#plantmilkweed Save the Monarch!

Six years ago this February, I stood atop a mountain in Michoacan, Mexico and listened to the deafening sound of butterfly wings flapping.  It sounds crazy, but standing amongst millions of black-and-orange butterflies you can actually hear the wings as they beat together.  The monarch rise from oyamel trees en masse as the sun hits the branches, taking off for nectar and water.  You step around thousands of butterflies puddling on the forest floor and still more float through the air above you.

As I stood there, surrounded by millions of monarch butterflies, I couldn’t help but think that Shakespeare was talking about the monarch overwintering grounds when he said, “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire”.

The forest canopy is alight with golden fire in Michoacan.

Today, my heart is breaking because the Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund  announced that “the migrating population has become so small— perhaps 35 million, experts guess — that the prospects of its rebounding to levels seen even five years ago are diminishing.”

We can’t lose this:

In 2005 I completed my student teaching with an inspiring cooperating teacher who was a member of the Monarch Teacher Network.  During those first months of school I helped her and the third grade class raise monarchs, release them, and plant milkweed.  We studied monarchs in language arts, geography, social studies, math, and science.  Parents planted milkweed from seeds their children found.  Students raised caterpillars they found in their own backyards.  We stopped class to watch the “pupa dance” as a caterpillar transformed into a chrysalis.  We stopped again when the butterfly, wet and crumpled, emerged from it’s chrysalis days later.  I had never been so inspired and I immediately signed up for the summer workshop that my cooperating teacher had taken.  That summer, I spent 3 days learning about monarch butterflies at a Monarch Teacher Network workshop and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve raised monarch butterflies in the classroom with third graders, sixth graders, and high schoolers.  I’ve spoken about monarchs at schools and libraries.  I stop on the side of the road to check milkweed and I hand out seeds to people I meet.  My father and sister raise monarchs each summer, using the information I gained at the workshop.  And each summer since then I have been a volunteer staff member at at least one Monarch Teacher Network workshop.

But in 2008 I was overcome with gratitude when I received a fellowship to Mexico, where I was given the chance to visit the overwintering grounds (You can read about it here).  It was a life-changing experience and one I hope to repeat someday.

Now I don’t know if that will happen.  Because the monarch population and migration has been depleted.  At an all-time low, the population may be beyond the point of no return.  Yes, weather plays a role in the cycle of the migration, but humans have a much bigger toll.  Development has stopped the spread of milkweed, the only plant monarch caterpillars can feed on.  GMOs have taken over land that milkweed naturally spread to.  We aren’t paying attention and now we may lose the migration, one of the greatest migrations on earth, within a few years.

How can you help?

  • Plant milkweed!  Order some from the suppliers recommended by Monarch Watch, a fabulous organization.
  • Stop taking such good care of your lawn.  Seriously.  It’s terrible for biodiversity.   (See: John Green: Your Yard is Evil)
  • Raise monarch butterflies in your classroom. Because ““In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” ― Baba Dioum
  • Bring the Monarch Teacher Network to your area!  If you want to bring the workshop to your school, library, or nature center you can email bhayes@eirc.org or call 856.582.7000 x110. They go everywhere!  Give them a call now, as they are scheduling workshops for this summer.
  • Spread the word!  We need this to go viral.  We must protect the migration!

 

 

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Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered.  When I was able to get an advance copy of the next book in the Ape quartet at NCTE I was absolutely thrilled.  I may have begged my copy off of my good friend Jen, who would think I was insane if she wasn’t a book nut herself! Luckily, she was kind enough to give me the copy she picked up at the Scholastic book because they were all out by the time I got there.

When I got back from NCTE I was busy reading lots of Cybils nominees but I knew that Threatened would be one of the first books I read once my responsibilities to the Cybils were accomplished. Right before New Year’s Eve, after the shortlists were completed, I sat down and read Threatened in a single sitting.

Needless to say, I loved it. I can’t wait to share this with students and have discussions with those who have also read Endangered.  I think bonobos are still my favorite primates, but chimpanzees are fascinating.

Because I don’t want reinvent (rewrite?) the wheel, below is the flap copy for Threatened:

Into the jungle. Into the wild. Into harm’s way.

When he was a boy, Luc’s mother would warn him about the “mock men” living in the trees by their home — chimpanzees whose cries would fill the night.

Luc is older now, his mother gone. He lives in a house of mistreated orphans, barely getting by. Then a man calling himself Prof comes to town with a mysterious mission. When Luc tries to rob him, the man isn’t mad. Instead, he offers Luc a job.

Together, Luc and Prof head into the rough, dangerous jungle in order to study the elusive chimpanzees. There, Luc finally finds a new family — and must act when that family comes under attack.

This is a book that will grab you by the heartstrings and leave you gasping out loud. Heartbreaking, tragic, and triumphant, you will want to reach into the pages and help Luc and the chimpanzees in turn. There are no easy answers in Threatened, and I think that’s what I love most about it.  It’s a story about tragedy, triumph, conservation, AIDs, eco-tourism, Gabon, imperialism, the past, and the future.

