The Year of the Pandemic March 2020

August 2019

October 2019

November 2019

12-20-19

January 2020

February 2020

3-16-2020

Last day on the middle school campus

Every year I walk to our classroom and this is one of the things I notice. It reminds me of what we go through each school year. We arrive full of summer experiences with a little green. We gain color and wisdom with each day feeling fuller and more vibrant. As we learn and grow, we shed what we don’t need providing more room for new experiences and perspectives. At times we feel cold, drenched, and even vulnerable yet new life appears. We didn’t get to see how our adopted trees changed since March but they did change and that is a given. With that change begins a new cycle come August. We do not know what our days will look or feel like yet but honestly nobody does, ever.

Each day we wake up and ‘get to’ not ‘have to’ throughout our day. While at school we took some things for granted. While at home, we reminisce about what we long for when we were at school. As we return to campus, hopefully, next school year, those same thoughts will pop up. What we need to understand is that we can like one thing and dislike another thing at the same time. It does not have to be all one way or another. To further feel grounded and in a place where we own our own learning, we need to understand what works best for us, how we can leverage our strengths, and how we can strive for improving upon things that are more challenging for us. All the while, we do this in a community, our DA family. We are a part of a larger entity striving for excellence and including everyone who wants to show up on that journey. Yes, we have to show up. We have to decide what we are willing to give, do, and act upon. Each day since March 16th has felt like a mix of a fantasy world with harsh reality. I want to share some moments with you.

We had no idea when we left for spring break we would be learning at a distance

As we approached the end of spring break, we got the news on March 15th  that school will be different.

On Monday, March 16th, I was on the middle school campus for the last time. Teachers met, sitting 6 feet apart, to learn how we would continue learning together.

3-16-20

We were introduced to Microsoft Teams and set up our classes. On Tuesday, March 17th, there were virtual meetings firming up details. I was helping Señor Glass and Madame Moore with a new program at the Bruegger’s near our campus when we got word that the dining area would be closing to the public until further notice. This was getting real.

3-17-20

For a while, I held out hope we would be back together again. At the same time, I looked forward to hearing your voices and seeing your faces when we met online for advisory, classes, and scheduled meetings.

There were many times when I say, “How fascinating!” as I ask you to do when things are not going as planned. Seven days a week, I have checked my laptop before 7am, throughout the day, and again around 9pm to check assignments, give feedback, plan for the upcoming week, and answer questions. Nothing replaces being together, face to face, responding spontaneously but we are fortunate to be together as a learning community during a time when many cannot.

March 2020

One of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, says “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” We had choices every single day during this stay at home, remote learning, pandemic. We chose to show up. All of you know my favorite wisdom tale we read this year has the moral, your own eyes are watching. Ultimately, nobody can make us do something. It has to come from our heart. We learned how compound effect, our daily actions, not only create habits but give back exponential goodness. We experienced this with the plank challenge which was followed up by choosing something to do every single day from drinking water, to push ups, or writing in the planner.

On our classroom door

Plank Challenge November 2019

Think about how many books and pages we read on our own this 6th grade year. We discovered new authors, genres, and new worlds. Our writing improved because we read through a writer’s eyes. Visiting authors shared their wisdom and visiting author, Frances Dowell, wrote stories with you! Artist Peg Gignoux helped us create our own handmade hero books which we will share when we are together again.

Frances Dowell

Handmade Hero Books with artist Peg Gignoux

Think about our I Am statements and our one word this year. We posted our index card with our I Am statements at home and were going to say them to ourselves every morning and every night. How we talk to ourselves as well as others, is powerful.

My one word was Thriving but I am adding self-discipline. In order to achieve my goals, I have to take daily action. I have to choose to take that action and I do it because my own eyes are watching. Ultimately it is up to me to get where I want to go even if I’m not totally sure where I’ll end up. I always learn from others, ask for information, and have an accountability partner to share ideas with. I own my decisions as they guide me going forward. I hope you keep your Life List and refer to it now and then. Add to it, check things off, and remember that anything is possible. It begins with curiosity.

