I haven’t forgotten about my blog, I promise! I was out sick last week and thought it wasn’t that big of a deal. Then I had a sore throat that persisted for several days. I finally went to the doctor about it and, after she ran a culture test, learned that I had streptococcal pharyngitis (aka strep throat). I immediately started a course of antibiotics, but I had to wait 24 hours before I was no longer potentially contagious. So that’s why I haven’t been updating. Even when I was at work, I was sick enough that I’d get home and simply crash until the next day. I’m feeling much better, though, and hopefully my blogging will pick up, too!
Miss C and I have been having a lot of fun with our Learning Buddies model this year. The students have done so much more than just reading! They have learned poetry for Veterans’ Day, studied the Preamble to the US Constitution for Constitution Day, made maps of the classroom for a geography unit, participated in a “walk and talk” book summary, and, the biggest project so far, learned about acoustical engineering through the Engineering Is Elementary series!
If you had asked me at the start of the year if I thought fourth graders could wrap their heads around the fundamentals of acoustical engineering, I’d have said no. Maybe the very basic idea that acoustical engineering deals with sound, but more than that? No way! If you had asked me if first graders could understand it, I would have laughed out loud. But as Miss C and looked at our science standards and conferred with our amazing Instructional Coach, we realised it was possible. We knew it would take a lot of planning, but we were excited to try it out.
We spent several weeks meeting during our shared plan time at school, going through the lesson materials, figuring out what we would present, how we would present it, and when it would be presented. We talked about what we wanted our students to understand. And then we got started. I wrote about the first part of this project back in January, when we first began with Kwame’s Sounds. Since then, the students have learned about the Engineering Design Process:
They worked through the process to design, build, and improve musical instruments made from upcycled materials, such as soda bottles, cereal boxes, whipped topping containers, and rubber bands. Then they learned about methods of dampening sound and controlling it. Along the way, our amazing students learned that sound is caused by vibrations, that slow vibrations have a deeper pitch and fast vibrations have a higher pitch. They shared that acoustical engineers design solutions that deal with sound. They learned that engineering is something that they can do, even at an early age!
To celebrate the completion of this project, we brought our classes together this afternoon to watch a movie showing a percussion group using the principles of acoustical engineering to create music using everyday objects. Some may be familiar with this group. The students enjoyed watching the video, even though they didn’t get to see all of it. For those who have never heard of STOMP, here is the video we watched:
I am really excited for the next Learning Buddies project that Miss C and I undertake! We aren’t going to tell anyone what it is yet, but I guarantee it is going to be amazing!
While browsing my favourite section of Barnes & Noble last year (the only bookstore in our area), I kept finding myself drawn to a collection of books written by Laurie Halse Anderson. They were all listed as historical fiction, and one of them, Fever 1793, was one I had seen regularly in the classroom collection section of my school library. But the books that kept catching my eye were two sitting side by side: Chains and Forge.
I think the thing that caught my attention most was actually the cover of Forge. Even though I knew nothing about any of these books, I could tell that this particular book took place during the Revolutionary War. The pose of the silhouetted figure was a familiar image from the terrible winter at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78.
Even though these books caught my attention, it was actually several months before I finally caved to the internal pressure and purchased all three books. I asked teacher friends online about the books and received mixed reviews, so I set them aside as possible reading over the summer. (As a matter of fact, I purchased them on 12 October 2013 but didn’t read until June of the following year!) As soon as I finished reading the first book I picked up the second, trying to decide which would be better suited as a read aloud for my class. Once I finished Forge, eight days after I finished Chains, I knew I was going to read the first book in this series to my class this year. I also knew I was going to plan it to coincide with our unit on the Revolutionary War.
There were several reasons I chose to use Chains. First, it is the first book in the series, so that just made sense. Second, it presents the story from the point of view of a slave girl, which is considerably different from the typical period story about soldiers, politicians, and/or members of the Sons of Liberty or people who associated with them (such as Johnny Tremain.) A third reason I selected this story is because it took place in New York instead of Massachusetts. Finally, I admit to choosing it because it had received several awards, my wife had strongly endorsed the author, and it was a modern selection.
For those who have read this far and are really wanting to just know what the story is about, here is the summary from Ms. Anderson’s website:
If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight… for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate, become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a beautiful, captivating, engaging story of a girl whose greatest wish is to gain freedom. In the process, she meets allies and friends, enemies and the indifferent, learns of broken promises and false hopes, but also maintains an intense desire to be her own self.
As I finished reading the book to my class today, my principal happened to walk in for a moment. She got to see how my students responded to a description of Isabel rowing a boat long into the night, the oars creating blisters on her hands, the blisters popping, then forming and popping again. And yet Isabel is strong. Years of hauling firewood and toting water across town, coupled with her intense desire to be free, gave her strength to push on.
Now that we have finished this story, I find myself wishing I could let my class write letters to Ms. Anderson to share their thoughts and ask her their questions. However, I know how busy she is, especially with writing Ashes, which is the last book in the series. So I guess I’ll need to content myself with sharing this blog post with her and hoping she knows how much fourth graders loved her book!
One of my treasured memories of middle school was co-authoring a story with my best friend. He had actually written a first draft of the story but decided it was awful and was going to trash the whole thing. I convinced him to rewrite instead and offered to help. Our rewrite was actually going to be to just turn the whole thing into a joke and then scrap it. But somewhere along the way we realised that we were actually writing a really good story and decided to finish it.
That story, entitled The Wizard of Nome (despite having very little to do with the title character or place), was entered into our school’s Young Authors competition when we were in seventh grade. We were winners not just for our building, but for the entire district! That gave us the opportunity to go to the Illinois Young Authors Conference held at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1996.
It has been almost 20 years since that event. But I still remember it and the experience. My friend and I went on to co-author two sequels to The Wizard of Nome over the course of the next four years. We finished the last story quite literally right before he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. (His parents were actually waiting in the car with the moving truck while we were at the computer at my house finishing the story!)
I was so excited to learn that the Urbana School District participates in this annual contest and that students in my building are frequent contributors. After two years of someone else running the contest at Wiley, I took over last year, with the previous coordinator guiding me along the way. This year is my first official year as coordinator, but I called in help from Miss C in the primary hall because I wanted to increase participation from our younger students.
We had a total of 33 students contribute an amazing collection of original stories! Students from kindergarten through fifth grade participated, but we were only allowed to select five as building winners to go on to the district celebration, with just one overall winner to represent our district at the state conference in May (still held at ISU in Bloomington). Miss C and I convinced a number of adult readers to review the stories, rate them on a four-point scale for ideas, creativity, and overall quality each before reading through all of the stories that received a composite score of ten points or higher. Then we selected the top five and read them again to select the overall winner. It was a lengthy process but so worth it as we read and reread these stories and marveled at the creativity of our young authors!
We announced the winners today at our Coyote College after acknowledging all of the students who participated. The winners will go on to a district celebration in April, and I am really looking forward to being a part of that event before going to Bloomington with Miss C and also my wife, who has been volunteering with me at the state conference since 2012.
Congratulations to all of our Young Authors! I hope next year we will have even more students participating!
I love the many amazing community resources we have here in the Champaign-Urbana area! My students have been able to see an opera at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and we have had visitors to come in to present to our class. Today we got to experience yet another wonderful event: KAM BAM. (more…)