Monthly Archives: December 2013

Wind

Over at A Word in Your Ear, the word a week challenge this week is wind.  So how do I show wind in a photo?  Remember, I live in a place with little in the way of weather.  Our usual is a bit of fog and some gentle sea breezes…and this week (remember, it’s the week before Christmas) we had HOT weather.  The kids were back in shorts and their sweatshirts are littering the playground!

Earlier this week one of my students came to school is a sweater dress, tights, and fur-lined boots.  By recess it was already about 75 degrees.  I noticed a mom at the door…and she had a bag of clothes for her daughter.  After a few minutes in the restroom, my student returned in a skirt, t-shirt, and tennies!  (And boy, did she feel better!)

But this morning change was in the air.  I knew that the day would be cooler.  I parked at school, and laden with too much to carry, I felt the wind and heard the pulleys knocking against the flagpole.  I looked up and noticed the flapping flags against the beautiful cloudy sky.

Carefully balancing my phone in one hand (my other was full), I managed to snap this photo of the flags and the sky.

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I love that I managed to capture the movement of the wind in the photo…and the interesting dimensions of the sky in the background.

The day turned out to be nice and sunny…and we’re expecting rain tomorrow.  If it arrives as expected, it will be an exciting school day…a rainy day schedule the day before school lets out for winter break!

A Gift to Ourselves

Is there ever a good time to work on your house?

For some reason we seem to get motivated sometime around Christmas to do major home renovation.  Last year a plumbing issue initiated some major work shortly after Christmas.  And this year we had planned to replace the floor in our living/dining room so that it would be done before Thanksgiving.  But given our hectic schedules, we are deep in the midst of it right now…a week before Christmas.

This weekend was spent tearing out carpet and throwing away draperies that had seen better days.

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The emptiness of the room creates a cavernous echo that magnifies every sound in the house.  And the cats are not quite sure what to make of it.  They did spend a good portion of time on Saturday in supervision mode…making themselves comfortable in the midst of pulled up carpet.

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I’m amazed at the difference paint makes on a space!  It feels fresh and clean, ready for the new floor that will be laid tomorrow.

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So we may or may not get a Christmas tree up and decorated this year…and somehow that feels okay.  There is something about the process of clearing out, reevaluating what we need and want to keep, and donating usable goods to someone else that is satisfying.

The neighbors are curious.  They’re wondering if we are planning to move since that often happens when people do major work on their homes.  But this work is a gift to ourselves…updating and improving our home to make our living environment more comfortable and welcoming.

It sure takes a lot of work and discomfort to make things better.  I can’t wait til the end of the week when we have a freshly painted room with a new floor and new window coverings.  There’s no furniture…guess we’ll have to stand to admire our freshly transformed living room.

Poverty and Programming…and Questions

My internet crashed last night.  The TV wasn’t working, my computer wouldn’t pick up the wireless, and the micro-cell that boosts the cellular phone signal was down too.  I had digital devices…but no connection at all.

I had big plans…to watch some Sunday night football, to do some online holiday shopping, to put together a blog post, and to catch up on some reading of posts made by others.  Instead, I finished my book, put some laundry away, and went to bed a bit earlier than I might have otherwise.

My internet is back up and working today…but my experience last night turned my thoughts to issues of equity and access for students.

It seems that when people think about access to technology, devices are at the front of their thinking.  If only we could put a device in the student’s hand, issues of access are solved.

But there is just so much more to access.  Last night I had access to devices…but none of them would connect me to the internet or allow me to connect in any other way (text, phone, social media, even TV).  I thought about getting in my car and heading down to the local Starbucks to have a cup of coffee and accomplish some of what I planned to do at home.  I didn’t have any hard deadlines…and I knew that I would have internet access when I got to work this morning, so I decided to stay home and do without the connection.

But what if I were a high school student with a Monday morning deadline?  What if I didn’t have reliable internet access in my home…and what if I didn’t have transportation as an option to get me to the Starbucks, the library, or even a friend’s house with internet access? Even if the school provided me with a device, there are so many things I couldn’t do without internet access.

I know there are programs to provide internet service to families with limited means, but I also know that they require paperwork be filled out…and may even require some kind of bank account or credit card to pay the nominal monthly fee.

So why am I writing about this?  I’m thinking about the amount of school work that is assigned as homework. to be completed outside of school and the role that digital tools increasing play in our lives and I’m wondering about how access impacts our students.  Can they create digital portfolios to showcase their learning?  Can they access the information they need to locate resources for research, find scholarship and grant opportunities, secure internships or apply for employment?

