Frances Dowell Visits Durham Academy Middle School

 

 

frances-dowell-10-7-16Photo by Patti Donnelly

What did you read this summer? Sixth graders at Durham Academy Middle School chose one of Frances O’Roark Dowell’s many books to read this summer. The first book I read of hers was Dovey Coe. It is set in Boone, a place I have been many times before. I wanted to read that book because it sounded like it would be about a strong female character mixed with a murder mystery. The way the characters talked in the story made me feel like I was not only going back in time, but also right there with the locals. Read Dovey Coe to find out if Dovey is innocent or not.

The next book I chose to read a few summers ago was Shooting the Moon. The two main reasons I chose this book was my love of photography and the fact that my dad was also in Vietnam. When we listened to Frances O’Roark Dowell share with us yesterday, she too is an Army brat. She, like me, had to move every couple of years, leaving things behind, forcing me to make new friends, and letting some things go forever.

Adults often ask us what we want to be when we grow up. Frances had many things she was interested in or passionate about like drawing cartoons and writing poetry. She even thought about going in to law like her father because she liked to argue. Frances taught at the university level. Following that, she moved to the mountains and pursued her passion. During the day she cleaned houses and she wrote during her free time. Then the story went in a drawer. Life went on.

With the help of a friend, an editor, and many mornings spent writing and writing, Frances now has many books published for young children to adults to read.

When we discussed all of the books we read this summer, we discovered that most of her books are realistic or historical fiction, they are often told in first person, and the main themes are family and friendship. Frances writes about things we can all relate to in some way. One of her new books will be about basketball. If you could choose the topic of her next book, what would it be?

Outdoor Learning @ Camp Cheerio

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Sixth grade began on Tuesday, August 3rd. Six school days went by and then we were off to Glade Valley, North Carolina with about 100 eager middle school students. We dropped our bags in the cabins, ate a delicious lunch, and began our adventure. We got to canoe down the New River, the second oldest river in the world. The cloud cover and refreshing rain only added to the afternoon filled with giggles, surprises, and accomplishments. For some it was getting in a canoe for the first time. For others, it was navigating the rocks and the rapids. Teamwork and the anticipation of what was around the bend got us to our end point.

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One of my favorite challenges was the Vertical Playpen. I was in awe of students who appeared shy or less showy yet persevered to the very top with the encouragement and support of their team. I have so much respect for the student who says he likes to “keep his feet on the ground” yet decided to attempt the climbing wall and was successful.

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One of personal favorites was the hike up, on top of, and down Stone Mountain. For the first time we completed it in reverse this year. Perhaps it was in my head, but it felt easier than beginning with the 1/2 mile, incredibly steep incline we usually tackle.

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A new challenge this year was Fun and Games. You can see part of the obstacle course at the top of this post and we ended with the Slip ‘n Slide.

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From Energizers to campfire stories, each and every individual stepped out of his or her comfort zone and discovered something new. Friendships were forged and renewed. There was laughter. Lots of laughter. We are grateful for this 6th grade rite of passage. We love Camp Cheerio!

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End Hunger

Photos by Patti Donnelly

Photos by Patti Donnelly

My grandfather, Dr. Ralph Cummings, was a farmer from Reidsville, North Carolina. He graduated first in his class at Reidsville High School in 1928. Growing up, he was my grandfather of course, but I always knew he was known for his contribution to the Green Revolution that fed millions of people worldwide. He made the connection between what some North Carolina farmers were facing with what developing countries were up against. He had a vision.

He went from Raleigh, North Carolina to Peru and then developed a system that made it possible to grow crops during the monsoon season while working with the Rockefeller Foundation in India. My grandfather “arranged the first import of high-yielding wheat varieties (developed by his colleague, Dr. Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for that contribution) which transformed India’s agriculture.” Perspectives  The year I was born, he returned to NC State as a professor before heading the international crop research institutes in the Philippines and India. ICRISAT My grandfather received the International Agricultural Service Award from the American Society of Agronomy and the 1988 Presidential End Hunger Award from USAID.

I always wanted to do what he did. I was not sure how, but I wanted to use my knowledge or strengths to change lives. I do not have a green thumb as much as he tried to share his back yard garden expertise. However, even the smallest of acts make a difference. At Durham Academy, we are fortunate to be able to spend time giving back to our community. Yesterday we traveled almost an hour to a field in Fuquay Varina to glean sweet potatoes. The students were told that this practice is thousands of years old. Food was left behind for those who perhaps needed it most. Much of what we see in grocery stores has to be a perfect size or shape. Food is food.

