Sunday, March 22, 2015

Beware the Ides of March? No way!

First things first: the most awesome thing happened on Wednesday. Our read aloud book The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt is about Holling Hoodhood, a seventh grader growing up in Long Island in 1967 (think: The Wonder Years). Because he doesn't go to Hebrew School or Catechism on Wednesday afternoons, like everyone else in his homeroom, he has an extra study hall with Mrs. Bates, a teacher who Holling is sure hates his guts. It would seem that way as Holling starts his year as Mrs. Bates's errand boy, but when she decides that they should be actually teaching and learning instead of his cleaning chalkboard erasers (Remember that job? Can you believe your kids have never had to do that?!) and her planning events for her Wives of Vietnam Soldiers group, they begin reading Shakespeare together.

At this point in the story (we're a little less than a third into it), I was possessed to stop and tell the Gang about my first experience reading Shakespeare, which was under the tutelage of Ms. Granchelli, my fifth grade teacher at Camels Hump Middle School. We read "The Scottish Play" as a class and I was hooked... and scared out of my wits, not by the three witches, but first by Banquo's ghost and later by Lady Macbeth. Holling and Mrs. Bates happened to start their exploration with The Merchant of Venice, my mom's favorite and, as I had stopped read aloud to quickly talk about "The Scottish Play," I also felt cause to give time to poor Antonio (and even more pitiful Shylock), and then of course crafty Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet... We talked about how the plots of most of today's hit movies and TV shows draw from the Bard's original story lines in some way or another and just how epic it was that, when Bill didn't have the right word, he'd just invent it... along with hundreds of other words and phrases that we use every day (think of him the next time you tell a knock-knock joke, for example).

I have always dreamed of teaching Shakespeare to kids and I said as much. Without any prompting, it was made abundantly clear to me that the Gang has always wanted to learn about this Shakespeare fella. Now I am the happiest fifth and sixth grade teacher in the English-speaking world because we are going to do a mini-unit in April that will feature scene studies of plays of the kids' choice as well as whole-class reads, analysis and interpretation, and probably even a little acting.

I am a happy, happy Gagner. The class decided to use a bit of the money from the Fun Fest to buy some Shakespeare materials for our classroom library and, I'm on amazon right now checking things out! We will start this week with some introductory lessons and activities while we wait for the books to arrive.

In other news, we had Character Dress-Up Day this week as part of the MCS Readathon and this gave Ms. Esterline cause to do some class picture-taking. We were well represented by two of the Three Blind Mice (the third was in Ms. Pierpont's room) and Bilbo Baggins (all seen below, right) as well as the main characters of some pretty epic autobiographies.

I might be a little biased, but I think it's a pretty swell-looking bunch. 
Our class is in good shape for the Readathon, by the way. Last week, we had the highest average minutes per student. We're still a bit shy on participation though, so please make sure you're sending in the signed blue reading log forms on Monday mornings.

We are having a Share Fair for our World War 2 "Crash Course" (aka, mini-unit) Humanities projects on Monday, March 30th from 10:30-11:15am in Room 110. We will be hosting groups of students from other classes to check out the awesome work the kids have done in the past month on a World War 2 topic of their choice. This has been a great way to cover a massive global event in a short amount of time and helps tee up our spring unit without leaving a huge history gap between suffrage and Civil Rights. A parent reminded me that this is a good time to get you all into the room, so please feel free to stop by to see projects if your student works with me for Humanities. If your student works with Mrs. Davey and Mrs. Murray in the "Idea Factory" for Humanities, they will have their small business presentations for you to check out shortly... and those are looking pretty fabulous too!

The class decided to use the rest of the money earned at the super-successful Fun Fest to buy some littleBits circuit board systems for the makerspace. We have a few sets of these snap circuits on loan to us from Lucie delaBruere while she is spending the winter in Texas. After researching the best set, the SCR&P Tech Group recommended to the class that we purchase the Smart Home and Arduino bundle. As part of its weekly SCR&P public communication requirements the Tech Group has been blogging about how to use these and other tech goodies that we have in our makerspace. They are working on making user guides so that these pieces of highly engaging equipment are accessible to everyone in the class. Check out the Tech Group's blog for some updates on this work!

Speaking of makerspace stuff, it has been a while since we passed the hat and, with our first-ever Monkton Mini-Makerfaire coming up later in the Spring (when it actually looks and feels like Spring, hopefully), we'll likely be in need of stuff. If you're like me (first of all, congratulations), you're dying for something to do as you try desperately to avoid accidentally reenacting scenes from The Shining this winter. That means you might be doing a lot of cleaning and organizing and we're still here to take all of your no-longer-needed-but-not-quite-garbage type stuff. Craft materials like hot glue sticks are in high demand, as are other creative materials (clay, string, beads, etc.). Good, old fashioned curiosities of all sorts will equally serve us well (the typewriters were a big hit and members of the Tech Group were actually able to fix a color printer that was donated to us!). Supplies to build things from wood could be useful to some (nails, scrap wood, etc.), and there are definitely a couple of novice soda jerks who could use your plumbing supplies (and spare CO2 canisters) for their makerspace challenge. Old toys are always a hit as are takeaparts with a little life left in 'em. Let me know if you have donations and I can tell you whether or not we can take them off your hands.

The end of the year field trip to Camp Common Ground is all systems go for June 8th and 9th. As was the case last year, Ms. Pierpont and I will look to the students to do the lion's share of the quotidian planning, including food and activities. We will be needing 10-12 chaperones for the overnight and additional help in the kitchen (not requiring an overnight stay). While a formal sign-up will go home eventually, please consider being a part of this awesome outing and let me know if you're interested in playing a supportive role. You will stay in deluxe cabin accommodations with your child and three to four other fifth and sixth graders, likely ones who are at your house for sleepovers and play dates anyways.

I'm psyched to announce the MCS has become the fifth and final elementary school in ANESU to get on board the after school workshop train and we will be offering a pilot of the highly successful expanded learning program model starting next week. Yours truly was called in when the funding was secured for the last-minute orchestration of the workshops and you will be receiving information from the school about sign-ups shortly. One thing I want to stress is that we will be offering Homework Club on Tuesday afternoons, so if homework help sounds like music to your ears, please think about Tuesday afternoons as a spot for your kiddo from 3-4:30pm here at school. Did I mention it's free?? There's no reason to wage homework wars or watch your student struggle with a tricky assignment with this new offering in place, so carpe diem, baby!

I feel like I have tons more to say... At least I did when I was in the car driving over here...

Anyway, I'll think of it. Meantime, Ellen Repstad, middle school principal at Mount Abe, has shared a letter with us to share with you. Please click here to read it and connect with her if you have questions about the upcoming transition events being hosted by the staff and faculty of Mount Abe.

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