How does access change when connectivity is only available outside of your home?  In public spaces?  Places with limited hours of operation?

And what do we take for granted?  We ask students to blog, to research, to reply to discussion boards, to collaborate with Google docs…often outside of the school day.  Which of our students have access…and what happens to those who don’t?  Do our students who come from the poorest families see themselves as producers of technology?  Who is learning to code?  Who is primarily consuming in our digital world and who is producing?  How often do we ask those questions…and how do the answers change the way we think about access and equity?

Last week on Teachers Teaching Teachers, we were on a Google Hangout talking about the Hour of Code and about Dasani.  Two disparate topics…or are they?  Poverty and programming…and questions of equity, voice, agency… What roles do schools play?  What roles should they play? What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century?  How does “producing” change the learner…the learning?  I have many more questions than answers…and I would love to continue the conversation.  What do you think?

The Power of Multiple Mentor Texts

Writing is hard work.  Some days the writing flows and I know how to put my words together to achieve the desired effect…but at other times I feel  stuck or confused or unsure about how to approach the writing task in front of me.

That’s where mentor texts come in.  I look for pieces written by others that do what I am trying to achieve…and study them to learn from those writers who are acting as my mentors. Sometimes I learn about structure and how to organize my ideas.  Sometimes I am inspired by word choice and craft elements.  Sometimes I notice text features and literary devices.

And for the young writers in our classroom, we work for find mentor texts to support their development as writers.  We like to use multiple texts, knowing that not all texts work for all students…and to show that not all writers approach the same kind of writing in the same way.

And sometimes the just-right mentor text sings.

Last week our students studied four poets and their poems about snow as they got ready to write poems about snowflakes.  We started with an old friend, Valerie Worth.  Her small poems are a treasure: short and rich, filled with imagery and powerful language.  And then we turned to an unusual mentor text…an “old” poem with some unfamiliar language.

On a Night of Snow

Cat, if you go outdoors you must walk in the snow.  You will come back with little white shoes on your feet, little white slippers of snow that have heels of sleet.  Stay by the fire, my Cat.  Lie still, do not go.  See how the flames are leaping and hissing low, I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite, so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet–Stay with me Cat.  Outdoors the wild winds blow.

Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night.  Strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore; and more than cats move, lit by our eyes’ green light, on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar–Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might, and things that are yet to be done.  Open the door!

Elizabeth Coatsworth

The first response from my students was, “What?”  We reminded them to focus on what they understood about the poem rather than what they didn’t…and they picked up on the “little white shoes” right away.  Then one of our students pointed out that each of the stanzas was told from a different point of view…the first was talking to the cat, the second was the cat talking to the Mistress.  With that comment, one of our third graders, M,  couldn’t contain herself!  “Oh, now I see it!  I want to try that!”

When we went to write, she started immediately.  M had already talked about the metaphor she wanted to try on…an idea about a blank canvas to represent the whiteness of snow…when we had studied Valerie Worth’s poem the day before.

Here’s her poem:

The Snowflake Outside

Snowflake, you have no choice but to fall. So keep dancing down like a ballerina, making the world empty of color like a frustrated artist’s blank canvas. Snowflake, keep whirling magically and descend daintily onto my sleeve. From a great sky you fell.

Yes, from a great sky I fell so let me keep falling forever and ever. Don’t let me land on the frosty ground. I want to have my life forever. I want to show my style and unique ways. I don’t want to land, melt, or be unnoticed. Let me keep falling and blowing with the wild whistling wind.

M

There’s magic when the just-right mentor text provides the just-right support for the writer. You can see how M used the structure of Coatsworth’s poem as a container for her ideas, images, and feelings about snowflakes.  Before she was introduced to this poem she had already done some writing about snowflakes, thinking about movement, metaphor, and imagery.  The idea of shifting the speaker inspired her writing and gave her the shape she was looking for.

Most of the time we try to avoid mentor texts that directly address the topic/subject we are focused on.  But poems about snow are plentiful and we had many choices of mentor texts about snow…and our students have little experience with snow and snowflakes (except those they made by cutting paper) beyond what they have seen in books, movies, and photographs since it doesn’t snow where we live.

I love when a mentor text nudges a writer to try something new and stretch her wings.  And I am reminded that writers need a variety of mentor texts to learn from…rather than a single model.

What mentor texts have you used lately?

