The man, the legend, the Bard

Pip pip, cheerio kids!

As you perhaps can tell from my greeting, we are about to embark on a transAtlantic journey to the home of the Bard.  Needless to say, I think the Bard is just the bee’s knees, and I’m sure that in no time we’ll all know our onions about the fabulous William Shakespeare.  (Those expressions are British slang.  Can you tell what I’m saying?)

This week, we began our journey with a simple question, “What do you know about William Shakespeare?”


Day 1: The board about the Bard. (Notice someone was bored with the Bard…like my little pun, there?)

On day one we asked ourselves the question:  Do we really need to read Shakespeare in modern day America?  We tackled that idea by interviewing friends, high school graduates, and teachers.  We read Kate Tempest’s poem and watched her video

and read “Why Read Shakespeare”, a speech given by Catholic University professor Michael Mack.  We spent the rest of the week getting acquainted with our dear friend William.  Ultimately we learned quite a bit about the Bard of Avon and the London businessman via a powerpoint, a couple of short videos, some photos, and a few Entrance Ticket questions that allowed some of us to “eat me out of house and home”.  (2 Henry IV, II, i, 74)

This week we embark upon the plays Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.  We’re chronicling our journey on Twitter #354RandJ and #354Macbeth.  Of course, we will celebrate the 23rd of April with a Birthday Bash for the Bard, which this year, also marks the 400th anniversary of his death.  And we are hoping that some of us will be able to make an actual trip across the pond next year to walk in the footsteps of the man, the legend, the Bard.


One of the witches upon the heath. There to meet with Macbeth.


When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.


The valiant captain gives King Duncan news from the battlefield.

What would you like to see and do if you were able to visit the home of the one and only William Shakespeare?


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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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Writing with Mrs. Rombach Reads

Hey Kids!

Through the wonder of blogging, we have found a great new class!  Mrs. Rombach and her readers, whom we have visited a bit in the past, have sent us some prompts so that we can write interactive stories with them.

How cool is that?  (Mrs. Rombach has also shared a very creative and fun method of working on vocabulary, but I will save that secret for another day.  Teachers are required by Teacher Law #65113 not to allow too much fun into any one day.)

So today, we can finish a story that has been started by a member of Mrs. Rombach’s class.  We also get to share prompts with her middle schoolers at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn, Virginia.

So let’s put on our author hats, and get writing!  Perhaps one of us will be the next Graham Salisbury.  You never know what the future holds.


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Happy Mother’s and Father’s Days!


My mom and I; Christmas Day, 1969. I’m riding my horse, Patches.

My mom and I; Mother's Day 2014

My mom and I; Mother’s Day 2014

What will you do this year to let your mom and/or dad know how much they mean to you?  Did you know that Mother’s Day began as a day to spend in church and in writing a letter to your mom, letting her know how much she meant to you?  Father’s Day was begun by a woman whose own mother had passed away and who wanted to honor her dad.

When I was growing up, my dad wasn’t around very much.  He ultimately left our home when I was nine, and he died ten years later.  There were times he was a great dad, but there were lots of times he wasn’t.  My mom really had her hands full taking care of us three children, working as a nurse, keeping the house up, and dealing with my dad.   I think she did a great job.  My brother became an Eagle Scout and is now the CEO for the Boston Boy Scout Council.  My sister and I are both teachers.  We all have our own families and homes.  None of us would have the lives we do if it weren’t for all the sacrifices our mom made for us growing up.


Here are some of my favorite stories about my mom.

When I was about 12, we didn’t have any money for a Christmas tree.  My mother, being the resourceful New Englander she is, got a rusty old saw from the cellar, opened our living room window (which was about 15 feet off the ground), sat with one leg dangling out the window, and began sawing off the top of a pine tree that hugged our house.  She succeeded in getting us a four-foot Christmas tree and in changing the shape of our two-story pine from a triangle to a trapezoid.  She went out to the front lawn where the treetop had fallen, hauled it into the house, set it onto a table to give it some added height, and voila!  Problem solved.  I didn’t love the tree, nor did I love explaining to my friends why we had such a puny tree or why our outside tree had been amputated, but I did love the way my mom took care of us without asking for help or pity from anyone.  She is resilient.

Another time when I was around the same age, we were on a picnic at Castle Island in Boston.  It started to rain, and so my mom put a dish towel on her head and began “running” for the car.  My mom has not really been a runner since she was about five-years-old.  To my junior high way of thinking, she looked crazy, but she was laughing despite the rain, the ruined picnic, and my clear disdain for her dishtowel rain hat.  Even at the time, I still loved the way she laughed at the whole situation, which was beyond her control.  She was able to look at the big picture of our family together, running in the rain, and overlook the fact that the evening did not go as planned.