One Word

Camp Cheerio is a rare moment for many reasons but most of all, we get to see what we are capable of while making new friends. After our visit to the Forestry Center, I wonder how our adopted tree on campus is doing now without all of us around? Nasher Museum, Stagville, and the Sound Wall project all bring smiles.

Camp Cheerio August 2019

Nasher Museum, Durham

Forestry Center

Getting materials from the Scrap Exchange to make sound walls for local preschools

Keep reflecting, creating, and sharing on the blog. I was struck by what Cana wrote at the end of her 6th grade year review. She shared, “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, I learned that I don’t like watching problems pass by, but like solving them instead. I am coming up with new ideas to try to help in any way that I can, and consider being an informed citizen very important. I also learned the importance of things I took for granted, like hand sanitizer, the healthcare system, and the true value of friendship, which I used to think was not very important. I have learned many lessons this year, from good and bad experiences alike, had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and made new memories.”

Everyone experienced some kind of loss and some kind of gratitude. This year our oldest daughter got married and a month later, I lost my father.

Jordan, Nicole, and Brynn

October 5, 2019

 

My dad taught me how to tell stories through my lens, my window and my mirror

Jordan is working in the MICU in Charlotte, NC where all of her patients are Covid positive. She makes sure every patient and their family feels heard and cared for.

Jordan

Brynn’s four year experience as an exercise science major at UNCW included two hurricanes and having to leave campus before her senior year ended due to the stay at home order. She’s loved playing soccer her entire life and even gave basketball a try with Coach Harris when he taught at Phillip’s Middle School.  She is excited about beginning PT school at Elon in January.

We have to go about our daily lives differently now with physical distancing and smaller gatherings.

Mrs. D and Madame Moore at Harris Teeter

No toilet paper in sight

We may have to show we are healthy in new ways before coming on campus each day. My husband has to do this for work each day too.

Nick Donnelly

 

There are many times when we wanted to escape our reality as Maggie is jumping and barking to get outside. Think of all of the things you discovered, created, did more of, or let go of because of this experience.

We now have a vegetable garden

And have had time during the light of the day to get outside and move.

 

A friend shared this and I think it rings true now and for always.

 

We are about 6 feet apart here having fun. We can do this!

May 28, 2020

Stay safe, call a friend, write a letter, read a book, be curious and kind…

It’s been fascinating!

 

 

 

 

Decisions, Decisions

How do you make a decision? This is one of the many reasons I love learning with middle school students every day. There is something in that prefrontal cortex! We brainstormed all of the decisions we make from sunrise to sunset. Next, I asked them to think about how a decision is made. Really break it down. What goes on in your head? Here are some of the highlights:

*I make decisions based on how I feel
*Decisions eventually come down to your moral compass
*I go with my gut
*I look at my choices, think of the outcome, what chance is it going to be a good outcome? set mind to the decision I choose
*I think of how it benefits me and others
*If I don’t study Spanish, my mom will kill me so that decision is made
*For tough decisions, I talk with other people and do pros and cons

 

Students get to decide what they read, where to work in the room, and what resources they need to engage in a task.

 

How do you make decisions in your life?

Planksgiving

Click below to see the 6-minute success!

6 minutes Plank dec 2018 IMG_0280-1o3jmg0

 

November 5, 2018, our 6th grade Language Arts class began the plank challenge. We thought it was a good idea to begin planking for one minute and then add fifteen seconds on each school day. In retrospect, we probably should have started at 30 seconds and added 10 seconds each day as the path we chose got exponentially difficulty before we realized the consequences of our ambition decision.

During the first week, everyone gave it a go and we did not think about any rules or guidelines. After we surpassed two minutes, we realized we need to have options and we needed to define what a plank actually is or is not. There are many variations to choose from as seen here 20 ways to plank. The basic forearm plank was the most valued and highly respected. Straight-arm plank was next. That is what I usually moved to after around two minutes. Personally, I have an injury so I did that mostly to protect myself but also because forearm plank is extremely difficult.

After the first week or so, I asked the two classes to guess how long they think I could last. Times were recorded on Post-it notes and displayed as a constant reminder that I had a long way to go. The morning class bet five minutes, forty-five seconds and the afternoon class bet five minutes 30 seconds. Honestly, I had no idea how long I could last. I think three minutes was the longest I have counted in my Orange Theory class, unofficially that is.

