Stained Glass and Snowflakes

Stations. The best unkept secret in education.

Snowflakes are hexagonal… perhaps the best kept secret in advertising.

macro photography of snowflake

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

During #DBC50Summer, I followed every author from Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc on Twitter and love being connected to them! One of the funniest authors is easily Denis Sheeran, author of Instant Relevance. His sense of humor pulled me into his book and now I get to enjoy his wit through social media. He created a hashtag to serve as a Public Service Announcement. Snowflakes are hexagons. Really! #Snowflakesarehexagons

The poetry written to the companies along with the photos of his own version of “false advertisement” cracks me up! With those posts, do you know what he did? He made me stop and count the dang sides of every. single. snowflake. in every. single. ad. I see.

Our amazing 8th grade math teachers, Ms. Luce & Mrs. Hawks, and I had already planned to do an extension of a PBL in MinecraftEDU. The students had learned about how linear functions are used to create stained glass windows. They had a guest speaker a few weeks ago who actually showed them how she creates stained glass and students have been creating their own stained glass (by coloring) and figuring out the linear function in slope-intercept form of each line. In MinecraftEDU, students could create a stained glass of their choosing. This could be done by modifying the one they created with linear functions to be “blocky” so it could be built in the game, they could create anything from scratch, or they could look up pixel art and use stained glass blocks or wool to create it.

This gave us two stations in our classes, but we needed a third. I had just discovered that Sprite had six-pointed snowflakes on their product (thanks to Denis’s Twitter PSA) and thought students might have fun discovering which products had “the right snowflakes” on them.

Our third station was a huge hit!

First, students searched for snowflakes in advertising and shared an image they found on a Padlet. Bonus for me: I get to talk about digital citizenship next week and have students determine if this was best practice for using images! (Hint: No, no it was not.)

After finding an image, they read one of the three articles referenced in Denis’s blog post Snowflakes are Hexagons. They were to secretly tell me how many sides every snowflake has and why it has that many sides based on their research.

Upon giving me the correct answer, the students did exactly as Denis suggests in his blog… they created paper snowflakes. There were a lot of octagons, decagons, quadrilaterals, and circles, until finally someone used their resources and googled “How to make a six-sided snowflake.” HA! My principal suggested taking it up a notch further. These paper snowflakes (with the correct number of sides, of course) will be used as decorations for their Winter Dance in December.

Check out a few of their creations that I tweeted out! There are dozens and dozens of hexagonal snowflakes in our media center now!

 

Then, this morning, this kid blew me away!

The MinecraftEDU station turned out pretty fantastic, too! I am currently working to upload the file on my YouTube channel and will embed here when finished, but for now, check out this link to a walkthrough on my Google Drive. (There is no sound.) I was so impressed with what they built in the 25-30 minutes they had available to create. Several came before and after school as well as during their lunch to finish their stained glass pixel art and more have asked to return this week. Students showed one another how to “light up” their windows using glowstone, so when the world turns to night it glows in the most beautiful colors!

I am so proud of the students I serve, and the teachers were blown away by both their stained glass creations and their unique snowflakes. This was one of those times that we got it right. Thank you, Denis for inspiring a way to make learning relevant for our students! This definitely serves as one implementation (I’m sure there will be many more to come) for my #DBC50Summer post on Instant Relevance! I am honored that our 8th grade math teachers trusted me to help create this PBL extension and spur-of-the-moment lesson on snowflakes. I’m looking forward to more lessons like this!

#DBCBookBlogs: The Princes of Serendip

Do you remember your first car? I remember mine, clearly.

Two-toned – dark blue and gray. 1990. Lexus ES250. Power windows. Sunroof. Decent sound system. While this may sound like luxury to some, looking back I can assure you it was not. I went to school with kids from very wealthy families. There were brand new sports cars, new Jeeps, BMWs, Explorers, etc. in our the spaces of our senior parking lot. My car could be heard from miles away, and the rust was showing and paint was chipping off. The fabric of the interior was hanging from the roof of the car. But to this 16 year old, the windows, sunroof, and sound system worked and it had the “L” on the front grill, so it was better than walking.

