Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Assignment for Seniors: Who Are You?

Well, that's a scary question, isn't it? It's one you've had to answer on your college and scholarship apps, and it's one you'll have to answer some day on job applications, too. It's a question that never goes away, really. And your answer will change over time.

Your Advisors and I have been asking you to ponder versions of that question over the last couple of weeks. We made a game of it with the "14 Truths & 3 Lies" and the "Sherlock Holmes Mad Libs" games we've played, and then we've tried to get you think a bit more seriously with the "7 Serious Truths" exercise. Now, I want you to dig even deeper. Some folks say that 

  • You are what you love:  what do you love (to do, to learn, etc)
  • You are what you do: what do you do (when you're not studying, eating, sleeping, or netflixing, etc)
  • You are what you care most about (what is it that makes you happy? what makes you mad? what break your heart?)
  • You are the sum of your past actions (what have you accomplished up to now?)
  • You are your hopes and dreams (who do you want to be? how do you envision your future self?)
  • You are your Google searches (maybe your search history will provide a clue? what are the most interesting websites you've visited recently?)
Write a blog post based on one or more of your answers to the "7 Serious Truths" exercise. It should be at least 500 words long, with at least one photo, taken by you or a family member. It should contain lots of detailed descriptions and interesting examples from your past experiences. It should contain at least one relevant link. Proofread it carefully--and get someone's feedback on it along the way. Publish it between Tuesday, November 22, and November 30. There's a rubric in Schoology. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Flashback: "A Monstrous Manifesto"

A little more than three years ago, my AP Lit class read Catherine Valente's poem "A Monstrous Manifesto" and then decided to perform it for the Upper School at morning assembly. I was glad to help them get ready to do that, and I eagerly agreed to put aside our scheduled curriculum for a few days so they could practice. Their performance was very powerful, and I am still extremely proud of them.

I think the poem is still very relevant today, and you can read about the students' process and their rationale for performing the poem here. They also performed it for the Middle School, which you can read about here.  

What can you do to help others, to be a good friend, to make everyone feel included? 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Walt Whitman and Frankenstein's Creature Walk Into a Classroom...

Walt Whitman. Photo credit: marcelo noah 
via Foter.com / CC BY
My AP students are reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein right now, and, as in previous years, the students' responses to the appearance of Victor Frankenstein's Creature have me thinking. This year, I'm thinking about a poem by Walt Whitman called "This Compost" (published originally with the more evocative title "Poem of Wonder at the Resurrection of the Wheat"). 

In the poem, Whitman marvels at the Earth's ability to transform dead organic matter (including human corpses) into new life. "What chemistry!" he exclaims, "that blackberries are so flavorous and juicy," even though they grow up out of "those strata of sour dead" (lines 31, 37, and 30). The Earth "grows such sweet things out of such corruptions," and "the resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves" (lines 43 and 23). 

Boris Karloff as Victor's "beautiful"
and "hideous" creation (42-3).
Photo credit: 
twm1340 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Victor Frankenstein's act of creation is much different. Although Victor says he had "selected [the Creature's] features as beautiful" from the "charnel-houses," "the dissecting room[,] and the slaughter-house," the result was nevertheless "hideous" (37, 39, 43). 

So what makes one act of transformation (the production of Life from Death) wondrous and sweet, while the other is horrific and disgusting? I think Uncle Walt might have been able to tell poor Victor where he went wrong. 

"Hey, Vic, old buddy, it doesn't matter what bits and pieces you chose to cobble together--your project was doomed from the beginning. Let me tell you why..." 

AP Lit students: Read Whitman's poem and tell me in a comment what you think Walt would have said next! 

And then read, or listen to, this NPR report about a very recent experiment in human DNA editing, which I think Muna I made reference to in discussion. 

Someone, I can't remember who (remind me in a comment) brought up the Creature's vegetarianism, which is discussed at length in Carol Adam's book The Sexual Politics of Meat. You all should read the relevant chapter. [Update (9/29): Take a look at this article, too, as it touches on a topic we discussed yesterday!]

We had a great discussion on Friday--let's keep that trend going!
Look at all those hands up! 

