Research and Remembrance

The final unit of the 7th grade year is a unit of research based on the Holocaust and World War II.  The students turn their blogs into ‘real time’ research papers all the while learning about paraphrasing, source citation and evaluation and of course, writing.

One of the most meaningful aspects of this research project is the inspiration piece assigned to each student on the first day of the research unit.  Each student is given a biography card from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  These biography cards are used by tourists of the the museum and the museum provides them online for teachers.  Each student has a person and about a paragraph of biographical information.

Students will be researching items that spring from this biography piece.  Locations, camps, war involvement, type of death, education, etc.  are just the beginning.  From their initial study of their inspiration person each student creates and posts a topic list.  Once the topic list is posted and an introduction to their inspiration person is posted as well, the in depth research begins.

The topic list may change as students learn more or find themselves drawn down different paths as they study each topic.  This is one of the most popular elements of the blog research; getting to change and develop topics as their interests change and develop.

By and large the biography cards are the most popular part of this research project and students become quite ‘attached’ to their person.  It is for this reason that our project stretches beyond merely research to a form of respect and remembrance as well.

We will also begin reading the staged version of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ in class and discussing that powerful piece.  Students have already viewed a wonderful documentary about the life and survival of Gerda Weismann Klein.  Comparing all the stories of these Holocaust survivors, victims and heroes will be a power flu way to end our school year.

I encourage you to take the time to follow your student’s blog and leave encouragement and constructive feedback.  Choose any students in the class to leave feedback, it makes blogging more fun and much more meaningful!

When the classroom is a stage…We are all Players!

I may have said this before, but this time I mean it.  Really.  It is my favorite unit of the year:  Shakespeare!

Throughout my college and post graduate education I have had a special focus, perhaps love affair, with Shakespeare.  My English Literature course allowed us to delve in to several Shakespearean plays and sonnets.  Then I took a full semester course independent study on just Shakespeare.  Eight years after graduating from college I applied for and received a National Endowment for the humanities grant to study Shakespearean Acting and ancient texts at the Folger Library in Washington D.C.  It was a summer long experience filled with research, writing lesson plans, studying and taking notes from books as old as the 1300’s and even some dueling!  I was able to direct other teachers in scenes from some of my favorite plays and I even had a chance to act on the Folger stage.

Since entering the teaching and directing profession I have had an opportunity to act, direct, or assist in the production of eight Shakespearean plays.  If it were up to me I would direct a Shakespeare every year!  But alas, there are other great authors out there so I have to spread the love around.

I keep my Shakespeare love fed by digging in to a fun unit with my 7th graders each spring.  As a full class we focus on the reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.   We read the play aloud in class and take turns putting the play ‘on its feet’ in small groups in front of the rest of the class; a small stage right there in the classroom.  We share insults and compliments Shakespeare style in order to have fun with the language.  All fear of the language and understand this super hard stuff is gone within a day or two.  I love it!

We also have individual experiences with Shakespeare in the form of literature circles.  The class is reading six difference novels in groups from 3-5 members.  All the books focus on either a Shakespearean play, Shakespeare himself or the Elizabethan era.  We will spend time reading the play together on some days and on other days groups will meet to discuss their reading assignments.

Because Shakespeare said it himself, ‘you can’t have too much of a good thing,’ we will dive in and enjoy this unit together.

I hope to post some fun short video clips as we act out scenes.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow …. updates will continue then.

Teaching is a Team Sport!

The Olympic Games are such a special occurrence that it is hard not to take advantage of the enthusiasm and nationalism in school too.  Both myself and Mr. Dorsey are HUGE Olympic fans, bordering on the obsessive, so teaming up for a unit study seemed like an easy choice.  And boy are we having fun.

In History students are researching countries.  They are learning about geography, cultural differences, famous landmarks and events they specialize in.  We have a medal count board and students are keeping track of the daily totals as new medals are awarded to the countries they are studying.

Math and Science are also involved!  There is so much math and science behind how these amazing Olympic feats are accomplished.  Students are learning about the angels and factors needed for creating the jumps and turns.  They are learning about force, mass and speed as it applies to the sports of skiing, skating and snow boarding.


English class is using the Olympics as a jumping off point for research and writing.  Each student has chosen an athlete and they will learn about that athlete, both past and present, and write a short report to share.  Next week that knowledge will help them to write an Epic based on that athlete’s climb to Olympic greatness.  Daily reports are being presented by pairs of students.  The pairs must evaluate news on line and on air and choose what to report to the class the following day.  With so much great information coming at us narrowing down what we want to share is a big job!  We are also watching some of the emotional and inspiring short documentaries made about places and people associated with the Olympic games.  As we watch students are taking notes, practicing deciphering what the important information is and what format to use to record it.  Good practice for all of us.


Most importantly enthusiasm and energy in the classroom and hallways is running high and the teachers are loving it!  We are hearing discussions of lesson plans continue out the door and on to the lockers.  Students are coming in to the room talking about what happened in their previous class.  It is all very exciting.

Advisory is having fun learning about all previous Olympics and creating IMovies based on the Olympic year and location they chose.  Next week we will begin having some fun in the gym as we try our hand at some of these Olympic events:  sledding (luge), biathlon (scooter target shooting) and speed skating (sock races)- perhaps a bit silly, but definitely fun.


When the games close and it is time to move on we will all be sorry to see them go!Image Image 1

Snow or Not…

Just a friendly reminder to my dear 7th grade students that there is a test on Thursday, February 6.

Quizlet links and an electronic review have been sent out.


I hope I see you on Thursday.  Spend Wednesday writing and reading a bit of poetry.  Post it on your blog site.  Comment on other’s writing.  Enjoy the beauty of mother nature giving you something lovely, peaceful, fun, relaxing and unexpected to write about.