My mom has taught me a lot by the way she handles adversity.  It is often through adversity that we grow, and guess what?  Without rain, that pine tree next to my old house would never have been able to re-grow, so that today it once again stands two-stories high and is a perfect isosceles triangle.

The house I grew up in.  The pine tree is around the other side of the house, but you can see how high the first floor windows are off the ground.

The house I grew up in. The pine tree is around the other side of the house, but you can see how high the first floor windows are off the ground.

What do you need to thank your mom or dad for?

What is the funniest story you can think of that involves your mom or dad?

How does your mom or dad inspire you?

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We’ve been nominated!

Yay, Kids!  We're nominated!

Yay, Kids! We’re nominated!

Hey Kids and Friends of Kids!

Thank you to our blogging buddies at Huzzah! for nominating us for Best Class Blog!  We are so very excited!  We are hoping that our blogging friends will vote for us by Dec. 15th by clicking on the badge above. After you have voted, check out the other nominees in categories such as: Best New Blog, Best Individual Blog, Best Student Blog- where our own Chrissy has been nominated, too!  Please vote for her as well!- Best Teacher Blog, Best Librarian Blog, Best Administrator Blog, Most Influential Blog Post, Lifetime Achievement and nine other categories.

Since beginning to blog two and a half years ago, we have learned a lot, and we have learned from the best, especially from the folks at Edublogs: Sue Waters and the Student Blogging Challenge.  I always say that I have purchased cars for tens of thousands of dollars and not received one hundredth of the customer service help that we have received from Edublogs for $30 a year.  Here is what makes the support team so great:  they get back to us within hours EVERY TIME!, they often fix whatever problem I am having, they provide very clear directions for a way I can fix my error, they do it all in a polite, positive, and efficient way, and they challenge us to improve our blog with ten weeks of tasks, twice a year.

From the outstanding class blogs we interact with, we have learned how to-

We are so honored to be in the company of these all-around outstanding blogs and the teachers behind them.  Please take a moment to VISIT THESE BLOGS, and the many others who were nominated, and then leave a quality comment for at least one class or one student.  Blogging is all about reading, writing, thinking, learning, and sharing.  Let’s do it!


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Christmas is Everywhere!

Hey Kids,

It’s amazing to me that in our society Christmas has become controversial.  Last week someone I know on Facebook posted a story supporting a name change on a school calendar from Christmas Vacation to Holiday Vacation.  Lots of schools and towns struggle over displaying Christmas trees.  Many businesses are afraid to let their employees say “Merry Christmas” in fear of offending a customer who does not celebrate Christmas.  It is strange that a day that marks the birth of a Man whose sole purpose on this planet was to bring love and peace to ALL people has become, for some, a means to spread division and fear among people.  I want to feel comfortable saying “Merry Christmas!” to people I meet, and I want others to feel comfortable saying, “Happy Hanukkah!” or “Happy Kwanzaa!” or “Happy Ramadan!”   Those greetings mean that one person is trying to share peace and joy with another, not that one person is trying to denigrate the beliefs of another.

I am so very grateful that at our school we can read wonderful literature, written by a very diverse group of authors, that celebrates the joy of Christmas.  We read poems, essays, plays, short stories and informational text all with a Christmas theme.  We have studied these poems, and many others, over the years:

“On a Pallet of Straw” by Langston Hughes, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” attributed to Clement Clark Moore , “The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe, “little tree” by e.e. cummings, “December” by John Updike, and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.  Often we use the lyrics of Christmas songs and carols as poems to analyze and annotate.  “The Grinch” has great metaphors, hyperboles, and alliteration!

I also love to read “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, “A Christmas Carol” (abridged for middle schoolers) by Charles Dickens, and “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” by Francis Pharcellus Church.  We have read and delivered oral presentations about Christmas traditions around the globe and throughout history as well.

All these readings remind me that people everywhere, and throughout history, have celebrated Christmas with good cheer and peace toward men.  That is the legacy of the birth of Jesus.

So to combat some of the “bah, humbug” that is bound to creep into our celebration of the season of light, I share with you songs and stories that remind us the Spirit of Christmas is everywhere.  God bless us, Everyone!

How can you BE THE LIGHT this Christmas?


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And the Eddie goes to…..

Hey Kids,

Do you watch awards shows on t.v.?  The entertainment industry has tons of awards they pass out every year to outstanding performers in many fields.   I can think of the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys, the Tonys, the Golden Globes, the CMAs, the People’s Choice, and the Kids’ Choice Awards right off the top of my head.  Writers vie for the Pulitzer, the Newbery, the Caldecott.  The Nobel Prize recognizes accomplishments in science, literature, medicine, economics, and peace.