Friday, September 16, 2016

(E11) "Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make"

This year's English 11 class dramatized the poem "To Althea, From Prison" by Richard Lovelace, as an introduction to our unit on Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Here is the video of their performance. They worked hard on choreographing everything smoothly. If you wish, you can compare their interpretation to that of last year's class.

I think they did a really good job! Their next task is to imagine how they would deal with being in prison...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Seeking Wild Orchids" with Ms Ball, Mr Diener, and Mrs Birnbaum

This post is dedicated to Ms Julie Ball, who is now retired.
Thanks also to Tom Diener, Wanda Birnbaum, and Larry Weber.

Once upon a time, former Marshall science teacher Larry Weber used to take some of his colleagues (Ms Ball, Mr Diener, and former science teacher Mrs Birnbaum) on a little expedition to visit a secret patch of Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) right after the graduation ceremony. 

I have heard these tales. Long have I wished to know the location of these Pink Ladies. 

A couple weeks ago, I bumped into Mrs Birnbaum, and she said that we should go see the Slippers, that she was sure she could remember where they were. 

I contacted Ms Ball and Mr Diener, and we all settled on a date. I tried to get Mr Weber to lead us, but he couldn't make it. He did, however, check the spot and tell us that the elusive beauties were, in fact, blooming. If we waited until after graduation, they might well be past their prime. So, on June 7th, after school, Ms Ball, Mrs Birnbaum, Mr Diener, and I made our way to the location.
Tucking pants in socks
To keep out ticks that lurk in
The tall June grass.
As we walked through the woods, we searched the undergrowth. One of the first interesting plants we saw was the Jack-in-the-Pulpit. We ended up seeing many of them.
Preaches to dead trees:
How are the mighty fallen!
As we moved deeper into the woods, each of my colleagues wracked their brains, trying to remember where Mr Weber had taken them so long ago.
Heading for the cedars,
Mrs Birnbaum searches
For Pink Ladies.
Wearing forest colors,
Ms Ball peers into
Memory's deep woods.
Nimble-footed, green-caped,
Mr Diener scans
The undergrowth.
And then, we found them, in among some cedars and (what I think are) black spruce trees.

Tall Pink Lady, with
Slender wings and parasol--
Angel of the bog.
As soon as we spotted one, we saw others, and then even more...
Fragile as paper
Lanterns, these beacons shine,
Leading us onward.
As my wise elders walked on into the woods, trading memories and stories of the past, I paused to take photos of some of the many Slippers we saw.
Ghostly girl, your color
Will deepen each day
Until you, too, fall.
 The soggy ground was littered with fallen trees and branches, making it hard to walk at times. I slipped once--but I'm used to getting my feet wet while hunting orchids. We saw lots of Slipper plants that looked damaged, perhaps by rain. We had to be careful not to step on any of them. 

My three guides through the woods finally led me to a cluster of Pink Slippers, some a deep pink, some still pale and newly-opened. We counted more than a dozen.
Party of 14,
Mothers and daughters,
Dancing all afternoon.
As we explored the area, Mr Diener was naming the other wildflowers we encountered: starflower and bunchberry, while Mrs Birnbaum pointed out a clump of maidenhair ferns. Ms Ball called my attention to a dark hole beneath a tree, a perfect lair for a bog monster.
Lady in the sun,
Showing off for the bees.
--Jack disapproves.
Snapping photos, I started to think about the distant past, about how many orchids must once have grown in places where now there are only roads, buildings, and parking lots. I am always amazed that these gorgeous flowers have survived what we humans have done to their habitat. 

Nodding just a little
Under the ferns:
Afternoon nap.
I also started to think of the future: what will Marshall be like, without Mrs Ball? A year from now, will we gather again in this spot, to visit the Ladies, to trade stories and share secrets?
A warning to all
Who enter this bog:
Keep our secrets, or else!
I know I am very grateful that my colleagues (current and former) agreed to show me this special place. 

I suggested that we should all write haikus to accompany this post. (Perhaps Mr Diener and Mrs Birnbaum will add some poetic comments?) Mrs Ball wrote a poem, and I took a photo of it. (I'll hang the original in my room.) 
Ms Ball's poem
For this sweet afternoon,
Much thanks, Ms Ball.
May there be many more.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

SoundCite: Wait Till Mr Mattson Learns About This!

--Actually, I think SoundCite is pretty cool, too. 

