Friday, May 31, 2013

Original Myths

Students Present Original Myths - click for gallery
Over the last two weeks, students have been presenting their original myths.  These stories represented their cumulative understanding of the elements of a myth, character and plot development, and the importance of setting.  Most importantly, the students set out to do what the Greeks had done 2700 years ago - explain natural phenomena with minimal scientific knowledge and technology.  I must say, the creativity was extraordinary.  Topics ranged from the butterfly to continental drift, and the explanations for each were equally broad.  Kids were excited to share, and it was an enjoyable and engaging experience for everyone!

Cupcakes for the Entire Sixth Grade!

We are wrapping up the Sunflower Club today.  Students are committing their last acts of kindness and writing their final posts and comments on the blog.  Maybe I am just imagining things, but I feel like there is a excitement on the third floor about doing good.  Kids are taking initiative and carefully considering what they may have overlooked before.  From cleaning up messes in the lunchroom to donating to Red Cross to completing chores without being asked, students have been taking Stargirl's mentorship to heart.   It has been a great experience for all involved.  The kids have reported that they feel good about what they are doing, and parents have been equally positive.  In fact, one mom indicated how great it was to have the coffee made in the morning!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kindness Everywhere

Students are wrapping up their study of Jerry Spinelli's, Stargirl.  The eccentric Stargirl performs random acts of kindness every day. Whether it’s sending a card or a note or singing Happy Birthday to someone, cheering for an opponent, or helping another in need, she’s always thinking about other people and what might make them happier or feel better–whether she really knows those people or not. At the end of the book, a Sunflower Club is formed at school as a way to honor Stargirl's memory, and the members pledge to do something nice for someone else each day.

Literature students became honorary members of the Sunflower Club on Monday and assumed the duty of doing something nice for someone each day, whether they really know the person or not.  The goal of the project is to do as many creative “acts of kindness” as possible to as many different people as possible. Additionally, they are charged with keeping a reflective blog of all the things they do. On their blogs they are discussing whom they “sunflowered” and providing a short explanation of the thing that was done.  Students are also required to add a brief reflection of how it made them feel.  Because of the nature of blogging,  students are encouraged to comment on others’ blog posts with kind words and support.  The mantra of the final project of the year: Be creative. Be thoughtful. Be kind.

Over the last few days, I have seen kindness in many different forms and in many different places.  Wednesday, my advising class was ‘Sunflowered’ with balloons and Starbursts - by a student from another room!  That same day, an incredibly kind banner, espousing my abilities as a teacher, was secretly attached to my door. Thursday, I witnessed many students offering to help one another in a variety of ways. From lunch table duties to holding doors, they really began to step up. In addition, my ORB class received Tootsie Pops, students passed out kind notes to their classmates at lunch and during seventh period, and lockers were decorated up and down the halls. Today, my fourth period literature students received flowers to brighten their day.  Frankly, I love the way the whole atmosphere changes when people are doing good.  I am inspired!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Send-Offs and Appeals

As is tradition at USM, students in first through eleventh grades said their formal goodbyes to this year's graduating class.  It was a great opportunity for the school to come together as a community centered on a common activity.  While each grade had its own unique way for sending-off this year's seniors, the sixth grade imparted some tried and true advice.  Allowing every student to share wisdom would be time prohibitive, so each of the four homerooms brainstormed ideas and voted for their favorites.  Below are some of the many wonderful suggestions for what the Class of 2013 should take with them on the next stage of their journeys.  I hope this tickles your funny bone!

Don't forget to pack:

  • Your blankie and teddy bear, so that you have something to hug when you miss your family
  • A season of Spongebob Squarepants to teach you life lessons
  • Lots of underwear, so you don't have to wash them
  • Lots of Easy-Mac, because your mom won't be there to cook for you
  • A snow globe to remember Wisconsin's weather
  • Sunglasses to make cool first impressions
  • A nightlight, because you can't run to Mom's room when you have bad dreams
Peer Conferencing - Click to view gallery

Composition students have completed their initial drafts of their persuasive arguments aimed at you!  We will be working next week to make thoughtful revisions as well as to hone some very specific writing techniques.  As a way to spotlight the persuasive genre, students listened to a read aloud of the powerful picture book, Why War is Never a Good Idea, by Alice Walker.  You may recognize her as the author of The Color Purple.  This amazing book masterfully employs emotional appeal along with plain folks and repetition, and wraps it up in a poem with incredible art.  Following a thoughtful and in-depth discussion of Walker's themes and techniques, students were asked to reflect on their writing.  How could Walker mentor their own pieces?  

After studying Greek mythology and reading (or rereading in many cases) Rick Riordan's, The Lightning Thief, students have a pretty good handle on the elements of a myth.  Of utmost importance is its unique role in explaining natural phenomena or commenting on the human condition.  For the past few weeks, the kids have been diligently writing their own original myths.   The topics range from the bumble bee to Mt. Everest (inspired by Mr. Moreno's trip?), and the methods of conveying those myths are no less diverse.  Next week, classmates can expect to see radio call-in shows, StoryJumper books, and read alouds.  I have been impressed with the students' commitment to creating a great story, and I'm excited for them to share their wonderful creations with their peers.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

With the end of the year quickly approaching, I figured it would be a good time to do a little coaching from the sidelines.  Many of us are beginning to feel the Siren-like pull of summer - endless days of sun, vacations, pools, and barbecues are dancing like sugar plums in our heads.  With only 17 schooldays left, it's hard not to succumb to summer's wily ways.  Nonetheless, there is still important work to be done.  Books need to be finished, projects completed, and tests taken.  In fact, the grades for this quarter are far from determined.  That's why it is so crucial for students to remain focused and thoughtful.  It's not too late to achieve the goals set at the onset of third quarter.  Unfortunately, it's also not too late to lose momentum.  Remind your children to regularly check the portal, review their work, act thoughtfully, and avoid procrastination.  A strong finish is a rewarding way to end the year.

Finally, here's to a Happy Mother's Day!  My mom is probably a saint!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tugging at Your Heart Strings

Have you been holding out on buying your preteen an iPhone? Dog? TV for her bedroom? Don’t be surprised if she tries to persuade you once again in the near future (please accept my apologies in advance). Sixth grade composition students dug their heels into persuasive advertising techniques this week. Authors are working diligently on creating impassioned and logical arguments to test your resolve. From bandwagon to weasel words, students studied ads, brought in examples found in magazines, and identified techniques found in ones I presented to the class. They are experimenting with each of the persuasive techniques in order to find the one that they feel will best resonate with their audience. We all agreed that emotional ads tend to sway our opinions most strongly. What will it be for you?

Last week, writers put the finishing touches on their “Where I’m From” poems. Inspired by George Ella Lyon’s famous poem of the same name, the pieces describe the memories that define who we have become. Take a moment to read some of these powerful and beautiful poems.

Literature students have embarked upon their latest project – writing original myths. They learned that myths were often used to explain either natural phenomena or the human condition and are being challenged to create their own myths that do the same. While they are required to write a story, it can take a number of different forms. Students are considering the written word, read alouds, videos, and skits to name a few. It will be exciting to see where their creativity takes them!