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Los Zumbis de Washington

 

via GIPHY

This will be a long post: I am retracing my steps on the creation of a unit. TL:DR: Zombies and survival themes are great for 8th-grade students. E-mail me if you want resources or have questions.

One of my teammates Nate had a fantastic idea for argumentative work:

Zombies.

With the help of my teammates Nate, Sabrina, and the Notice & Note social media site, especially Beth Crawford, we unleashed zombies. Trying to put together a unit without common planning or time to meet (each of us is in different phases in life: I could work on units all weekend, and I did over mid-winter break, but it’s better to collaborate with trustworthy, competent folks). We did the best we could, and it needs tweaking and refinement, but out of the box—not too shabby!

I put the call out to Notice and Note and received many great ideas. Beth Crawford followed up with Google docs resources, etc. Some things had to be left behind, and some were added without assessment concepts nailed down. But then again, when you’re dealing with flesh-melting concepts, it’s hard to nail anything down.

Took pics after Zombie Tag and created a Walking Dead look using Snapseed.

The Lumbering Steps:

  1. Overview: this needs work, no doubt: 
  2. Personality Inventory (aka “Body Armor”)
    • Rationale: students would discover their own personality traits, both figurative and literal, that add positive benefits for working with other partners. The goal was to have them create a personality inventory and share their strengths and advantages with others.
    • What worked: students like knowing where they fell on a quasi- Meyers-Briggs scale and gamer’s quiz.
    • What needs to be better: more time, and more explanation on how their inventory works with other personalities, or what pitfalls they might encounter. Critically thinking about attributes is one of the most difficult things to do.
    • We first used this document:
    • But then I changed my students’ work to thinglink.com
  3. Top Ten Survival Items
    • Partner: pare down to fifteen items out of the twenty: You know you’ve succeeded when a group of kids argues about duct tape versus rope for twenty minutes.
    • Rationale: coming up with important items in times of scarcity for survival, and perhaps how to plan ahead (we are in earthquake territory, after all)
  4. Annotated Bibliography
    • Rationale: having students curate their resources for research using an annotated bibliography would help them understand the importance of discerning and critiquing articles closely and carefully.
    • What worked: It served the purpose of getting kids to read, and by golly, they did really try: not sure how many I have turned in, but I know many of them were engaged in this. As soon as I re-introduced it as a “playlist” of a topic, the lightbulbs went off!
    • What could be better: more time to read articles together, and more focus on truth, opinion and fact lessons.
    • This is a poster my friend Sharon Clarke and I put together on our collective wisdom:

      Sharon is the best.
  5. Integration:
  6. What worked about integration: we barely scratched the surface. Maybe next year we can get the whole school involved.
  7. Writing: the partner teams had to write a collaborative ‘end of world’ scenario. This writing will appear on their shared PowerPoint.
    • What worked: they got this, mostly.
    • What could be better: More time. (Seeing a trend here?) Students didn’t have time to fully craft their POV points in the story: the plan was to have them create a story together, and then write a first-person narrative on what they were doing when everything fell apart, and how they eventually met up and survived. Students who love role-play and writing jumped right on this: students who are not quite patched-in with their own creativity didn’t. But as all good growth mindset conversations end: YET.

8. Zombie Partner Shared PowerPoint: The partner created a shared PowerPoint with many of these pieces. One aspect was the “film” slide: add any multimedia possible that goes along with survival or zombies, or film themselves. Some kids used their webcams and shot pics/videos, others found videos on YouTube, etc.

9. Article Links samples:

Here are some articles, etc. I gathered so students could choose for their annotated bibliography:

There were more, most I posted in ActivelyLearn and Canvas.

What I didn’t get to do: a handcrafted survival guide. 

Sigh.

Maybe next time.

What we will do: next week before spring break, I am giving them a choice of three writing prompts that are directly connected to SBA Brief Writes:

Mrs Love Zombie Presentation Final Survival

Please let me know if you have questions, or want to add to this awesomesauce.

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On my shoulders:

 

 

The patterns of a year include the breaks: the winter break, we have a mid-winter one, and now the spring one is on its way. There is a change of energy, and moreover, stress, that comes with the change of seasons and the realization we may not be as far along as we’d hope. We adults, by and large, are mature enough to know what we need to do to regain inspiration, motivation, and determination, but many of our students do not. Take a moment and think about how your year is going right now — take a look at the landscape–what is working, and what is not?

We’ve been seeing the increase in poverty for years.

In How to Teach Resilience by Paul Tough, he explores the paradox of “teaching” noncognitive skills–they can’t be taught, at least not in a traditional, rote manner. “Grit” does not, nor should it, be assessed in any way, either. Many educators have misused the concept of grit, and as an unintended consequence add more stress. I know I’ve done this, and stop myself short when my “motivational” talks become “lectures.”

