Slice of Life Challenge #17

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March Madness is one of my favorite times of year.  I spend hours planning my bracket, trying to predict the upsets and the must-wins.  This year, I am very lucky to be on spring break during the first round which allowed me to watch almost all the games on Thursday and Friday.  I sat on the couch, bracket open in one window on my Macbook and the always-updating Yahoo scoreboard in another window.  The current game on CBS was on my HDTV, making me feel like I was in the arena.

Every game is exciting during March Madness.  Seeds, records, and previous losses mean nothing- it’s luck, determination, and blind faith that lead Cinderella teams to the elusive second and third round.  I may not know the players from a school like Drake or Sienna, but their hustle and will to win have me cheering for me like they are my own alma mater.

I am easily pulled into cheering for the underdog, whether it busts my bracket or not.  I love seeing that tiny school, the one no one has ever heard of before, taking down a school like Duke or UConn.  It’s the magic of the madness and it keeps me on the edge of my seat for hours at a time!

Poetry Friday

This poem came up in a listserv conversation today, and I fell in love with it.  What a beautiful sentiment, and one I surely needed after reading and reviewing “the dead & the gone”.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

the dead & the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Back in January I read and reviewed Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, which scared the bejeezus out of me. The story continues to haunt me to this day and I looked forward to reading the companion novel, the dead and the gone, as soon as it was available. I was recently lucky enough to get a copy of the UK edition of the novel (aside here- why are some books published in the UK, in paperback, first?!). I didn’t read it right away, because I had to make sure I was able to handle the heavy material. Neither novel is a quick, fun read and I had to be prepared to deal with the frightening plot that I knew was in store for me.

In the dead and the gone we meet Alex Morales, a seventeen-year old high school junior who lives in New York City when the asteroid hits the moon. He is working at a pizza parlor when the asteroid hits, and because it’s cloudy out, isn’t even aware of what is happening. Like Miranda in Life As We Knew It, Alex is wrapped up in his own problems- his mom is working overtime at a hospital in Queens, Dad is at a funeral in Puerto Rico, and his older brother is deployed in the Marines. Alex is concentrating on maintaining his good grades, getting into college, and trying to look after his two younger sisters. When he gets home from work, the power is out, the cable is out, and no one is broadcasting on the radio. Days pass, and Alex and his sisters begins to realize they are alone. Except for one brief phone call from older brother Carlos, letting them know he is being deployed to Texas, and a static-filled phone call that may have been Papi from Puerto Rico, Alex and his sisters are completely abandoned. They struggle to care for each other and deal with their own emotions. Each sibling faces reality differently: Julie is an impetuous and rebellious thirteen-year old looking to her older siblings for guidance, Bri is a devout Catholic convinced Santa madre de dias will bring them a miracle, and Alex is a mature and loving older brother devoted to saving his sisters. As weeks and months pass, Alex is faced with decisions that not seventeen-year old boy should ever have to face and he deals with each one as best he can. The scene at Yankee Stadium is especially difficult to read and I had a hard time getting through it.

As in Life As We Knew It, the first few days after the asteroid hits aren’t too bad. But chaos takes hold of the city, and it’s a whole different game than out in rural Pennsylvania with Miranda. Unlike Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone deals with many class issues. Alex and his family are not rich or powerful, and do not live in a wealthy part of New York. When people begin evacuating NYC, they are permitted to leave only if they have the money or connections to do so. Alex, Bri, and Julie are left to fend for themselves.

Within only weeks, food, water, and warm clothing take the place of money and bartering is the new economy. In order to keep bringing in enough food for his sisters, Alex is forced to begin “body-shopping”, a horrible experience requiring him to steal from the fresh bodies that pile up on the streets day after day. However, he is willing to do anything he has to in order to ensure his sisters’ survival.

Throughout the novel, the Morales’ strong Catholic faith is what keeps them going. Though Bri is especially devout (Mami hoped she would have a vocation), all three children attend Catholic school and Mass every Sunday in normal times. Their faith and the faith of their religious leaders helps them survive in more ways than they ever would have thought possible. However, at times their faith is also their downfall.

the dead and the gone is a gripping, haunting, heartbreaking story that is all too realistic. The New York setting allows Pfeffer to tell the same story as she did in Life As We Knew It, but in a drastically different way. While reader of LAWKI will recognize many of the same effects of the asteroid as they saw in LAWKI, the outcome is very different in the tri-state area. This companion novel would be a frightening read on its own, and readers could certainly read it as a stand-alone novel. However, paired with Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone is absolutely gripping- the harrowing parallel stories of Miranda and Alex will have you making an emergency plan and stocking up on canned goods.

