Friday, September 30, 2011

[Friday Free Day] NPR--rrific

It is no secret, I am a public radio nerd.  I listen to my local NPR station to and from work most days, and on road trips.  I learn something new on a weekly basis--probably more, but I try not to exaggerate other than for means of literary hyperbole.  I often leave myself short voice notes or typed notes (illegally) to remember what I've heard (examples here and here and here and here).

This week I heard about two things that struck my fancy.

Cool Thing #1 Foldit--Solve Puzzles for Science

I heard about it once before, and forgot to leave myself a note.  The other day I remembered.  I am no scientist, but here is my version of what this "game" does:

Some muckety-muck scientists at the University of Washington created a game out of unfolding proteins.  My understanding is that proteins are folded up in some grand scientific way, and unfolding them leads to breakthroughs for curing illness and solving problems.  How that works is a mystery to me and will remain so.  A less simple, perhaps better explanation of that can be found here.  Either way, the smarty-pants scientists made a game out of unfolding proteins and all the gaming geeks in the world are solving protein problems galore.  Here's a video:

If you are like me in any small way, this video little other than show what the game is about.  What I understand is that unfolding these proteins leads to cures for things like Parkinson and Alzheimer and stuff.  Simplistic explanation, I know, but cool. For more info, try this.

Cool Thing #2    Super Better

This isn't completely up and running for the public yet, but here is a blog that describes one users experience.  It sounds like it is a game structured like a social media site.  You use the site to achieve personal goals. The description was intriguing, but not altogether clear.  I requested access to the "sneak preview" so we'll see what happens!

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

[Teaching Art] Describing Chi

Yesterday I tried to start an art study on Chinese Calligraphy. As the turkey-butts would say, it was an epic fail. Middle school turkey butts are so very very literal, that they just weren't getting the... the... zen of the whole thing (maybe because "zen" is Japanese in origin?).  I knew that if I set them to work on calligraphy today, they would struggle, and shoot for perfection, and come up with passable pieces. I got into my tiny little head though, that I wanted them understand the concept of calligraphy as art. I wanted them to feel the chi, tap into the tao, think like Confucius. 
I heard about water calligraphy, but did not have any handy water calligraphy sets or access to a place to do water calligraphy (as we are not allowed outside of the fence until the neighboring school has gone home--more on that when I'm not pissy about it).  I also wanted to add a sensory element to the experience.  Enter... my super power of coming up with strange ideas at the drop of a hat....
I created four stations.  Each station had a large tray with a different substance on it.  The turkey-butts went around to each station (while I played interesting music), and... well... played in it.  

Dish Soap

Shaving Cream



After they tried each station, I gave them trays of their favorite medium and asked them to create a piece of art.

Then, I put five minutes on the clock, gave them white board markers, and had them write about it.  The little chi-brains went right to it.

Tomorrow I'll see how it goes with some actual calligraphy. We shall see if this goofy idea translates into some learning.

*NOTE--Yes, I teach art.  No, I am not an "art teacher."  I send my sincerest apologies to the art teachers in the world for attempting to teach it.  BUT, my turtle-doves NEED art in their lives, and there isn't anyone else to do it. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

[Vocabulary] A Distinguished Set of Explicit Words Guaranteed to Make You Guffaw

A very smart, very talented lady gave me this idea this Summer (Thank You to Mrs. R!) as a way to develop vocabulary skills. She is a word-lover from way back, and was able to cultivate this same passion in her kiddos by using something as simple as vocabulary cards. "Vocabulary cards?!?" you say?  Yes, vocabulary cards.  I would then say "not just any vocabulary cards," but I would be lying.  They kind of were any vocabulary cards.  The key is in how she incorporated them into her classroom.

I, of course, copied her. I didn't have any vocabulary cards, nor did my librarian, nor did my favorite used teacher-supply website. I did, however, have a binder full of magazine photos I had been gathering for...  hm... say 15 years?  Viola!  Vocabulary cards!

Following the structure taught to me by the fab-o Mrs. R, I present a new word by asking the schmoopies what they see in the picture. They eventually come around to an understanding of the word. Then we call on the Man on the White Horse to tell us the part of speech, keep track of antonyms and synonyms as they come up, and then each schmoopie writes a sentence to go on the back of the card. We agree on a non-verbal signal for the word (a motion or hand sign) and then we add it to our writing notebooks as a writing tool.  Once a new word has been welcomed, the kiddos are on the hunt.  They are starting to take pleasure in using the words in conversation, in their journal writing, and telling us about places they have seen or heard the words at home or on TV.  They have a smaller version of the word-lover sparkle I get when I learn something new.  I'm hoping this word-lover-sparkle grows over time.  To all of my wordie friends out there--I've got some new recruits!

Here are some of the card sets we've made this year.

