And so Another Year Ends…

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As the buses rolled out of the parking lot for the last time this school year, I was so excited to see my school babies go and grow.  Those eighth graders, who entered my classroom a mere nine months ago, who had made me laugh, shake my head in disbelief, and sigh repeatedly, were going on toward their next chapter in life.  I smiled widely.  I felt proud.

I genuinely feel pride toward all students who have moved through my classroom, but having previously worked in a school with a highly-transient population, it felt more challenging to cultivate a true family feeling in each of my classes.  This has been my goal for years, and this year, at my current school, it felt possible.

It seems so cliche’ to say that I am proud of my students, but this group was an extremely unique one.  In all of my years of teaching (admittedly much shorter than those of others at seven years) I had never taught a group of students that were all so mature, driven, hilarious, and felt like my own children on many occasions.  Thanks to our numerous classroom discussions and explorations of written media, my students tried their hands at poetry, article writing, filmmaking, art, and more all with the central focus on English Language Arts.  Thanks to our Genius Hour projects, my students delved headlong into their own interests and shared them with their classmates.  It was such a beautiful experience, and we did Genius Hour twice.

Next year I know will be even better because this group of students, like the ones I have taught before them, have made me a better educator.  Not only were my students open to approaching class differently and trying new lessons, but the relationships I established with each class and with each student have left me with more wisdom, compassion, and awareness than before.  For that I am eternally grateful.

Next year, as this year’s eighth graders navigate the halls of their chosen high schools and embark upon their ascent into adulthood, I hope that the lessons they encountered have made them better students.  More importantly, I hope that the experiences they encountered within the walls of ECMS have helped them become better versions of themselves.  In the end, I know that I have become a better version of myself from having met, worked with, and taught all of my students throughout the years and especially this year’s group.

Video Conference with Russell Elementary!

Today, we connected two classrooms as one…for about twenty-five minutes.  My fourth period students were so excited to be able to video conference with some of the fifth graders at Russell Elementary at the southern end of our school district.  This opportunity for this collaboration stemmed from some engaging conversations that were had at the first EdCamp Cobb.

EdCamp Cobb was an “un-conference” back in October of 2014 where teachers around the Cobb County School District could gather, collaborate, and present on fun and innovative things going on within their classrooms.  I took that opportunity to share what my students and I were doing with Genius Hour.  From that, we were invited to video conference with a group of fifth graders who were also tackling the project themselves and offer some feedback.

Excitedly, we connected through Microsoft Lync and, after about ten minutes of playing around with the program and our tools, we were able to fully connect with video and audio functioning on both ends.  The whole process was a learning one for all of us, but I know that my students and I will work via video conference once again.

-Ms. W.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

(In keeping with this week’s theme of “The Power of Words,” I have decided to include this repost from my auxiliary blog “Ms.Willipedia Writes” which features education and life-related writings as a part of my own ongoing Genius Hour project.)

 

Originally Published on January 8th, 2015

Written by: N. Williams

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Today Paris, France was the site of a heinous attack on the freedom of expression.  Armed gunmen, reportedly radical Islamist militants, entered the offices of the French satire publication Charlie Hebdo, known for its political cartoons, opened fire, and left 12 unarmed people dead.

I love Paris.

I lived in Paris during college.

Paris taught me to be more independent, self-sufficient, and adventurous.  Paris taught me to fully trust and love myself.

As a teacher of English, I am in the business of free speech. State-specified standards guide my day-to-day lessons where my students share their thoughts, feelings, observations of the world (and of assigned texts), and aspirations in the the most successful form of the written word they can.  By the end of each year, the tests/essays/ grades only tell so much of their individual journeys toward communicating their ideas more effectively, but even the most reluctant of students grow.

This is why we communicate.  We communicate to understand the world around us.  We communicate to explore the world around us.  We communicate so that we can see how much more we have in common with our so-called enemies.  We communicate in order to grow.

Paris’ sense of freedom has been attacked.  The freedom of speech we hold so dear in functional actual-democracies had been challenged by those who fear mere letters and pictures on a page.  These types of attacks remind us that letters, pictures, and ideas have power more so than any knife, gun, or bomb.

