Friday, November 30, 2012

Shopping Lists and a Simulation

Preparing for Hope House - Click for Gallery
This week, sixth grade students worked feverishly to put together shopping lists, clip coupons, and secure funds for the annual Hope House service project.  One of their biggest challenges was narrowing down the thousands of food choices offered in a typical grocery store.  Students began by working within a number of parameters.  First, they were discouraged from purchasing anything that they would not eat themselves.  Next, with the exception of bread and some hardy produce (apples, carrots, and potatoes), only non-perishable food items were allowed.  Along with that, students were advised to make choices that would go the distance.  For example, cinnamon-raisin bread may be a delicious treat, but it is largely relegated to one meal - breakfast.  Whole-wheat bread, on the other hand, is more nutritious and could be used at any of the three meals.  Finally, students were asked to plan out breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  They needed to consider all of the food groups for each one, while creating appetizing and complete meals.  For the upcoming week, students will continue to collect money and finalize their lists.  Then it's on to Piggly Wiggly!

After a couple of shortened weeks due to conferences and the Thanksgiving holiday, composition class is tying up some loose ends.  Students should be in a position to submit their definition essays for assessment, after another round of writing conferences next week.  At the same time, Six-Word Memoirs were finalized this week.  Students created a JPEG of their memoir on Wednesday and submitted it to me on Thursday.  Borrowing some of Apple's creative magic, I will create an iMovie that contains each one. The class also focused on a new writing strategy this week - power writing.  Every other day, students used the website,, to help increase both writing stamina and idea generation.  The site randomly selected a single word and displayed it on the SMART Board.  Writers were given just one minute to write what ever came to mind about that word.  Once the minute was up, words were counted and tracked as a means to monitor growth.  While it was certainly a quantitative task, by no means were students allowed to forget writing conventions.  One habit to which good writers adhere is writing as correctly as possible on the first attempt.  Although it was a challenging exercise, students were excited to do it and eagerly gave it their all, each time.  After monitoring and coaching students this week, I am ready to join them as they power write on Monday. 

In order to fully appreciate the historical context of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, it's important to understand the quandary of the newly freed slaves following the Thirteenth Amendment.  Freedmen were despised by white landowners and found themselves without money or job prospects. Because of hope, or maybe out of desperation, many quickly found themselves bound to a legalized form of slavery - sharecropping.  Some 147 years later, it can be difficult for people to empathize with this hopeless situation.  So that they might understand the struggles and challenges of sharecropping, literature students began a multi-day simulation in which they became tenant farmers on my expansive plantation.  They rented and farmed 10 acre plots for exorbitant fees and at the whim of both Mother Nature and supply and demand, just as those freedmen did so many years ago.  In no time at all, many found themselves hampered by severe debt or hanging on by a thread.  As they discussed their progress, students revealed that they felt scared, anxious, worried, and angry.  Those are feelings that I would have been unable to elicit through a simple demonstration or PowerPoint.  With the simulation lasting two more days, students will have some difficult choices to make.  I am eager to review their final reflections and interested to see how their participation in this activity will inform their interpretations of the novel.

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