As is typical for the schmoopies, they have made this their own protocol.  They are bringing in magazine pictures to use, and are offering up ideas for new words as they stumble upon them.  I'm forever delighted at their eagerness to learn and to be academic.  For many of them, prior to coming to our program they were identified by what they did not know, did not have, or could not do.  They are tickled pink to be identified by what they know or can do.  They run with it.  They teach me every day.

And another shout-out to the SDAWP SI for providing the place for me to learn this!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

[Student Work] City Things

When asked to list 5-10 things they would put into a city they created, the pumpkin-heads came up with this:

A. --The Eclectic List
1. Skyscrapers
2. Trampoline for fun and to stay in shape.
3. Mexican food
4. A gym
5. Mall
6. Boxing arena
7. Houses
8. Garden
9. grocerie store
10. Buisnesses

D.--The Don't-Forget-the-Obvious List
1. stores
2. parks
3. houses
4. clothes
5. trees
6. sky
7. stars
8. birds
9. people
10. schools
11. cars
12. superheroes

M.--The I'm-Going-to-Have-the-Best -Freakin'-City-in-the-World List
1. underwater buildings and above water houses
2. a dinosaur real ones exibit in miniture form:)
3. no superheros except me.
5.anti gravity skateboards
6.a new facebook called face space
7.a jeanie just for me 3 wishes
8. the stuff that powers iron man as bullets for the military can never die till you want to and can change your age 10 times in your life
10.only a certain amount of people in my city so it wont get to crouded

A #2.--The No-Nonsense List
1. townhall
2. police station
3. post office
4. car wash
5. grocery store
6. trash place
7. recycle center
8. apartments
9. houses
10. condos

Loves me my Punkin' Heads!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

[Quote of the Week] Leaning Pizza

The Scene: Journal-writing time.  The schmoopies are all writing.  In fact, they all started writing early--before the bell rang (!!!).  Schmoopie T. has a question.  Typically, there is no question-asking or question-answering during writing time, but since they started early I oblige...

T: Um, does the Tower of Pisa lean?
Me: Well, yes.
T: Okay... so... is it called the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Me: Yes it is.
T:  Thanks (starts writing)

Why does this make the Quote of the Week?  Let's break it down.  I infer from the question that T. is intending to use a reference to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in his writing.  I also know that T. knows parts of things, has heard things, and is trying to put it together. He doesn't have very much mental stimulation going on at home,* and has to figure these things out himself or at school.  My guess here is that he knew there was something with a name similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  He wasn't positive that the word was "leaning", so he organized his questions to check his facts.  I LOVE it.

I'm not going to be sad that in his writing he spelled it Leaning Tower of Pizza, because A).  That's cute, B). I know what he meant to do, and C). He used it SO well!  The line he used is excellent!  It's posted in his journal entries here, and quoted for your perusal below.

"...I was trying to run away but he ramed me and stood over me like the Leaning Tower of Pizza, grunting like a pig, and staring deep into my soul."

Rock on T.  Keep asking questions and getting the information you need!

*Note--In the most positive way I can say it, I was blessed with a family that was intelligent and valued literacy, conversation, and thought.  Many of my lovies don't have this in their lives.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

[Student Writing] Journal Excerpts

I posted yesterday about my students and their journal writing.  I asked permission to share some of the entries.  I'll show a series for each author to show the change over the last four weeks of writing. I'll also transcribe exactly--including errors, run-ons, etc.:

Yesterday when i got home I watched my brother pay his PS3 he was playing dead Rising 2 when he was done I played and of course I played blackops I was doing goog I had 4 kills and 28 deaths and I was sniping with the L9641 I played until I had to go to bed and when I went to bed I was watching deadliest warrior It was the IRA V.S. The Taliban The IRA won. 

Yesterday When I got home I stared at my Pet scoripon I still don't know what to name him Pablo? no maybe I need to think harder about my tannish brown scorpian. moving on I also thought about making a World of Warcraft account maybe I'll be able to play with A. and A. hm sounds like fun I also went to the beach around 8 and cought sand crabs or whatever those Things are called I go thome Around 2 or 3 I was dead tired I had a bunch of sand crabs.

[Location] [Date] [School Name]
The outbreak has already begun They've taken everybody I'd ever loved The only surviving are me, myself, and I I'm rumaging through the trash tryint to find useful tools Then I see a zombie down the road I automaticly turn in the stealth mode and hide and wait for him to pass. As soon as he passes I head down the road then I find a safe house I'm not taking any chances I keep heading forward I see a waepon shop I grab a baseball bat and spike it up Then I move on Then I hear a group of zombies scream but then again they see me and sprinting towards me like a pack of ravenous dogs...