The first weekend was a welcome respite. What I knew in my head but did not realize is how important daily, consistent action really is to maintain strength. Monday the 12th with a 2-minute plank was a rude awakening. It felt like I was starting all over again. At this point, most of the class was still going for it and others took the option to read, do a wall sit, or some variation of something as long as they did it each day with us.

The third week was Thanksgiving. We had two days of planking and then we were on our own to keep going independently or not. Once again, I left for the holiday thinking I would at least attempt to plank a minute each day but realistically I planked twice on five days off.

We talked about how this was more about mental strength than anything. After the first minute, sometimes the first thirty seconds, my mind was telling me to quit. I wanted to be done. Why was I even doing this? What got me through was the collective goal, the challenge, and the belief that I could do anything I put my mind to. Questions arose, such as, “How long is it humanly possible to plank?” Looking at the world record, we were not quite so ambitious after all Guinness World Record Plank.

Week four was just painful. It felt like I was so close but yet so far away. Muscles, straining, temperature rising, all I wanted was to be done, to fall to the ground, to have it over with. Monday the 3rd of December, was the beginning of the end. Determined to crush my goal of 6 minutes, I knew I could get there with the collective energy of our class. Each day, the additional 15 seconds felt like minutes, perhaps hours. I tried everything I could to distract myself from breathing in slowly, counting by 10s, to counting specks for light blue on the carpet.

It took 5 weeks, until December 7th, to reach 6 minutes. I was proud of myself and also relieved that it was over. Could I do more? Perhaps. I did have underlying guilt of what felt like giving up. Some students went on to do 15 minutes and in the afternoon class, several got 30 minutes plus! Almost everyone was eager to take on another physical challenge after winter break. Action, compounded daily, brings exponential goodness.

What will you challenge yourself to do daily? Let us know!

 

 

Magic Carpet Ride ~ Teamwork

You are thousands of feet up in the air and have to flip your magic carpet over in order to get home. If someone falls off, you have to start over. I guess if you fall off, you would not be able to start over but you get the idea.

We begin outside on the lower field. Just as we hear the directions, the sky opens up and it begins to rain. Our group quickly escapes to the classroom and resumes the challenge. A flurry of conversation unleashes, bubbling over with ideas that are both practical and impossible. A few people with a plan and a louder voice instigate the process. Feet shuffling, bodies moving, the tarp full of humans sways to and fro. I have an idea! I have an idea! rises above the chatter but is not fully acknowledged by the others. Simultaneously, a solution is emerging from the far corner as the brown becomes silver, inch by inch, followed by a roar from the crowd! We did it!

Reflection is an important part of the learning process. We talked about what went well, what was challenging, and what we might change. Listening to everyone before beginning emerged as a common suggestion to the group.

The next challenge involves a much smaller carpet. All ideas were shared, assessed, and one was chosen. A different approach would be explored. With less space, more thoughts, and some prior experience, the collaborative problem solving began.

Balance, patience, persistence, flexible thinking, and teamwork resulted in a safe flight home. I’d travel with this crew any day!

What If We Give Choices?

 

During the 4th quarter in 6th grade, summer is calling. After a long school day, many students play sports, practice instruments, meet with clubs, get outside, create new things, and hang out with friends. What about homework?

In Language Arts, students are expected to read each night and do a short independent practice assignment. I never assign homework on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Assignments are often posted on Monday for the week so if someone needs some flexibility, they can request it.

What if you have a choice? For the past two weeks, we are choosing what we want to do for homework as long as it’s related to our studies. We brainstormed a list of possible choices and then document what we do each day. At first, some people felt like having a choice was a bit overwhelming. As the first week progressed, more people began to realize that they were getting more work completed, they were enjoying the freedom of selecting an activity, and they felt a bit more relaxed about balancing the workload throughout the week.

Here are some slices of some of our reflections:

“Choice homework was a very different experience for me though in a positive manner. Each day forced me to ask myself: What do I need to do? What do I want to do? What will benefit me?”

