learned that without morphemes there is no word, connotations are like emotions in the word and the root is like history. Finding the word sum helps you find the base which helps find the root. It is all connected. In all it will help you see the world in a new light.”

“Connotations helps me to figure out if the word is positive or negative. This helps me in writing to know in which state I use the word and it makes the best sense. Morphemes are affixes and bases. If I do not know the word’s denotation, by knowing the affixes and base, I can predict the definition of the word.”

I can’t profess that these students have been swept into a world of delight when investigating words, but I can see that they are wondering. These words will live on in the lives of the students. What more could a teacher want.