Thursday, January 19, 2012

I have not told half of what I saw. ~Marco Polo

Hello families--

Believe it or not, yesterday marked the halfway point in the 2011-2012 school year. Where does the time go? . . .

As I stated in my earlier blog, this week we've been learning abo
ut Marco Polo--explorer, merchant, and storyteller extraordinaire. This marks the latest in a series of activities that will be used to complete the students' "Explorers Notebooks." For my 6th graders, the short map activity I assigned is due tomorrow. For grade 5, it will be due at our next class, which is on Tuesday, January 24th. Students, please look at the links below for help in completing your maps. The third link is just cool--it takes you on a visual and auditory journey from Venice to China--how better to understand the great beauty, mystery, and dangers of the Silk Road? In case you're unfamiliar with links, simply click on the "different colored" words below. (They're also underlined.)

This interactive map showing Marco Polo's journey will help you to complete your map activity. You can also look at this map and decide if it is more helpful to you. Color his journey TO China in one color, and his journey HOME in another color.

I encour
age you to visit this National Geographic site and join "explorers" as they recreate Marco Polo's exploration -- tracing his route from Venice to Iraq, Afghanistan, and China. It's a multimedia presentation with video, audio, and photographs that introduce you to the lands and people he encountered. Wicked cool!

Some people who hadn't completed Viking Longships yet had an opportunity to do so this week as well as any other unfinished work in Social Studies. Some people are beginning to falter in terms of completing work in a timely manner. This late work is documented as such and loses points -- ultimately impacting report cards. Now's the time to notice these behaviors and fix them!

For 6th grade, we're finishing Unit 15 in Spelling, Grammar, and Vocabulary. I have to say, some people are not studying for Friday's tests--and a tests are weighted heavily. A word to the wise, guys!

In Language Arts, we're nearing completion of our "B
asic Explanatory Essays"--or, as we call them, B.E.E.s. I used these 5-paragraph essays as a way to continue discussion with my students about what constitutes good paragraph writing before they undertake next week's District Writing Prompt. Elaboration continues to be the greatest bugaboo in both classes. As I continue to stress, words create pictures in the reader's mind, and one cannot create a vivid "picture" without details. . .

Students should be saving ALL their writing on their computers; ask your child to read some of their writing to you. Write stories with them. Read to/with them. (The first teacher that I recall reading to me was my 8th grade teacher, Miss Exley. I still remember the story--it was a book excerpt out of Reader's Digest about the Lindburgh baby's kidnappin
g.) Point is, we're never too old to be read to, and listening to (AND READING) good stories helps build children’s repertoire of active vocabulary, aids in sentence structure, and enhances comprehension. It also provides children with richer, more imaginative/expressive language from which to draw when writing.

Have a good evening, everyone. Stay warm! I do hope you're out there, reading this.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it." Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Families--

In preparation for my lesson commemorating Martin Luther King's birthday (1929-1968), I spent a good part of Sunday reviewing scores of videos outlining the Civil Rights Movement of the '50s and '60s. I found them particularly moving--in part because I recall what it was like living in the deep south from 1957 to 1968. Though I was a young child in 1957 when my family moved there from Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, I vividly remember segregation. I went to a parochial school, and there were no black children enrolled there. Access to public toilets and water fountains was determined by the color of our skin. Black and white children did not live in the same neighboorhoods nor did they often play together in the same streets. As disturbing as those times were for the people who lived through them--their ultimate value has been in reminding us how our country has struggled in defining "freedom" and "equality." Discussing the Civil Rights Movement will be time well spent. Ask your child to tell you about what they learned today.

Students: See how much you learned by completing the interactive timeline found here.


I keep trying to find interesting ways for the kids to learn important concepts in Social Studies--after all, the key to our future is in understanding our past...


So far we have studied what it was like to be an explorer, what these intrepid souls ate and drank (and why), what kinds of diseases often befell them, and how they learned to navigate uncharted waters.

The Viking Age ushered in our study of explorers with a look at Eric the Red and Lief Ericson and taught us what it meant to "go Viking." In addition to being fierce warriors, Vikings were master craftsmen, shrewd businessmen, and fearless explorers. Sleek longboats gave them a technological edge over other seafarers--they opened vast trade networks in Europe and Asia and stimulated political change. Their reputation probably hastened the formation of European nations as people fortified their cities and joined others to defend themselves against Viking raids. Their travels created lasting new societies in Iceland and Greenland and led to the discovery of North America 500 years before Columbus.

AND NOW. . .

The stage is set for discussing a number of fascinating historical figures. The first one on the list is a lifelong storyteller and author of The Description of the World, an explorer who stimulated an interest in the orient. Christopher Columbus owned a copy of his book and studied it closely, even making annotations in the margins, before beginning his journey in 1492 to what he thought would be China.

This week I'll be showing short annimated clips about the life of Marco Polo and the next page of the Explorers' Notebook will be assigned.

Please note: work not completed during class time is to be finished and ready to turn in by the next class.

"Explorers' Notebook" to date:

What should everyone have so far?

1) Life at Sea (Sores, Scabs, and Scurvy)

2) Latitude and Longitude activity

3) What Would You Take To Sea? activity

4) Compass illustration to label and color (great grade-booster, too!)

5) Reasons for Exploration mini-book

6) How Explorers Found the North Star activity

7) Characteristics of an Explorer "Wordle" activity

8) Viking Flip-Book, "Runes" activity, Viking Longship project



We will begin writing a "Basic Explanatory Essay" this week--ask your child to describe how to write one. The format, once learned, will provide them with a "recipe" for creating a good descriptive essay. Helpful information to have! There will be a district writing prompt this month, also, which will provide much needed practice in elaboration.

Check here for information about assignments and due dates. There is much to be done, and keeping up with assignments will allow everyone to be successful.

Thanks for all you do--