Thursday, December 6, 2012

People Posters

They've done it again.  I had an idea for a project to do during our study of The Great Gatsby and after working out the details and bouncing ideas off of my husband, I presented it to my seniors and, admittedly, wasn't sure how it was going to work out.  But I needn't have worried.  The posters were exactly what I envisioned - and then some!

The idea was to have students investigate the history behind some of the biggest multi-millionaires our country has seen, considering the old money and new wealth from Gatsby. Each did a different subject, then had to display their findings on a presentation board. Topics included biography, timeline, assets and fortune, philanthropy, legacy, pictures and a wordle display.

Reflecting on the rubric itself, I will probably make some adjustments considering some posters are embellished with lots of craft materials and others are pretty bare. But there was not lack of effort and interest. It was great to hear students comparing notes, assisting with online work, and sharing materials.

So proud of my kids for being such great guinea pigs.  The slideshow here displays pictures (I apologize for some blurriness!) of the projects and I hope to revisit this next year.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kids and Careers

Pharmacist.  Vet tech.  Auto and diesel mechanic.  Welding.  Nursing.  Culinary arts.  Physical therapist.  Radiology.  Actress. Occupational therapist.  Counselor.  Singer.  Aviation.  Graphic design.  Broadcasting.  Tool and die.

Our seniors have some great career plans.

A representative for a local college visited today and rather than do the typical sales pitch for the particular school, his focus was on getting the kids to continue (or begin!) to think about their post-graduate plans.  His high-energy, fast-paced, incredibly informational presentation engaged all of them today and I hope they left with a better sense of where they are and where they want to go when they are finished at MHS.

  Mark Heaton, representating Baker College Systems from around the state, delivered his annual address to the seniors today.  They viewed statistics about the job market and necessary training or education in 1970 compared to 2012 (above).  The key is that 70% of jobs require some training after high school, but less than 4 years of preparation.  Very eye opening to a society that screams "go to college" as soon as kids are freshmen.  And while a 4-year university may be right for some kids and careers, the point here is that it is not for everyone.  We want our students to be able to consider all of their options, knowing that they do need some kind of preparation for the career of their choice.

He then presented questions to consider as kids think about where they want to go and what they want to do, emphasizing the importance of visiting campuses and taking tours of facilities.  And I reiterate this important piece:  my college choice oh-so-many years ago hinged on WMU and Kalamazoo College and me stepping foot on each campus to get a feel for it.  Meeting the faculty, seeing real students in action, peeking into lecture halls and labs is vital to making a good choice about where one might spend the next several years - and several thousands of dollars!

Of course Baker College and its many campuses and successful programs was a highlight - wouldn't be fair not to promote it!  And some of our kids will probably choose one of the campuses as a place to study culinary arts (Muskegon, Port Huron), truck driving (Mt Clemens), vet tech (Port Huron and others), interior design, accounting, education, and any number of careers in the four hot career fields:  business, medical, technology, and education/human services.  So check it out if it is interesting to you.

Hopefully, the gears began to turn as the seniors continue to complete applications, see recruiters, and field questions about their plans from relatives.  And by May, they should be ready to go!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Family Fortunes

Rockefeller.  Guggenheim.  Vanderbilt.  Kellogg.  Hershey.  Ilitch.  These names may bring to mind empires and vast fortunes as well as chocolate, Frosted Flakes, and the Detroit Red Wings.  Family names and their fortunes have a rich history in America and in the spirit of The Great Gatsby, we've begun to investigate some of them.

Students received the research project plan today and will choose their subjects tomorrow.  Then we'll spend the month of November discovering the families' history, industry, money, and legacy.  Kids will eventually display their findings for others to see.  Initial interest level seems pretty high and I'm anxious to see how this goes. 

As I was putting this project together I stumbled upon a website that absolutely stunned me.  Click here to see true lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Though most of the items are incredibly, ridiculously extravagent, the $1,010 gold-leafed edible cupcake is by far my favorite...and the diamond encrusted heels...and the private island...

So as the days go by kids are getting more and more involved in the lives of Nick, Jay, Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle, sometimes loathing the story and sometimes hating the characters.  Can't wait to see all 3 movies!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Green Lights

We've only just begun reading Gatsby but today's class was pretty good if I do say so myself.  I came across this article from The New York Times.  Kids read through it after a pretty insightful discussion of the American Dream, which, by the way, is still in their consciousness.  I wasn't sure, to be honest, what their concepts would be about this elusive element but it boiled down to money, family, home, and education.  A pretty good list for today's teens.