Well, don’t you think it’s time that teachers and students get a little recognition?  The folks at Edublogs sure do, and to make sure that happens, they have created their own award:

The Eddie

Use the above link to nominate your favorite blogs, bloggers, and posts.

We would like to give a friendly shout out to our friends at Huzzah!  image

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for nominating us!  We are thrilled and humbled by your kind words.  We would like to let the world know that if it were not for Huzzah, and the intrepid Jan Smith, we are not sure we would have survived our first few months of our blogging adventure.  Huzzah is an inspiring blog with unique concepts, both in content and presentation, in each post.  Not only is it plain to see the creativity, work ethic, and high standards that occur in class on a daily basis, the genuine love of learning that passes from teacher to students kindles the “lighting of the fire” that is education at its finest.  One needs only to read through comments left by students and teacher to see them engaged in such topics as: destination imagination, inquiry questions, back channels, the Dalai Lama, or Glocal.  Very often I have never heard of the words used to describe what the Huzzahnians are doing in their classrooms; I am always impressed not only by the content, but also by the style of communication from Ms. Smith and her students.  All of the students are stellar in the quality comments they write, and we have had multiple occasions to use Faith’s blog and comments to us as an example of truly inspired writing.  Here in Florida, we are learning about writing and blogging from the very best practitioners, who just happen to live 2,727 miles away.

Learning across the miles!

Learning across the miles!

imageWe also discovered some new blogging friends this year.  Mrs. Rombach Reads is filled with excellent book suggestions and cool gizmos and gadgets on this class blog.  My students love the worm on the hook, and like a fish, we have been caught.  This week Mrs. Rombach challenges her students to add 9 items to their student blogs and she offers them tools like Voki and Padlet to help them on their way.  Truly, reading outstanding blogs like this and following the student directions is how I learn to improve my own class blog.  And just look at her clever title to this week’s post, Who Let the Blogs Out?  (I keep singing and adding in woof, woof, woof, woof on my own!)  So fun!  Mrs. Rombach, thank you for helping us learn!

There are SO MANY wonderful blogs out there.  Whenever I can, I travel to blogs, always learning as I go.  My kids are loving discussing Minecraft with Mr. Miller in California.  I still have a goal, which I will get to soon, of adding video to my posts, thanks to the live action window into Mr. Webb’s classroom in New Zealand.  We also got a chance to Skype with Mrs. Emerick’s class, Making Waves in Sixth Grade, last year.  So cool.

In my quest for knowledge, I am also trying to navigate the world of Twitter.  Through this outlet, I have met even more educators and read their words of wisdom on their blogs.  One of my favorite posts was about harnessing the power of social media and was written by teacher Derek Oldfield.  I have also been blessed to meet. via Twitter, Joy Kirr, a plethora of information and, like Jan Smith at Huzzah!, kind guidance and help.

No matter where they are  or what their subject or grade level, these teachers are kind souls who want to learn about and connect with, and help others learn about and connect with, our world.  They are most deserving of their own Award.

Thank you, Edublogs, for the opportunity to share  the wonderful teaching and learning with the world.  Good luck to all the nominees! We’ll be looking for you on the red carpet!

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A Class Act

Hey Kids!

Who is one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Billboard’s youngest ever Woman-of–the-Year, and the youngest artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year?

Taylor Swift discusses books, reading, and writing with students.

Taylor Swift discusses books, reading, and writing with students.

Yes, that’s right.  It’s Taylor Swift, or as my 14-year-old son is known to call her, T-Swizzle.

Out of the respect I have for this artist since watching her Scholastic video Reading Opens a World of PossibleI will call her Miss Swift.

At age 24, Miss Swift has already won seven Grammy Awards.  She has written ALL her own songs.  In fact, she considers writing to be the most important part of her job.

Last week we watched a conversation she had with six individual students, ages 11-15, about writing, reading, and books.  In addition to the students she sat with, Miss Smith also invited two classrooms into the discussion via Skype.

Miss Smith and the students addressed such heady topics as dystopian societies and feminism as well as the current and important topic of bullying, especially appropriate as October was Bullying Prevention Month.   While talking about their favorite books and Taylor Swift’s writing process, the group discussed point-of-view and poetry, and used such terms as metaphor, rhythm and rhyme.  At one point Miss Swift described herself dancing by saying “I look like a baby giraffe learning to walk.”  A simile in action.

The songwriter has been keeping a writing journal since she was 13-years-old.  She spoke about writing her ideas down whenever inspiration hits and retold the story of collaborating with Ryan Tedder on the song I Know Places.  Similar to all writers, Taylor creates a rough draft of the song, her voice accompanied by a piano, on an audio file; she then heads to the studio to polish it by creating a track using background bass and drums.  The finished version stays true to the draft, but is enhanced by the additional work.  Compare this to all writing: rough draft, revision, finished product.  Listen to both versions and the entire conversation by clicking on the photo above.

