Lessons From a Train Wreck

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Last week the fifth grade began research on the American Colonies.  The lesson was promising.  The social studies teachers collaborated with the language arts teachers, and me, to plan the unit.  It was up to me to kick it all off.  We had two sessions scheduled that day.  Things were going amazingly well.  The students and teachers had a conversation about research, choices, and reliable sources.  We moved on to using text features to find specific information with the text.  Every hand was in the air as the students begged to be able to contribute to our list of text features.  Three teachers beamed at each other proudly from different corners of the room.

Hands Up

Hooray for text features! Photo by Mr. T.

The classes were scheduled to come back in the afternoon to use the non-fiction books, and their text features, to find information that would help them better understand various aspects of life in their assigned colony (general information, government, education, industry, climate and geography, and religion.) The plan in the afternoon was to group the students at tables by colony.  Three or four students would then each select a different book and examine the various text features of their book  to determine how that particular book could be helpful for their research on one of the subtopics.  They would then find a paragraph to read about the subtopic and read for understanding.  In the last 15 minutes of class they would share what they learned about their books as well as what they learned about their subtopic.

Before the classes left in the morning, as an afterthought, I explained to the teachers that I felt the students would benefit from a scaffold to help them as they used the books.  In between my duties and my other classes I scrambled to have a scaffold ready for the afternoon session.

As I read this now, its so obvious to me that they were getting way too much at once.  Even writing about it is way too much at once… but hindsight is 20/20.

The students came back in the afternoon.  I’ve never seen so much, go so wrong, so quickly!  The students were completely confused and frustrated.  There was a steady chorus of teachers (myself included) saying, “We told you this already!”; “You’re not listening to directions!”; “No.. you can’t look at you text features until you’ve decided as a group which subtopic going to be your focus!”; “You should be reading with your pencil down…”  There were books and papers and pencils and more papers everywhere… and many teachers and students with their heads in their hands.  It was a train wreck.  Truly.

I did what I always do in these situations.  I reflected.  Tomorrow I would have another group coming in for the same lesson and I knew things couldn’t stay the same.  I decided that I had made two big mistakes with my presentation.  First, I didn’t model the strategies for evaluating text features.  I had given the students a list of questions on which to focus but hadn’t shown them how to do it.  Second, my scaffold wasn’t clear.  There were too many sections and too much text.  I decided that I would use a slide on the projector to keep the students on track and make the sequence of the tasks more clear.

The next morning when the groups arrived (different teachers than the day before) the morning went much then same as it had the day before.  I had already talked to these teachers about how I was going to revise the lesson and try to learn from the day before.  I spent part of the morning modeling some of the strategies that I wanted the students to use.  My instructions were more clear and concise.  As I anticipated the afternoon, I felt much better and knew that these students would be much more successful.  The students came back in the afternoon and I went over directions one last time.  I had my slide on the projector outlining the tasks for the afternoon.  I sent them to their table with their heads nodding… yes… they knew what had to be done… they got it!

…until they actually sat down and started to work.

I watched as the whole train wreck repeated itself.  These kids were just as confused as the others!  “What am I looking for?”… “Should I be taking notes?”…  “There’s nothing in this book [titled The Virginia Colony]  about the government of the Virginia colony.”  How could I have gotten it so wrong two days in a row?

After school I went to those teachers and we discussed the lessons.  The comment that struck me most was from one of the social studies teachers who said, “I’ve been teaching research for 13 years and today is the first time that I realized that when I tell them to use the table of contents to find something to read, they may not know how to do that.”

