Back in the Swing

A new home

A new place

Hey Kids!

Well, we’ve made it through three full days of school.  So far, so good.

In our two days together, we’ve learned about the people in our class through poetry and song.  We’ve learned about the places in our classroom and in our school where we can find resources to help us develop our minds.  And, we’ve learned about the things that will guide us to success by reading and developing questions for our fact sheets.

By far, I have enjoyed learning about the people around me the most.   What an interesting group!  When asked to describe yourselves with adjectives, you responded with this list: amazing, inquisitive, fantastic, awesome, overachieving, enthusiastic, the best, quiet, hard-working, super, multi-lingual, excited, fabulous, smart, excellent, pretty, responsible, wise, independent, beautiful, ambitious, metalhead, gamer, and cool.  

It is safe to say that the apple does not fall far from the tree.  Your parents are also: wonderful, amazing, awesome, highly motivated, supportive, proud, nice, involved, goofy, good-looking, interested, and ecstatic.  

You have all piqued my interest with your one-word descriptions!  I need to know more!

How did you get to be so inquisitive and enthusiastic?  Did you have a teacher (or parent) who really motivated you to learn and grow?  (Parents are our first teachers.) Tell us about your best teacher.  What did he/she do to help you become the fabulous, smart student you are today?

I know we’re going to have a great  year!

Untitled design

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It’s time to THINK BIG!

Hey Kids!

Here we are THINKING BIG!

Here we are THINKING BIG!


Great news!  Our homeschooling group is officially underway.  August 13th marked our first official homeschooling gathering, a book club meeting to discuss You Have A Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.  by Dr. Ben Carson, a 2016 Presidential contender.  Seven students who are continuing in traditional schools, our four homeschooling students, and three parents met at my home, the site of our summer book clubs for a number of years.


After spending a few minutes engaged in “How was summer?” chat, we passed around this cool rock.


Do you know what kind of rock this is?

Everyone who read You Have A Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G. identified it as an obsidian rock.  This common rock had a profound influence on the life of Dr. Ben Carson.  (You’ll have to read the book yourself, or watch the movie Gifted Hands to find out how.)  We watched a short clip from the film to remind us of the turnaround in Dr. Carson’s life once he started reading two books a week, per his mother’s direction.  Inspired by the movie’s snippets of the G.E. College Bowl, one of the two television programs Ben watched growing up, we discussed the book as we played Jeopardy, a modern day quiz show, with questions from T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G.  

Jeopardy at home.

Jeopardy at home.

Our categories were: Childhood, The Teen Years, Neurology, Life Now, and Think Big.  Here are a few questions our contestants answered:

What is Dr. Carson’s middle name?  (We had lots of discussion after this on what proved to be a very appropriate name for Ben Carson.  God’s hand at work.)

What class did Ben nearly fail in college?

What book does Dr. Carson quote heavily from in T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G.?

In what country is the Benjamin S. Carson School of Medicine?

What does the B stand for in T.H.I.N.K.  B.I.G.?

Have you ever watched the G.E. College Bowl?  See if you can answer any of the questions.  These college kids sure are smart!  (The only one I got was the Friar Laurence question.)

After Jeopardy, and following in Ben’s footsteps as a middle schooler, we had a short spelling bee using words from the book.   The words were tough!  Hence, the brevity of our bee.  Here are a few of the words we tackled: charlatan, omniscient, retrospect, magnitude, and perpetuate.

All this mental activity made us hungry, so we had lunch, some of us continuing to talk about Dr. Carson, his accomplishments, and the first Presidential debate.  When we finished fortifying ourselves, we discussed ways that we can THINK BIG.   We decided to host a community yard sale, complete with lemonade stand, and to donate our proceeds to Heifer, International.  We read through the Heifer, International catalog, deciding what we could buy to help families in need of assistance.  Some of our ideas are: a llama ($150), bees ($30), and baby chicks ($20).

Would you like to join our book club?  If so,  read Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick by September 26th and then log onto Off the Grid to join the discussion!

You can also join our discussion of You Have A Brain by commenting on this post.  As you know, Dr. Carson is running for President.  What criteria do you think are important for our President to have?  Who would you like to see as our next President?  What do you like about this person?

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“Trust thyself”

Hey Kids!

Well, we’re off to another school year, and this time, it will be a bit different since many of us are off to new places.

As some of you may already know, the new place where I will be teaching is totally off the grid.

I first heard the expression “off the grid” when I was visiting Hawaii about ten years ago.  My husband and I were in the back of an SUV heading to a rainforest for a walking tour.  Our guide, a native Hawaiian, pointed out a house set all by itself, behind some trees, about half-way up a hill.   He told us that the house was “off the grid”, meaning that it wasn’t connected to any electricity.  The owner was completely self-sufficient in regard to power.  He also provided for most of his own food and water.   I thought it was pretty remarkable that in this day and age, someone decided to live in a such a self-reliant manner.

