Mentoring from Afar

This morning, after reading Sue Waters’ Edublogger post, I followed a link to a classroom site in Australia. The teacher — Al Upton — is looking for virtual mentors for his classroom of young bloggers (called MiniLegends — love that name) and so, I signed up. I felt a bit strange about having to choose one of the kids from the selection of photos but sort of randomly chose one from the list. I decided on a boy named Sam. (Hi Sam, if you are reading this — you will probably now get a “ping” from my link to your site)

Photo of this year's class of miniLegends

The idea is that educators from around the world follow the student blogs, offer comments and suggestions, and encourage them as writers. I think this is a fantastic idea and I am interested to see how it all pans out for the Australian students, who know they are writing for a real audience out in the world.

I am also involved in a distant mentoring with a high school student (hi Bryan) from Kansas, who is working on a year-long project around claymation animation. He has been emailing me questions and giving me updates on his progress, and I have been trying to give feedback and answers as best as I can. It’s interesting and I hope he will share his final project with me.

This concept of mentoring from afar demonstrates another wrinkle of possibilities in the Web 2.0 World, where the ability to reach out and support others is as simple as a connection to the Internet. It is a pleasure to find a way to support both of these young men, Sam and Bryan, in any way I can, and I hope that if you are given the opportunity, you will take it.

And you can: just head over to Al’s blog and sign up as a mentor. I’d hate to see any kids on his list left out of the program.

Peace (in support and encouragement),

Kevin

Twittering Around on 2008-02-15

  • Friday. One day countdown to Feb vacation. Friday. Vacation. Friday. Vacation. (mantra of the day in my head). Friday. Vacation. #
  • Will you haiku? I invite you to boil down a day or your week into a haiku and post – http://tinyurl.com/2pqma6 #
  • @LParisi Lisa, thanks to you for your Haiku — very nice. I release all the writing on Sunday (normally). #
  • @budtheteacher XO Blog? I wanna know more, Bud. I need to crack the little green machine back open and move deeper inside. #
  • Student using MakeBeliefsComix (http://www.makebeliefscomix.com) to make comics about Internet safety (borrowed idea from Cheryl Oaks) #
  • @budtheteacher XO Blog looks good. I posted a little "hello" on the blog for you, Bud, and tossed the blog into my RSS (no one was hurt) #
  • @NCavillones Very nice to see a teacher on cover of Time, and then someone you know … extra special. I liked the first line of article. #

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What to do with Parts of Speech

Glazed eyes often accompany my unit on Parts of Speech and I don’t think it is my teaching style (he says, confidentally). It’s that the concept of how words act within the structure of a sentence is so incredibly abstract for my sixth graders that they can’t connect it with their own base of knowledge. I’m not sure how learning about nouns, verbs, etc, helps them progress as writers. Yet, it is part of what I need to teach, so we do activities (such as using a Nerf Brain Ball as a devise for showing prepositions – I threw the brain ball across the room and hit Mr. Hodgson in the head, etc).

Our final project is to write a short piece about themselves and then use color-coding to identify a set number of Parts of Speech within their own writing. I hope this brings some ownership to them, but I am still not so sure. (They also can do a bonus of writing and performing their own Grammar Rock song, which are still underway).

Here is a student sample of a Parts of Speech project:

Nouns are blue
Verbs are red
Adjectives are yellow
Adverbs are green
Conjunctions are orange
Prepositions are pink
Pronouns are purple
Interjections are brown

Feel free to use my project handout, if it interests you.

