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Watch your tone.

"Hot dog!"
“Hot dog!”

Don’tcha ever get tired reading about things?

Yes, again, I am offering, post-holidays, an idea that is a holiday themed movie, and yet, confining ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to the short days before winter break seems unfair. The film itself is replete with themes for all of us to ponder, each of us with a take-away based on our own perspectives. For me, the revised Cinefamily trailer for the film is, at its core, my film. Exposing too much of my personal life right now: this has been tough year for my family, and though loathe to say “I want time to speed up, or for this year to be over” because wishing away time seems to be the most grievous of sins. But yes, my family is looking forward and praying for some closure and solid answers about some big issues. I am feeling George right now, not Mary. Some of my close friends know what’s going on, and how the cost of the stress I’ve experienced this year has affected at least one professional relationship, someone who misunderstood my sorrow with their own ego. All I can do is absolve myself, and learn something, and move on.

And ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ may be my perfect movie.

We all have those “perfect movies” that resonate with us over our lifetimes, and we learn something about ourselves depending on the moment of viewing. As a young woman, thought it was sappy but sweet. As a young bride, saw the power of love and family. Growing older, saw how disappointment and stashed dreams affect us. Now? As much as I love the magical ending, I am a pragmatist, and see the value in getting my own wings. And I see George as someone who is deeply unhappy, but finds more power in the light of his life than the darkness, and benefits from a well-timed angel.

Slate Magazine penned this piece on a revised trailer, and it’s a golden opportunity to compare the original trailer with the updated one; as far as lesson structure is concerned, I am not sure if it would be better to show students the entire movie first, and have them sift out themes, or watch the two trailers and write their ideas about what the movie might say. As far as focusing on mood/tone, comparing the two trailers would be sufficient.

It’s A Wonderful Life (trailer) from Cinefamily on Vimeo.

The original 1946 movie trailer:

I’m not watching this film this year: it’s good to let favorite films take a break, and revisit at other junctures. And I’ll keep in my heart that things always work out.

The standards:





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Myth of the Month Club: Krampus

Brom's Krampus
Brom’s Krampus

Krampus is the dark companion of St. Nicholas, the traditional European winter gift-bringer who rewards good children each year on December 6. The kindly old Saint leaves the task of punishing bad children to a hell-bound counterpart known by many names across the continent — Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf, and Krampus. Usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black, or a hairy man-beast. Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them, in baskets, to a fiery place below.


Just when you thought stuff couldn’t get any weirder: ‘t round out the week before Winter Break, prevent the need to scrape kids off the ceiling, and harmlessly, innocently, integrate some technology skills I created this prompt:

There are a lot of strange and wonderful ways to celebrate in December around the world. Now’s it’s time for you to come up with your own! This is a group project contest for the best, new, weirdest plausible holiday!”

And they were off! They were given a list of items they might include:

  • Food served
  • Special clothes or costumes
  • Mascot or Character
  • Tradition/ritual
  • Activities

And while none came up with a variation on Festivus, we did have a “Wishing Day” and a “Squidmas.” The students worked with Power Point on-line through their Office 365 software, and had a ball. They only had one block class to consider, create, and design their presentations.  They were all winners in my book! This proved to be a great way to introduce Power Point on line, collaborative creativity, and a low-risk activity that was accessible and funny. The ones who didn’t quite get it at first were those who thought this was a simple regurgitation of researched holidays: once they saw others with their original ideas it helped to model. The truth is, as much as a teacher can model something, middle school students look to their peers to see what else is happening in a creative crunch.


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Edublog’s Awards: Where I Am Miss Colombia, Once Again


The 2015 Edublog Awards Winners were just announced, and all grand winners! 

*Secretly wonders to self: what could I do differently, and does it matter?*

Well, let’s see:

We are our own worse critics–my posts are too wordy, too meandering, but overall, that’s all right. Ultimately, we write for ourselves. When I look back over posts, the ones that rise to the top, or get the most views, are not necessarily ones that make people think. A blog is that– an online journal–a digital means of archiving the Captain’s Log.

Check out the winners, and see for yourself some of the examplary writing and thinking that goes on out there. Cheers to them all! Now, to go add more links to my blogroll…

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I am about to try to explain magic.

Doug Selwyn is our professor for an ELA/SS course via PSWP (Puget Sound Writing Project). He is the real deal.

Let me show you the hat trick he shared:

Room of ten adults. Fluorescent lighting. Stuffy room. Lack of sleep, coffee, and August is ending. We each get a piece of notebook paper and pen. Nothing else. He asks us a question each of us, through our age and experience might have some familiarity with: “Tell me everything you know about the 2008 financial crisis.” We write. Some more or less. He takes our papers, and puts them aside.

magic box

Then he asks a seemingly unrelated question. All the while, the number 2254 is written, small. He asks us to imagine it’s the year 2254, and what might our world be like? We mention a variety of scenarios. What’s interesting is to see who’s read a ton of dystopian literature (me) and who is more optimistic.