My new teaching adventure is similar to that self-reliant, independent man in that I am no longer connected to a school.  This year, I will be teaching a small group of homeschooling students.  Cooper and I will be learning all subjects, with the exception of math, together.  Peter will join us for language arts.  Emmalee, Juliana and Ellie will join us for special events like book clubs, field trips, and curriculum days.  And who knows?  We may find some more friends along the way.

I have taught in a lot of settings: public high school, public middle school, Catholic elementary school, and a detention center for juvenile boys.  I have never been totally on my own before, so this is a new adventure.

Although it is different, and I am a bit nervous, I think I am going to LOVE it!

Joseph Conrad

In honor of our new adventure, I have changed the title and theme of our blog.  Not to worry, though; all our old posts are still here, and currently, so are the links to the blogs of all the students who have not yet graduated.  How do you like the new title and theme?

P.S.  Whose famous line is “trust thyself”?  What is the name of his well-known essay?

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What keeps you going?


“Your attitude is a choice you make.”  I have this quote, and many others like it, in a little book I’ve been keeping since 1991.  I write messages to myself that remind me to stay positive, to be grateful and appreciative, to work hard, and to have faith.   Here are some of my favorite lines that keep me going:

“Life is either a challenge, or nothing at all.”   ~Helen Keller

“Happiness is not something owed you.  Nobody is handed joy on a silver platter.  Instead you make your own happiness, knowing it is an attitude, a habit gained from daily practice.”      ~Denis Waitley

“Positive attitudes are like nourishment to the body and soul.  The right attitude can carry you through the worst days.”      ~Unknown

“Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”   ~Albert Einstein

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”         ~Isaiah 41:10

The beginning of the school year is often a time when we turn over a new leaf or start with a blank slate.  Those idioms mean that we make a fresh start to do things right, to the best of our abilities.  This isn’t always easy though.   By the time we hit week four, which is where we are now, the routine has become, well, routine.  It’s already getting tough to get out of bed on time, to do our homework before watching t.v. or playing Xbox, to exercise after school, to be kind to the kids who annoy us.

Think of Odysseus, lost at sea for ten years after already fighting in the Trojan War for nearly 10 years.  Think of all the difficulties he faced at war, at sea, and even when returning home to Ithaca.  What kept him going?

How can we stay positive when the going gets tough?

In addition to my book of quotes, I can think of twenty-five things that make me happy, that keep me going when I’m starting to sink.

25 Things That Make Me Happy on PhotoPeach (click on link rather than on slide show in order to hear music…little technical difficulty with music)

Generally speaking, it’s hard to make others happy when you’re stuck in a rut yourself; that’s one reason why it’s important to choose to have a good attitude.  It’s like the oxygen mask on the airplane; you have to put the mask on yourself first before you can help others with their masks.  

So think about it……

What keeps you going?  

(Purple makes me happy, too!)  (So does peppy music and the tv show Drake and Josh where the song came from.  I love that show.  It’s so funny!)



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Welcome Back to School, 2014!

This is our third back-to-school video; it’s becoming a tradition!

When I was growing up, my family always went out to eat, frequently at a restaurant called The Ground Round, which gave you baskets of peanuts and popcorn and projected old movies on the wall, on the night before school started.  I loved that!  I also put all my clothes out the night before the first day so I would be ready to go in the morning.   Unfortunately, that was a first day only tradition rather than a daily habit.

Do you have any back-to-school traditions in your family?

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What Do Teachers Do the Week Before School?

Hey Kids!

I bet this has happened to you numerous times in the past couple of weeks.  You are out somewhere with your family, and you bump into someone you know.  This person you know looks at you and says, “Getting ready for school?” with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Well, guess what?  Teachers get this same question all the time, too!

In reality, teachers spend a lot of the summer, not just the week before school starts, getting ready for the next academic year.   Some of us had to move to a different classroom, and just like when people move into a new home, getting organized and making it feel like your own takes time.   Some teachers become students over the summer, taking classes on-line or at colleges.  Lots of us spend lots of time on the computer, researching new educational trends or learning new technology.   We revamp old lessons and create new ones.  We shop for our classrooms.  We design our bulletin boards.  We READ.  Then when school arrives, we kick it up to high gear.

Here’s a photo essay of what we do to get ready for school:

After today, I am just about ready for our first official day of school tomorrow.  I’ll finish reviewing  Red Kayak so that we can play a game in class tomorrow.  Speaking of Red Kayak, did you know that its author, Priscilla Cummings, wrote a companion novel called The Journey Back?  It’s all about Digger’s escape from the juvenile detention facility where he was sent at the end of Red Kayak.  That might make a good book report book for some students.  

And speaking of students, it was great to see so many of you today at our Open House!  I hope you enjoyed getting reacquainted with your classmates and teachers.

What new changes did you learn about today?  How do you feel about those changes?  Do you see any changes in our classroom?

See you tomorrow!


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What is the truth?

Hey, Kids!

