Slice of Life: Lifting Off with Quidditch

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

If you read this blog every March (who does that? Slicers), then you know our entire sixth grade is moving into Quidditch Season. That’s right. We play Quidditch at our school. I believe this is the 13th year of the game, which first came into being on a suggestion from a student and has morphed into a challenging Physical Educational activity with connections to literature.

The rules have developed over the years but this video we made a few years ago for the 10th anniversary gives some pointers on how to play (feel free to steal it and remix it for your school):

Each of the four sixth grade classes chooses a name and identity, and then on the day of the Quidditch Tournament, the entire day is turned over to the four teams playing each other (and then a new tradition started last year — teachers and staff playing students in the evening. I’m already tired just thinking of it).  This is our teacher team from last year: Pink Fury.

Pink Fury Quidditch Superstars

Normally, the process of a class coming up with a team name is a lengthy process, involving lots of brainstorming, voting, elimination, more voting, and compromise. So, imagine my surprise when my entire class, on their own, came up with their team name this year: Icy Revolution. I had to make sure no one objected. No one did. They all worked together outside of my field of vision (I refuse to talk Quidditch until we start talking about Quidditch; Otherwise, it’s all they talk about. They try to engage in that conversation during the first week of school, believe it or not).

One student has already begun designing our team logo of a lightning bolt, dripping with ice, and a snitch in the background.

Icy Revolution

I am so impressed and so … let the games begin (as soon as we get through state testing.).

Peace (on the Quidditch Pitch),
Kevin
PS — and here is how they play it at college. I like our version better.

Slice of Life: The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

As we finish up our critical reading of Three Cups of Tea, I led my sixth graders through a discussion of the United Nation’s document, The Universal Declaration of Rights of Children, yesterday (We used a child-friendly version). This UN declaration is referenced in the book and was also mentioned as we spent a day last week learning about Malala and her story of one girl seeking to change the world through advocating for education of girls.

 

Of course, before we could discuss the document, we had to discuss the United Nations. Most students were only vaguely aware of the name and only a handful in my four classes had any sense at all what the UN was and what it does in the world (or even that it is located in New York City). The declaration for children, while very general in nature, gave them an insight into their own lives, and how lucky they are to in a safe and supportive place in the world. Reflecting on why such a document would even need to be created and ratified by world leaders is an eye-opener in itself. And questions about who enforces the rights of children? Another lesson on the real world politics of the global stage.

As part of a writing assignment, they had to choose one of the articles of the declaration and write briefly about the importance of that article. Here are a few examples:

I thought Article Seven is most important to children because it talks about education and earning to be responsible and useful. Children will have to know this if they wish to be successful later in life. Also, the article states that children can play and have an equal chance to develop themselves. I think that is important. — Emily

 

I think Article Four (protection) is important because if we didn’t have any of those rights, then America wouldn’t be like it is today. Most children probably wouldn’t receive protection, special care, good food, and medical services. If none of this was available, then children’s lives would be in a worse way, not getting any of the proper essentials to survive. That’s why I think Article Four is the most important one. – Jackson

 

I think Article Six – “You have the right to love and understanding …” is the most important one because without love, I feel life would be awful. It’s like having a parent take care of you because they have to and not out of love and understanding. If people don’t understand you, then you feel alone, like you’re the only one in the world who feels they are going through the tough time or problem. Even if you’re rich, if you have no love, you have nothing. I feel wealth comes from the heart and not the ATM. – Jacob

 

I think that the right of a child that is most important is that “you have a right to a name and to be a member of a country.” I think this is important because a name is essential so that you can be called something other than “child,” “girl,” or “boy.” The right to be a member of a country is important too, because if you don’t have that right, you’d typically be homeless and you might not be welcomed anywhere in the world. – Victoria

Empathy begins with understanding, and action in the world begins with young people understanding the world through the experiences of others. Yes, this UN document probably has no teeth — children still get lost from the view of the world leaders. My sixth graders at least had a chance to appreciate not just the hardships endured by other children in the world, but also the promise of good lives.

Peace (in the peace),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Tackling Student Work

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I brought home two huge piles of student work to assess over the weekend. It’s more than usual for a weekend and more than I would have liked but our trimester closes soon and I hate having student work hanging on my desk for a long stretch of time — it’s not right for my writers and it’s not good for my own stress to see it there, a reminder of what I need to do.

You know what I mean?

In between moments of family time yesterday (including taking my son and a friend to see the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie, and watching them trying to figure out time vortex paradoxes even as they were giggling at the story), I dove into our Parts of Speech projects, which we wrapped up last week. I’ve written about this particularly project in the past (during a Slice of Life, as it often falls in March) but essentially, students show mastery of Parts of Speech by color-coding their own writing.

I’m not a huge fan of Parts of Speech, as I don’t think it helps them particularly as emerging writers, so we try to make it lively (lots of activities in the classroom) and as authentic (their own writing) as possible. I like the visual look of the color-coded work, too. But after 80 Parts of Speech projects, my brain was swimming in nouns, verbs, etc, and particularly … adverbs. Those darn adverbs are the trickiest of the bunch.

Parts of Speech

So, that project is done. Now, it’s on to a pile of open response writing for our Three Cups of Tea book, where students wrote along the theme of “challenge” in a few ways. I’ll be doing that reading/assessing today, in the mall, as I bring my oldest son and his friends to watch the new 300 movie. Wish we well.

Peace (in the assessment),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Getting Published in the Paper

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I had a column of mine run in the local newspaper yesterday, as I explained the rationale behind our continued teaching of Three Cups of Tea, in light of the controversies behind the book and Greg Mortenson. The column was partially spurred on by some questions from our School Committee about why we would still be teaching this book, and partially because this particularly column in our local newspaper is a place to feature teacher/writers from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (although others do periodically write).

