March Book Madness: The Maze Runner

The Maze RunnerThis is part of my March Book Madness feature, where I am sharing out ideas about books all month from my sixth graders and my own bit of reading. The Maze Runner by James Daschner has hit some gold with my students this year, and there are quite a few who have soared through the sequel and are now waiting for the third book (and pining for a movie version).

This particular student is a strong reader, and he found the book just OK. He mentions that some parts drag on too long and that it needed a bit of humor to lighten up the mood of the story. It’s interesting because his reading journal was much more critical of the book than his poster project. I suppose that points to writing for an audience.

I had started to read The Maze Runner with my 10 year old son, and he said the same thing, and then abandoned it.

I guess it all depends on your taste.  Books with themes of teenagers surviving in some wasteland environment are all the rage these days. I guess young readers feel some affinity for a place where they have little control and need to use wits to survive. (school). I thought the concept of the book was good — a mysterious place, loss of memories and danger lurking outside a sanctuary that is always shifting. I might need to go back and try The Maze Runner again myself.

Peace (in the maze),

Slice of Life: The Unexpected Verb Video

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers) As we were nearing the end of our Parts of Speech unit, my students and I were talking about Schoolhouse Rock and how using music and video can add a little spice to an otherwise sort-of-dull topic.
Yesterday, a student came up to me and said she and a friend had created a music video about Verbs. It’s pretty neat, but what was better was after showing it to the class, the two talked about how they did it. They used MovieMaker, with animated clip art, and then downloaded an Auto-tune App (ahhh — I’ve railed against Auto-tune before in this space, but given it helped my students be creative, I will step back) that allowed them to record their voice, email the file to themselves and then download and upload into Moviemaker.

The video itself is simple enough, but the fact that they did it just to do it, and then shared it with me …. I love that kind of learning. It went beyond parts of speech, and into media production, publishing (the video is now at our classroom blog site) and reflecting. I bet they didn’t know they were learning, though. They were just having fun.

I wonder if any of their classmates will get inspired ..

Peace (in the verb),

March Book Madness: Sent

This is another in my daily sharing of book reviews and projects from my students (and sometimes, from me and my family) throughout this March Book Madness of mine.

This is another student who was not all that thrilled with using Glogster and chose instead to do a poster. It’s on the book Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I have not read this series. Her poster is interesting because it has a 3D element to the castle, which sticks out from the poster board.
Peace (in the books),

Slice of Life: Writing with my students

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers) We were able to sneak in a bit of freewriting in class yesterday. For about 15 minutes, the room was mostly quiet as my students worked on stories, poems, letters, comics and whatever it was that they decided to write about. My only condition for freewrite is that they are writing and they are quiet. The condition I set for myself is that I write along with them.

Yesterday, I had an image in my mind from last weekend, when some thick fog rolled into our area as the warm weather hit the cold earth. It was an eerie experience, like something out of Stephen King. My son and I noticed an old tobacco barn that had fallen down over the winter (there was a lot of that around here), and that scene of slow destruction amid thick fog was pretty amazing.

I tried to capture that in this poem.

Abandoned Barn
(listen to the podcast)

Soft light flickers through
the veil of fog,
Shimmering off the old barn
and seeping into my mind.

Boards, beams
and advertising banners announcing the sale
of tomatoes, turnips
and summertimes along the roadway

lay scattered on the ground,
a graveyard of wood and iron
and seeds.

The shotgun blast of rubble
instills in us a sense of fear, awe,
and curiosity.

I lean against the weight of winter –
the remnants of snow, sleet
and falling rains –

but it’s an illusion, too,
in this cloud cover that is as empty
as mist.

Spring warmth wrestles winter’s fury
and then, beneath the stillborn chaos,
a flower blooms:
slow, sturdy and strong.

Peace (in the poetry),

Slice of Life: A Roald Dahl-ish Day

Slice of Life 2011Yesterday was World Read Aloud Day. I had never heard of it until Donalyn Miller tweeted about it. How can you go wrong with reading out loud to students? I carved out some time our day yesterday with all four of my classes and pulled out a Roald Dahl collection. From there, I entertained my students with some craziness that only Dahl could conjure up.