DSC_9414Student gleaning sweet potato left behind from the harvest

We spent almost two hours searching for delicious sweet potatoes that would be trucked to several local churches and a food bank in Durham, NC. One potato, the size of the one pictured above, can feed two people. It takes a team of dedicated volunteers and community members to make this happen. We are grateful to the Society of St. Andrew for creating this opportunity for young and old to give back. http://endhunger.org/ I am not leading an institute like my grandfather, but I am modeling what learning and giving back can do for not only yourself but your neighbor and the world ~ one decision and one person at a time. What will you decide to do with your time and talent today?

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What I Notice

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I’m not sure the first day it started but hearts appear in many forms in my path. Mom and I were going through trunks of family photos this weekend and we found several handmade items from my youth. All of them had hearts drawn on them. I don’t go looking for hearts. That’s the best part. The serendipitous moment when my eyes come across what looks like a heart makes me pause, even for a millisecond, smile, and know in my heart that I am on the right path. I particularly like seeing hearts when I am out running. If nothing else, it’s a bit of a distraction from my the many miles of pounding pavement.

photo-29My rule is I cannot change anything. I take a picture of what I see as it is in that moment.

The heart at the top was revealed as we were loading the bus on our last day of Camp Cheerio with sixth graders. I found out about a close relative’s passing while on this school trip. Was it Rock’s message to me? Was it Cheerio saying that we’d had an incredible trip this year? Was it random? It does not matter. It made me smile. Another cool ripple effect is that friends and family from around the world share hearts with me. A simple gesture that says so much about how we are all connected. Yes, connected with technology, but more importantly, by a human connection. We recognize and validate what other people value, what other people are passionate about, and by kind gestures that warm other people’s hearts.

So as you go about your day, what do you notice? What makes you curious? What gives you pause?

DSC_8235Do you see it in the distance?

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DSC_8249To find the heart of the matter?

DSC_7919Like a four leaf clover, sometimes you find two!

 

Our Heroes

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Photos by Patti Donnelly

Each year we begin a journey of connection, reflection, and heartfelt moments. What I love most about teaching Language Arts to 6th graders is learning with them. A close second is how we can experience reading, writing, speaking, technology, and creativity every single day. Our Hero project is all of that and more.

We return from winter break and begin thinking about a hero. It has to be someone we know and value in our life. As we are brainstorming heroic traits and interview questions, the handmade book making process begins with local artist, Peg Gignoux. The first session is a collaborative effort to paint and pattern as much paper as possible.

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Folding a big, white piece of paper is harder than it seems. There are several steps involving some technical spatial skills.

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Piece by piece, we trust that the from layering random colors, a work of art will emerge. There is no prototype to copy or pencils to sketch. There are scissors, glue, and our memory of a meaningful moment with our hero.

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Now we have to decide how to cut the portal to our heroic scene.

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Peg giving her sage advice

The last step is attaching the front and back cover and gluing in the story.

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Once the books were dry and pressed, Peg displayed them at FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As if the experience wasn’t exciting enough at this point, last Wednesday we came together as a community to share our stories at the gallery. Many heroes walked in not knowing they were the one being honored. Emotions were high and smiles broad.

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Sister honoring brother

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Daughter honoring mother

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Son honoring dad

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Friends sharing a forever moment

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Moments of pure joy!

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Thank you Peg! You are our hero!

Write, Write, Write! Go Lana!

How do you improve your writing? Write. Seems so simple. We hear authors, teachers, and parents share this sage advice. Like anything, practice makes permanent. In 6th grade Language Arts we blog. In other words, we write about experiences in school and in our community. A key part of this process is reflection.

In my 25 years in education, I have seen a transition. When students write on paper, it provides valuable information for me as a teacher. Not only can I peruse the content, the grammar, and mechanics, I can also see how hard a student presses on the pencil or how they use the space on the paper. Whether they ask it out loud or not, there is the inevitable question, “How many sentences do I have to write?”

When we blog, we are learning foundational skills, but we are also treading in new and open waters. What we write is now visible to the world. This is often referred to as an “authentic audience” in educational circles. When students write with digital tools, I cannot analyze the handwriting, but even with spell check, there are spelling errors in first drafts. Writing is one of the most complex skills for students as it combines language, memory, sequencing, attention, and motor skills. In addition, learning a new process with multiple steps for drafting and publishing online is a journey in itself.

I have only been blogging for a few years with my middle school students. I cannot express the thrill and the “YES” moment we experienced when I asked them to read their first post and then read a more recent blog post. Initially, instead of noticing the difference in length or the improvement in handwriting, which is what students usually observe when comparing drafts on paper, they noticed what we want them to see. Smiles widened, eyes sparkled, and pride burst from their chests when they realized that they had become better writers. They improved their craft. This was not about the final product. They noticed how they improved the PROCESS of writing. An added bonus is that they discovered that all of our talk about how to comment online really matters. In other words, specific, meaningful feedback feels very different than “Nice job!”