Once we read the article and discussed its relevance, kids made quick lists of their dreams and goals - anything from passing a test in class today to career plans in the future.  Then they wrote one on a green lightbulb and posted it on our bulletin board.  I must say I was impressed with the variety of dreams and aspirations. The idea is that the green light, in the novel, symbolizes Jay Gatsby's dream of having Daisy and her lavish lifestyle and for the students symbolizes a dream as well.  Maybe a little cheesy but I think it worked!

Friday, October 12, 2012


In the spirit of trying new things this year, I've dusted off my copy of The Great Gatsby and am finally putting into the curriculum.  I've wanted, after a 7 year absence, to get to it in the spring but the year just gets away from me.  So I've rearranged our novels a bit and am determined to share this one with the class. 

We started with a great discussion of social classes in a society, beginning with Janie and Joe from Hurston's novel.  Kids were really insightful about how Janie did not fit in the lifestyle Joe created and did not want to be set apart from her peers and the townspeople.  Then we looked at the different groups of students evident in the building and listed a good dozen or so, deciding where each of them fits and how fluid one's movement among groups can be.  And it is safe to say that the list kids created today has many of the same groups as it did 20 years ago!  Finally I shared with them Ruby Payne's framework for the classes in today's world - poverty, middle class, and wealthy.  It was enlightening to all of us to see the different survivial skills and lifestyle elements present in each of the classes.  Looking at the hidden rules Payne laid out, the middle class seems to be the one to which the majority of us identify. 

So students now have books and reading schedules in their hands.  I'm excited to work through this novel.  There is some great symbolism and an intriguing plot.  Plus a new movie version, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, will be released in December!  Can't wait!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New Tricks for the Old Trade

We are closer to the end of our novel than to the beginning and that's always a great place for me now that we can step back and do some discussion and analysis.  There is enough of the story in place for kids to really have a grip on characters, plot points, motivations and all that literary stuff.  Today's work focused on figurative language. As kids found examples in given chapters, they posted virtual sticky notes.  Below are the links to those bulletin boards.  I used to have the examples written on construction paper and posted around the room but I found this sticky note program and love it.  It seems to be a good way to have kids be accountable for their work, add a little creativity, and use these gadgets as well.  And with the ability to share their work like this, seems I'm covering all the bases.  So readjusting this old lesson seems to have worked.

World Lit 2                     World Lit 3

It was a pretty productive day.  Readers responded to Tea Cake's disappearance and Janie's patience.  Now we're headed to the Everglades. 

Renewed Inspiration

"I love this book so much. I almost read the rest on my own..."

I overheard this from a senior student yesterday morning.  What a great way to start the class!  It was just what I needed to begin the week.  I can only hope that others are also finding that Hurston's novel is worth reading.  We shall see...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It Works

iPad - check. Smart phone - check. Desktop computer - check. Laptop computer - check. Internet connection - check.  Whew.  With all of these gadgets it seems the demands to be "connected" and "linked" is more and more prevalent than I'm comfortable with.  But like it or not, its here and I'm trying to embrace this technology while still maintaining a sense of personal connection with my staff, my students, and myself.  Recent recommendations insist on a personal website to link to attach to our homepage, shared documents to access pretty regularly, virtual staff meetings, and more passwords than I can remember!  So as I grit my teeth and work on one of these tech projects after another, I am encouraged by the results thus far. 

To begin, my seniors will have an online portion of our class and we took the time yesterday to get them registered and enrolled on the Moodle site I worked on this summer.  I'll be darned - there weren't any computer freezes, website crashes, or blinking errors!  And the electronic submissions actually came through as promised.  Maybe this won't be so bad...

Then, in the name of paper conservation, my initial activities at the start of classes are projected to the TV screen rather than consuming paper.  So today's proofreading corrections were displayed so kids to check their work against professional marks and it was impressive I must say.  Made it look like I put a lot of time and effort into it, but in fact I must give credit to the publishing company for the interactive, projectable answer key - thanks Teacher's Discovery!

Finally, this blog itself is becoming more and more enjoyable for me. I began it three years ago and while it chronicles the same class, the entries are different as the students change and new ideas work (or don't!).  So I read through old entries every now and then and it is really theraputic for me.  I hope to get the kids looking at it more this year so we'll see how that goes.

So with a few clicks and templates, I'm finding it isn't that difficult to incorporate and create these pieces, I just have to adjust my approach and make an effort to update and incorporate the various pieces day to day.  And with that, it's off to check the Twitter feed!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Here We Go

It's official.  We're back in session.  Just finished our first pep assembly and while our kids can use a little boost in morale and a lesson in school spirit, it wasn't too bad.  I've got some organization to work on and still need to get in the groove, but all in all it looks like it will be a pretty good year. 