Here’s what we learned from two train wrecks:

  • The students might be able to identify text features, but using them in a variety of real-life situations is another matter.
  • We need to teach the students to use inference when working with text features, especially when the authors of non-fiction texts get creative with chapter titles
  • Our students need practice with creating synonyms and related words when using the index
  • Our students need to practice problem-solving strategies when they hit a road block and they need to develop research stamina
  • We need to chunk these research experiences into smaller tasks
  • We need to provide direct instruction on how to research, and we need to do it at an earlier age
  • We need to slow down and take our time when teaching research

I love teaching research.  I literally get butterflies in my stomach when I begin a research lesson with my classes.  I love the moment when they read something and make a connection.  I love seeing their eyes light up because they get it!  I’m so thankful for this train wreck because it will provide me with an example for other teachers, who don’t yet see teaching research the way that we do.  Teaching research is more than handing a student a book and saying “Go.”  What these teachers and I know is that teaching research is an active process.  It’s slow and deliberate and messy.  It’s a lot of work!

So… “Thank you!” to my colleagues for sticking with me and with the process.  Although we were all feeling some pain, we all came out understanding more about how our students learn.  I’m so grateful that you have the energy and determination to see this process through.  I’m so glad that you are not taking the easy way out.

What a great mess!

A Round of Applause: One Book One School

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Mr. Schu (@MrSchuReads) has been traveling around the country giving away copies of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (@kaaauthor).  Today he posted this video created by students and staff at Harvard Elementary School who are reading The One and Only for their One Book, One School campaign.

A big round of applause for the students and staff of Harvard Elementary!  The excitement in this video is contagious, and if you haven’t already read this book, this video will make you want to run out and read it immediately.  What strikes me is how everyone got involved in the video, and how, clearly, this book and the making of this video brought everyone in the school together.  The planning must have been extensive, but it is so worth it!  I hope that Harvard Elementary inspires a series of spin-off videos from other elementary schools… I would LOVE to see Eden Hall be one of those schools…

In Anticipation- Faculty Field Trip: Aida

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Verdi conducting Aida 1881

Adrien Marie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been immersed in Verdi.  Our next faculty field trip is scheduled for tomorrow.  Three of us are going to see the Pittsburgh Opera production of Verdi’s Aida.  It’s more than three hours long.  We’ll be sitting in peanut heaven.  And… we’ll be competing against Steelers’ traffic. I can’t wait!

Please realize there’s no sarcasm intended in the last statement.  I truly can’t wait! The only music I’ve listened to in the last two weeks has been Aida.  On my way to work, cleaning the house, mowing the grass, getting dressed. I have no idea what the libretto is actually saying.  I can tell by the music that it doesn’t end well.  Today, finally, I had he opportunity to read the synopsis.  I love it!  I wish I spoke (sang) Italian so that I could truly appreciate the musical genius that is Verdi.

I almost regret that I have to see it, because I know that the instant the ensemble sings, “Emancipa!” or, “Radames! Radames!  Radames!” those moments will be over and I’ll have only memories.

So… anxiously awaiting (and simultaneously lamenting) tomorrow’s performance.

Curricu-Links; 26 Aug 2013

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General Multi-Topic

The Biscotti Kid

  • Featured in this post from Ms. O reads books, this Sesame Street parody of the Karate Kid teaches children to listen with their whole body.  Although Sesame Street is a bit young for our students, I can still envision them enjoying this clip and reciting the mantra: “Eyes watch. Ears listen. Voice quiet. Body calm.” What do you think?  (It kept me entertained!)

Focus on Collaboration to Start the School Year

  • I’m a huge fan of collaborative project based learning.  This is a fantastic article about setting the tone for collaboration.  Read this early in the year!

25 Things Successful Educators do Differently

  • I’m not sure if you go through the same mental soul searching that I do at the beginning of each school year, but I thought this list might be of interest to those of you who do.  I’m always trying to find a way to better myself,  and improve the service I provide to the teachers and students whom I serve.  I know I won’t be all of these things all of the time, but it’s nice to have aspirations…

Language Arts

Undocumented Immigrant in Children’s Literature

  • I’m beginning to see more literature for children on this topic.  Here’s a nice blog post from Pragmatic Mom with suggestions for book on this immigrant families.

Children’s Literature Statues

  • This is a faculty field trip I’d love to take! What fun would it be to tour the country and visit as many of these statues as possible?