Remember: You are safe.

So what are some concrete means to teach the abstract, the unassessable? Here are some steps I take and will take again, along this journey:

  1. Renew the bond: start off the class with the greeting in a more formal, intentional way, as I did at the beginning of the year.
  2. Start the class with a minute of mindfulness: just breathe.
  3. Bring back our First Fifteen minutes of reading–not sure how that got in the ditch, but time to tow it out again.
  4. Construct/personalize progress: I’ve been starting a new approach about grades: there are some assignments that are non-negotiable, but others that students can choose to complete a set amount of points: for example, a choice of ten articles to read to complete 70 points for an annotated bibliography. I’ll report back on how this worked, or what could improve.

What sorts of routines do you start the year with, and then sometimes get off track? How do you renew safety and consistency in your classrooms? Any suggestions or ideas are more than welcome.

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Series: Elements of Structure Part 6: It’s like…

redcap

 

Analogies.

Anecdotes.

Allusions.

How do we connect with readers?

I am cursed with reading. I used to love it: diving down deep into a novel or story, sprinkling my mind with pixie dust and faraway vistas. It seems all I read lately are op-ed pieces that make my blood pressure rise. My tether to fantasy and imagination frays and twists: reading for pleasure is challenging.  A recent article in the Washington Post by Charles Lane, “Griping about the popular vote? Get over it.” Lane begins his piece as any hack, by using a sports analogy.

I hate sports analogies.

Sports analogies are accessible to the majority of readers. However, I contend that the use of a poorly-ironed out sports analogy is dangerous and defective. The sports analogy he uses doesn’t make sense: he states that the election is like giving the presidency to the yards gained, not the points scored. How about explaining the laws on the books and the Constitution? Oh, perhaps that’s too rough for his audience and his purpose: he wants to give Trump supporters the ‘feel good’ moment of a football analogy to make them feel smart and nod in understanding and agreement, not realizing how flimsy it all is. The article is embedded with links and other ideas that counter the writer’s. It’s easy to see how analogies can misdirect and overwhelm. Why look up any counter argument when the sports analogy is right there?

Today the Electoral College will decide if the president-elect is qualified or not, treasonous, or not, and fit to serve the American people. (He’s not.) And this is how using a cliche or analogy that is false can be dangerous.

One of my friends, (we don’t see eye to eye politically, but we do enjoy the conversation: a rare gift these days) asked me about what kinds of analogies are useful. I’m not sure.

My mind’s been wandering and created this list of (cliched) analogies:

  • Sports
  • Pregnancy/giving birth
  • Ship/Sailing
  • Journey/enlightenment
  • Gaming
  • Winners/losers
  • Quest
  • Family/kids
  • War/Battle
  • Magic/Entertainment
  • Cooking/baking
  • Gardens/growing

What other ones can you think of?

The difference between an analogy and an anecdote in this instance is the analogy misdirects the reader to feel that some parallel logic, while an anecdote, being personal, speaks to larger themes and questions, and in this instance would provide greater credibility and connection.

This information is from the http://bhsenglishdepartment.files.wordpress.com/ blog:

Simile: A comparison between two DISSIMILAR things, using “like” or “as” – e.g. Her face is like an ice cream cone

Metaphor: An implicit comparison between two DISSIMILAR things – e.g. He is a warthog ***In both similes and metaphors, the second item takes the place of the first item.*** In other words, the face has the qualities of an ice cream cone, the man is a warthog. ALSO NOTE: The meaning of a simile or a metaphor IS NOT LITERAL. Her face is not triangular or cold to the touch, and he does not smell bad or have pointy teeth coming out of his face.

Analogy: A statement that shows how someone or something IS ACTUALLY LIKE a second thing. In an analogy, unlike a simile or metaphor, you do not use the second item to replace the first, but rather, to highlight some unseen quality. Instead of saying “He is a pig” (a metaphor), one might say, “Watching you eat is like watching a pig roll in mud”

Cliché: A simile, metaphor or analogy that has been overused. The reason for using the above devices is to bring some NEW insight to a piece of writing. Using old, threadbare similes, metaphors and analogies add little, if anything to the writing.

e.g. like a rock (simile), she is an angel (metaphor), dead as a doornail (analogy)

Easy, right?

The trick is to avoid using cliches, but that’s not an easy trick to pull off. (So very meta in the cliche department right now.)

Here are a few other sites that may prove useful:

http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/cliches.html

http://www.metamia.com/analogize.php?q=cliche

When you have a purpose and message for speaking, my advice would be to use anecdotes over analogies.

We had a former admin who used to show us this scene from Remember the Titans. It was his theme “song:”

I remember this, but more importantly, I remember a personal story he shared about a teacher who held him up to higher standards and kept him accountable. I remember his personal story more.