Why do I start this blog talking about my first car? Because my mom bought the car for me to drive and made me pay every cent of the car back to her. I remember being so angry. She made me pay for the car and pay for the gas to drive it. (She did pay the insurance.) Very few of my friends were made to pay for their car; their parents paid for it and gifted it to them. Not me. Nope. I got a job at a clothing chain and worked to pay for the car and my gas. Mom always told me that I would appreciate the car more if I worked to pay for it.

Allyson Apsey brings us the 58th book in the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line of awesome. (At this point, can we really call it anything other than that? I mean, really?) If you’ll remember correctly, Allyson also brought us book 46 as well, The Path to Serendipity. Her newest book, just released a couple of days ago, shares a powerful message in picture book format. Yep – DBC now has TWO children’s books! The Princes of Serendip joins the family and shows us the importance of pride, kindness, and gratitude. The illustrations are absolutely stunning! The illustrator for this book is Molly Blaisdell, and she did a terrific job with the artistry of the princes and their lessons learned.

princesofserendip

Allyson newest book is her own version of the 16th century Persian tale The Three Princes of Serendip. In the original tale (as much as my limited research could bring up), the King questions his three sons about their readiness to take over the role of king and is proud of their answers. He decides they have completed their formal education and sends them out into the village to discover what life is like there to polish their education through real world experiences. The three princes decide to tell the emperor that they saw a camel on the road based on clues from their trip along the road, even though they did not. They are accused to stealing the camel and are sent to jail. Someone finds the camel, and they are released. When questioned about how they knew about the camel so well without ever seeing it, they share their keen observation skills and the emperor is so impressed that he asks them to stay at his guests.

There are several variations of the story as it has been passed down through generations. Find more information here and here. These could easily be adapted to be more appropriate for younger students, if desired.

Allyson’s tale is about the princes discovery of pride, kindness, and gratitude. It is heartwarming and the perfect social-emotional learning book for any home, classroom, or school! Much like with Dolphins in Trees by Aaron Polansky, I immediately started thinking of ways to use this book in a classroom setting. It opens up so many conversation possibilities as a read aloud option!

  • Why do you believe the King was disgusted with his sons?
  • How would you feel as the King?
  • Why do you believe the author chose those three virtues for the princes to discover?
  • Which of these virtues do you believe is the most important?
  • What other virtue would you have them discover?
  • Create a parable (short story) that teaches the princes about the virtue you chose.
  • How would this story be different if it was set in today’s time?

Some terrific opportunities present themselves to create authentic learning and self-reflection from this children’s book as well.

  • Think of someone (or a people, charity, etc) less fortunate than you. Research the day-to-day problems they must overcome, and create a way to help solve their problems.
  • What unfamiliar words do you see? How can we use the context around them to infer their meaning?
  • Serendipity is defined in this book – why do you believe the author shares the origin of the word?
  • What did formal education look like for princes and/or princesses of the medieval times? Compare this to the story.
  • Compare the original tale (or a modified version of the original for younger students, if desired) to Allyson’s story.
  • How do the pictures enhance the story?
  • Illustrate your version of a modern-day Princes of Serendip.
  • Writing prompt: Do you believe Americans are spoiled? (Reference the USA Today article on the Ryder Cup in Paris, Oct 2, 2018)
  • Do you believe you are like the princes? Why or why not?
  • How do the princes change from the beginning of the story to the end of the story?

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I am certain you have many amazing ideas for incorporating this story into your classroom, home, or school! Please share those awesome ideas on the flipgrid that Andrea Paulakovich and I co-pilot.

Follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #PrincesOfSerendip. The most precious video can be found on Facebook and YouTube of Allyson opening the Amazon package of her book for the first time. It is moving to see an author touch a book they have worked so hard to create, and see and hear the pride as they hold the finished product in their hands. Check out the video below (or click here if you have problems viewing)!

This is the perfect book to purchase your child’s teacher and/or librarian in this holiday season! Here is the Amazon link to purchase The Princes of Serendip.

My girls’ reactions after asking me to read it for a second time, scooting closer and closer as I read each page:

My 5 year old: “My favorite part of the book was when the kids worked hard to cheer up their dad when he was sad. Kindness is my favorite and it means to be really nice to another human. It was really sad that the girl got burned. I don’t like fire.”