“I hate writing.”

So many students have entered my middle school classroom over the years not realizing the almost-magical powers they possess within their own hands.  They think they hate writing.  They think they hate being challenged. They think they hate being required to think, but they are wrong.  We tend to forget that many wars were spurred on by written ideas.  Countries such as ours were established with the flourish of a well-inked pen.  So, I challenge them, as the future, to make their writing count.

Take a look back at the picture before my first words here. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.  The London-based illustrator Lucille Clerc sums it up in such a poignant image.  The words/images/ideas of yesterday that are feared and assaulted today will only multiply in power and effect tomorrow.

To all those who challenge the freedom of expression, watch out: you may create a larger enemy to fight tomorrow.

With this first post I launch “Ms. Willipedia Writes.”

Student Showcase (Student-Created Stories)

I have to take a moment to brag on my students!  Today, the students were asked to respond to the following prompt:

  • Finish the story prompt: As I slowly approached the deserted house at the end of the road…

All of the ones who volunteered to read had fascinating interpretations of this prompt stem.  Below are some of the most interesting ones shared in class as voted upon by the students themselves.

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3rd Period

Author: Seamus F.

As I slowly approached the deserted house at the end of the road, my heart was pounding as I got closer and closer to the door.  I could feel the sweat beading on my forehead.  As I grasped the handle, it was hard to turn from how much I was sweating.  As soon as I opened the door, I knew I had made a mistake when the man in the room stared at me with his icy eyes and spoke the fateful words.

“Hi, I’m Chris Hanson and this is Dateline NBC’s ‘To Catch a Predator.’  Please take a seat.”

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4th Period

Author: Alex D.

As I slowly approached the deserted house at the end of the road, I got scared and turned around.

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5th Period

Author: Eddie C.

As I slowly approached the deserted house at the end of the road, I felt the adrenaline rush through my veins and I began to shiver profusely.  I tried to open the door, but it was jammed, so I kicked it in with a swift movement and then I froze.  I saw a silhouette and the sound.

“WELCOME TO MOE’S!”

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6th Period

Author: Chloe H.

As I slowly approached the deserted house at the end of the road, I noticed a little girl on the swing outside.  I walked up to her and asked her if she lived there.  She said, “yes–twenty years ago.”

#Inspiration

Eleanor Roosevelt

My students are currently preparing for state-wide testing we call the CRCT.  This test, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, is set over five days and is administered to some elementary school students all the way through high school.  With the increase of standardized tests to measure student success, it is sometimes easy to not spend as much time reminding students of what it takes to be a successful and productive member of society.  We must remember to take them beyond being able to show what they know in tests and other assessments to continue pursuing their dreams and whatever makes them happy.  Thus, below are some great quotes from the ever-so-wise Eleanor Roosevelt:

  • “Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively; unless you can choose a challenge instead of competence.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Keep living, keep being inspired, and keep taking everything as it comes!

 

Ms. W.

Learning through Literature: Sherlock Holmes' Memory Palace

We often use literature, television, movies, and other media to escape from the world around us either for entertainment, a sense of safety, or for other, more personal reasons, but can you learn something at the same time?  Indeed you can!  Behold the first installment in an ongoing series here entitled “Learning through Literature” where literature (as expressed in a variety of media) teaches lessons beyond its plot line.

BBC.Masterpiece Sherlock

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories have captured my imagination for years, which is why I was weary of the latest TV show on CBS entitled “Elementary.”  Quite frankly, it looked cheesy (though I haven’t yet seen it, so I’ll keep an open mind).  Masterpiece Theater’s BBC-produced version, on the other hand, looked absolutely brilliant (click here for my review of the show).  Not only did I instantly become addicted (“hooked,””interested,” and words like “ensnared” sound far too diminutive), but I feel smarter for having watched it!  First, let’s talk about Sherlock’s “Memory Palace” which is revealed in Season 2, Episode 2: “The Hounds of Baskervilles.”

