Voices from the Land Workshop

A few years ago I participated in the Voices from the Land project through EIRC/Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  Since then, I have been unable to participate in the training for a variety of reasons. But this year, my district sent me to the two day workshop because the project fits in with our curriculum so well.  I was ecstatic, even though it meant driving north, towards NYC, during rush hour. (For the record, a 50 mile journey took me almost 3 hrs this morning.  It took me 1 hr and 10 minutes to get home this evening. Ridiculous.)

Today I spent the day at the offices of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  First of all, their LEED-certified building is amazing!  They have a living biowall, which purifies their air and it just awesome.

 

Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy, the Voices project combines poetry, art, ecology, biology, digital photography, design, collaborative group work, and performance.  We are walking our way through the project, just like our students would.  Today we spent 3 hours in the woods, creating ephemeral art.  Here is my group’s art:

 

Then we did a gallery walk, listening to the other artists’s describe their process and work, taking notes on words and concepts that struck us.  Afterwards, we spent the remainder of the day listening to poetry and writing our own.  Tomorrow we will come together and perform our poetry.  I can’t wait!

Edmodo in the Classroom

Earlier this week I set up my first Edmodo page.  I first heard of the site over the summer and decided to give it a shot this year.  I used a blog for my class last year, but it sounded like Edmodo could give me a little more flexibility.  I admit it had a bit of a learning curve, but after playing around for a bit I realized it is fairly intuitive.  I quickly set up two groups, one for my English I and one for English IV.

So far, I have only introduced the site to my seniors.  Before diving in head-on, I wanted to run a test and my senior class is pretty small.  I figured they would be the perfect test subjects.  As all of my students receive an email address through the school, I assigned the Edmodo sign-up as homework this weekend.  So far, 2/3 of my students have logged in and signed up.

Right now, my page is hosting our class assignments, including files.  I love love love that I can upload files and let the students download them at their leisure.  This allows me to save paper, which I adore.  I can also post all the files in one assignment note, making it easy for students to keep track of the work for each assignment.  Plus, now no one has to ask me for extra copies-they are right there on the web!

I also posted a link to our Goodreads group and an assignment to join our private group.  I have to tell you, it is so much easier posting all of this online instead of writing on a HW board at school!

So, do you use Edmodo?  Any tips or tricks?  Any cool ideas I should try?  I am planning an attempt to use it as a backchannel while we watch a film later this marking period, but otherwise I am tapped out.  I’d love to hear from other users!

Back in the Swing of Things

This week marked the beginning of the new school year for me.  I am teaching in a new school, two new grade levels, with a new schedule.  The block scheduling for my freshman is still leaving me a little unsure of where I am, but my seniors are great so far!

I co-teach my freshman, alongside the history teacher, so I am still finding my way as far as class time, routines, etc.  But my seniors are all mine.  I work alongside another English teacher, teaching the same works and using the same projects, but the class itself is mine to plan.  Today I really got into “the groove”.  We are reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, one of my favorites.  But today I also started our first read aloud.  Unlike in the past, when I focused on the mock Newbery, I am working to align my read-aloud with our unit theme.  As we are studying the human condition, and reading books like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I selected our first read-aloud carefully. We are reading Janne Teller’s Nothing. (see my review)  The book itself is stunning and I think it has Printz Award written all over it.  Even more importantly, it fits our unit perfectly while also exposing my students to literature from a modern European perspective.  We read the first 20 pages in class today and the comments were very positive.  I can’t want to continue!

I also did my first booktalks with my seniors.  I pulled all of my Lord of the Flies read-alikes and booktalked a few.  My students are all very smart (it’s a magnet-like high school), but they are not necessarily well-versed in current YA (although they are huge nonfiction and fantasy fans, with a few graphic novel lovers thrown in the mix).  During our first class meeting we introduced ourselves and named books that were important to us.  The books named included Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stitches: A Memoir, and The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember).

So what did I booktalk? The Hunger Games!  None of my students had read it and only two had heard of it.  I now have a waiting list for it. :)  One student took it home this weekend and was getting a firm reminder from her classmates to finish it this weekend.  I also booktalked Gone, which piqued their interest, too.  It’s awesome getting back into my normal routine!

Finally, I had each of my seniors sign up for Edmodo and Goodreads.  I just started using Edmodo and I think I love it so far!  I already know I love Goodreads.  I plan to use Goodreads for my seniors’ letter-essays, along with class book discussions.  Has anyone else used Goodreads in the classroom?  I would love to hear about your experiences!

This Month’s Most Popular Book

About half of the students in my morning class are currently obsessed with Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman. My ARC has been passed around and 10 of my students purchased their own copy at the recent Scholastic book sale. In fact, the PTA had to order additional copies once my class bought all of them out!  Needless to say, Patrick Carman’s ghost story is a hit.  They are raving about this one!  