“I loved choice homework because we could pick what we felt like doing. At least for me, it unlocked many different learning tools. Being able to choose something motivates people to actually do it.”

“When I do choice homework, it is a different, more free experience. Choosing what to do was the hardest part for me. I had to consider what was going to happen after school, what I would benefit from, and if I wanted to do that. Even though this is hard to weigh out, it proved to be very fun, interesting, and beneficial.”

“This also helped me really start reading and I advanced in the book. I also feel like I am older and I have more freedom. I really liked the experience.”

“I could work at my own pace and be more productive. I like these assignments because I had more flexibility to either change the homework or do more than was written.”

“I wrote a chapter each day for a book I started on Monday. I really enjoyed the nonspecificness of being able to choose homework assignments. I liked how a chapter could be anything. It was MY book and MY homework assignment. Some nights I would write my chapter first thing when I got home. On other nights, I would write before I went to bed. This shows that choice homework wasn’t in any way a burden to me. I usually have an order to the completion of my homework assignments. The fact that I wrote whenever I could is why I like choice homework so much.”

 

What Are You Reading and Why?

I shared with you in class today that I am reading all of these books at once right now. As one of you exclaimed, “Why don’t you just read one and finish it?”

I began with The Hate U Give about two months ago. It’s an intense story. Things got busy in our room with Hero books and other projects, so my own reading time with you diminished. I finished The Mermaid Chair at home and am now reading Small Great Things. I enjoy Jodi Picoult’s books. A few years ago, I got to hear her speak in Raleigh and learned how meticulous she is about researching her topics. I often read before I fall asleep which happens between three and five pages thus resulting in slow progress.

So many of you were excited about Refugee, I had to grab a copy from our library. I read the first chapter and then set it aside. Now it’s been a couple of weeks and I need to start over. Plus, I’m feeling a little pressure as I know others want to check the book out too. A kind soul gave me a gift card so I went to the store to buy a journal and look at books. I walked away with several including Shoe Dog and The Motivation Manifesto. Shoe Dog is fascinating and since it’s the young readers edition, I’ll finish it soon even though I’m a slow reader. The Motivation Manifesto is one I can pick up and read sections at a time without having to remember what came before. I also use that one to journal.

As I shared from the first week of school, I’ve yet to read Little Women. When I was in 4th grade, my mom offered to pay me $5 to read it knowing I never sat still long enough to read a chapter, much less a book. I am almost 50 years old, and despite trying to read it a few times since 4th grade, I can never finish. This will be my year. A friend bet I wouldn’t do it and I am competitive, so I think this will become a reality after all. Not sure if my mom will honor her $5 reward or not.

In our 6th-grade language arts class, some of you have read between 1,000 and 20,000 pages already this year! Please comment below the book you are currently reading along with the author. Please tell us why you chose the book and why you are enjoying the journey. No spoilers, please! Of course, if you’d like to add a few more titles to your list, please do!

 

Creativity

It’s so much more than 6th grade. It’s so much more than Language Arts. One can consume all the knowledge in the universe but what good is that if one cannot create? Read more about what we value at Durham Academy Middle School ~

https://www.thedagraduate.org/blog/2018/3/20/creativity-by-patti-donnelly

Poses and Prose Club

Photo by Patti Donnelly

 

Clubs in middle school are a chance to do something you are curious about, passionate about or if you just want to do something different than your core classes. They vary from basketball/square dancing club to robotics or a sports casting club. In the past, I’ve co-led groups in a Makers Space, Coding, and a Go Girl Club. This year we are doing Poses and Prose Club.

We begin our time setting an intention and yesterday we talked about I AM statements to begin our day. At night, some of us write in a journal of some sort. We used Yoga With Adriene for our Sun Salutations.

Following our Sun Salutations, we each chose something we were drawn to that afternoon. Some read books, some returned to a collaborative writing project, and others worked on a list for our next club. I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks.

Do you have a pose or a routine you can share with us?