The “Memory Palace” or the “Method of Loci” originated in the times of Ancient Greece as a means of storing information mentally by picturing a building.  You first select a building that you can easily picture (i.e. your childhood home, your school, a library).  It should be a building with many rooms, so that each room can hold a certain category of information.  In order to begin storing information within your memory palace, envision yourself walking a specific path through the building, making sure to always follow this path when you enter your palace .  For the facts you wish to recall, picture images as mnemonic devices to help you remember.  If you want to remember all of the actors in “The Expendables,” for example, you could go to the garage and picture car which would remind you of the car in “The Transporter” with Jason Statham.

As it turns out, I am not the only one fascinated by this concept.  In fact, there are many articles that have been written on exactly this.

When exactly can you use this technique?  We all need to remember important facts such as the names of new people we meet, facts for a test, directions to a location, the list goes on.  Next time, instead of just trying to beat these facts into your mind through repeated exposure (which still works), take a walk through your own personal memory palace like the famous Sherlock Holmes.

TV Series Review: "Sherlock"

In case you missed the news lately, most of the South has been ground to a halt off and on these past couple of weeks because of snow.  Yes, snow does fall below the Mason-Dixon Line and when it does, schools are (typically) shut down.

Snow Jam 2014.This City is Closed

Keeping myself amused was no problem at all.  What better way to brave being shut in by Mother Nature than to catch up on shows and movies within my Netflix queue?

Sherlock IMDB

Sitting quietly within “My List” (formerly known as the “Instant Queue”), “Sherlock” looked like a stuffy series that somehow cast a mesmerizing spell upon many of my closest friends and family.  So, I ventured into Netflix, selected the show, and started the first of the three episodes (though each of them is actually feature film length) with the expectation that I would be easily bored.  I was never more thankful that I was wrong.  The witty, intelligent dialogue paired with strong acting from every member of the cast is what makes this show a winner.  Furthermore, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat‘s updated rendition keeps true to its literary roots by heavily rooting each case within the stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote almost a century ago.  This reverence for the original works is why I feel that this show can serve as a great educational and teaching tool.  For example, students could read Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, “A Study in Scarlet,” to compare and contrast it to the first episode of Season 1 entitled “A Study in Pink.”  Though the latter is more loosely based upon the original work, in Season 2, the second episode, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” could be compared to its namesake Holmes case.  Students of literature can delve into the reasons why Gatiss and Moffat opted to make one choice or another in bringing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the 21st century.  For example, Dr. Watson records each of Sherlock’s cases in a blog (which can be read here).  Why might a blog have been chosen instead of a Twitter account, a regular newspaper column, or vlog (video blog)?

From an educational standpoint, “Sherlock” is certainly a show for more mature students to watch.  Season 1 would be friendliest toward audiences ages 12 and up, however Season 2 is much more appropriate for more mature audiences, such as students 14 and up.  Though tastefully done, I would certainly avoid Season 2, episode 1: “A Scandal in Belgravia” for any student audiences as there are some, shall we say, more “grown” subject matter discussed.

All in all, I found this show to be absolutely mesmerizing and intelligent.  Each episode was an intellectual adventure that took me beyond just the detective case at hand, but through the lives of Sherlock, Watson, their growing bond and group of allies.

A Bookless Library?

In a recent article in the SFGate, one Texas public library is in the spotlight for what it does not have: books.  Apparently taking a cue from the many Apple stores nationwide, the library employees wear a standard, casual uniform as they assist people with the iPads or Mac desktops within the space.  This certainly begs the question, is this really the future?  Will books eventually become completely obsolete?  Only time will tell…

Texas library offers glimpse of bookless future – SFGate

http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Texas-library-offers-glimpse-of-bookless-future-5114588.php

Back to School Apps

AppStore and GooglePlay Logos

It wasn’t that long ago that Apple launched their “there’s an app for that” marketing campaign to promote the iPhone.  Well, with Apple (iOS) and Android devices becoming a part of our everyday lives, why not download apps to make life easier?