Slice of Life Challenge #16

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alex’s lemonade stand  lemon

i fall over

a

gust

of

wind blows

cookie dough cream ice

mango

sugar-free pink lemonade

vanilla and chocolate

the crowd huddlestogethertokeepwarm

50 mile per hour winds continue to blow

birthday cake surprise

pistachio

the first day of spring feels like the touch o winter on my exposed skin

yet still i wait

it’s free rita’s water ice day!

cold or not, i wait in line for my frozen treat

chocolate chip cookie dough

Slice of Life Challenge #15

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*inspired by Kevin’s post

This week is a long one….we are in the midst of our spring parent-teacher conferences.  We see almost all of our parents during this round, because our students are finishing our their tenure at our intermediate school.  Come September, my students will move from the top of the food chain to the bottom, as new 7th graders at our township middle school.  Because our students will be mixed in with 2 other intermediate schools from our town, many of their parents come to us with concerns about their placement and social skills.

Each evening, before the first conference, our team comes together to discuss each child we will be meeting with that night.  As we switch classes, parents only meet with their child’s homeroom teacher.  Meeting as a team allows us to discuss each child’s progress and any concerns we might have.  The parents appreciate receiving a well-rounded look at their child, even if they can’t meet with each individual teacher.

This year, most of our students are doing very well.  The parents are happy, the students are happy, and the teachers are even happier.  Thus, our conferences have focused on the transition to middle school.  It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of these conversations, as parents admit their fears and concerns.  Usually, the fears and concerns are not related to their child, but instead focus on the parent. This is a big step- their child will be leaving the comfort of the elementary and intermediate schools.  With that transition come a lot of trappings and traps of being a teenager.  Suddenly, all the rumors and exaggerated stories passed down over the years come flooding back to the parents.  Will their child be bullied?  Will they have enough friends?  Will the parents be able to handle this big step in their child’s life?

We have tears.  Many, many times we have tears.  But they are tears that fall over proud smiles.  Their baby is growing up….middle school leads to high school.  High school leads to college.  It all seems to happen in a blink of an eye.  And our conferences our the leaping point for many of these parents.  We are lucky to be a part of such an special part of their lives.

Slice of Life Challenge #14

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“All faculty please report to the faculty room for an emergency meeting.  An association meeting.”

The secretary’s voice jolted me out of my morning routine.  Like myself, most of my team mates were copying or setting up for the day.  The sighs and groans echoed down the hallway as we heard the announcement.  This was not an auspicious way to start out a week full of parent-teacher conferences.  8am emergency meetings usually don’t leave us feeling happy and content.  In fact, they usually rile us up and put a significant damper on the day.

As we began trudging down the hallway, carrying binders, do-nows, and other miscellaneous papers to run off, we tried to come up with a reason for this emergency meeting.  Working without a contract, we frequently have these types right-before-the morning bell meetings or right-after-dismissal meetings.  They usually involve updates on action committee meetings or other union news.  Neither of these leave us feeling satisfied.

Approaching the faculty room door, I could hear laughter inside.  Beside me, two of my team mates were discussing March Madness.  As we walked into the room I was greeted by a sea of green, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  My colleagues were crowded in the room, seated at a few of our lunch tables.  Everyone was smiling and sharing stories from their weekend.  And the best part?  A surprise St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, complete with green bagels!  This was no typical emergency meeting!

Not the typical association meeting at all.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

Leepike Ridge first came to my attention over the summer, when I read a review on a long-forgotten blog. Every so often I would search for it in a local bookstore, but it was never in-stock. I was again intrigued when it was nominated for the middle-grade Cybils and spent some more time searching for it. Finally, my wonderful media specialist ordered it for our school library. As soon as it was cataloged, covered, and put into circulation I snapped it up!

This is an awesome book! First of all, N.D. Wilson can write. I started out flagging the various passages that thrilled me in one way or another, but quickly ran out of steam. I was flagging something on every page! His sensory details, similes, metaphors, and all-around descriptions are mesmerizing. Take a moment and savor this, one of my favorite descriptions:

“After a few mouthfuls of moon-flavored air, even the stubbornly drowsy can find themselves wide-eyed. Tom was hardly drowsy, and he took more than a few mouthfuls. By the time he had reached the base of the rock, his senses were heightened nearly to the point of bursting. All of the normal noises of life were gone, leaving behind the secretive sounds, the shy sounds, the whispers and conversations of moss disputing with grass over some soft piece of earth, or the hummingbirds snoring…”

Just WOW. And every passage is like this! Even better, every passage is like while still being extremely readable and not overly academic. There are certain books that I consider well-written but I can not get a single child to pick up and read. They are too heavy-armed for many of my students. However, I know this will not be the case with Wilson’s novel. I’ve already recommended it to one of my students, a great adventure-lover.