 

Reflection ~ Growth Mindset ~ From a Student’s Perspective

 

There are many things I could have become besides a teacher. My four years at UNC Chapel Hill included many starts down various paths including international business, psychology, dental school with an Air Force career, then business school, and finally ending at Peabody Hall in the school of education. As I share with my students, I get to do all of these “careers” as a teacher. I get to learn something new every day. Everyone is on their own path and traveling at their own pace. Sometimes I get to see a moment unfold right before my eyes and more often I hear about that moment years down the road. I am constantly reflecting, asking curious questions, and holding expectations high hoping the leap or extra effort students take brings them confidence and a belief that they are capable of more than they ever realized. Read one 6th grader’s thoughts about how she’s grown as a lifelong learner this year.

During this year of 6th grade Language Arts, I had so much fun learning how to do many new things through our Language Arts class. I definitely felt like I was being challenged in Language Arts, yet the class was still manageable. I feel like I have improved so much from the beginning of the year to now, but I still have so much that I can work on in the future. Here are some of the things I did this year.

I feel like I have gotten a chance to read so much more than I have in previous years because we got to start each class by reading silently. I really enjoyed having that time where I could just focus on what I was reading. I also enjoyed the fact that we got to choose what books we wanted to read because it made reading so much more fun for me when I had the option to read the kind of books that I liked. However, I do need to work on challenging myself in the books that I choose to read and work on expanding the genres of the books I read. I have read 41 books this year and I read an average of 10 books each quarter. Right now, I am currently reading the book Everlasting by Angie Frazier, and I think this book is really different than some of the books I have recently read. I like the sense of adventure it has, which is different from the past books I have read, and there are many plot twists and cliffhangers which keep me interested in the book. In class, we just finished reading the Westing Game, which was a very detailed and complex mystery that was fascinating to read about as the story unfolded. Now in class, we have started reading a book called Call it Courage, and although we just started, I like how the book takes place in a very interesting setting, which is an island in Polynesia. Throughout this year, I have really built and developed a love for reading.

Another thing that I have improved in this year is my vocabulary since we worked used Membean to learn new words. Since we have done a lot of Membean this year as homework and taken many Membean Quizzes, I feel like I have not only expanded my vocabulary but have learned how to incorporate the new words I am learning into my writing. I am still on level two with Membean, and have learned 201 out of the 299 words this year, and although I think I am doing Membean at a relatively slow pace, I really wanted to focus on my accuracy and truly learning the new words. I really like some of the words I have learned, such as implicit or memorandum because I think it is really interesting when I learn the meanings of words that I have heard before in my everyday life.

This year, something new that I have never done before is writing a blog. I think it is such a fun thing to get to write our own blog posts that can be put on the internet for everyone to view. Writing a blog post is one of the things that has really improved my writing because we get to write about things that we care about. Writing on a blog also gives me an opportunity to show some of my personality in my writing. By the third quarter, I had written thirteen blog posts, and currently, at the end of the year, I have written sixteen blog posts. Another fun thing about having blogs is that we can comment on our classmates’ blogs and receive feedback on our own blog posts. One of my favorite blog posts that I have written this year is the one about our Hero Books. I really enjoyed writing about our Hero Books, because I was writing about something that meant a lot to me. There was also so much detail that I was able to include about the process of making our Hero Books. I think our blog posts have really helped me grow and improve as a writer. Here is the link to my blog. http://23mayahd.edublogs.org

One of the other areas where I really grew in Language Arts is grammar. Before I came into 6th grade, I had really struggled with grammar. However, throughout this year, by using iXL, I feel like I was able to improve so much. I have completed all 68 total sections in the 6th grade level of iXL, and am working on the 7th-grade level now. I have answered 5,900 questions in iXL, and I have really spent a lot of extra time trying to improve my grammar. One of the things that I learned doing iXL that was most helpful was learning about commas. Using commas have always been difficult for me because I did not know how to use them or where to put them. After completing the comma section in iXL, I will now be able to use my knowledge about commas in all of my future writing. I have not only learned a lot about grammar but have come to actually enjoy doing iXL and getting to learn all the rules of grammar.