Last year in 6th grade, Lana wrote a piece titled, Blog Post Progression. She reflected on this experience of looking back at her learning process. She writes, “Recently, I scrolled through all of my blog posts, down to my first one. To be honest, it was rough. I actually started to laugh. I misplaced and omitted commas and made a small handful of other grammar and writing mistakes. I realized how much I have learned throughout the year and how much my writing skills have improved.”

Throughout the year in 6th grade Language Arts, we learn how we learn. We talk about strategies, resources, and what works best for each of us as individuals. Lana writes, “Throughout this process, I learned quite a bit about my peers and myself. I discovered that I actually prefer to write on paper. This is because when I write up a report on a piece of paper or in a notebook, I do not have the risk of the document accidentally getting deleted or getting lost in the midst of my computer or iPad while when I handwrite an assignment, it is my responsibility to protect and not lose it. Some of my peers, though, prefer technology and use cloud-based apps so they do not lose their work.”

Lana concludes, “Despite my favoritism of pen and paper, the blog experience has been a great one. It’s exciting to see my name on the homepage, but even better to see how much my work has improved since the beginning of the year. The blog has helped me become a better writer and I am so glad that Mrs. Donnelly introduced our class to it!”

Lana’s writing experience has come full circle. She indeed has an authentic audience, the world. Her reflection is now published in the March 2015 issue of JAAL, the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy is a peer-reviewed academic journal published eight times per year by Wiley-Blackwell. It is currently edited by Margaret Carmody Hagood and Emily Neil Skinner (College of Charleston). Click here for more information about JAAL  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/%28ISSN%291936-2706/homepage/ProductInformation.html

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To reference the links shared in Lana’s article please visit:

www.pdroom212.edublogs.org

First post by Lana – Camp Cheerio

Last post by Lana – Sixth Grade

Keep writing and reflecting. Keep learning.

 

zSpace Virtual Reality Station

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Day 6 is Club day at Durham Academy Middle School. Mr. Schaefer, Mrs. Schwartz, Mrs. Williams, and Mrs. Donnelly offer a Coding Club where students learn how to use code, write code, and create interactive experiences.

Yesterday, Stephen Allison from zSpace gave us the opportunity to play and learn using a virtual reality station. We got to take apart a motor, hold a virtual butterfly, and see inside a heart.

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“The zSpace System comes with a high definition stereoscopic display. It rendering full resolution images for your eyes and tracking your head movements to create a smooth parallax experience.”  http://zspace.com​
I was curious about parallax. Just in case you are too, here is what Wikipedia reveals: Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines.
 
Students put on the glasses, picked up the stylus, and with minimal guidance from Mr. Allison were able to manipulate the tools with ease. I even got in on the game. We took layers off, labeled parts, and felt the heart beat through the stylus. We could reach out and “touch” the things we were viewing. Of course I inquired about Language Arts applications, and they are in the works. Can you imagine a 3D reading experience?
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To get an idea of what it can do, watch this video: http://edu.zspace.com/resources/how-to-franklins-lab
To learn more go to http://zspace.com​

 

 

TED-Ed Talks- Do You Have an Idea Worth Sharing?

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This year’s 6th graders are currently working on their ideas worth sharing. We want to congratulate our own Durham Academy 7th grader, Casey Carrow, who shared “What is Happening to Trees?” last year in our Language Arts class. Casey believed in a cause, took action, and shared her idea with the world. Please take a moment to watch and comment on Casey’s talk here: http://blog.ed.ted.com/2015/02/20/ted-ed-club-friday-3/

 

 

 

Miniature Painting from Jaipur, India to Durham, NC

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Materials used during our visit and hati (elephant) painted by Elizabeth on our tour

While in Jaipur, we had the opportunity to see the ancient art of miniature painting in action. The brushes have chipmunk hair and are sometimes dipped in paint infused with gold. The artists can only work for limited hours a day as the experience is delicate, tedious, and intense. To learn more about this intriguing art form click here: Rajasthani miniature paintings  (not the artist we visited). I brought home a miniature painting of Ganesh, god of wisdom and learning and the remover of obstacles.

Ganesh Miniature Painting Oct 2014

I shared the hati (elephant), drawn by the artists we visited in Jaipur, with my 6th graders in Durham, North Carolina. Although my students did not use gold for paint, their final creations were spectacular. I believe the artists in Jaipur would be honored to work beside these 6th grade artists!

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Come to room 212 to see the rest!