My 9 year old: “My favorite part of the book was the whole entire thing. I loved it. Kindness is my favorite because there is kindness inside of us and we can be kind to others. I like that they stop ordering their servants around at the end. I love the illustrations.”

So how will I implement this book? The problem of the Princes of Serendip is that everything was handed to them. They were spoiled. I will allow my students to fail and experience defeat. I will encourage them to get back up and try again every single time. It is only through reflecting on our failures that we learn life lessons. When the students I serve are working through a tough BreakoutEDU game, I watch the frustration on their faces. I see them get agitated as they work through the problems; I see them put down a clue, and eventually pick it back up again. I smile at them as they whine and complain that it’s too hard. Then, we celebrate together as they unlock the locks one by one. The pride in themselves is so evident as I hear squealing and laughter throughout the media center. This is part of my why. Allowing students to fail in a controlled, safe environment and encouraging them to persevere and get back up again, determined to succeed, gives them the resilience to get back up again when the stakes are higher.

I’m so excited to see where the DBC, Inc line goes next! Definitely go to the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc website and sign up for their newsletter, if you’ve not already! From the November eNewsletter, it appears that 2/3 of the Start. Right. Now. crew is coming out with a second book titled Stop. Right. Now. I’m intrigued by what Jimmy Casas and Jeff Zoul have in story for us and can’t wait for it to come out! Several books are being transformed into audiobooks in the near future, so watch for those! If you’ve subscribed to their newsletter, you will also receive #SundaySeven which is super cool!

Finally, my mom was right. I do appreciate things more if I work hard for them. (Don’t tell her I said that though.)

#DBC50Summer 48/50: Sparks in the Dark

I’ve not finished the book. I had to stop reading. So many ideas were swirling in my head that I couldn’t continue without getting part of these thoughts written down. I promise I’ll finish it. Surely, if you’ve been with me since the beginning of #DBC50Summer, you trust that I will uphold the integrity of #DBC50Summer by reading every word of every book. I will finish book 48. But it won’t be tonight. I can’t.

I have decided that Todd Nesloney is my spirit animal. Seriously – the parallels in our educational walk are insane… right up to where he becomes an administrator. I’m going to let you keep that one for both of us, okay, Todd? In previous blogs, I mentioned my journey in education. I was hired after three interviews with the same administrator (two face-to-face and one over the phone) as a fifth grade math teacher on a three-teacher team. I taught math to three sets of 20-22 fifth grade students. I had one small 20-25 minute block of SSR time (self-selected reading or silent sustained reading – pick an acronym meaning) and rarely conferenced with students. Why? Teaching reading was the job of our ELA teacher. Not. My. Job. (I, too, Todd, was wrong.) I used that time to grade papers, conference about Accelerated Math or Superstars Math, or troubleshoot the problems our Accelerated Reader program was having (ugh). It was the most dreaded part of my day, and I didn’t mind letting students know that I hated it. How arrogant I was! Then I transitioned to become a math and science teacher on two-teacher team. After two years of that, I was self-contained, teaching all subject areas in fifth grade. Only then, did I view myself as a reading teacher. How I wish I could go back and change my mindset then!

When former students hear that I work in a media center, I usually receive one of two reactions. A sideways glance and “oh really?” or a flat out “No WAY! I never imagined you in a library!” That’s how bad my disdain for teaching reading was coming across to students. I realize the impossibility of my next statement, but boy do I wish I had Sparks in the Dark by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney (coauthor of Kids Deserve It and author of Stories from Webb) when I was in the classroom!

This beautiful book eloquently states all that is right with reading and writing in the classroom! Every classroom, not just ELA, should be reading and writing daily! With intentionality. When I taught math and when I taught math and science, I should have been incorporating reading and writing. In a math methods class in college, I took a course that required writing every step to a problem in a problem set in paragraph form. We were to explain our chosen problem like we were explaining complex math to a kindergarten student. It was our responsibility to read the responses of our teammates, because we then presented their responses to the class. We wrote, read, and talked… in math. Never once did we draw diagrams unless we could specifically describe those diagrams in paragraph form. It was the hardest class I took in my undergrad coursework, but also the most meaningful. (I never used the information while teaching math, but I should have. Looking back, I realize that I did my students a huge disservice.)