On the first Thursday in August, the Odyssey kids met with school board members and a journalist for the Venice Gondolier  to discuss the Newbery Award winning, documentary novel, Nothing But the Truth, by Avi.  (Click on the book to link to Avi’s website.)

Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel

This novel follows a very realistic chain of events as 9th grade student Philip Malloy is suspended from school, purportedly for singing the National Anthem.  Soon, the school board and the national media become embroiled in the emotional issues of patriotism and American values.  Tied up in this incident are the reputation of an English teacher, a political election, and the school budget.   Do you believe everything you read and hear in the news?  Can students be suspended for singing The Star Spangled Banner?  What really happened that day in Miss Narwin’s homeroom period?  Read the book to find out.

School board member Eric Robinson shares ideas with Odyssey 8th graders

School board member Eric Robinson shares ideas with Odyssey 8th graders. Mr. Robinson also offered a $100 prize for our essay contest.


School board member Marilyn Fogerty facilitates discussion about Avi’s novel with 7th grade Odyssey members.


Gondolier features editor Kim Cool and school board member Margaret Wells discuss “Nothing But the Truth” with 6th grade Odyssey members.


Mrs. Gunther and Mrs. Bettley illuminate themes of the documentary novel.


Members of the Odyssey group invited the ECS school board and journalist Kim Cool to discuss Avi’s Newbery-winning book, “Nothing But the Truth” during their summer book club meeting.


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Postcards from Kids!

Yay!  Postcards!

Yay! Postcards!


Hey Kids!

Thanks for your postcards!  To date, I have received 30 postcards!  As you can see, finding postcards in the mailbox is a highlight of my day!

Did you ever watch Postcards from Buster when you were younger?  Not surprisingly, this was one of my favorite shows to watch with my kids.  It’s a spin-off from the Arthur show and series written by Marc Brown.  In his own show, Buster travels around the world with his dad one summer and sends video postcards back to his friends in Elwood City.  The video postcards Buster sends are pretty cool, and a very modern advancement from the original postcard of 1861.  Today I learned that it is now possible to send a QR code on a postcard which will play a video when scanned on an iPad or iPhone.  I think that is something we will have to investigate when we return to school.  Postcards sure have come a long way in 153 years!

As an amateur deltiologist, a.k.a. a postcard collector, I have collected hundreds of postcards!  I have yet to receive a video postcard, but I do have lots of different printed postcards.  Some have original artwork created by the sender; others are photographs taken by the sender. I have one that is printed on a piece of wood.  Most are from the United States, but I have a few from Europe and South America.  We will check them all out when we return to school in the not too distant future.  I am planning my postcard bulletin board so you can see all the places your classmates have ventured during the last 10 weeks.

See you soon!

Sending out some from Rome...
Photo Credit: Storm Crypt via CompfightCreative Commons License


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Welcome Back to School!

Welcome Back to School on PhotoPeach

Hey Kids!
Welcome back to school! I am very happy to see you all again, and I am looking forward to a great year where we will love, learn, and soar!
As you watch the video of our first day at school, listen to the lyrics. How are they appropriate for the beginning of a new school year? How do you feel about the first day of school?

Upside Down by Jack Johnson
Who’s to say
What’s impossible
Well they forgot
This world keeps spinning
And with each new day
I can feel a change in everything
And as the surface breaks reflections fade
But in some ways they remain the same
And as my mind begins to spread its wings
There’s no stopping curiosity

I want to turn the whole thing upside down
I’ll find the things they say just can’t be found
I’ll share this love I find with everyone
We’ll sing and dance to Mother Nature’s songs
I don’t want this feeling to go away

Who’s to say
I can’t do everything
Well I can try
And as I roll along I begin to find
Things aren’t always just what they seem

I want to turn the whole thing upside down
I’ll find the things they say just can’t be found
I’ll share this love I find with everyone
We’ll sing and dance to Mother Nature’s songs
This world keeps spinning and there’s no time to waste
Well it all keeps spinning spinning round and round and

Upside down
Who’s to say what’s impossible and can’t be found
I don’t want this feeling to go away

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Tea Time is always 4 o’clock

Our Mad Tea Party

Our Mad Tea Party

Our Odyssey group discussed The View From Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg, during tea.  We enjoyed tea sandwiches: cucumber; watercress; apricot and brie; and pear, cream cheese and walnut.  Also on the menu were a variety of desserts: petit fours, cannoli, ruggelach, and lemon poppy seed muffins.  Delicious!   After tea, we divided into teams for a rousing Academic Bowl game.  Can you answer these questions?

  • What are the first two letters of the Greek alphabet?
  • Who is baseball’s all-time hit leader?
  • Who was the first Spanish explorer to reach Florida?
  • Who was the first president to live in the White House?
  • What do the acronyms POSH and TIP stand for?
  • How many quarters are in twenty dollars?
  • Who is the father of Jacob and Esau?
  • What is the sequel to Alice in Wonderland?




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