So, here we go again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dust and Deadlines

Bulletin boards are bare.  Book shelves are dusted and reorganized.  Craft supplies are clean and put away.  As I continue to make lists of end-of-the-year tasks and then check them off as my motivation dictates, a few things cross my desk that I try to make note of for next year.  Yes, I know, let's close out this year before working too hard for the next one.  But truthfully, school and my preparations are year long.  And I'm trying to keep tabs on new ways to invigorate myself and my students.  So the folder with "next year's notes" is already pretty full.

Here's a fun website I want to explore more so check it out if you've got some time.  The wake up calls look especially fun!

Back to the sorting and filing...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


They trickle in, one by one, looking as if it's the first day of their senior year rather than their last.  Some are decked out in all their senior garb, flaunting the fact that in two days they will be official graduates of MHS.  Others wander about as if they have no idea where to go - in the building or in their post graduate life.  This is a day that is bittersweet.  And as a teacher, it has been a tough year.  This class, save for about a dozen, is a very jaded group.  Lots of anger, angst, and negativity.  Quick to pass the blame and slow to find motivation.  Regardless, they are on their way to the world beyond our classrooms and some are very ready. 

It is a time for me to reflect, professionally and personally, and take some notes.  There were the lessons and novels that looked great on paper but were awful in real life (no more Things Fall Apart!).  Lots of great class discussions and some that fell on deaf ears and blank faces (1984 anyone??).  The live theater performances we attended were great for those who ventured beyond our small town boundaries.  And connections with particular classes or individual students are always special, though today I realized just what that means.

As the senior pictures and thank you cards cross my desk, I get a bit immune to the tears and sentimentality.  I guess having done this for 12 years, it all begins to look and feel the same.  Just another group of seniors restating the same "I love your class" and "I will miss you" messages that I've heard for over a decade.  Now I don't want to sound callous or ungrateful.  My students are a pretty good bunch of kids and I wish them each the best of luck as they head off into the next phase of their lives (I know, cliche graduation phrase!).  But countless seniors say those things to countless teachers across the state and nation this time of year so it gets a bit generic. Makes me wonder if, as they say, teachers really do touch lives. 

Apparently I did: 
  • One young lady remembered how I offered my slippers to wear during class because her feet were aching in her high heels. 
  • A shy, reserved, nervous young man joined the cast of my drama production and remembered it as one of the best things he's been encouraged to do.  He was also an extra in a recent movie, by the way...
  • Another member of my drama cast reiterated the fabulous friends she made and appreciated the chance to learn some new skills and just cut loose. 
  • My self-motivated independent student helped supervise my freshmen and we shared countless conversations about college courses, moving away from home, and growing up. 
  • Former student/babysitter stopped in to visit just because he missed chatting and catching up (two young children provide lots to share!). 
  • One young man realized I had his bests interests in mind as I strongly encouraged him to go to college up north, but he ultimately chose a local community college with the promise to get out of town in a couple of years. 
  • And several kids mentioned the fact that they appreciated that I "set aside what I am doing" to talk or offer advice. 
So despite the more-than-usual awful days this year, it is nice to think back and know that I did, in fact, make an impression on my kids.  And I hope they'll keep in touch and fill me in on all the fabulous things they on college campuses, in foreign countries, and in industrial cities.  It really was a pretty good year.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Big Brother or No Big Deal?

We're just about done with 1984 and as I continue to share with the kids news articles with an Orwellian or Big Brother feel to them, the reactions continue to be that of outrage and astonishment:

"How can they do that!"

"That's just creepy!"

"They have no right!"

"Are you kidding me!?"
So here's another one I just came across.  We'll see what they say.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cool or Creepy?

Finally! We've made some progress in our reading of 1984.  It was slow going thanks to a research paper and spring break but now we're beyond the exposition from Winston and can move into the more interesting plot developments.  I'm having a tough time, though, convincing my students that things will pick up.  They're pretty bored right now.  But today's writing dealt with a Pennsylvania school district that was sued for remotely activing webcams on student-issued computers, unbeknownst to those students.  That sure sparked some discussion.  Tomorrow I'll share with them a local school district that is eliminating holiday celebrations. 

For now, as far as technology goes, this short video  is interesting in that it brings to light the "predictions" from writers about future gadgets.  What will they think of next!?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Seventh Inning Stretch

OK I'm not a baseball fan by any "stretch" of the imagination but that's where we are at this time - the home stretch.  Only six days and The Research Papers will be turned in.  And while my students are basking on beaches and sleeping late during our spring break, I will be eagerly grading them with red pen and iced tea in hand.  I've been impressed with their work thus far.  First drafts looked pretty good and I'm anxious to see how they turn out.  Other than a handful of students who are a bit behind, I'm confident that the grades should be good and the experience will be worthwhile.  So thanks for making such a great effort and I look forward to seeing your final versions.