I’m only on chapter 8, but I had to stop and share my takeaways thus far.

Takeaway 1: These fellas have passion for reading and writing in the classroom. Travis and Todd share their own failures, not only with us as readers, but with their students through written word. I had never considered writing for my students. I should definitely try that and see what happens! I did share the #DBC50Summer Explained post with them during media as an introduction to goal setting and reading as a choice. After they read the post, I asked them who the author was. Most had no idea. When I pointed out the URL was from aliciaray.com, several requested time to reread the article (or let’s be real, read it for the first time because they were now invested). Several immediately bookmarked my blog which blew my mind that they would be interested in these posts. I even shared that it was all “teacher-y stuff” but they didn’t seem to mind bookmarking anyway. (If any of you are reading this, hi and I love you! Do you have a book near you?)

Takeaway 2: Students deserve and crave choice and voice in their reading and writing. I have had a revelation in the past 5 years in the media center… I despise reading quizzes and book reports. I hate what it does to students’ love of reading. I’ve watched my own child devour a book and after watching her eyes light up as she tells me about it, I ask her if she’s doing to take a test on it the next day. It’s like flipping a switch. The light goes out. She’s no longer excited about the book. When did we get to that point as educators? Can’t they just read to enjoy reading? When did the enjoyment of reading a book become superseded by a need to reward students with arbitrary kids’ meal prizes or reward trips that parents still have to pay for after their child earned it (many times at the last moment due to peer pressure)? Traditional book reports do the same thing. Having authentic conversations about what a child is reading, giving them the opportunity to discuss their books with their peers… that will create a love of reading. Travis and Todd agree!

Takeaway 3: The quotes… oh the quotes from this book. Whether it’s the quotes from the likes of Penny Kittle, T.S. Eliot, John Maxwell, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, etc at the beginning of each chapter, or the quotes interspersed within the chapter, this baby is full of amazing quotes! Here are some of my favorites:

  • “My reading scores were improving… [but] none of my students were leaving my classroom with a love of reading and writing. Change was necessary.”
  • “Change isn’t meant to be easy. If it were, everyone would love and seek out change.”
  • “When students see your genuine passion and interest, it will pique theirs.”
  • “Reading is part of a well-rounded life.”
  • “I find it exciting to work with children who claim to hate reading because much of the time the problem is they simply haven’t found a book that grips their heart or reaches their soul.”
  • “Providing time for children to read in every classroom shows the students just how important reading is and that, yes, your math teacher reads, too.”
  • “Our children are seeking to be understood while simultaneously seeking to understand. They have questions about current events and the choices that people make…we need to provide a safe space for them to discuss their fears, their worries, their uncertainties.”
  • “Arm us with books. Because the pen is mightier than the sword.”

See… powerful stuff, right? That’s not even close to all I’ve highlighted and written notes beside! What power reading and writing have for our students, and for us! If I’ve learned nothing else from #DBC50Summer, it is that truth. Reading and writing has proven to be an insanely powerful practice, and one that I will continue to pursue now that I’ve found my voice again. I will move from professional development books to middle school books and some young adult and picture books and continue this practice of reading and blogging. I believe it’s important for me to practice what I preach, so I want my students to be able to reference my publishing the blogs to a public audience as a positive example of digital footprint, citizenship, goal-setting, and writing for a purpose.

I have so many ideas of implementation plans swirling that I cannot possibly pick one right now…. and I’ve not even finished the book yet. I just had to stop and reflect! I can, however, share some of the possibilities with you.