All of my students are working on projects now (E11 students are working on reforming Shawshank State Prison, while AP Lit students and E12 students are creating websites based on their study of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried). And you all should try to use a SoundCite clip in your projects. Below is an example of a SoundCite I created. 

One of my many favorite poems by the WWI poet Wilfred Owen is "Anthem for Doomed Youth." The poem has been set to music many times, and a group called LiTTLe MACHiNe (they specialize in setting poetry to music) included the poem, along with one by Siegfried Sassoon, in a nice piece you can hear on SoundCloud Listen to the first lines. (Just click on that "play" icon.) Isn't that smooth? Give SoundCite a try in your project. [Also take a look at this post for similar tools you can use with your projects.]

Sunday, February 28, 2016

This is What a Mission-Based Student-Centered School Culture Looks Like

To quote Max H and his Student Council Meeting notes of last week, "You may have heard of the 'Note.'" If you were in Ms Stiles' class last week, or in Mr Mattson's, or in Doc Weaver's, or in Senor Woodward's, then you may have discussed it. --And, of course, Riley H (or the Artist, as Max calls her) posted a great response to it on Schoology. 
Riley's artwork, created in response to Senor Woodward's assignment.
Senor Woodward's description of the assignment
As Senor says, Riley's work proved without a doubt that art challenges cultural perspectives. 
Riley's response to the note-writer.

The responses on Schoology, as of this morning.
When the Administration tells you that it wants Marshall students to "own" the school's culture, this is what they're talking about. When something happens that is inconsistent with our Mission, they want you to call it out, as Riley did. 

The writer of the "Note" was neither respectful, nor self-disciplined, nor compassionate. There is little integrity in an anonymous note. There might have been some intellectual curiosity in the "Note," but that curiosity was unlikely to be satisfied by leaving such a note. 

The "Note."
The ideas and events that inspired Riley's artwork are important and worthy of civil discussion. And disagreement about those ideas is possible, though there are logical flaws with the note-writer's argument, flaws I hope that most students can identify. 

The popular media of our country does not have the same values that our school does. The Mission asks us to stand against the tide of disrespectful and intellectually-impoverished pseudo-ideas we encounter.

No one who dies, in any way, is just a "drop in the ocean." Let's all try to be more compassionate and build a better school culture. In fact, I challenge my students, especially my seniors, to think and discuss with me this week how they can be true leaders, leaders who help create a more Mission-based student-centered school culture.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Old Alfred is Probably Rolling in His Grave...

...While perhaps clever George is chuckling?

Once again, in AP Lit, as we start working on a revised version of the World War I Poetry project (this year combined with Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried), we began by reading some pre-20thC poetry. I asked two students, Andrew J & Hana A, to choose some additional students to work with them on finding a way to perform two poems:  "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and "The Destruction of Sennacherib" by George Gordon, Lord Byron. The aim was to emphasize the rhythm. After about half an hour's practice, here's what the two groups came up with. (I think the experience has scarred Riley H, Azalea G, and Ryan S for life, so be gentle with them.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Case Almost Closed: The Middle of the End of The Case of the Lady Slipper Stalker

[This is the Middle of the End of The Case of the Lady Slipper Stalker. See also Parts OneTwoThreeFourFour-and-a-HalfFour-and-Three-QuartersSuggestions for My Dear ReadersA Note from Mrs HudsonFive,  A Plea For HelpSix, SevenSeven-and-a HalfSeven-and-Three-QuartersEightA Most Ingenious TheoryNine, Ten,  Ten-and-a-Half, and The Beginning of the End.]

Blake & Elana
Dear, Dear Readers! After nearly an entire year of dreary inactivity, during which I have been subject to the most intolerable boredom, The Case of the Lady Slipper Stalker has, by happenstance, been resuscitated! Chance has breathed just enough life into its fearsome nostrils that it might expel its last fiery breaths before expiring once and for all. (I knew, Dear Readers, that my patience and perseverance would be well-rewarded one day...)

I was visited last Friday, the 29th of January, by young Master Blake Goldschmidt and his constant companion, the lovely Elana Neve. During the course of a pleasant conversation about their collegiate exploits,  Blake astounded me by asking if I would like, finally, to know the identity of the Stalker! Shocked and surprised, I spluttered out a vehement affirmative, and the young man proceeded to reveal the long-sought-after moniker of the Culprit. 