Peace (in dissecting our language down to its bare bones),
Kevin

Twittering Around on 2008-02-14

  • Ever get feeling you misunderstood "Snow Day Msg" and there was school and you weren’t there? That was me 5 secs ago. (no worries – no skl) #
  • @budtheteacher (In my pocket?) a rubber band that I took from the three year old, about to zing it at his older brother (payback?). #
  • Tomorrow is Look Alike Day at School (I advise our Student Council) and so all 6th grade teachers will wear ugly Hawaiian Shirts. Cool. #
  • Sugar-infected day with 12 year olds (note: cancel V-Day) + I barked out "quiet" to a cave of cacaphony one times too many (note:need beer) #
  • Almost gave up on Vday dinner due to tiredness (son up in night 3 times! parental result: insomnia) but rallying. Waiting for babysitter. #

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Quickfiction: chapter 4

I was able to write and podcast two more pieces for my ongoing Quickfiction Project during a Pink Eye Sick Day on Tuesday. One story is inspired by a student from years past and the other, by my own experience as a teenager.

Bridge
Listen to story
You wish you had been honest. Instead, there they wait. On the other side of the river, urging you on. Between you and them is this log, a slippery bridge over a raging gorge that barrels down from the mountains to the town below. If you had been honest, and owned up to your fears of heights and crossing these logs, you would not have all five of them staring at you, cursing at you to get moving before the sun goes down. If you had been honest, you would not be frozen here. Immobile. Honesty was never your strong suit, anyway. You think of this as you inch your left foot forward. There is green moss on this tree and the bark is crumbling. This tree has been here for a long time. It has witnessed much in this world and it cares not one whit about your fear. It is only there. Last night’s rains make the bridge even more treacherous. The path seems slick. They’re talking to themselves. One shakes a head and begins moving on. The others look back at you, wave their hands and then, in disgust, follow the path into the darkening woods. You remain, now alone, on the other side of the gap, wondering how this will end. Will you retreat? Or move forward? Your right foot crosses your left. You are leaving the solid world behind but the fear races through you. You can’t do this. You can do this. Voices compete in your head in a battle against the sound of the rushing water. Don’t look down. Whatever you do, don’t look down. They are now long gone. The woods are silent. It’s your decision — move on or go back. Forward or retreat. At long last, your inability to be true to yourself is at hand and you realize that you are not ready. No one ever is.

Test
Listen to story

She had no doubt that she knew the answer to every single question on the sheet in front of her. It had always been this way. The trick had been how to hide it so that others would not know. She glanced down, her eyes following the questions and the answers dancing in front of her mind. 24. A equals 56. Square root. Isosceles Triangle. It would be so simple just to fill in the ovals with the answers and just be done with this nonsense. Yet, she didn’t. She couldn’t. She remembered third grade, when she never even opened the test and instead, she had illustrated a picture of her kitten by using the bubbles as dots that could be connected. It was a very beautiful rendition of Scuttle but the results landed her in the Resource Room for the entire fourth grade. She learned to tune them out. Her teachers. The other students. Her parents. Why? they would ask.Why are you here? they would wonder. Tuning them out made everything so much easier. She was feeling worn out by the game, though, and the question of why had begun to creep into her dreams at night. Why, indeed. And why not? The answer sheet crinkled in her hands. The pencil felt cold. Her mind raced on, finding solutions as if it were not part of her entity at all. As if she were separate from her mind. One-million-twenty-five. Radius of a circle. Flip the diagram and slide it right. Parallel lines. She laughed at the thought of what they would all think if she did this test the way they wanted. If she followed the rules. They would be stunned. No doubt, they would imagine that it was somehow a mistake. Some error of the computer system. They would not suspect a thing. She thought of her cat, all curled up at home in the warmth of her bed, and she started to write.

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

PS — I just posted a piece on data collection over at Ben’s blog collective (he is still looking for writers — how about you?) called Teacheng.Us.

