(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You choose a moment and narrow your focus, and then share out into the SOL community. You write, too.)
I knew it. I knew I’d be awake in the middle of the night, with a tumble of thoughts about the start of school. And so it was. Staff goes back today and then kids start their new school year tomorrow. I did fall back asleep eventually, dreaming the dreams only teachers seem to dream.
In my latest blog post over at Middleweb, I explore the use of digital portfolios as a tool for student curation of their own writing over time. This was a pilot year for me, with my own professional digital portfolio, and my students, with a digital writing portfolio.
It’s always difficult to pinpoint the start of a fad. One of my gifted students brought in a Rubik’s Cube on a mid-year wintry day (maybe back in December). His is a very mathematical mind, prone to solving complex challenges. When this student shared the cube with other students, and noticed how “cool” it seemed to them, he brought in more. A whole bag of Rubik’s Cubes. I didn’t know they came in so many shapes and configurations, to be frank.
They do. Small ones. Big ones. Geometrically shaped ones. Different colored ones.
Suddenly, other sixth graders were bringing in their Rubik’s Cubes, twisting the blocks during passing times in the hallways, or at lunch, or at recess. There were informal Cube Challenges going on all the time. I had never heard of Speed Cubing before, but they had, and that was one of the challenges. How fast can you solve a Cube?
Some did “research” on YouTube, figuring out strategies. Others shared what they knew with friends, teaching how to twist the block into winning mode.
At the end of the day, at the bus loop, I now see younger students with Cubes in their hands. The fad has spread from the older grades to the younger grades.
As someone who remembered the Cube fad as a kid, it was fascinating to watch. Not just how some students figured out the algorithm of solving a Cube, but also, that this little block of blocks had survived over time. It likely has to do with the algorithmic challenge, and that some people are more adept at the pattern recognition than others.
I don’t expect Silly Bands to make a come-back. I maybe wrong on that. (Please don’t make me wrong on that.) But apparently, these kids dug Rubik’s Cubes out of closets and attics and basements, and maybe ordered some new ones. I’m not sure how or where they found them. But I am pretty sure that it’s just one of those odd things that surfaces for a time, and then disappears again in the midst of an elementary school year. I’ll let you know in September.
Peace (this way and that way, and this way),
We had our annual awards ceremony yesterday morning, where certificates of accomplishment for all sorts of subjects were handed out to upper elementary students. A few years ago, I wanted to break up the seriousness of the ceremony and so, I created The Flying Monkey Award. Students have a chance to earn The Flying Monkey Award by keeping every single writing notebook prompt from the course of the school year. This year, there were 75 writing prompts in their notebook, and some went through two or three notebooks of writing.
I call out the sixth graders who have won (it is a lottery and your “ticket” is your notebook) off the stage, and fire a Flying Monkey across the cafetorium to them. It’s great fun, with lots of cheers and celebration, and many incoming students ask me about the Flying Monkey early in the school year.
I guess that’s what we call a “school tradition.”
Peace (flying, soaring, screaming like a monkey),
I wrote a column for the local newspaper that ran this week. Its theme format is an “Open Letter to My Young Writers” as the school year comes to a close today. In the piece, tried to look back on the year and encourage them beyond my classroom, and our school (they transition to the regional middle school next year).
Many of you know me as someone who enjoys dabbling in technology and digital writing projects, but I am a sucker for the emotional pull of a solid, physical book. Make it a book that a student has written and created, and you have me hooked.
So, the delivery of four huge boxes of student-created picture books that arrived at my classroom the other day almost had me thinking of making one of those “unbox it” videos that seem so strangely popular on YouTube. I didn’t make the video so you will just have to accept that I was pretty darned excited when I opened up the boxes and dug out the books.
Not as excited as my sixth grade students, though, who were buzzing throughout the day after my librarian collaborator and I handed out the books with the words, “Congratulations! You are now a published writer. This is your book.”
The published books — picture books designed around the theme of remembering their years at our elementary school as they head off to middle school — were the culmination of a beta-testing project with software by Fablevision that allows students to write and illustrate picture books in a digital space, and then send the books directly to Lulu publishing.
It all reminded me of this short video from Lane Smith:
I’m happy that the physical book still holds allure for my students, living as they are in an age of digital screens, and I am glad it was a gift we could give them as they end their time in elementary school. It’s been a perfect way to end the sixth grade (still a few days to go!)
I’ve written about our school’s new connection to writer/illustrator Peter Reynolds and the Fablevision media company out of Boston. Reynolds is a writer and illustrator, perhaps best know for his picture books, including The Dot. We’ve helping to beta-test a publishing platform for Fablevision, and Peter and Paul Reynolds (of Fablevision) came to our school to interact with our young writers and illustrators, and gave an inspiring presentation full of upbeat messages about engaging with the world and imagination.
Our art teacher took the idea of The Dot’s message (that everyone is an artist in their own way and that everyone can be creative) and turned it into a school-wide chalk art display in the front of our building during our annual Field Day celebration. Kids from all grades were making chalk dots all day long, and our sixth graders got the flagpole to sign their names, as it is nearing their last days at our elementary school.
I love both the simplicity of using a circle/dot for art (anyone can be an artist .. that’s the whole point) and the ways in which young people take that simple idea and stretch it.
(I wanted to try out the Highlight Reel tool on my phone to see how well it works)
As our school year keeps moving towards a close (Why do all my friends keep asking if my year is over? Not yet!), there are plenty of projects still to be juggled. One is a Picture Book Project that our sixth grader did in a pilot digital site. This week, my librarian colleague has been connecting sixth grade writers with first grade readers to share the books and stories.
I wish we did more of these cross-grade connections in our school. It’s a powerful way to bring students together, particularly as writers and artists and readers.
My students have been beta-testing a site that is designed to allow students to design Picture Books that lead to publishing in hard-cover format. It’s been an interesting experience, which I hope to write about down the road a bit, but last week, they finished working on their books (about their years at our elementary school as they prepare to move on to the regional middle/high school).
Over at my blog at Middleweb, I explore something that has been bothering me all year. We added five minutes to each of our classes for more instruction. The trade-off was losing social connection time. I’m not sure it was worth it.