Media Festival: Story Unit

Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas
Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas

Cueva de Las Manos

This is a exploration of early human connections and storytelling.

Signing, Singing, Speaking: How Language Evolved

Music and the Neanderthal’s Communication

The Discovery of Fire: Two Million Years of Campfire Stories

How Conversations Around Campfire Might Have Shaped Human Cognition And Culture

Campfire Tales Serve as Human Social Media

Campfire Stories May Have Lead to Early Societal Learning


When Fire Met Food, The Brains of Early Humans Grew Bigger

What kinds of stories…

In 12,000 Year Old Grave, A Shaman Shares Her Tomb with Animal Totems

Origin Myths: Definition and Examples

Myths and Legends

Origin Myths (NCSE)

Potential Writing Prompt:


Scientists have discovered many ancient graves of our earliest ancestors. These graves not only have the remains of those who died, but important artifacts that must have some significance. Create an historical fiction piece about a early human, male or female, and what happened, and what he or she was buried with. The narrator in the story might be either the one who died, or the person who buried them. Establish a relationship. Do some research to add authenticity. (You don’t want some anachronistic, meaning not of the right time. Your character was NOT buried with a cell phone.)

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
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Media Festival: Fear Unit

Note: Working on curating a variety of media and text(s) for thematic units. Bear with me, this is the best place, this blog, where I can archive/collect these materials.

I am crafting and revising a ‘fear’ unit–why do we fear, what is fear’s purpose, and how do we overcome it are the essential questions.

Mean Teddies from Tyler Novo on Vimeo.

Brent Sims’ Grave Shivers from Sims Films on Vimeo.

“Brent Sims’ Grave Shivers” is a short sci-fi/horror anthology that weaves three tales of monsters, killers, and things that go bump in the night. Recent winner of the audience award at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Los Angeles. The project has been featured on io9, dread central, and on moviepilot. The film has been view more than 550k and called an “Anthology of Awesome,” by dread central.

Lights Out – Who’s There Film Challenge (2013) from David F. Sandberg on Vimeo.

For all our ~3 min horror films:
Winner of ‘Best Short’ at Bilbao Fantasy Film Festival 2014
Winner of ‘Best Director’ in the
Breakdown of the last shot:
Shot on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera with a Tokina 11-16, F2.8.


World with No Fear-NPR

A Life Without Fear – NPR

Short Stories:

The Monkey’s Paw

The Tell-Tale Heart

(More to follow: if you have suggestions, please share!)

Some ideas for other film resources:

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival
Chinese Theatre Screening – Hollyshorts
Los Angeles Movie Awards (Fall)
New Orleans Horror Film Festival
SoCal Film Festival
IFFCA (International Film Festival of Cinematic Arts)
Eerie Horror Film Festival and Expo, Erie, Pa.
Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival Idaho Horror Film Festival
Austin’s Housecore Horror Film Festival
Dia de Los Muertos event at Crafted Port of Los Angeles
Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival 2015, co-presented by EMP Museum and the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF)
RadCon SciFi and Fantasy Convention; Pasco, WA
Seattle Crypticon Horror Convention; Seattle WA
Sasquan International Film Festival / Worldcon; Spokane, WA
Tri-Cities International Fantastic Film Festival; Richland WA
The Big Easy International Film Festival
Dark Matters Film Festival, Arizona
Mindf*ck Film Festival (Santa Monica, Vidiots Foundation Screening Room)
Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival
“Galaxy Theater,” Santa Rosa’s Northbay TV sci-fi program
Pasadena International Film Festival
Nashville International Film Festival
Crimson Screen Film Festival
Bonebat (Comedy/Horror) Film Festival
SoCal Creative and Innovative Film Festival
Oceanside International Film Festival

For more information visit

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WIHWT: How It Went Down

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, 2015
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, 2015

This Wish I Had Written That (WIHWT) moment comes to us courtesy of a wonderful librarian.

This librarian loves books. I love books. We get along.

This past spring, she had time to come to my classes and do some book talks. Several of these piqued my interest as a means to update/refresh some thematic units. (Units do need to be polished and updated now and then, and then summarily tossed when no longer speaking to any part of the human condition.)

What Happens:

A racially charged shooting reveals the complicated relationships that surround a popular teen and the neighborhood that nurtured and challenged him…..As each character reflects on Tariq, a complex young man is revealed, one who used his considerable charm to walk the tightrope of life in his neighborhood. Magoon skillfully tells the story in multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices.


These damn kids. They never learn. As a black man, you have to keep your head down. You have to keep yourself steady. You have to follow every rule that’s ever been written, plus a few that have always remained unspoken. How hard is that to understand?

Magoon, Kekla (2014-10-21). How It Went Down (p. 42). Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). Kindle Edition.

Why It Matters:

All we need to do is say the synecdoche of “Ferguson” to understand how this novel fits with our national conversation about race, poverty, incarceration, and racism.