Twittering Around on 2008-02-13

  • @mscofino Hello to Qatar Academy from Massachusetts, USA — where an ice storm has blanketed our universe. Everything is white and ice. 🙂 #
  • @budtheteacher Bud, word processing changed my life and the way I write, too (interesting,eh?). My mind is more in groove with keys than pen #
  • @langwitches I agree. Larry is a terrific resource and his insights into what is helpful for ELL students is crucial. I’m thankful. #
  • Three kids cooped up inside (and two neighbors are on the way) as my wife waves goodbye and heads to her job as a school admin. Lucky me #
  • @speters Greetings to Canada from Massachusetts. It’s a wet, soggy and icy day here. #
  • @chrislehmann Sounds like a real winner. Might have better just to have a handout and allow folks to network, right? #
  • Promised Ben I would contribute to his idea of a collective blog and finally did http://teacheng.us/ — writing about surveys #
  • @alexragone Risk takers are the ones grumpy teachers refuse to greet in hall (fear contamination). Risk takers are the ones kids flock to. #
  • @willrich45 (we must) … encourage our students to be innovators and flexible thinkers. #

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Day in a Haiku (!)

This week’s Day in a Sentence comes from Larry, who has been asking for a little taste of poetry with our words. He suggested that we use a Haiku to write our sentence this week. Let me forewarn you: I won’t be counting syllables, but a typical Haiku is 5-7-5.

Day in Sentence Icon

Here is my Day in a Haiku:

I am not a twit
But I’m taken with Twitter
warm words in winter

Just a reminder:

  • Boil down your day or week into a haiku
  • Use the comment link on this post to add your writing to the mix
  • I will collect and publish them all on Sunday
  • You can always podcast, too. Feel free to email me an audio file through dogtrax(at)gmail(dot)com or provide me with a link. Your voice is important!

Peace (in poetry),
Kevin

Twittering Around on 2008-02-12

  • @coolcatteacher: Liking Twitbin, which allows me to Twitter and follow on side of my browser. New to Twitter, so ease of use is key!! #
  • Home sick with pink eye (drops feel like a meteor shower in my eye socket) and working on some quickfiction stories and podcast — not bad #
  • A few hours in solitary writing confinement — two quickfiction stories and a new song written and produced — now off to get groceries #
  • @NCavillones Snow on the way here, too, and prob an ice delay day tomorrow (or full snow day). Ready for spring. #
  • @roswellsgirl Love the photos of the Beauty/Beast play. Good luck. Reminds me that we need to get moving on our class plays! #

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A Second Place Poem

I found out last week that a poem I wrote during my OnPoEvMo project last year (one poem every month) garnered second place in a writing contest hosted by our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. The poem is about race and prejudice, and trying to investigate why our skin makes us feel so different from others.

Here is the poem and here is the podcast:

Like Birds in Flight

I can’t crawl inside your skin
I’m claustrophobic with the fingers of history wrapped around my neck
and, besides, your black doesn’t fit with my white.
We clash.

Or so I have been told, not in so many words, of course, but in so many looks.
Which leaves us both here with this sense of intense misunderstanding

and missed opportunities that come from rage at the ways of this world.
No one ever told me that you were always the same as me,
with the same dreams,
the same heart,
and you, with your ancestors on an timeline that intersects with mine only in pain and infinite sadness,
you look so different from me — on the outside.
Your black doesn’t fit with my white.

I often wonder how it would be if we had a covering of feathers instead of skin
and you were to become haloed in a rainbow
with hues casting deep shadows that I could just swallow up like worms on a summer day after the storms have cleared away,
filling me whole with experience and reality,
and then maybe — maybe — I could finally feel your light, your strength, your sense of being you.

Just you and nothing more.

Your black would fit with my white.
We would no longer feel tethered by this solid Earth
and instead, as one, we would rise to the clouds on the upward draft of hope
and avoid the fears that keeps us rooted so firmly in our own minds.
I look at you.
I don’t see you.
Instead, I only see skin.

Peace (in understanding),
Kevin

Twittering Around on 2008-02-11

  • @murcha: Yep – vocals are me, such as they are. #
  • 7 degrees outside. Indoor recess? ahhhhhhhhh. #
  • Students busy with Parts of Speech project and I wish we were writing short stories instead (their wish, too). #
  • Darn I think I might have pink eye (which a colleague explains is the best of the sick worlds — you get to stay home but little pain) #

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