My current admin plays us this, (and it scares the mess out of us):

We’re still in the process of getting to know one another, but the more personal stories she shares and her vision, the stronger the whole staff is. We don’t need to be scared into coming to work — it’s not motivating. We know how important it is. We just want to get to work.

Neither of these is wrong, inaccurate, or without merit and feeling. They are short-cuts to a broader message, and that’s the purpose of analogies, anecdotes, and allusions. They help connect the reader quickly to ideas. Just be cautious in that the ideas are connected well and strong.

 

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The Power of Storytelling

Science is an art.
Science is an art.

Someday, maybe, I’ll work on my Doctorate, and I am fairly certain what my focus will be the power of storytelling. It’s been a subject I’ve researched for years. We are all narrative learners. I struggle with putting things in tidy boxes of informational versus narrative. I could make a case that all learning is information, or all learning is narrative. But it’s both.

And what makes us human, to me, is our need for a story. Perhaps elephants, dolphins, and whales tell their babies stories, and I know experience is certainly passed down. Unless of course, you’re an octopus–incredibly intelligent, but have no means of passing it along to the next generation. “Their knowledge dies with them.”

In Newkirk’s book, Minds Made for Stories, he explores the question of how knowledge is developed. It’s a fantastic read and supports my own instincts about the power of storytelling when it comes to any content area.

But why is this–in the vernacular of our times–even a thing? I detect a bias here, and  ‘us versus them’ in the content area arenas.

Recently Wells Fargo caused outrage because of this ad campaign:

wells fargo

Because of public outcry, artists and actors protested and the ad campaign has been pulled.  (Why can’t we do that to a certain presidential nominee?) Clearly, Wells Fargo jumped on the STEM bandwagon and forgot to add the rogue branch of the acronym, “A” — for Arts. This push toward only mathematics and science is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s a cause for outrage necessarily. But it is a place for a conversation: what do we value? What do we support — financially, socially, and emotionally? And what do we want to be when we grow up? Is there a bias of brains? Why do we constantly misdirect the topic, continually focused on the myth of left versus right brains? These fallacious and hollow debates about skills versus content, lecture versus ‘guide on the side.’ Enough. This is not the conversation to focus on, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

From Knowing Stuff is Inseparable from Literacy: 

This simple fact — that knowing stuff is inseparable from being able to read stuff — is why great teaching will always be concerned with both skills and content. Sadly, since the majority of educators who implemented the Common Core State Standards did not read and reflect upon their introductory matter, it became popular (and fallacious) to declare that content isn’t what counts — skills are. In the CCSS era, there are no distinctions between science and social studies and English teachers anymore; we’re all reading teachers, right? And thus was won a great victory by champions of literacy everywhere!

Skills are important. But they are only one side of the story.

Here is the other side:

All we do as humans is based on a story we must tell. An adventure we seek, a problem to solve, our heart is breaking and we want to fix it. Someone is lost and we want to find them. Something or someone attacks our humanity and we want to slay the monster.

As you’re planning units, I urge you to look at your content through the lens of storytelling: what motivated the person to learn? What motivates you? What are your burning questions? 

Remember this is not a zero-sum game. We can be ballerina scientists and athletic botanists. If you want to talk more about ideas you have or thinking about doing something amazing with stories and science/math, I’m here.

14 Books That Connect Students With Valuable Scientists’ Struggles

 

https://oldbrainteacher.com/

 

A Model for Teacher Development: A Precursor for Change — Jackie Gernstein

 

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Pathos, logos, and ethos take a holiday.

Pathos, Logos, and Ethos
Pathos, Logos, and Ethos

In addition to short films, commercials can be another valuable asset. Many commercials live on multiple places on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and certainly any argumentative reading and writing unit worth its salt contains at least one or two commercials to support a conversation about pathos, ethos, and logos.

I just found this site this morning. This first ad can bring up so many relatable conversation points. To quote John Spencer,

“What’s so odd is that people have been creating art, writing letters, and talking about their food for years. Museums are filled with foodies and selfie shots. We just call them “still lifes” and “self-portraits.” The whole, “don’t miss the moment” mindset fails to recognize that it’s a deeply human need to capture and create precisely because we don’t want to forget it.”

So perhaps a contrast discussion — show a selfie and a self portrait, and ask students to discuss the possible purposes of the artist, or artistic intent. A conversation about pace, too — the speed of creation and its perceived value (in the moment and over time). I can honestly say that my photo albums are my life. One project this summer is to scan everything and save it to multiple places. (But I still have time…right?!)

 

This is one of my all-time favorites:

And this:

And this is PG-13, but amazing:

And speaking to our hearts, to differences, and most of all our humanity, you may want to share these:

 

A word of caution: advertisements intended for European markets do not have the same ratings codes as in the States. Seriously — watch everything first if you think it looks like something you want to use in the classroom. 

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