In the meantime, we've begun 1984 and, having only read the first nine pages, its already sparking some interest.  I've gathered numerous articles within the past couple of years dealing with technology and government, two major themes of this novel, and after sharing only three of them with the class, the discussions have begun.  My goal is to raise awareness with these teens so they don't end up with mush for brains because the computers, smart phones, GPS devices, and government provisions do everything for us. 

Anyway, as spring time settles in and we think of wrapping up another year at MHS, we've still got a few loose ends to tie up.  So, students, hang in there and tell me what you think:
  • What are your thoughts about the social issue research paper?
  • What's been your favorite novel this year?
  • What classwork did you enjoy?
  • Do you feel you've grown and improved as an English student this year?  How?
  • Do you think you're a bit more prepared for life in college thanks to this course?  How?
  • What might you miss the most about MHS?
  • What advice would you give to students taking this class in the future?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There's no turning back now.  As spring time creeps in the windows and sweaters get pushed to the back of the closet, my students get a whiff of their pending graduation with mixed emotions.  Some are signed up for classes and rooms at their respective colleges, some are still deciding which school to attend, and still others are resigned to jobs at local establishments and delayed career decisions.  It is an exciting season.  Whichever path they choose, they are realizing that this highly anticipated time in their young lives is much closer than they imagined.  The day they began to look to at the start of their freshman year seemed so far off - a whole four years! - and now it is a mere 12 weeks away.  Much like the spring time, with new growth and sunshine, my students are on the cusp of such renewal and rebirth.

But there's still so much to do!

My English students are steeped in their research papers.  Contemporary topics have given them lots to discuss and study.  Reluctant workers seem to have a boost in their motivation, perhaps because of a vested interest in the topic.  Most are staying on track with notes and outlines and independent reading and others have yet to locate one decent piece of research.  Reminders of avoiding procrastination, the importance of personal motivation, and the sheer weight of this paper as far as their grades are concerned fall on deaf ears, I fear.  But, now is not the time to get sentimental. 

I'm excited to see their outlines and first drafts within the next two weeks.  It will give me an idea of whether or not this research paper is still a viable assignment and how to improve it as the years go on.  We've finished Animal Farm and I think the kids enjoyed it overall.  We'll view the film version and build replica farms in our spare time.  Then it's on to 1984.

So no matter how balmy the weather gets and how many buds appear on the trees, we must finish our high school hibernation in order to burst into the new season of our lives with renewed energy, fresh perspectives, and open minds.  Only then can we blossom.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I've done it.  Decided to bring back the social issues research paper to the Senior English curriculum.  After a 6-year absence, I dug out the dusty binder that holds the important paperwork, bought some new writing guides, and began scouring the newspaper and magazine headlines for current topics.  Last week I introduced the project to the kids.  And without too much agony, we've begun.  This week we'll finalize topic choices and then start the individual lessons on thesis writing, note card format, outlining, and so forth. 

And we'll read Animal Farm too!

I've toyed with this idea for a while now and finally decided now is as good a year as any.  And in my geeky English teacher way, I'm excited about it mostly because I feel like sometimes my upperclassmen students really don't learn any new stuff during the course of my class.  Sure they read some great literature that is "new" to them, but as for skills, they pretty much have them already.  I spend lots of time correcting grammar and writing technique, but I envy the teachers that have brand new material for their students.  For example, my second grader is learning to add double-digit numbers for the first time and is learning the nuances of phonics and reading skills.  How cool that her teacher gets to share that brand new information.  And it makes my heart smile to see her catching on and "teaching" me these new ideas.

We went to the Henry Ford Museum yesterday and my kids are enthralled with the bus Rosa Parks sat in.  They insist we sit in her seat and listen to the story.  My daughter chose books about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the gift shop to learn more about the ideas of slavery and segregation.  Tough topics, but wonderful to see her wanting to learn. 

I guess I want some of that for my students.  Teaching skills such as taking good notes, formatting note cards, writing a sentence outline, and putting together a scholarly paper are things that they may not use but once or twice ever again, but at least they will have the knowledge.  Perhaps its a bit selfish to want, as a teacher, something new to do but it can't be a horrible motivation.  And watching their brains wrap around a social issue, formulate an opinion, and find facts to support their argument rather than simply spewing generalizations is fascinating also. 

So we've begun.  Topic choices will be made this week and then the lectures and lessons begin.  Should be an interesting ride.