In her Scholastic conversation, Taylor says, “Books train imaginations to think big.”  She and the students discuss books with impact, which range from Percy Jackson to  Stargirl.  Add your favorite to the board!

Scholastic video-interviewed quite a few other students, teachers, and parents to learn about how their favorite books “open a world of possible”.  Watch and listen to their ideas about books.

On Thursday of this week Usher will also talk about books with Scholastic.  What celebrity would you like to sit down with and have a book chat?  What books would you discuss?  What would you say about your favorite book?

Taylor Swift chats with one of her guests during a Scholastic book talk, Open Possible.

Taylor Swift chats with one of her guests during a Scholastic book talk, Open Possible.

Watching Taylor Swift talk books, reading, and writing.

Watching Taylor Swift talk books, reading, and writing.

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Around the World in 80 Minutes

Hey Kids,

Do you ever wonder what kids do in other classes?

Do they read the same books we do?  Do they dress up in character?


Polyphemus and his Cyclops friends


Jason, the Argonauts, Kings Pelias and Aeetes, Medea, Phineas, and the Harpies

Do they have an 80 minute language arts class?

Do they race to diagram a sentence?

Do they use iPads in the classroom?


Day one of 1:1 iPads


Interviewing each other with our new iPads


Exploring our new technology


When you live in one classroom, it is easy to think that there is only one way to do things.  One of the reasons we love blogging is that we get to step into the classrooms of other kids.  We see new ways of doing things.  Our brains engage in the “what if” scenario.  What if we…


Visit some of our blogging buddies.  Visit their blogging buddies!  Read about their classrooms.  Write them a quality comment.  Ask questions about what they are learning.  Share what you are learning.  Love.  Learn.  Soar.  Pass it on.

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Finding just the right word

Words matter.

Choosing the right nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs allows the reader to understand the message the writer intends.  This week we discussed the importance of the choices we make in writing and speaking.

We watched this clip called “Word Choice” from an old t.v. show, Friends.  

After watching the clip we visualized the idea of using longer, but not necessarily stronger, words with an exercise involving thread, string, and a rope.   Unravelling a very long piece of thread, a medium piece of string, and a short piece of rope, we realized that although the thread was a lot longer than the string and the rope, it was by no means stronger than the other two.  That was the same lesson Chandler and Monica tried to teach Joey, aka Baby Kangaroo, when Joey wrote his letter.  While we want to “sound smart”, too many long words strung together sometimes confuse the meaning.  More succinctly put, longer doesn’t equal stronger.

Look at the three items below.  Which is the strongest?  Which is the longest?  Just because something is longer, it is not necessarily stronger.  Check out this blog post .

Does longest = strongest?

Does longest = strongest?

We also read this short excerpt from our text books:

As a girl wept under a tree, a woman suddenly appeared.  She waved a magic stick.  A vegetable turned into a vehicle.  With another movement of the woman’s stick, the girl’s torn clothing turned into a beautiful dress.  Overjoyed, the girl thanked the woman and rode to the party in a building.

How long did it take you to realize the lines above relate the story of Cinderella?  It took some of the students in our class until the third sentence; some of us needed even more information than that.  Cinderella becomes very unfamiliar when specific nouns are replaced with general ones.  Word choice is important.

We used more household items to illustrate this point.  Is it better to say eating utensil or fork?  Eating utensil or spoon?  Even though “eating utensil” might feel ‘smart’ (think Joey), these longer words are less precise than spoon or fork.

Other times, we really do need adjectives to help us understand what the writer wants to convey.

Popsicle stick, chopstick, tree stick?, drumstick, yardstick

Popsicle stick, chopstick, tree stick?, drumstick, yardstick

What kind of stick is this?  Picturing the  importance of adjectives and nouns

What kind of stick is this? Picturing the importance of adjectives and nouns

While all the items pictured at right are sticks, they are very different kinds of sticks.  It would be extraordinarily difficult to eat with yardsticks or drumsticks, wouldn’t it?  Likewise, measuring distance with Popsicle sticks or chopsticks is equally tricky.  We listed the items as yardstick, drumstick, chopstick, and Popsicle stick. Guess what some students wanted to call the very last stick I showed them?  A tree stick!  After a little laugh, we realized that changing the noun to branch or twig was a better alternative than using the adjective tree with the noun stick.  We tried the same exercise using a paper cup, a measuring cup, and a coffee cup.  Some of us wanted to use mug rather than coffee cup.

Whether writing a letter of recommendation or a fairy tale about a princess, choosing just the right word is an important skill for an author.

Here are 182 Questions to Write or Talk About from The Learning Network with the Ny Times.  Peruse the list and write a response to one of the questions.

Practice your best writing!  Choose your words carefully.

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