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Following the Tracks of Lights

It’s December and the frenzy of the holidays is in full swing.  With only a week until school breaks for the winter there are projects to complete, plans to create…not to mention the shopping, decorating, event attending and more that comes with the season.

Our neighborhood is one that hangs their Christmas lights on Thanksgiving weekend, with each house just a bit more sparkly than the one next door.  With the short days and early dark I notice the lights coming on as I head home on the evening.  We’ve been talking about taking time to go out and walk our neighborhood after dinner one night so we can look closely at the lights rather than simply drive by them on the way home.

So, in spite of being tired on a Friday evening after a busy, work-filled week, we headed out tonight to follow the tracks left by the lights.

Bundled up in heavy (Southern CA heavy) jackets and with camera in hand, we set off.  We decided to go in the direction that we don’t see on our way home each day, up and around the corner.  In addition to the lights on the houses, we also noticed the tracks left by the stars in the sky.  As I photographed electric lights, my husband searched the sky for tracks of constellations (and consulted his constellation app for more information about what he was seeing).

The traditional white icicle lights are definitely the most common decoration in the neighborhood.  But there is no shortage of the traditional trappings of Christmas.  We found Santa…with a couple of arctic bears.

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And a variety of versions of reindeer, including the red-nosed Rudolph.  I’m partial to this more natural version set in among the trees (even if they are palm trees).

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And it wouldn’t be Christmas without a trail marked by candy canes!

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A couple of houses sported these inflatable characters.  During the day they appear to be melted as they sit deflated until they are plugged in at dusk.

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We saw twinkling lights, flashing lights, lights that were all red, lights in trees, on bushes, wrapped around pillars and poles.  Lights arranged in the shapes of trees and wreaths. Sometimes the simplest were the most beautiful.

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I often wonder about the electric bill of the people with the most lights.  Do they plan for the increased usage as part of their annual budget?  I have to admit, my house is one of the unadorned with only the porch lights to penetrate the dark.  And yet I enjoy the display of lights my neighbors set out, adding light to the long nights of December.

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Following the tracks of lights was a perfect ending to a busy week.  Walking in the crisp cool evening was energizing and it was fun to notice the details of the displays and even get some new perspectives on decorations I had only previously seen from a particular angle.

I might just add this activity as a December tradition…and maybe even branch out a bit further to take a look at how others create tracks with lights.  This was definitely a learning walk…my first focused on lights!

Making Time for Making

We’ve been doing a lot of making in our classroom this past week and a half.  Snowflakes, poinsettias, Hopscotch projects…  It’s not that we don’t make at other times, but it seems that we have really gotten in the flow of making lately.

I love it when we can give ourselves and our students the time to plan, design, improve, and finalize a project.  Our snowflakes were just such a project.  Math and science, reading and writing, along with problem solving and some systems thinking all came together to create animal shaped snowflakes that will be accompanied by original snowflake poems later this week.

I wrote about the start of the project here and the value of tenacity and iteration for students.  Our students had at least four opportunities to create their snowflake designs–with time to study their own and others’ attempts in between.  And yesterday, all of our students successfully created an animal-shaped snowflake of their own design.  (We did not provide templates, although we did help the few students who needed some additional scaffolding.)

Here are a few examples…and remember these students are 6, 7, and 8 years old!

If you look closely you will notice a moose, a giraffe, a squirrel, and a lizard in these four designs.

Students also created winter scenes using computer programming yesterday.  You can read about it here.  And then today, in addition to writing about snowflakes, we began assembling the poinsettias we are making from the paper we painted on Monday.

They still need their finishing touches…but already are beautiful!  And students have learned a lot about poinsettias and a bit about their history.  (The Ecke family, locals from our area, established themselves as primary producers of poinsettias around  the world!)

But what I love best about this making is the productivity and collaboration from our students.  They love making…and once they get past the fear of failure, are willing to take risks and try new ideas to improve their products.  And we see evidence of students taking these ideas home and trying them out there.

One of our students came in this morning with a huge snowflake…a good three feet across…that she made at home.  She had talked her mom into a trip to Michaels to get the big paper that she designed (a butterfly), cut and decorated…and then brought to school so we could see what she had done.

I know there are people who might call these activities “fluff” and complain that this isn’t real learning.  For those people, I wish they could see the energy and enthusiasm, the collaboration and problem solving…and all the reading, writing, math, science and history that are learned in the process of the making.

Have you made time for making lately?