Then: (by the way, that in the magic business would be called a ‘misdirection’)

he picks up our papers, and one by one, softly drops one to the ground, stating– this one was lost in the earthquake (being North-westerners we are thinking about earthquakes), this one lost….and this one….and then there are two left. As we watched “our” paper, our ideas, fall to the floor, (we shared later how distraught we felt).

Once the board is fairly full, pick up the student- written stories and start dropping them on the floor, one or a few at time, linking each to something on the board, narrating as you drop. These were lost when the seas flooded the West Coast. This one was used as packing material when a ship left earth to colonize the moon. These were deemed politically untenable. These were used to start a fire in a woodstove when the wood ran out, and so on. Drop stories until there is only one left. Announce that this is the official, surviving history of the event that you have all experienced. Since no one from that shared experience is still alive, those future scholars will only know what is on this one piece of paper.

He chose one, and then read it out loud. Granted, our handwriting is not as careful as it used to be, so plodding through our text proved dodgy at times. When finished, he asked us to share some of the facts and opinions we heard.

Doug Selwyn and Kim Norton
Doug Selwyn and Kim Norton

After we dissected one, miraculously the teleporter worked and another piece of history stepped through: this time is was a much closer personal experience with the 2008 crisis, and shared a completely different point of view. More information! More context! More voices heard!

Now those of you who are socially conscious can already see all the possibilities for teaching, and all the ways this can be used to discuss voices in history, whose stories are told, and whose are silenced, what comes through, and how we interpret mysteries from our pasts. And– you also see how valuable it would be to talk about the passing along of knowledge (education) and information. This led into a rich discussion on even now, with the Internet, social media, and an explosion of information and shared ideas, we have loss in not being able to access the digital media as well as many inhabitants of our planet who do not have access or are censored, and even punished, by trying to share in the conversation, by their oppressive governments.

Now: walking back to the parking lot I contemplated on how to bring this to students under our new dictum of learning targets, success criteria, and performance tasks. If those three things are not visible, we are ‘marked down’ on evaluations.

magic trick

Can you imagine going to see Houdini and he tells you how, why, and what he’s about to do? 

I have no issue with students seeing a purpose for their learning, and understanding when they’ve achieved that purpose. But sometimes…

…wouldn’t it be more powerful to let them feel the breathless moment, to ride the emotions, and then reconstruct what just happened? The “How did she DO that?!” moment? I can just see my students protesting when their papers are dropped to the floor, and how they grapple when all the information isn’t provided. Doug made a time machine appear in our minds, and we hung on every word.

Well, at least ‘student engagement’ was covered.



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Media Festival: Perspectives from young history

Immersing my mind in close reading, analytical writing, and new content, there are a few more novels to mention. Not making any promises that I’m done, because we know a teacher’s work is never done. I am working on documents of lesson plans, frosted with CCSS goodness and fortified with with enduring understanding vitamins and minerals. (Yes, it’s past lunch time and I’m chugging Diet Coke–it shows.) In any case, if you would like the lessons as they progress, please send me an e-mail:


Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson


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. 

From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.


Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson



Blistering winds. Bitter cold. And the hope of a new future. In this compelling sequel to Chains, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson shifts perspective from Isabel to Curzon and brings to the page the tale of what it takes for runaway slaves to forge their own paths in a world of obstacles—and in the midst of the American Revolution.

The Patriot Army was shaped and strengthened by the desperate circumstances of the Valley Forge winter. This is where Curzon the boy becomes Curzon the young man. In addition to the hardships of soldiering, he lives with the fear of discovery, for he is an escaped slave passing for free. And then there is Isabel, who is also at Valley Forge—against her will. She and Curzon have to sort out the tangled threads of their friendship while figuring out what stands between the two of them and true freedom.

Sophia’s War by Avi

sophias war

In 1776, young Sophia Calderwood witnesses the execution of Nathan Hale in New York City, which is newly occupied by the British army. Sophia is horrified by the event and resolves to do all she can to help the American cause. Recruited as a spy, she becomes a maid in the home of General Clinton, the supreme commander of the British forces in America. Through her work she becomes aware that someone in the American army might be switching sides, and she uncovers a plot that will grievously damage the Americans if it succeeds. But the identity of the would-be traitor is so shocking that no one believes her, and so Sophia decides to stop the treacherous plot herself, at great personal peril: She’s young, she’s a girl, and she’s running out of time. And if she fails, she’s facing an execution of her own.

Master storyteller Avi shows exactly how personal politics can be in this “nail-biting thriller” (Publishers Weekly) that is rich in historical detail and rife with action.


Spies and Scouts, Secret Writing, and Sympathetic Citizens


The Loyalists

Links to my other resources:

Media Festival: Yellow Fever

Media Festival: Part 1

Media Festival: Part 2

There are more books through diverse lenses I have in my arsenal, so believe me when I promise point of view and perspectives on history are at my core.

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