Ideas and Questions:

The chapters are titled by each different characters’ points of view. Each character brings potential for a personal connection as well as demonstrating the importance of connections (positive and damaging) within communities.

My heart, at the moment, is racing away from me, in hot-pink sneakers, looking both ways before crossing each street, like she’s supposed to. The knot in my chest eases when Tyrell catches up with her. He holds her hand, and she lets him, which is a bit of a surprise. When he talks to her, she answers. I keep my distance.

Magoon, Kekla (2014-10-21). How It Went Down (p. 319). Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). Kindle Edition.

It’s about choices, and those choices reflected by our character and surroundings. What we most want, and what we can’t have.

I can’t— I won’t— believe Brick when he says that kind of thing. I knew T better than anyone. He would never … My heart flutters, unexpectedly flooding me with doubt. He would, though. T always stepped up, never back. If it was me who had died, Tariq would lead the charge for revenge, I know that much. He looked out for me. No boundaries to that devotion, at least none I ever saw. So, would he want me to do the same? It’s the least I can do, isn’t it? Brick holds out the knife. I imagine it slitting my throat. Severing my spine. Stabbing through my heart. But I move anyway. I don’t know who Tariq really was— if he was the way I see him, or the way Brick does. But I know who he would want me to be.

Magoon, Kekla (2014-10-21). How It Went Down (p. 308). Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). Kindle Edition.

The pacing is fast: there is some language; if students are 13+ and if granted parent permission, it should be rated PG-13. Some sex implied. Discussion moment: does the author’s use of ‘language’ help or distract from the main message of the story?

The novel provides opportunity for discussion on statistics: how do statistics inform our truths?

Seventy-five percent of black men in Underhill join up. If Tariq was in, then it gives me that much more chance to stay out. If Tariq wasn’t, then he’s still the guy I thought he was, but it makes it that much more likely that I’m gonna cave, now that he’s gone.

Magoon, Kekla (2014-10-21). How It Went Down (p. 274). Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). Kindle Edition.

The narrative lends itself to ambiguity (it doesn’t answer all questions, just like ‘real life’). No spoilers, but this is not a murder mystery. It lends itself to discussing how the media influences each of our own perceptions and truth, and how we reflect back to each other. The plot structure is simple and direct, and for some characters’ paths that lead are truncated, and others move onto the endless horizon: why and how does the plot structure affect our understanding of its themes?

I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Postscript: “Almost Another Dead Black Male: Remembering a Traffic Stop That Got Ugly”

Next on the list:

(Realistic fiction = character focused)

(Journey of the Hero: focus on quest, and there is usually a map at the beginning!)

(Historical Fiction: time and place)

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (thank you, Mr. Crew!)

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien

The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters



Tiny thinking bubble: I learned what ‘metonymy’ is, too.

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Go, team!

Creating curriculum, and recreating: satisfying
Creating curriculum, and recreating: satisfying


A former student, one who was in my Anime Club, but in a colleague’s ELA class, posted this on Facebook yesterday. It made my heart soar. He’s a PhD in Chemistry candidate at CalTech. Smart kid. He was going through his middle school assignments, and took the time to give a kind shout-out to his former teachers. My friend was the one who took this idea of mine and adapted it for her own class. She’s shared many great ideas with me, too, and is my guide for starting a Genius Hour. She no longer works for the district, but those relationships remain. I can think of another amazing young teacher I worked with, who would graciously use structures of lessons, (Power Points, Smartnotebooks, etc.) and ask if she could adapt and change to suit her teaching style. Man oh man that is when it WORKS, people! I follow her on Goodreads and look up the teaching books she posts, because she always finds the best. (Links below if you’re interested.)

The fact is, meshing teacher styles is darn near impossible: think big picture.
The fact is, meshing teacher styles is darn near impossible: think big picture in this case, the big goals, the big purpose.

The reason for its creation is reading logs aren’t effective, so I developed multiple ways to get kids to read; this was one. Personally I haven’t used it in years, because every year is different, and has a new set of opportunities for growth. I am not claiming that my one little reading unit paved the way to CalTech. No–the community and collaboration of teachers, and his parents, and his own volition did. And this we cannot lose sight of, ever. Choose your metaphor: ship, team, village: we do this together as a team. How that team functions, and its dynamics, are worth reflection.

Elena Aquilar published a piece about teams in Edutopia recently. I have never believed, for myself, in the writer’s initial sentiment, that she could do everything alone. Sharing and collaboration come naturally for me. Hers is a  refreshing admission that many folks bristle when it comes to teams, like group work:

“I’m going to admit that it’s taken me a while to feel convinced by the power of teams. Until recently, I didn’t have great experiences in teams. I felt that alone I could produce whatever needed to be created better, and quicker, than working with others. I often felt frustrated working in teams — the process felt so slow and cumbersome. I felt like I was usually given (or took) the bulk of the work. I didn’t really know what an effective team looked like, how one worked together, or what the benefits could be.”