Math

Robert Lang The Math and Magic of Origami

  • Robert Lang can create some amazing origami works of art. What’s really cool is, he has actually used math to break down the process.  In this TEDTalk he demonstrates how this works.  Admittedly, the math is above my head, but for you math junkies out there, and your advanced students this could be something really interesting to explore.  You can also download his software, Treemaker, to help automate the process.  (Again, I downloaded it, but don’t quite get it! )

Mr. Collins Mathmatics Blog

  • In this post Mr. Collins lists his “goto” websites.  There are a plethora of interesting sites lessons and activities for a variety of age groups (leaning to the more advanced side for most.) FYI most of the sites are from the UK so you’ll see the word “maths” a lot.

Science

The Great Sunflower Project

  • Interestingly this website is more about pollination and bees than sunflowers. Users of the site can upload data and observations.  Includes teacher resources.

Social Studies

Visit Zoos and Animal Parks Through Google Street View

  • I confess that I am a google maps/google earth newbie.  I still prefer an actual map or atlas to a GPS.  This is really cool though!  Visit zoos around the world and virtually walk through them.

Art/Music

Sculptural Masterpieces Made from Old Books

Lessons Plans fro Arts integration in All Subjects

Information Literacy/Technology

10 Ed Tech Podcasts You Can’t Miss

  • Looking for some professional development for your commute?  Try one of these podcasts.

Digital Citizenship Flashcards

5 Resources to Help Students Become A+Digital Citizens

  • Both of the above links are from A Platform For Good.org.  In this day and age, digital citizenship should be a focus in every classroom.  I hope to use some of these resources as I plan instruction this year.

Poll Everywhere

  • Create polls on the fly and receive real-time feed back through text messaging or a custom URL.  “Take the Tour” for a quick overview. Great for those EHUE teachers who don’t have Acti-voters.

Creating Infographics Using Picktochart

  • This will help you understand what an infographic is as well as help you create one from scratch.

40 Way to Innovate Teaching Using GlogsterEDU

  • At EHUE we have a GlogsterEDU account.  Glogster is an online presentation tool that allows you to create interactive multimedia posters.  Here are some ideas for how to use GlogsterEDU in your class.

Aurasma

  • This is an amazing app that allows creates an augmented reality version of a still picture.  I think it’s like a cooler version of a QR code.  I predict it will be the next big thing.  Check out this blog post about using Aurasma in the music classroom.  I think it would be interesting to use this with the children’s literature statues in the link above.

Sources for my sources: Richard Byrne (@richardbyrne), Erin Klein (@KleinErin), Joy H.

Summer Reading: The Great Unexpected

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The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech. Realistic Fiction/Mystery/Folklore.

Naomi and Lizzie find their friendship tested when a body falling out of a tree turns out to be Finn, a boy who captures hearts.  Meanwhile, across the ocean, Mrs. Kavanaugh and Miss Pilpenny discuss murder and plot revenge.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, orphans, tragedy, death, revenge, relationships, forgiveness, Ireland, Irish folklore, Finn McCoul, symbolism, setting, reality, fear, coping, connectedness, crows (rooks)

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, discussing symbolism, discussing author’s craft and word choice, readers who like a bit of sadness, but not sobbing tear-jerkers, readers who like a mystery, readers who are able to trust a story, discussing characterization, discussing parallelism

My Two Cents:  It was very hard to assign a genre to this book.  In some respects it felt like a mystery… Who (or what) is Finn?  What kind of devious revenge are the spinsters planning? In some respects this felt like folklore/fantasy… Is Finn a ghost?  What’s with all of the crows (rooks)?  Is there really fairy gold?  I think though that this is mostly a story about relationships, which I think makes it fall best under realistic fiction.  Reading the themes and content above you may get the impression that this is a dark depressing book, but in fact it is not.