Luc is an AIDs orphan whose sole focus is survival.  He’s been mistreated by the people around and left to fend for himself.  Is it any wonder that he dreams of building a home far from the city he is forced to live in? And Prof is mysterious and sad while dedicated to the study of chimpanzees.  Both characters are fully realized

Threatened  will be released next month and I highly recommend it for middle school and high school libraries.  It will be a terrific book club choice and I hope to see it honored with an award sticker or two in the coming months! Get your preorders in now!

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“What Will Your Verse Be?”

I can’t stop watching this commercial, which I first saw during the Golden Globes.  What a soul-lifting, heart-building, mind-blowing visual from Apple.  Absolutely beautiful and I hope people take the message to hear.

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman,

“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring.
Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

What will your verse be?

 

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

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Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Student Teaching! Ideas?

I am so excited that I will be working with a student teacher this semester!  But I’m also nervous.  As I keep telling her, I’ve only been a student teacher and I haven’t been a mentor for a student teacher yet!  I’m thrilled to be taking on this new challenge but I want to make sure I do everything I can to help her, so that’s where you guys come in!

So far, I’ve had her come in and observe our class a few times to get a feel for the crazy/strange schedule and my awesome kids.  She also has seen my co-teaching situation and saw it in action.  Before winter break we spoke and I recommended she look at a few books to get an idea of my education philosophy.  What books did I recommend?  Oh, you know, just a few of the best PD books out there!

I told her just to browse them and get a feel for my classroom and not to feel pressured to read them cover-to-cover.

Hopefully, she will also be coming in to spend another day observing the class but I’m hoping you guys have advise, too.  Have you had a student teacher?  What should I focus on?  And if you remember your own student teaching, what would you recommend I do?  I was blessed with an amazing and inspiring mentor teacher and if I can be half as good as she was I will be thrilled!

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Know this- I do not read e-ARCs.  I try to avoid reading ebooks because I spend enough of my time on the computer as it is so I don’t need to add more screens to my life.  As a result, you will find me reading ebooks while traveling or as part of committee work.

Except for this book.  I made an exception for this one and it was so worth it.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory will rip your heart our, stomp on it, throw it against the wall, and then pick it up and put it back together again.

Hayley and her father, a war vet, have spent the last five years on the road.  He drives a truck and she rides alongside, taking care of him.  Struggling with demons, haunted by what he saw in Iraq, her father spends his time moving from town to town, never staying in one place for very long.  Hayley looks out for him, acting as his parent in a reversal of roles.  But now they are living in her grandmother’s house and her father is determined to settle down so Hayley can go to school and graduate on time.

But her father’s PTSD only gets worse and there’s only so much Hayley can do.  She can’t take care of herself and her father.  Can she save him from himself?  Can she save herself?

The Impossible Knife of Memory  is unputdownable.  Laurie Halse Anderson handles PTSD and the effects of war in a deft and powerful manner.  It’s not just our vets who suffer, but also their families.  Hayley’s voice is spot-on, as Anderson has an uncanny knack for capturing the teen voice.  But her actions, as her father’s support system and caretaker, are also inherently teen.  How much can we expect teenagers to take on?  How much do we know about what they deal with when they leave our classrooms?  Anderson brings forth these questions and many more.

Dealing with other issues ranging from education funding, to teenage herd mentality, to drug abuse, Laurie Halse Anderson manages to craft a heartbreaking story that still manages to leave the reader with hope.  Highliy recommended for all readers, I think The Impossible Knife of Memory  has a lot of crossover appeal and I expect to see it mentioned on many awards lists later this year.

Thank you to Laurie Halse Anderson for giving us stories that no one else is able to write.  Powerful and thought-provoking, this is a book for all ages.

One Little Word for 2014

A few years ago I started participating in Ali Edwards’ “One Little Word”.  I think Stacey, of TwoWritingTeachers, first introduced me to the concept, and it’s stuck ever since.  I’ve even done OLW with my students.

In 2011 my freshman all chose One Little Word, wrote it on an index card that they decorated, and then hung it in our classroom for the remainder of the year.  At the end of the year one of the girls took that “quilt” home.  This year, she brought it back to school and it hangs in the senior lounge.  I love looking back on what those students deemed important as freshmen and what they grew into today.  It’s such a valuable exercise and one I plan on repeating with my current freshman class.

I spent a lot of time pondering my word choice for this year.  On my many daily dog walks I would let my mind wander as I tried to decide what I wanted to focus on this year.  First I debated choosing “run” and realized that was too specific.  Then I thought I’d do something health related.  Nah.  For a bit I settled on “committed” and thought I had it!  But then I realized committing is actually my problem!  I don’t know how to say no to anything and as a result, my work-life balance can suffer.  And that’s when it came to me.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 6.17.16 PM

Balance.  My One Little Word for 2014.

To strike a balance between work and work and work.  To learn how to say no when I need to do so.  To say yes to the good things.  To balance my reading and writing.  To balance my life as Sarah with my life as Mrs. Gross. at HTHS.  To balance my life in general.

I am going to have a student teacher this semester and I think this word will help me set a good example for her, too.  All too often, teachers try to do it all and be it all.  It’s important to remember that we are more than teachers!  We are spouses, siblings, children, pet owners, crafters, business owners, writers, readers, health nuts, bakers, shoppers, decorators, and everything else in between!  And that’s ok.

What is your One Little Word for 2014?

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