  • Little Free Library – Our carpentry class made these for each elementary school three or four years ago and we supplied the LFL with discard books and Scholastic dollar books. I’d love to lead the initiative to create one for each of our middle and high schools this year.
  • Implementing a time in the media center to reflect on books as they return them. What did they like or not like? Should we keep the book in the media center or not? We are just recreating a reading culture at my school and many of the books (especially fiction) are not checked out very much. I have analyzed our collection over and over again, but this time, I will do it with the most important voices – the students’. They will help me decide which books to discard and which books we need to add to our collection through book suggestions.
  • We are doing a book tasting as part of a much larger Project-Based Learning experience next month. Stay tuned for a blog post with epic pictures and step-by-step directions for implementing at your school if you choose to do so.
  • For the first time ever, our students are given full freedom in book selection in the media center. In the past (in elementary school), every book was leveled and students could only check out books on their level. When students arrived at middle school, I do not level books, but I did require that students choose one fiction and one nonfiction book for a total of two books checked out at a time. I’m releasing control (whew – scary, but it’s the right thing for students, so I’m doing it) and allowing students to check out any three books they’d like. Of course, I’m encouraging them to read a variety of texts and to step out of their comfort zone in genres to try something new, but the ultimate decision is theirs.
  • Students are setting their own reading goals this year. Each quarter they are committing to reading “x” number of books before the end of the quarter. We discussed length of books being a factor, reading speed, genre, etc and that every book counted equally. So whether they read a picture book or Divergent, it counts as one book. Because there is no competition between students, only trying to reach your own goal, students were encouraged to create a realistic goal for themselves and share it with me. They then created a flipgrid video that shared their goal and their plan for reaching the goal using the following sentence frame: My name is __(tell your name)__ and my reading goal is to read ___(tell how many books)___ books by October 31. I will reach my goal by ___(share your plan)___. Finally, we will revisit these goals halfway through the quarter, evaluating our progress and at the end of the quarter will share on flipgrid whether they reached the goal and what their next quarter’s goal will be.

There is no reward for reaching their goal other than the satisfaction of reaching their goal and reading tremendous books. There is no consequence for not reaching their goal; we will just make plans for how to reach the goal next time. Finally, there is no quiz, project, report, etc to prove they have read or not read.

Crazy, right? But we’re trying it. Giving them complete ownership will hopefully create a desire to read like never before. Check back in early November for an update on how it’s going. Students had approximately 6 weeks left in the quarter when they created their goal. I am impressed that only 9% of students committed to only reading one book (zero wasn’t an option – they are expected to read something) in six weeks, while 50% of students created a goal of reading 3-8 books in this same time period. That’s an average of a book per week. If my students reach that goal, I will be super pumped! Reading a book per week is a HUGE upgrade from where we are now!

I’m excited to work alongside my administration and teachers to promote a love of reading, writing, and learning in our school. This book is exactly what we need as we partner with our students to create a literacy plan that empowers students to make their own goals and lead the way with reading and writing. It’s going to be awesome! I look forward to finishing the book tomorrow before starting book 49!

In the meantime, go get a copy of Sparks in the Dark and get inspired to implement great changes in your school in regards to reading and writing with purpose and excitement. Be sure to follow Travis and Todd on Twitter at @teachermantrav and @techninjatodd, respectively. Follow the hashtag #SparksintheDark for awesome conversation and ideas to integrate reading and writing into every content area. Check out Todd’s website here and Travis’s website here for more resources, including blogs! The podcast below from Vicki (@coolcatteacher) Davis is an amazing look into the book and the hearts of these two astounding educators! *I highly recommend 10-Minute Teacher Podcast – always! Great resources, conversation, and doesn’t take up a lot of your time. Win-Win-Win!*

Finally, hop over to the flipgrid and share your own story of a time when you saw sparks in the dark! This may be how you create a lifelong love of reading and writing in your school, classroom, or district. It may be a story about a student who finally “got it” and fell in love with literacy because of “that book”. Share with us! Andrea Paulakovich (creator of this amazing flipgrid space and the idea of global collaboration on all DBC, Inc book on flipgrid) and I would love for you to add your thoughts to the flipgrid!

Speaking of book 49 (which I will begin ONLY after I finish the last few chapters of Sparks in the Dark – remember, we’ve established that trust now, yes?)… Sean – it’s time! It’s FINALLY time! I have the best story about my friend Sean, and how we met and mutually connected to Dave Burgess in 2015! I cannot wait to share that story with you when I finally get to read, connect, reflect, and create an implementation plan for his book that released this summer! I’ve been waiting for this moment all summer, Sean! Book 49 is called The Pepper Effect and is written by my friend (and “neighbor”), Sean Gaillard!