With a new school year approaching, everyone wants to start off on the right foot.  Thus, I scoured the Apple App Store, Google Play (Android), and the Amazon App Market for what looked like the best apps to let you know about.  Okay, I will come clean…I actually stumbled upon some already-written articles with all of this information.  That said, here are the ones that looked the most interesting*:

  1. Pocket: (iOS and Android) This is my personal favorite.  Pocket allows you to keep track of articles, videos, and websites that you want to read later.  That may sound like any old bookmarking service like Google Bookmarks (which is also awesome), but Pocket displays these items in tiled photos that you can access on your phone, tablet, or computer.  The best part is that you can also include tags for your pocketed items.
  2. Wolfram|Alpha:  (iOS and Android) What would you like to know?  What is LeBron James’ favorite color?  What is former President Bill Clinton working on?  Type any question, equation, or other query into its search bar and watch the world unfold.  The app can be used across platforms to help you in your lifelong-learning quest.
  3. Trello: (iOS and Android) Are you a visual person?  Trello presents your information, your to do lists, class project information, etc. in a visual format that you can access from anywhere.
  4. myHomework Student Planner:  Keep track of your assignments in one spot with this app.  Need any more be said?
  5. Class Schedule Apps:  Keep track of what classes you need to go to and when.
  6. eBook Reading Software:  There are a myriad of free ebooks out there, including classic novels.  Once you have found a reader app that works for you, feel free to peruse the free texts out there.
    • Aldiko: (Android Only) This is a highly-sophisticated app that rivals the Kindle app.  That said, not all ebook formats will work with this reader (as is the same with the Kindle app).
    • eBook Reader: (iOS, Android, and Kindle Tablet) You can highlight passages with this app too!  Furthermore, you can access a variety of books from eBooks.com as well.
    • Kindle:  (iOs and Android) One of the benefits of ebooks is that you can keep a variety of books in a small amount of space.  My favorite aspect about this particular app is that you can highlight specific passages you find interesting and you can search within the book as well.  The thing I find most helpful for students is the built-in dictionary.  If you come upon an unfamiliar word, get its definition instantly.
  7. Math Help:  Math was always an itchy wool sweater for me.  It was uncomfortable, even though I continued to soldier on each year.  Man, do I wish I had apps like the ones below to help me study math and remember all of those crazy formulas and graph all of those equations.
  8. Science Help:  Yes, there are apps for science too!  There are apps simulating frog dissections (so you don’t have to get your hands dirty), formulas, and even the periodic table.

Good luck in preparing for yet another year!

-Ms. W.

*Disclaimer: Of course, I am in no way aiming to endorse specific apps.  I am merely sharing what I have found.  That said, for any of the apps above, there are many more that will do the same thing.  Find whichever one(s) do best for you.

Web Resources to Know (Voicethread)

Voicethread

Welcome back for this next installment of Web Resources to Know!

The concept of this next resource,
in and of itself, is a little mind-blowing in its simplicity.

Voicethread:  This is a very fascinating site in which you can upload a variety of media (PDFs, PowerPoints, videos, text, documents, etc) and can either leave text or voice comments on these items or invite others to do so.  This resource is one that can be used for teachers, in business, and for student presentations as well.  The best way to understand Voicethread is by using it, but until you make that leap, a video explanation should help.

  • How Voicethread works:
    • <iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/32856071?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0&color=ffffff&autoplay=1″ width=”400″ height=”300″ frameborder=”0″ webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen>
  • An example of a Voicethread (look at how others can comment on specific parts):

Yep, crazy isn’t it?  Parents, feel free to wow your colleagues with this presentation tool.  Students, yes, you will impress your teacher by going beyond PowerPoint with this as part of your next presentation.  Oh, did I mention that there is an app for it too?

Feel free to give this a try.  By doing so, you can take your next presentation and make it not only a conversation, but a conversation in the cloud.

-Ms. W.

VT Voicethread Logo

  • Voicethread (ccheatwo.wordpress.com)
    • This article provides a review from another teacher’s perspective.
  • Voicethread (janeinenglish.wordpress.com)
    • This article links to a full voicethread complete with student comments.  It is the same link presented above.