Chapter 4: RAM
Theres a zombie that is wearing a straight jacket he sounds like a horse in dispair he tries to ram me but he misses I was trying to run away but he ramed me and stood over me like the Leaning Tower of Pizza, grunting like a pig, and staring deep into my soul. he turns around and I quicly get up and kill him he falls like the Twin Towers.

My summer was Hot I was in mexicali

Me and my firends say a abandon house so we turn it to our club house. At nigh we heard a scream. we ran in to cheek but no body was their but a doll. My friend picked it up and someone is pulling a prank, we looke for a stereo, but nothing was theer but that doll...

Tic tock
Pit Pat
tic tock tick tock
I am bored so I will play with my dog pit pat pit pat
The rains starts, in my mind I think is time slow
the clock is still 8:15 am tic tock tic tock its still 8:15 am

I have a game called Star wars Knights of the Old republic its the same game as star wars the old republic just the first game in the saga so I sujest you play that game

This morning was crazy first I almost over sleep lucky my mom woke me up. Than i go to take a shower and theres a spider in there and I'm afaird of spiders so I half to use my mom's shower. Than I went to make hot choclate and It was the kind where you use milk instead of water. Yuck I used water instead. Than i went to make it with milk and i end up not putting enough choclate into my milk so i end up putting 6 teaspoons into my milk for it to be good.  Than I come to school and find out no badges or computers.

I am the spider in A.'s bathtub moohaha! He shall never take a shower and wills tink for eternity.  If he tries to walk in I will bite him and he will die. If he tries to step on me I will bite him and he will die. If he trys to shoot me with a bb gun I will dodge it. If he gets a family or friend to try to kill me I will get my spider friends outside to bite them.

I think you can see some of the growth.  There is some loosening up, some more advanced vocabulary.  Slightly fewer run-ons (we'll be working on that), and some imaginative thinking.  I'm loving reading these, and they're enjoying writing!

Yeay for the turkey-butts!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

[Teaching Tips] What I Used to Know

I re-learned something I think I knew once. Journal-writing is good. Systematic sustained writing on a daily basis improves writing.  It just does.  I'm not going to look up the proof for this, * I'm just going to state it as a fact--in order to improve your writing you must write.

Over the last five years or so, I've let go of journal writing in my classroom. I became tired of fighting my kiddo's aversion to writing, tired of coming up with creative and thoughtful writing prompts, and, I'm sad to say, tired of reading the garbage that came out of  the writing I was assigning. It's a shame, to be sure, but I'm willing to admit it because I'm fairly certain I'm not the only one. My unnecessary and trite writing prompts were instigating unnecessary and trite writing responses.  They didn't want to write it, and I didn't want to read it. We were all miserable, and I let it slowly fall away.

This summer, at the SDAWP Summer Institute (that I have and will mention multitudinous times), we were required to write for 15 minutes at the beginning of each day. At 8:00 A.M. exactly ( I know this because I was spoken to about being late on a couple of occasions), the music was switched on and writing time commenced.  If someone talked, they were shushed, if someone was late to arrive they were expected to jump in and begin writing post-haste. EVERYONE wrote--leaders and students alike. And you know what?  My writing improved.  Yup.  It totally did.

Fast forward to the Super School Year of 2011. I've established the same procedure for my homeroom class.  They come in at 8:45 A.M., the music is on, and we all begin to write. We write for 10 or so minutes (I have a sneaky plan to increase this) and then one or two lovies share their writing. If the phone rings, or someone comes in, I ask them to wait--it's writing time. No matter how much I need to get done before class begins, I take out my journal and we all write. 

We've now been writing for four weeks. Here is my anecdotal evidence that it's working:
  • Last Tuesday, after a long weekend, I couldn't get them to stop writing at the end of the 10 minutes. They felt like they had too much to "say" to stop writing after only 10  minutes.
  • Their writing has gone from short narrative paragraphs to 1-2 page explorations of writing (for the most part).
  • The lovies are using our new vocabulary words and writing tricks in their journals (more on those topics to come).
  • A. came in on Monday morning and said "I had such a  great weekend, but I'm going to write about it today so I won't spoil it for you."
  • Last week one of the lovies that is writing an on-going story (about a zombie apocalypse, mind you), didn't have time to share before they had to go get their breakfast.  When they got back with their breakfast pastries and juice he said "do you want me to share now?"  There was a chorus of yeahs and of-courses and they all sat quietly, eating their muffins, listening to him read. 
  •  My students came in early for class today and started writing FIVE MINUTES BEFORE the bell.  
I'm tickled pink with their willingness, their growth, and their potential.  Who knew it was just a matter of writing every day? Oh... wait... I did.  But then I forgot.  Thank goodness for remembering!

*NOTE--Those of you that know me know that I DID try to look it up. I couldn't find what I wanted, so I am trying to let it be.  If you find anything, help a sister out and let me know!