I read out parts of The Twits, and then James and the Giant Peach, and then The BFG and finally, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My kids loved it, and the section from The BFG went over the best — it’s the part where he is telling the girl about how he collects dreams in glass bottles and then blows them gently into people’s heads at night.

At home, I read aloud a lot to my kids, although the oldest has mostly lost interest (except for when he pretends to be petting the dog but is really listening) and the middle son comes and goes on the couch. But the six year old is now at the perfect age. We just finished up, as fate would have it, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (see my review and a review by a student of mine), and have now moved on to a Spiderwick Chronicle book.

I love the closeness of the experience of reading a book out loud. I love how he reads me chapter titles now (which he couldn’t do just a few months ago), how we both get excited about the story, and how telling him stories is activating all sorts of things in his brain. I’m already feeling wistful that he will be last one in the house to sit for long spells with me. But I have a few more years with him, and I have my kids at school, too, who still love to hear a good story read out loud.

Peace (in the book),

March Book Madness: The Great Glass Elevator

As part of my ongoing feature called March Book Madness, I want to contrast the project created by a student of the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate FactorCharlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl — and my own review, as I just finished reading this to my six year old.

This is the third or fourth time I have read the Great Glass Elevator and, I am sad to say, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the original. Sure, there are crazy ideas and mayhem all around as the elevator shoots into outer space and then back into the factory. What was missing for me is a real connection to the characters (I loved Charlie Bucket, but felt as if he were mostly sidelined here) and I got tired of the scenes with the President and his nutty staff worrying about the Space Hotel and more. To me, this book felt like a throwaway of sorts by Dahl, of whom I always expect more.

Even my son, who liked the book more than I did, kept asking, “Are they ever going to get back to the chocolate factory?”

My student, however, really seemed to enjoy the book.

Peace (in the factory),

March Book Madness: Goose Chase

Here is a book I had not come across, but our school librarian recommended it to me as something to pass along to my students. Goose Chase by Patricia Kindl got rave reviews here from one of my students. This is part of my March Book Madness feature of various reviews and projects from my students and I around our independent books.

Here is a review and overview of Goose Chase.

Peace (in the chase),

Slice of Life: Microloans, the World and Me

Slice of Life 2011

This morning, I realized that today was International Women’s Day, a way to celebrate the amazing role that women play in our world and the struggles that so many still face in so many places. I also realized that I had some credit in my Kiva Microloan account – money which had been paid back from previous loans.

The two ideas are connected this morning because a good percentage of the organizations that I have donated to via Kiva over the past two years have been either women-run businesses or women collaborative projects. I remember reading in Three Cups of Tea a statement that Greg Mortenson makes about the importance of supporting women, as they are more likely to use donations and other forms of assistance to raise up the family rather than use it for themselves. It’s a sad fact, perhaps, but I believe there is truth in that idea.

(my loans on the map)
kiva loans 2011

So, this morning, I added my $25 credit to a project to support a restaurant in a part of Africa (Uganda) and I tallied up my donation into the Kiva Group called Shift Happens, which is made up of educators. That group of teachers has collectively donated out more than 400 microloans to the tune of $13,000.

The funny thing about microloans is that it seems so small, but I always feel good about doing a small part of something larger. If you have never tried Kiva, give it a look. It will make you feel good about yourself, and when that one loan gets paid back, you turn it around and help someone else. And on today, when we pay attention to the success and plight of women in the world, perhaps Kiva is one option to reach out beyond your bubble and impact the world. And be sure to join our Shift Happens group, and add to the shift.

Peace (in the change),

NWP Sells off Vowels!

nwp sells off vowels
I’ve been disheartened by the news of the National Writing Project losing its federal funding. But there’s no better time for humor, right? I woke up this morning with a funny story of NWP selling off vowels as a fundraiser. So, I headed off to the Newspaper Clip Generator site to make this. I hope you get a laugh out of it and then make some phone calls to support the National Writing Project with your representatives and senators.

Peace (in the best medicine),

March Book Madness: The City of Ember

I see a lot of kids reading The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau these days, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Mostly, they give it a thumbs up. Here, one of my students presents her thoughts on the book, which she loved. She even gave it “10 light bulbs lit up” on her review scale. This is part of my March Book Madness feature going on here all month long as we celebrate the books we have read.

Peace (in the light),