I also had practice setting goals for myself this year by using a calendar in Evernote to keep track of my daily goal. What we did every month was set a monthly goal that we would complete every day. This was definitely a new experience for me because I never really had committed to a written goal like this. I also thought it was cool to have a visual of our progress on a calendar to be able to see how consistently we are completing our goals. One of the goals I am proud that I accomplished was practicing piano for an hour every day. I am proud of this because, at the end of the month, I could really see how much progress I was able to make through the month. I learned from this experience that I can do almost anything if I have the persistence to be able to commit to doing whatever I want to do.

Another thing that is similar to setting goals for ourselves is writing a Life List. At the beginning of the year, we wrote a list of things that we wanted to accomplish in our lifetime or a Life List. Later in the year, we looked at our Life Lists again to see whether we had finished any of our goals for our life. For me, I accomplished only one thing on my Life List which was to read ten classic books. I think this is because a lot of my goals on my Life List were much more long term, and many of them I will not be able to accomplish until later on in my life. However, another one of my goals was to travel to Europe, and I will be able to accomplish that goal this summer because my family is traveling to England. Our Life Lists have really helped give me perspective about what I want to do with my life, and what I can do now to reach my long term goals for my life.

Some of my favorite and most memorable things that we have done this year include our Hero Book Project and reading the Westing Game. One of my favorite things about doing our Hero Book Project was working with the artist Peg Gignoux and learning about so many different art techniques. I really enjoyed getting our books displayed in Frank Gallery, and getting to share the stories of our heroes with other people. I also learned a lot about my hero, who was my dad and became closer to him. By writing about my Hero, I got to be creative in making my book, and I got to write about someone I care about. The Westing Game was one of my favorite novels that we have read in class this year. I really enjoyed the whole plot of the story, and reading and taking notes as the mystery unfolded. The book was very complex, and at times it was difficult to try to pay attention to every detail, but all the details made the book so much more interesting because I could look back upon the book and realize that a lot of the details in the book came together to form the answer to the mystery. It was also fun to draw all the characters in the book in order to get a better visualization of what every character looked like. In Language Arts this year, we really have done so many fun things that I learned so much from doing.

I also faced some challenges in Language Arts this year, and one of the most difficult things we did this year was the Westing Game. Since the book required taking such detailed notes and paying so much attention to every possible clue in the book, I really had to take the time to read everything very carefully. However, despite these challenges I have gained more confidence in myself and my writing abilities through this year. One of the specific things that I feel more confident about is writing nonfiction essays about factual things. Before this year, I do not think I had that much practice writing nonfiction, but throughout this year, I really got the chance to practice writing about what is happening in my life, and about other people. I know that in my future, I will have to write more nonfiction, and the confidence I have gained through writing this year will benefit me in the future.

Despite learning so much this year, there are some things that I would have liked to do differently. Next year, I hope that in class, we will get the chance to watch more movies in class because I really enjoyed watching videos and movies that were related to what we were learning. For me, watching those things was a really helpful way for me to learn. Next year, I do hope to spend slightly less time reading silently in class, because for me, it is easier to concentrate on reading when I am reading at home alone. I also feel like it would have been better for me if I could have the chance to use that time silently reading to be able to get more work done. However, I still think that I do enjoy getting the time to read in class, and I also like the freedom to choose what books I read. This freedom has also helped me enjoy reading more, and also helps me read faster.

I also learned from this year about how it is best for me to learn, and I think one of the things I have improved on this year is with attention. I have really learned about different things that help me focus, such as taking stretch breaks periodically while working. I know that for me, it can be hard to continually focus for long periods of time. I also learned that it is harder for me to accomplish things when I do not want to do them as much, however, I can still finish them. One of the more effective learning strategies for me is to be able to visually see examples of what I am going to do, since I believe I am more of a visual learner, and it is harder for me to do things based on just oral instructions. I can also help improve my performance in class work and homework if I try to tune out other distractions, and although that is hard for me, I know it is something that I do need to work on.

Overall, throughout my 6th grade year in Language Arts, I feel like I have really been able to grow and improve as a person. I have not only developed many new skills but have had fun doing it. I did many things this year that I never thought I would be able to do and have had so much fun learning how to do new things through all the projects and activities we did this year. This year has been especially impactful on my life, because I have truly developed a love for learning, and that is something I will have for the rest of my life.