Our middle school has gone through varying waves of having cross-content teams and not having cross-content teams. This next year I think we’re heading into a season of not having, but I could be mistaken. We will definitely continue the work of PLCs, which are crucial and empowering, and that may be enough. However, through the work of having a cohort of students, as my sons’ district does, it is much easier to facilitate interventions for children. Without that team of shared students, we will face some challenges, but ones I know we can handle. I have a plan in place for making sure none of my ELA students, no matter what Social Studies, Math, Science, PE, or Elective teacher they have, get my full focus, and create a mini-team individually for them. In each of their composition books, I’ll have them write their parents’ contact information, full schedule, and other notes, and check in with them periodically to see how all their classes are going, emotionally and academically. This will be an integral part of my conferencing with them. The grading system has a great “all teachers” function in emails, but this way it puts the focus on the conversation with the student first, and then bring in the support team. My e-mail output to colleagues may increase this next year, as those informal “Do you have a chance to give me your insight…” talks.

This article on the Emotional Intelligence (EI) of a team is invaluable:


The Key to Effective Teams in Schools: Emotional Intelligence


group project

Ultimately, what Aguilar says is key, no matter the make-up of the team itself (cross-curriculuar, departmental, PLC/cross or PLC/departmental)

  1. A good team knows why it exists. It’s not enough to say, “We’re the sixth grade team of teachers,” that’s simply what defines you (you teach the same grade) but not why you exist. A purpose for being is a team might be: “We come together as a team to support each other, learn from each other, and identify ways we can better meet the needs of our sixth grade students.” Call it a purpose or a mission — doesn’t really matter. What matters is that those who attend never feel like they’re just obligated to attend “another meeting.” The purpose is relevant, meaningful, and clear.

So here are my vows to any team(s) that find me as a player, PLCs, Departments, no matter:

1. I will complete and share my portion of any given task or directive freely.

2. I will adhere and comply to directives.

3. I will honor your time.

Teams come in all shapes and sizes, purposes and collaboration: it can be the formal PLC, or the  continued friendship and collegial collaboration that work over time and space. Just takes a different way of defining ‘team,’ and opening up to ideas.

Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response Paperback – February 28, 2015


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Shiny Happy

Iced tea, book, good pen and new calendar...
Iced tea, book, good pen and new calendar…

Much is made about how teachers relax over the two months of summer. This summer’s been a blast for me, and the momentum is just getting going.

When I was in college, (the BFA time around), I was a waitress at a place called The Deer Park in Newark, Delaware. After a hectic shift, I always found myself wound up, and unable to turn off the switch from my shift, and on more than one occasion staring up at the ceiling well past midnight stewing about an 8AM class. (Yes, even Art/Art Historians have to take an 8AM class once in awhile.) I think a lot of teachers feel that way, too, as they slide into summer. We’ve just been on a 180 day shift, where can’t go to the restroom on our body’s schedule, or eat at a leisurely pace, and the sheer energy of absorbing 130-150 emotional demands takes up mental and emotional space. When the school year ended this year especially I just went around somewhat dazed and bewildered, like seeing a bright light after months of darkness (Note to self: that was the sun.). Now I’ve got the groove of summer, and I’m sure by the time the end of August rolls around the transition may have a little grit involved, like stepping into a sandy flip-flop. It’ll be fine though, I am sure, because I’m doing what I love, including thinking about cool things to do for students. There’s a shiny new calendar, too, beckoning: Write in me! Plan! Prep!  I’m Purple!

The Just Write class via Puget Sound Writing Project has brought me around many folks who are not teachers first, but writers first. We have a morning benediction of sorts, reminding us all not to plan or prepare, but to, you guessed it, just write. We’ve enjoyed the ‘life as writer’ insights of Jennifer Bradbury, a real honest-to-goodness working and publishing author. It’s like having an artist-in-residence as a friend/guide. (And she’s dang nice too, as well as incredibly smart and talented.)

And: secret’s out. I am having a summer romance this year. (It’s okay, you can tell my husband.) This year I’ve fallen back in love with cultivating my creative life, my teacher life, and have a somewhat grown-up family: as much as I loved when my sons were small, I am really enjoying this phase, now too: before wives and their children, just enjoying the young men they are. What a good place to be. But it didn’t just begin this summer. Last year I decided to continue a new tradition in our family of actually looking events up, buying tickets, getting in a real car, and driving to see performances and lectures by writers. So far we’ve seen Ira Glass,  David Sedaris, Patton OswaltNeil Gaiman, the Moth Radio Hour, and have plans to see Sarah Vowell,  Anthony Doerr, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and any others we can. Hearing stories live is like being read to again: just as endearing and enchanting. Music to my ears.

So I have a date to continue growing this creative life: it’s the best thing I could do. And it’s relaxing. The planning is like canning fruits and vegetables, the reading of all kinds of novels is like planting wildflower seeds and tenacious daisies and other perennials, and this blog–a Farmer’s Almanac I guess, to guide where the wind changes, and plan for the rains.

Time to go see that big yellow thing again.




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