Parent Teacher Student Conferences 1/31/14

I cannot tell a lie.  I often experience conflicted feelings as conferences approach.

1.  I would rather be with my students.

2.  I hope that lots of parents come so the time goes by quickly.

3.  I hope I have time to get a lot of work done (in direct conflict with #2)

4.  I’m worried that there will be conflict and I don’t like conflict.


This year, like so many conferences before, I found the day moving by in consistent rhythm as parents and students came and went. Also a repeat of other conference sessions, I remembered that I love talking to parents and students about student work.  I love advocating for students if a parent doesn’t seem to understand just how hard their child is working.  I love when parent and teacher can form a partnership that will cradle a student with support when that is needed.  I love telling parents that they have great kids.

And for 6 hours on Friday, 1/31, that is what I did.  Formed partnerships and praised kids.  What could be better?

Im already looking forward to the March conference session.

Teacher Field Trip

On Thursday I had the opportunity to travel to Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, MO.  I went as part of the Fine Arts Strategic plan committee.  Our focus was on their arts programs and the emphasis they have on art across the curriculum, especially in grades Pre K – 8.

I was super impressed and why not, they have THREE stages!

They also have some great cross curricular ideas and programs in place at nearly ever level.  Their staff is passionate and engaged.  Their facilities modern, funky, functional.

An example they used of a great project involving art, technology and English was a poetry project.  They described it in detail and I had to smile.  We will be starting that same type of thing next week.  Cross curricular units?  Mr. Dorsey, Mrs. Simkins and I will be team teaching through out the Olympics.

Most of all while I am sure PHS has lovely and hard working students, they weren’t my students and I was glad to be back on campus.

It was fun to talk to so many students at the basketball game Thursday night.  They all wanted to know how my trip was and if I learned a lot.

Brownell is a thriving community from the students through the faculty.  We aren’t afraid to look in the mirror with an analytical eye and we aren’t afraid to look deeply at what others are doing either.  We are a community ready for growth and change and to hold on to what we love about ourselves as well.

It was fun to go.  It was better to be home.

Visiting a 3rd grade science class as they worked on their beetle sleds!

Visiting a 3rd grade science class as they worked on their beetle sleds!

Poetry Workshop

The poetry workshop held Monday, January 20 was a fantastic success!  I have never had so much fun watching my students engage, work and share!  Students listened to 4 poetry presentations, brainstormed together to create a list for a prompt called ‘Assumption Town’ and wrote poems based on three other prompts.  At least 15 students stood to share their writing as well.  And they ate 24 cupcakes, 36 cookies, 4 bags of chips and 2 bags of pretzls.   Thank you parents for our snacks!

Since I believe pictures speak louder, here are some of my favorites.  More are loaded to a gallery in veracross.

Katie Harris shares her Assumption Town poem.

Katie Harris shares her Assumption Town poem.

Laura Lui enjoys sharing her writing.

Laura Lui enjoys sharing her writing.

Boys thoroughly enjoyed John Ratz's poem 'Love Letter to my Mom Mobile'

Boys thoroughly enjoyed John Ratz’s poem ‘Love Letter to my Mom Mobile’

Poetry is…

Poetry is adolescence fermented, and thus preserved.


The biggest problem is people are afraid of poetry, think they can’t understand it or that it will be boring.


Poetry is so vital to us until school spoils it.


Poetry is the hardest thing that there is. It fascinates me, so I want to write more of it.
Steve Earle

We B Slammin’!

Most of my students are probably too young to get this reference, but I couldn’t resist.

Today we spent about 20 minutes viewing youtube performances of Omaha area youth participating in the “Louder Than a Bomb” Youth poetry slam festival.  This is a competition/series of events that allows young writers to present their poetry to an audience and get instant feedback.

We listened to two group pieces:  one about the music industry and the influence of money called ‘Boom Boom Cat’ and one called ‘We are North Star’ about the student body of Lincoln North Star and their talents and dreams.

We heard several individual slam pieces on a variety of topics:  the Treyvon Martin shooting, a love poem to a mom, and the class favorite ‘The New Sexy’ about how being intelligent is the best way to get a date.  The references to Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and Klingon really drew the class in and got some laughs.

On January 20th some of these area  poets will join us in Writer’s Workshop and walk us through the writing process for poetry and perhaps help us think about putting our writing on its feet as well.

In early February we hope for a visit from the Nebraska Writer’s Collective to take our writing just a bit further.

I find myself wanting to write in verse these days and my personal blog has become a bit more poetic.  My inspiration?  Why, my students of course!

Do you QR?

Do You?  Do you know what QR means or what a QR code is?

I have to admit that I didn’t understand these odd little squares for a long time.  They were popping up all over town and I had no idea why!  ( Here I must confess that my cell phone and I live in the dark ages of cellular technology)  Therefore I didn’t have access to using QR codes until I got an iPad.

Still, I thought, no biggie and in fact, perhaps, annoying.

But see, I teach kids. And kids love Apps and tech and QR codes.  New stuff and new ways.

So I have introduced or will be introducing QR codes and RED LASER App as a way to get students started on bell work and test review.

This involves me learning other technologies because the QR code has to lead them somewhere cool and new.

Right now we will be QR’ing (a new verb?) our way to:

Quizlet, our classblog, specific student blogs, spark notes quizzes, grammarly and my favorite- Smithsonian exhibits and quests!

Be sure to check out our blogs so that you too can know where we have been in the QR code world.

Also- I can send you an email with the QR code in it and you can scan to see where we went each day.  Just let me know!

Happy Scanning!