Now for the story….Tom is a kid. He lives on top of a rock, in an old house that’s literally chained to the ground. He’s not too thrilled that his mom is considering marrying her boyfriend, Jeff, a teacher from his school. When a new refrigerator is delivered on the same day that his mother ponders accepting Jeff’s proposal, Tom takes the large box and sets off sailing down the creek that runs through his yard. Rebellious and angry, he rides the current for miles, eventually falling asleep. He awakens when the water becomes rough and he is suddenly pulled under a ridge and into the bowels of the mountain. He is alone, and trapped. Save for a dog and a corpse to keep him company….

I hesitate to summarize anymore of the plot for fear of spoilers. Tom is brave, scared, brilliant, naive, and in a million other ways a normal eleven year old boy. He is Robinson Crusoe. He is Odysseus. He is MacGuyver. He is eleven.

 

This is an adventure story; an Indiana Jones for a new generation, and Odyssey for a new century. I highly recommend it!

 

N.B. How can you not love a book that begins with one of the greatest leads I have ever encountered?

 

In the history of the world there have been lots of onces and lots of times, and every time has had a once upon it.Most people will tell you that the once upon a time happened in a land far, far away, but it really depends on where you are. The once upon a time may have been just outside your back door. It may have been beneath your very feet. It might not have been in a land at all but deep in the sea’s belly or bobbing around on its back.

 

 

Poetry

I am sitting here, trying to plan for April. In reading workshop we will be studying the Holocaust and reading Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic.  I began reviewing my great big binder this weekend and I have a rough sketch of my unit.  I plan to spend spring break finalizing my plans and gathering up any more materials that I might need.  I feel confident and this is one of my favorite units to teach. It is also one of the most important, I feel.

In writing workshop, I am planning to study poetry. I have been reading Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard and getting some great ideas.  Right now, I am struggling to find a way to start.  I want to really pull my kids in, start with a bang.  I know that my first lesson can make or break te unit because they have a lot of preconceived notions about poetry.  Thankfully, we do a monthly poetry museum where they bring in a poem of their choice and share it with the class.  But of course, I know they won’t make the connection between that and the genre study on poetry.

I am putting a call out to the educational blogosphere- D=does anyone have a great way to begin a unit on poetry?  Or any recommendations on other professional resources?  My biggest problem is finding something grade appropriate.  A lot of the poetry lessons and resources I find are aimed at K-3.  I am interested in 6-8, if at all possible.

Slice of Life Challenge #13

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I have an addictive personality- my vices are many.  Not the average vices of a 324-yr old, though.  I am obsessed with office and school supplies.  Post-its, pens, notebooks, markers, pencils, the list goes on and on.  One of my favorite store is OfficeDepot because of their phenomenal clearance section.  In the past I have purchased Post-it notes for $0.25.  And Post-it notes are my worst vice.  Well, Post-its and Moleskines.

For the past week I have been planning a trip to OfficeDepot because I hadn’t been there in a while.  This morning I discovered that this week’s circular has a coupon for $10 off $25 which also made me excited.  Thankfully, I discovered the coupon before heading to the store and not after it, like I usually do.

Upon entering the store I made a beeline to the left-hand corner in the front, the bright red signs and exclamation points drawing me in like a moth to the flame.  This was a particularly good day for clearance!  There were Crayola art tools for $2, 5-packs of bubble mailers for $1, Expo marker holders for $2, calendars for $2, and much more!  I began pulling items off the shelves, balancing them in my arms.  Soon enough, I realized I would need a hand cart- I couldn’t keep carrying all of the items I was grabbing!

Bubble mailers, check.  Post-its, check.  Crayola Explosions for my little sister, check.  Expo case, check.  My hand cart was quickly filling up.  I was attempting to reach a total of $25 so that I could use my coupon, but it wasn’t happening.   I just kept adding to my order and I still wasn’t close enough!

Shopping for office supplies relaxes me.  And I love new supplies for school.  It reminds me of the first day of school, back when I was a student.  Walking out of the store with my two ginormous bags, I smiled.  This was a great start to my week!

For future reference

This idea was mentioned on the Middle School Lit listserv and I LOVE it!  I am saving it here for possible use next year.

Middle School Lit is a great listserv for upper-grade/intermediate teachers.  I tend to lurk, but I get a lot of great ideas and inspiration from the amazing teachers who post.  I highly recommend joining if you teach 5th grade and up!

“Lowry’s “Giver,” “Gathering Blue” and “Messenger”–this is during our
novel study unit. Students ‘draw books’ out of a hat==1/2 read The
Giver, while the other half read GB. We all then read Messenger, and
in the end, a Giver student and a GB student have to come together to
create a culminating project over Messenger. It’s pretty neat how they
get excited to explain how their book plays a part in Messenger. ” – user glfprncs

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