One of many bumper stickers in my classroom.
But before I share this most delicious information with you, my Dear Readers, I must reveal an aspect of The Case which I have heretofore hidden from you. Yes, I withheld from you a most disturbing element of the mystery. 

Back in March and April of 2015, the curious Case of the Lady Slipper Stalker moved into the ether of Cyber-Space. This realm of electronic communication was new to me, and I found it both terrifying and mystifying. 

I was being taunted by a Person known only by the curious Electronic-Mail address of thedragonhasnotwon@gmail.com. Why would he use such a strange address? As many of my Readers know, my students--for varied and fairly-obvious reasons--sometimes refer to me as the Draagyn. My classroom is littered with dragon-related items, some of which are treasured gifts from former students.  
The Blue Dragon from Mr Zastrow

For instance, the esteemed Mr Mark Zastrow gave me this lovely Blue Dragon Statue when he graduated in 2005. He, along with two of his peers, wrote a haiku about their fear of the Draagyn, which I copied and taped to my Rocking Chair.

The Rocking-Chair Haiku

Sadly, I don't use my Rocking Chair much anymore, but as the Chair itself was also a gift from students, I would never get rid of it. 

Students entering my room are greeted, of course, by the Street Sign bearing my name, placed in the Transom. The sign showed up on my doorstep one fine summer morning many years ago, still partly-attached to the pole from which I struggled for hours to remove it. 

I later discovered that Katrina Wood (also, class of 2005) had removed it from its proper place and stealthily deposited it upon my stoop. Nygaard Road runs between Highway 2 and the St Louis River, not far from Floodwood, MN. I pass it all the time on my orchid-hunting expeditions into the north-central portions of the state.
The Street Sign in the Transom

And then, there was the Incident of the Rambunctious Brazilian: I used to have a dragon statue on a table in my room, but during a Random Acts of Shakespeare practice-session, a rowdy international student by the name of Italo Clemente knocked it off the table. The only identifiable piece now hangs from the ceiling next to a copy of a haiku the Rambunctious Brazilian wrote about this event.
All that's left of a broken dragon statue, along with a
haiku written by the Rambunctious Brazilian.

But I digress, my Dear Readers... 

Let me resume my tale. The Cyber-Stalker was clearly craving my attention, for he emailed me upon a number of occasions. We embarked upon a lengthy war of words, an exhausting duel of demands and denials. I submit, for your perusal, several Screenshots of our electronic conversation.
The first set of messages from Cyber-Stalker. Note the lack of question marks in his last message.
The second set of messages. My frustration increases.
The third set of messages, in which the Cyber-Stalker reveals his identity as a student.
As you can plainly see, Dear Readers, the Cyber-Stalker clearly wanted me to speak and write about this new element of the case, but I denied him that pleasure. Instead, because he had identified himself clearly as a student in one of my classes, I became ever more suspicious. 

I enlisted the help of Luke Braafladt, an enterprising young Cyber-Entrepreneur, and Mr Benjamin Gagne, also known by the confusing title of the Techie-Trekkie, to try and track down the identity and location of the Cyber-Stalker. Unfortunately, neither of these esteemed gentlemen were able to help me. After some time, I gave up. I despaired of ever knowing his name...

...Until, that is, young Blake decided to give him up. Much to my surprise, Blake told me that Sean Spencer (of the notorious Spencer clan) was the Lady Slipper Stalker!
Does the search above count as a variation of Googlewhack?

Taking up my trusty magnifying glass, I ventured out into the thick fog of Cyber-Space, searching again and again for the lair of the villainous Spencer Clan. I had no luck until I searched through the curiously-named Book of Face. There, among the treacherous Clickbait and the unceasing flow of trivial Status Updates, recycled Links, and ego-bolstering pseudo-Quizzes, I finally located the Culprit!