Chalk talk

Here is a podcast of my column:

Peace (in the inquiry),
Kevin

Fit for Life: Hip Hop Songwriting With a Purpose

HipHop Boyz

Our Student Council (I am one of the facilitators) is wrapping up a Fit for Gold challenge for our whole school, in which all students were encouraged to eat well and exercise as part of our celebration of the Winter Olympics. A few of the sixth grade boys on the Student Council wanted to write a hip hop song to celebrate the school-wide activity, and so over a few days, as I helped when needed but mostly watched them at work, these three students wrote and recorded their song, which is being played over the school-wide announcement system each morning and is featured at our school website.

The leader, who wrote most of the lyrics to Fit for Life and sings it, has flow!

For me, it was another opportunity to encourage community engagement, songwriting as a means for a message, and teaching some technology (Garageband) as well as finding an audience and outlet for students wanting to stay creative.

Peace (in the spotlight),
Kevin

Our Digital Media Lives as Similes

My Media Life
(My Media Life Simile)

One of the many excellent activities that you can find in the CommonSense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum (free!) is a short activity that I find very powerful. It asks students to consider their own media lives and to create/draw a simile to explain how they feel about the flow of media and technology in their lives. For some of my sixth graders, this gives them a chance to step back and view their relationship through another kind of lens.

Here are some samples from this past week, all of which led to discussions in class.

My Media Life 201410

My Media Life 20146

My Media Life 201411

My Media Life 20145

My Media Life 20149

Peace (like a river),
Kevin

 

When Kids Invent Our Passwords

Password Activity 2014
We’re in the middle of our Digital Life unit, and yesterday, our lessons were all about passwords. We talked through the importance of secure passwords, and watched a CommonCraft video about the topic, and then my students did a writing prompt in which they were “hired” to come up with secure passwords for their teachers.

They then had to “test” the hackability of those passwords with the How Secure is My Password site and use our class blog to submit their password recommendation for me. Students used a variety of methods, including mnemonic devices, things they know about me and other strategies. Even I am not sure exactly what the thinking is behind all of these passwords, but I find it fascinating to look at. (And I should note: the word cloud generator stripped out a few symbols here and there, and divided up a few suggestions that had symbols in the middle, so what may look like a basic word in this cloud is probably missing a few parts or was part of something larger).

More importantly, I hope they have a better grasp of how and why to create powerful passwords for the online spaces where they go and roam. There were more than a few eye-opening ideas that they had never thought about nor had anyone ever talked to them about passwords.

Peace (in the word),
Kevin

Looking at the Data of their Digital Lives

DlDay Voicethread
Each year, I present my sixth grade students with what we call the State of Technology and Digital Media Survey. The idea is to get a snapshop of their impressions and to get a glimpse of their use of technology, particularly outside of school. This year, for Digital Learning Day, I put the results into a Voicethread and narrate some of what I see.

I used these results for conversations this week around the idea of digital lives, digital footprints and digital citizenship as we launched into a new unit around technology. (By the way, if you want a copy of the survey, here is a template from my Google Docs. Feel free to steal it, remix it, use it as you need.)

But I invite you, too, to add questions and observations to the Voicethread. Make it a conversation. Do the results of my students resonate with what you know about your students? (Note: I teach sixth grade, so these are 11 year olds). Haven’t used Voicethread before? Now’s the time to give a new tool a try.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Movie Review: The Watsons Go to Birmingham

I finally got the time to watch The Watsons Go to Birmingham movie last week with the two classes who read the book earlier in the school year. The DVD had been sitting on my desk but finding the time was difficult. Still, I wanted to see what the folks at the Hallmark Movie Channel did with a book that I love reading and teaching, and students were eager to see the movie version, too. So, we did.

I could quibble with some of the changes made to the Christopher Paul Curtis story and some of the casting choices and other things, and we did quibble in our post-movie class discussions, but I understand a bit about the need to make changes to a novel to fit the screen. The one thing I was disappointed in but wasn’t surprised by was the removal of the vision the kids have of each other in times of danger, of each becoming the savior of the other in times of trouble. We talked a lot about that missing element in class. Oh well.

Overall, I enjoyed what they did with the story. Most of all, I was very much pleased with how the producers brought in archival footage from the news of the day (1964) in Alabama, as it really sets the tone and stage for the unfolding of the story as the Watsons visit the south. The scene of the famous church bombing is chaotic and emotional, and I found it hit the right notes for my students to feel compassion and fury, and to understand Kenny (the narrator) a bit more as he searches for his younger sister.

Also, I give high praise to the movie folks for making the Children’s March a secondary storyline, with the Watsons’ cousins telling how they are marching with other children in protest. The book never mentions the Children’s March. The movie uses that event in a way that gives the story a different emotional feel, particularly when Byron (the oldest brother, a troublemaker) sees it as an opportunity for him to make a difference and make his parents proud of his actions.

Overall, the movie fits in nicely with the teaching of this powerful story of growing up in the era of civil rights and racism, and how our families are the center that holds us together. The movie gets that right, time and again.

Peace (in the past),
Kevin
PS — an interview with Christopher Paul Curtis about the adaptation of the book:

Invented Words: Student Sampler

Invented Words 2014
(I love this word cloud)
Although I continue to invent and publish a new word every day for the #Nerdlution (round 2), that initiative was inspired by my students’ work around invented language (as part of our study of the origins of the English Language). The other day, they used our wiki site to begin adding a word of their own (and a podcast of their word) to a 9-year project to create an online dictionary of invented words. I’ll share that out some other day. For now, check out this prezi with a few words and I have embedded the podcasts of their voices right into the prezi (just click the play button).