Category Archives: Language Arts

Courage

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately.  Some people seem to feel that it is synonymous with confidence, but I disagree.  Confidence that you are doing the right thing does not necessarily make you courageous.  In fact, I would argue that many courageous decisions are made with hesitation, and that tragic outcomes do not make the actions any less brave.  I also know that courage does not have to be “big.”  There are many small, courageous actions taken every day by unassuming heroes – as Mark Bezos reminds us in his tale of saving the shoes, and The King of the Island portrays with beautiful subtlety.

What is courage, then?  With this great Google Slides Hyperdoc created by Sarah Landis, you and your students can explore the complex meaning of this word.  Rich with thought-provoking discussion questions, “Courage” will invite your students to consider the many layers of the word with scenarios, videos, and writing prompts all collected into one digital document.  It is an excellent resource for any secondary ELA classroom.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonythemisfit/6277444659

To learn more about Hyperdocs, visit this site created by Landis and her two colleagues, where they provide many other examples for use in all subjects. Also, Laura Moore has an excellent reflection on Hyperdocs here, which also gives links to awesome Hyperdoc projects.

Tuck Everlasting and the Wheel of Life

On Monday, I wrote about Tarr’s Toolbox and one of the resources you can find there, the “Wheel of Life.”  My 4th graders have been reading Tuck Everlasting (R.I.P. Natalie Babbitt, who died October, 2016), which uses wheels and circles for symbolism throughout the novel.  They have also been discussing the attributes of the main characters, so I thought the “Wheel of Life” would be a fitting activity to try with them.

There are many ways this activity can be done, and Russel Tarr has great suggestions on his blog.  Because it was their first time doing this, I gave the students character traits to copy on their wheel, and deliberately asked them to put them in the same spots on their wheels.  Then I “secretly” assigned each student a character to plot the points for, and told them to hold off on writing the name of the character at the top.  I deliberately assigned the same characters to several students so we could compare their responses later.

When everyone was done, we went around the room and tried to guess the character by how each student’s Wheel of Life looked.  It was almost eerie how easy it was – until we got to one student’s graph.  After several wrong guesses from her classmates, she finally had to reveal her character’s name.

Jaws dropped and there was immediately the beginning of a debate. However, an unexpected interruption happened before we could discuss the varied opinions, making us table our questions until next week’s class.

The conversation associated with this activity is so deep and rich.  I can’t wait to continue it next week.  I also see some other extensions that we can do, such as creating graphs for our own personalities to compare and contrast with the characters in the story.

The experience with this lesson reminded me of the great learning that happened last year when we used Hexagonal Learning to examine our literature.  If you are looking to integrate higher levels of Bloom’s into your lessons, I highly recommend both of these activities.

Click here to go to Russel Tarr's Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable
Click here to go to Russel Tarr’s Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable

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CoSpaces

Joe Tedesco, the man behind SA Makerspaces for Education, posted about CoSpaces a couple of weeks ago.  CoSpaces is available on the web, and as a free iOS or Android app.  My students and are still investigating its features, so I may be incorrect about what we’ve discovered so far.

CoSpaces Example

Using CoSpaces on a computer (desktop or laptop), you can register for a free account and then create projects.  To experiment, I created one account that my students could also use (if you do this, make sure each student knows how to start a new project or collaborate with someone else on one).  There are tools on the web browser version to “build” 3-dimensional scenes, somewhat Minecraft-ish. For those of us who are spatially challenged, it’s good practice for using other 3-d modeling programs like Tinkercad.  You can also add your own images as well as audio files.

The scenes can be viewed on mobile devices as 3d by walking around with or moving the device to explore the scenery.  If you have a VR headset, you can also experience the scenes this way.  The video on this page is the best way to understand how it works.  At this time, you can only create CoSpaces projects using a web browser and experience they are best experienced through mobile devices.

An intriguing detail about CoSpaces is that it already has a link for educators in its menu – and describes the many ways it can be used in school (such as storytelling or exhibiting research projects).  According to the site, there are plans to offer classroom type accounts to teachers.

CoSpaces shows a great deal of potential for use by students to create – which is one of the main purposes for technology in my point of view.  I have a feeling there are going to be some exciting advances made by this company as it evolves, so you should definitely check it out.

https://cospac.es/Alkj

3D Stanley

The long-suffering Flat Stanley no longer has to endure the indignation of postal journeys.  Karen Bosch and her students have developed a 21st century solution to Stanley’s travel woes.  They created 3D Stanley’s!  Download one of the .stl files from their site, and print the “Stanley” of your choice with your school’s 3d printer. Then take a picture of your visitor in its new environment and share the picture in a Tweet or through e-mail (@karlyb or via email to kbosch@southfieldchristian.org).

This is a great twist on a popular school tradition, and I love that Bosch’s students even gave their characters short bios to make them unique!

Since I recently did a presentation on global collaboration, this gives me all sorts of ideas.  How about doing some sort of mystery print, where the students download separate pieces, print them, and then have to figure out to assemble them to make something?  Or tweeting pics of 3D Stanley’s in front of moderately famous landmarks and having classes guess their locations?