For the many Sharon Creech fans out there, the writing won’t disappoint.  She just has such a unique style that on every page I was delighted with her little gems of word choice.  This was also a book I had a hard time putting down, for several reasons.  Of course her word choice is incentive enough to keep reading, but I really loved Naomi, Lizzie, and all of the characters in the book.  Naomi is down to earth and a little sarcastic (which I can always appreciate.) Lizzie is a little more needy and formal, and a chatterbox!  They make an unusual pair, but when their friendship is tested you find yourself hoping that they will overcome the challenge.  Finn is a charmer, and a mystery and the source of friction between the girls.  The odd thing is that even after finishing the book he is still a mystery to me.  The secondary characters in both Blackbird tree and “Across the Ocean” are just as interesting, each one with a unique quirk or personality.

This book could be challenging for some readers.  It is the kind of book in which you have to have a little blind faith that the confusion at the beginning of the story will work itself out by the time you reach the end.  That confusion was part of what kept me glued to this book.  I kept reading because wanted to make sense of the story.  Creech is masterful in the way that she reveals essential plot points little by little along the way.  This could work as a read aloud, but might be difficult because of the way the dialog is written (at times,) and the Irish brogue.

Here is a short video in which Sharon Creech discusses The Great Unexpected:

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Blashfield, Jean F. Ireland. New York: Children’s Press, 2002. Print.
  • Burns, Batt. The King with Horse’s Ears and Other Irish Folktales. New York: Sterling, 2009. Print.
  • De Valera, Sinéad. The Magic Gifts. Dublin, Ireland: Wolfhound Press, 2000. Print.
  • Doyle, Roddy. A Greyhound of a Girl. New York: Amulet Books, 2012. Print.
  • Krull, Kathleen. A Pot o’ Gold : a Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, and (of course) Blarney. New York: Hyperion Books, 2009. Print.
  • Spilsbury, Richard, and Louise Spilsbury. A Murder of Crows. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2003. Print.
  • White, Ruth. Way Down Deep. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

Favorite Quote: (There were so many it was hard to choose!)

“Her companion, Miss Pilpenny, recapped the pen. ‘Yes, Sybil, a fine and clever revenge.’

‘Shall we have a murder tonight?’

‘Indeed Sybil, splendid notion.’

‘And then perhaps a little jam and bread.'”

(Creech, Sharon. The Great Unexpected. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2012. 10. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Beautiful writing! Stick with it! :D

Faculty Field Trip: Clayton (The Frick Family Home)

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FrickMansionClayton

Leepaxton at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Yesterday Deb and I took another faculty field trip.  We chose to tour Clayton, the Pittsburgh home of the Henry Clay Frick family.  The Clayton tour is just one of many offerings from the Frick Art and Historical Center. The partnership between Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie resulted in their both amassing huge fortunes and power as they dominated the steel industry at the turn of the twentieth century.  Their legacy lives on and today you’d be hard pressed to find a  Pittsburgh-er who doesn’t know the names Frick and Carnegie.

This was my first visit to the Frick home and of course the tour was amazing!  I was mesmerized by both the extravagance and the craftsmanship of the home.  Everywhere you look, floor to ceiling, there is something beautiful or interesting to see.  Henry Frick was an art collector, so aesthetics and attention to detail in the construction and decorating of the house were paramount.  I marveled at the craftsmanship, finishing, and sheer amount of the woodwork.  You wouldn’t think one could appreciate the door in Henry’s bedroom as much as the Monet in their sitting room, but I did.  Yet, for all of their opulence, the Fricks were also devoted parents who doted on their children.  This magnificent building feels warm and welcoming and there are pictures of the children in nearly every room.

Our tour guide was Cassie and if you visit the Frick I hope you have the pleasure of having her guide you.  She was not only extremely knowledgeable, but very enthusiastic as well. The only part of her tour that I didn’t like was the part where she said we had to leave our cell phones.  Not that I’m on my phone all the time, but I rely on it to keep notes.  There were so many things that she talked about that I wanted to write down, but I didn’t have the app for that.  Lesson one learned… invest in a small notebook and have a writing implement on faculty field trips.

