What I Notice

DSC_8222Camp Cheerio Last Day

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?

DSC_8236Are you curious?

DSC_8245Will you see beyond what you think you see?

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!

Animals of India

Animals are always fun to see. In India there are animals all around you as you are walking the streets or riding down the road. Some are animals you expect to see and some are unexpected. Snake charmers can be found everywhere. This one was at the Pushkar Camel Fair.

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And this is what it sounds like:

Snake charmer Pushkar Camel Fair October 2014 from Patti Donnelly on Vimeo.

Cows are sacred and wander the streets freely. Early in the morning, cows walk around the village getting the first bread of the day from each family. They are harmless, but watch out for the horns when you pass them in a crowded street!

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IMG_7993 cow by Pushkar Lake

There are many species of birds to enjoy.

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DSC_2719 Rufous Treepie bird Pushkar

Monkeys are probably my favorite. They have such personality. My mom had two monkeys as pets.

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5DSC_3595 baby monkey Pushkar Patti Donnelly

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I love the cows and the monkeys always make me smile, but monkeys and cows together are the best! Sometimes they share and sometimes they do NOT!

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Drinking together

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The cow would like some naan. The monkey is not interested in sharing.

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Camels, camels everywhere at the Pushkar Camel Fair.

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Of course there were horses too.

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The camel symbolizes love. I love my family for sharing the world with me. There is still so much to discover and learn from other people and other places.

IMG_8027 mom and Patti camel Pushkar 40 years later

Don’t Stop December

December, the time for final tests, holiday assemblies, and difficulty concentrating with the anticipation of vacation! I am so proud of all of my students as they worked hard until the very last day of school. Learning happens in many ways as depicted below. I want to give you just a glimpse of some highlights from our last few weeks together in 2014.

Open note tests can be harder than memorizing facts. We used books, iPads, Mindmeister, My Maps (Google), hand written notes, and each other to help prepare for the Wisdom Tales test.

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Instead of our monthly Book Talk in the library, Mrs. Longee did Speed Booking with us. We got to preview many more books and then take time to read as we do every day both in and out of the classroom.

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On Tuesday, December 9th, we participated in an Hour of Code. We explored www.tynker.com and www.code.org to learn the basics of coding. We have the Hopscotch app on our iPads and some students who are already proficient with coding continued projects in higher level programs.

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As we are starting to think about what we want to research for our TED-Ed Club talks later in the year, we learned about Power Pose from Amy Cuddy’s TED talk Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. We are learning about what we see in other people’s body language as well as what we communicate with our own, but did you know you can change your body’s chemistry just by the way you sit or stand? See Amy’s talk to learn more.

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The Egyptian Harvest Festival was a chance to share the pyramids students built and taste Egyptian food. Thank you Ms. Johnson and Ms. Saffo!

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Have you ever wondered what it is like to be eleven years old? Our 5th and 6th graders had the opportunity to view the documentary I Am Eleven by Genevieve Bailey. In addition, we got to Skype with Ms. Bailey. It was three o’clock in the morning in Australia for her!

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Field Day in December? The 5th and 6th graders came out with warm cheer in chilly weather.

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DSC_5354 Brent R. Field Day Long Jump 12-12-14

DSC_5339 Gavin Zura Long Jump Field Day 12-12-14

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We ended our final week with some games. One is called Human Slide Show. Students in this generation still know what a slide projector is if you can believe it! We acted out scenes from our Wisdom Tales unit. There could be no movement, no props, and no sound. The body language says it all! This took collaboration and creative thinking all planned in 15 minutes.

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Another game we enjoy is the card game Blink. In less than five minutes, students are enhancing their active working memory and automaticity. They also learn about their own learning style. This is a fabulous way to take a brain break too. Try it! You will find it hard to stop.

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Finally, I must say again that I am so proud of the efforts, the risks, and the enthusiasm these students bring each and every day. In addition to all of this, I posted over 152 new blog posts that were written by these 6th graders about the experiences illustrated in this post. If you want to find out more about the Egyptian Harvest Festival, Hour of Code, what they have read so far this year for independent reading, or real life examples of morals, use my blog post link www.pdroom212.edublogs.org and click on the student blogs listed to the right. I encourage you to view blogs you haven’t read yet and comments are welcome! It’s almost like getting a real letter in the mailbox. Please remember we value the process of writing and the progress, not perfection. Reflection is important for learning too. You will see just that if you look at one of the first blog posts compared to more recent ones.  If you haven’t read about my travels to India, now is your chance.

~Namaskar~

 

 

I Love India!

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If you read my ‘What I Notice’ post, you are aware of the delight I take in seeing hearts all around me. I do not go looking for them, they find me. It is a reminder to be present and be conscious of what is right in front of me at any given moment. There were many hearts and much love in India, so I will share a few with you.

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Cows are sacred in India. As the sun rises, the local cows go from house to house and are given the first bread of the day. This cow in Jaipur walked by our hotel each morning.

DSC_1129 Jain Temple

Jainism is an Indian religion that values nonviolence towards all living beings as well as spiritual interdependence and equality between all forms of life.  The three main principles of Jainism are Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Anekantvad (Non-Absolutism) and Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness). People who follow the Jain religion have a strict diet where they will not eat anything that harms animals. Some will not eat root vegetables because small animals may be hurt while harvesting. They are also careful not to step on any insects. This heart was outside the Jain temple in Jaipur.

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Do you see it in the barbed wire outside the flower and vegetable market in Jaipur?

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We participated in Puja at Pushkar Lake.Puja is a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to honor and worship deities or to spiritually celebrate an event. We put our rose petals in the holy water of the lake near the end of the ceremony.

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Finally, I found this woman captivating. I wish I could have asked her the story behind her heart. There is so much to love about India!