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Reading a book that melds the written word and the digital world has made our reading time interesting and a little different than I am used to. At first, I was worried about having students view the videos in school, afraid that it would disrupt their classmates’ reading. I began by allowing one student on the computer at a time, wearing headphones, to view the videos as they reached them in the book. Soon enough, I had a student on each computer, each watching a different video. It has workedout great! The kids absolutely love the book and I love that Skeleton Creek has brought the 21st century into our daily reading time.

The videos also serve as hooks for some of my more dormant readers.  They can’t help but be intrigued by the shaky camera work, the creepy noises, and the whole setup of the video entries.  I see them as they watch the videos over the back of a classmate, pretending they aren’t eaveswatching.  With no sound (the reader has headphones on), they become even more intrigued.  Inevitably, they begin talking to their classmates about the book and soon enough add their name to the waiting list for our classroom copy.  It’s happened more than once!

Reviews have been positive across the board from the students who have completed the book.  They can’t wait for the second book to come out and are thrilled that Skeleton Creek won’t be a standalone title. I even have a few who are beginning to explore www.skeletoncreekisreal.com in the meantime!

Current Events

I spend a little bit of time each day discussing current events with my students. If I don’t bring it up, they do. We try to clear up misinformation while staying informed about what’s going on in the world around us- plus connecting what’s going on in the world today to our curriculum. So I was intrigued by this post over at the Stenhouse blog.  Are you looking for some strategies for how to make current events an important part of your reading or writing workshop? Check the pot above to learn more about some new books from Kelly Gallagher and Sarah Cooper .  They’ve hosted a VoiceThread event about some of the work they’ve done.

 

(For a quick tutorial on how to use VoiceThread, click here. No special equipment needed – just a phone and a computer!  It seems like some really cool technology.)

Flip Video Camera

Agh!  I just caved and bought the Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder, 30-Minutes (White) from Amazon (Deal of the Day)! It’s 60% off and I think it will be awesome to use in the classroom. I can already foresee a future of book trailers, book commercials, interviews, digital storytelling, and more!  The deal is only good for today, and is the cheapest price in 9 months.  Come on, you know you want one too.  So that I have someone else to commiserate with. OK, or plan with!

Anyone else use a Flip in their classroom? How do you use it?

 

(I figure it will also be good to have around for non-school related things, too.  I really should own a video camera!)

Jogtheweb

I spent  little bit of time tonight playing with Jogtheweb.  Jogtheweb allows you to create tracks, or trails, on the internet.  Tracks lead readers from one sight to the next.  You can set up any type of track you can imagine and I can see this being a great resource for research or web quests.

 

I set up my first track tonight.  My topic?  Author blogs and websites, of course.  I chose 11 websites/blogs run by middle grade authors and set them up in alphabetical order.  I then posted the track to my class blog, where I hope the kids will take a few minutes to get exposed to the “real” writers out there.  I think it is so important for them to see that writers struggle with writing, post funny pictures, and have lives outside of writing.  Hopefully it inspires them that they can also be “real writers”.  And even better?  It might inspire them to pick up a book that author wrote or recommended!

My Author Track can be found here.

Wordle in the Classrom

Today I used Wordle in the classroom for the first time.  I loved it!  More importantly, the kids loved it!

We have been working on thinking about our reading in reading workshop and today’s mini-lesson was about using our thinking to write a paragraph explaining our thoughts.  We were reading Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven” (one of my personal favorites) and the kids were going to jot their thoughts while we read.

 However, I decided to Wordle the story first and presented it my class under the document camera.  I explained how Wordle worked and then we talked about the words that seemed most prominent.  My students then used that thinking to make some predictions about the plot of the story and the direction it would take.  It prompted some really great ideas and the visual really kept the kids interested.  I can definitely foresee using this a lot this year!

Monarch Emergence and Document Camera

Wow! This past week both of my classes were witness to one of nature’s miracles- the emergence of a monarch butterfly from its chrysalis. I have never managed to have both classes view this miracle as monarch usually emerge early in the morning, before we arrive at school. This year, I remembered to move their cage into the air-conditioned (and dark) supply closet overnight. When I removed them in the morning, both chrysalids were dark. I assumed that they would both emerge that morning. Well, lucky us- one held off until after lunch!

What made this experience even better was the fact that I hooked up the document camera and placed it only a few inches from the chrysalis. Then, I hooked up the document camera to the TV. Well, watching the monarch emerge, close-up, on the TV was amazing! (And it allowed me to keep the kids away from the cage so they didn’t inadvertently knock into it). Well, you could hear a pin drop as we watched our two boys crawl out of their chrysalis, flip upside-down, and slowly begin pumping their wings.

I love my document camera!!!

Document Camera in Action

Today I used my document camera in front of the class for the first time and it was a huge success!  The kids loved it and were fascinated that I could now show items on the board in color.  It definitely takes some getting used to (I kept moving the paper in the wrong direction) and I need to rearrange my front tables so that I can use the camera easily.  I look forward to using it even more as the weeks go on!

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