I hope that you can support Bosch and her students with their project.  Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas!

For more information on 3d printing, including what you should consider before purchasing one, you may want to check out some of my other posts.

Add a New Dimension to Flat Stanley!
Add a New Dimension to Flat Stanley! Image courtesy of Jimmie on Flickr

Hexagonal Learning with Tuck Everlasting

When you can give students time to deeply discuss a text, you may be surprised by the connections and conclusions they make on their own.  This is the purpose of “Hexagonal Learning.”  You can read more about the origins and many uses of Hexagonal Learning in a blog post I wrote 4 years ago on the topic. (I can’t believe it has been that long!!)

When my gifted fourth graders completed Tuck Everlasting, I wanted to facilitate a rich and meaningful discussion about the novel.  Ahead of time, I visited Pam Hook’s SOLO Hexagon Generator and created 3 pages of terms from Tuck.  One sheet included a character’s name in each hexagon.  The 2nd sheet, printed on a different color, had one of the book’s themes in each hexagon, and the 3rd sheet, also printed on a different color, had symbols from the book.  I also printed a 4th sheet as a blank, so students could add more words to hexagons.

The task for the students was to connect the hexagons in as many ways as they could.  Having learned about tessellations, they already knew how easily several could connect together.  I explained that I was looking for “deep” connections, not something like putting two characters together because they were both boys.  Then, I split the students into small groups, and gave each group a set of the hexagons and a long piece of paper to slide them around on.  Then I “hovered” so I could listen to their conversations.

The first thing I noticed was that they stayed completely on task, and took the discussion very seriously.  They got very excited when they were able to put several hexagons around one central word.  When I worried that there wasn’t really a meaningful connection, they were quick to explain to me what I had been missing.  The groups had completely different conversations, and their final “hives” took on dissimilar shapes.

At the end, the students looked at each other’s collections, and asked questions to clarify.  Their faces would change from perplexed or slightly critical to understanding and, sometimes, even admiration for the unique connections.

I feel like this was definitely a better way for the students to make sense of the book we read than if I had lectured them about it.  In fact, I may have learned a few things about Tuck Everlasting from listening to them that I’d never considered before! (Click on images to enlarge.)

UPDATE 2/1/17: Here are links to some Tuck Everlasting hexagons you can use if you would like:

 

Word Sift

Larry Ferlazzo recently published a post on his blog about a site called Word Sift.  I decided to try it out with a text that I am reading to my 5th grade students, hoping to give it more meaning.

We just finished reading The Giver together, and Lois Lowry’s Newbery Acceptance speech for the honor received by this book is included in my edition only.  It is an amazing speech, and the students always become excited as the revelations are made that connect all of the pieces in the book to Lowry’s life.  However, I am regularly seeking ways to add some more interactivity to this oral reading and discussion.  This year, the students created mind maps with the book’s recurring themes (which we analyzed using LitCharts) as different nodes.  They are adding the relevant examples from Lowry’s speech to the nodes as I read. Word Sift might add another layer to this analysis with its visual representations.

I copied and pasted the text of Lowry’s speech into Word Sift to see the results.  Word Sift will not only give you word clouds, which can be modified in several ways, but you can also select words from the cloud to see them in context and images from the web that represent them.  There is also a connection to a visual thesaurus.

With the word cloud, you can highlight certain vocabulary, such as Marzano & Pickering words from the 4 core subjects.  You can also sort the words alphabetically or by how rare each word is in our language.

This tool would certainly be an asset for ELL’s, but it is a great resource for anyone who would like to examine a text more deeply, and to learn more about the words used to compose it.

Word Swift example using the text from Lois Lowry's Newbery acceptance speech for The Giver
Word Swift example using the text from Lois Lowry’s Newbery acceptance speech for The Giver

 

LitCharts

If you teach middle or high school literature classes, you really need to check out LitCharts.  This tool can really help your students analyze a text with a multitude of interactive infographics that can enrich their understanding of a novel in a unique way.

I came across LitCharts while I was looking for different way for my students to discuss the themes in The Giver.  My students are 5th grade gifted students, and the resources are a little advanced for them.  However, there were definitely some pieces I could use with my class.

One of my favorite tools is the “Theme Tracker.”  This page describes the major themes in the novel.  What is unique is that it not only describes the theme and its usage by the author, but it offers an interactive chart for each theme.  The chart allows the user to see immediately which chapters relate to the theme more than others. If you don’t remember the chapter very well, you can click on it to go the chapter page, which gives text evidence supporting the themes.  All of the themes are color coded, so you can see how certain passages support more than one theme.

LitCharts also gives breakdowns regarding symbols, characters, and quotes.  While you are browsing the site, be sure to look at the “Chart Board” for your favorite book, one of the most powerful infographics I’ve ever seen.

Because some of the books included happen to cover somewhat adult topics, be sure to thoroughly check out the LitChart coverage of the book before assigning it to your students.

I suppose some teachers might view this as a high tech cheat sheet, but savvy teachers will find many ways to use this to enrich the learning of their students.

example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver - on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more
example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver – on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more