While we’re on lessons learned here’s another.  Homework should be done before the field trip.  I should have know better.  In graduate school I read Out Of This Furnace by Thomas Bell.  So, somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I know the story of Frick and Carnegie and the steel mills and the strikes… but that was many books ago.  I should have at least checked out the Frick website and read the history before I went.  If I had I might not be sitting here now wishing I had had a pencil (see lesson one.) Had I explored the website first I also would have also realized that the Frick offers many educational opportunities and resources for both students and teachers, including lessons, professional development, and this video tour of the home:

If you have the opportunity, take the time to visit Clayton and see how the other half lived.

Oh… and don’t forget to get dessert at the cafe!

Summer Reading: Trash

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Trash by Andy Mulligan. Realistic Fiction/Mystery.

The lives of three “dumpsite boys” become forever entwined when one day Raphael discovers a bag containing a wallet, a map, and a key.  Soon all three are running from the police and desperately trying to solve the mystery of why the bag is so important to the authorities.

Themes/Content: Poverty, trash, waste, money, corruption, power, survival, courage, fear, friendship, education, codes, standards of living, character perspective, environment, greed

Recommended for: Grades 6 and up, readers who like dramatic stories, readers who like a lot of action, readers who like mystery, inquiry projects for social awareness or environmental issues, discussing character perspective

My Two Cents: When I choose a book to read I intentionally try to not know much about it.  I rarely read the summaries or reviews before I read the book.  It took me several chapters to realize I wasn’t reading dystopian science fiction.  The conditions of squalor in which the characters live are so extreme, how could I think otherwise?  Then I started thinking about my trip to Ghana several years ago, and I connected some of the scenes described in the book with some of the poverty stricken areas I had visited then.  Here I confess that I broke out of my normal routine and skipped to the acknowledgements at the end.  Mulligan said, “Behala dumpsite is based loosely on a place I visited whilst living in Manila.” Here is what he had to say about the book:

This book is definitely not for younger students, even though young children are the protagonists.  The authorities are brutal with Raphael as they interrogate him.  Rat (Jun-Jun) is completely alone in the world, living in the midst of filth and trash with the rats as company.  Gardo takes the leadership role and gives the others strength.  They all must take drastic measures just to survive in the harsh environment which surrounds them.  The boys do find compassionate people who play a role is helping them solve the mystery.  At first solving the mystery is a matter of survival, but eventually the boys realize that they are compelled to right a wrong that occurred before they were born.

This book will be eye-opening for those of our students who are born into a life of privilege.  As we encourage our students to be more globally aware, Trash could be used to spark discussion about living conditions in developing countries and possibly as in impetus for our students to affect change.  The book might also encourage students to learn more about the environmental impact of these very real sites.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Bailey, Gerry, and Felicia Law. Cowries, Coins, Credit. Minneapolis, Minn.: Compass Point Books, 2006. Print.
  • Bedford, Deborah J. Garbage Disposal. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2006. Print.
  • Bellamy, Rufus. Food for All. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2006. Print.
  • Clifford, Tim. Around the World with Money. Vero Beach, Fla.: Rourke Pub., 2009. Print.
  • Kent, Zachary. The Story of the Peace Corps. Chicago: Children Press, 1990. Print.
  • Ma, Yan, and Pierre Haski. The Diary of Ma Yan : the Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.
  • Milway, Katie S. One Hen : How One Small Loan Made a big Difference. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008. Print.
  • Povey, Karen D. Garbage. Detroit: KidHaven Press, 2006. Print.

Favorite Quote: “The absence of money is drought in which nothing can grow.  Nobody knows the value of water until they’ve lived in a dry dry place- like Behala.  So many people waiting for the rain.” (Mulligan, Andy. Trash. Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2010. 149. Print.)

The Final Word(s): A powerful gripping mystery. :)