Yes, I made that! One must always acquire new skillz.
I snuck up on the Villain, and out of the blue, I posed him a question, translating my famous Death-Glare into Cyber-Speak:
A confession at last!
There you have it, Dear Readers, a long-awaited confession from the Culprit himself, the Lady Slipper Stalker! I even emailed thedragonhasnotwon@gmail.com one last time to see if the villain would reply, and he did. He even took what he called a Selfie with an item he had intended to leave upon my vehicle but never got around to depositing there. As you can see, the young villain takes much delight in having "stumped" me.
The last, undelivered "gift" of the Lady Slipper Stalker.
While this would seem to bring the Case to a long-overdue close, there remain just a few more loose ends. I myself made an appeal for further information on the Book of Face, in the hopes of binding all the threads together into one tidy weave, but I have as yet received no additional confessions.
A final plea for information--the items underlined in white remain unsolved.
According to Spencer, no other student was involved, so I must remain suspicious of my colleagues where the Photoshopped Image, the Unobtrusive Magnet, the Postal Card, and the Delicate Creation are concerned...
The Magnet & Card
The Delicate Creation
Young Spencer claims that he was the Ghostly Anonymous Commenter(s), but I'm not quite sure I believe him. If any of you, my Dear Readers, would like to confess to this or any other involvement, please do leave a comment on this post. I hope I will not have to wait another year to pen the next installment of this most strange Case.
Partners in crime?
[Update: On the 8th of September, 2016, Ms Kiero (a mathematical mentor to Middle School students) confessed on the social media website, the Book of Face, that she had produced the Delicate Creation!  I am so relieved to know of this fact, Dear Readers, and if any of the rest of you wish to confess to further involvement, I welcome your revelations.]
Ms Kiero 'fesses up!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Revision & Metacognition: Some Recent Experiments

Based on some conversations with my colleagues in the English Department, I've been experimenting with how I ask students in all my classes to revise and reflect on their writing. I recently put up an infographic in my classroom, which I made with Canva.com (perhaps the most user-friendly free infographic maker available right now). [Teachers, feel free to download & print a copy, if you like.]
Made with Canva.com.  
Upper School English teachers have been talking a lot this year about how to help students understand the reasons teachers do what they do. (I know we just seem crazy most of the time, but there IS a method to our madness!) 

I've always asked students to revise their writing, especially for formal papers, and I've often asked students to reflect on what they've learned, especially after research projects (here are some examples of such reflections from this year by students in my English 12 classes:  McKayla A, Farley H, Jon HGrace M, Hannah MMakeela M, and Morgan O).

What's new this year is that I'm asking students to reflect on unfinished work and that I'm starting to play around with the idea (very common in some schools now) of grading the "process, not the product." I've done this a bit already in English 11, and I'm just starting to use a similar strategy in my senior classes. Here are a few reflections on the value of reflection from some of my current juniors:  Colten M, Conner J, Joey P, and Bryce H

I'm going to continue experimenting with this, asking students to reflect on their writing and to reflect on what they're learning. The whole point of education is not just to think, but to think about thinking (yours & others'). You haven't really learned something until you can articulate it, until you can put it into words. It's all about becoming more conscious of your thought processes and your learning processes. Reflection is an important part of a growth mindset

Cognition is great, but metacognition is better! 

So, don't just think/write/learn, be MORE META!

Monday, January 25, 2016

(E11) Bookending *Shawshank Redemption* with Performance, Part 1

Whenever I teach Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, I always start with Richard Lovelace's poem "To Althea, From Prison," an old poem from the 1600s which includes the famous phrase "stone walls do not a prison make." It's a poem that highlights one of the major themes of the novella. 

I always ask the students to dramatize the poem. I divide the class into four groups, one for each stanza, and they have to decide how to act out the meaning of their portion of the poem. We then practice choreographing the progression from one stanza to another. Since each group uses various props and furniture-elements in the classroom, this can be a bit tricky. 

My current group of juniors did an excellent job with making their performance a smooth one. I was especially impressed with the efforts of Matt G, Bryce H, Nic S, and Garrett J. They spent a lot of time practicing their recitation and movements. (I think they'll do a good job with Random Acts of Shakespeare next year...) I always film the performance, so here's the video of the full poem:

After we finish the novella, the students will work on a research project that will result in another (much more complex) performance in which groups of students (representing the interests of Andy, Red, and the prison Wardens) try to persuade a committee of Maine State Legislators to fund their proposed projects to reform or improve Shawshank Prison. I hope to film that performance, too, so stay tuned.