Moving on

Thursday, March 17, 2011


My four sixth-grade reading comprehension classes recently read Joan Hiatt Harlow's historical novel, Star in the Storm, set in Newfoundland in 1912.

A slobbery, lovable "Newfie" dog named Sirius stole the show and the hearts of my students when he became the key player in the rescue of over 100 people from a sinking steamer off the coast of Newfoundland.  The rescue is based on a real event that happened not long after the Titanic sank in nearby waters.  The author did a grand job of keeping the reader on the edge of his seat, wondering if Sirius's owners would find a way around a new law that would ban all non-sheepherding dogs from the island. Twelve-year-old Maggie did everything in her power to hide her dog, unaware that it was her father's bold attempt to break away from greedy Howard Rand's fishing monopoly that drove the campaign against Sirius.  When Rand's own daughter and grandson were among the rescued, he used his influence to assure Sirius a safe haven with the family and community who loved him.

After the students finished reading the book and discussing it and its colloquial vocabulary at length, each class was assigned the task of collaborating to write three or four chapters in play form.  This involved brainstorming the main characters, events, setting, dialogue and action for an assigned section of the book.  It was not as easy as it looked, especially considering that we have a shortage of girls in our school.  

As the students began reading their parts in a readers theatre format, they created simple props and stage design.  By sheer coincidence, we were scheduled to visit a very serious play about Anne Frank this same week, which ironically had a few actors playing more than one part with very simple stage design.  It was exactly what we needed to see to tie up the loose ends on our production.

After a week of rehearsing separately, the four classes came together for the first and only performance, and it went off without a hitch!  Thank you, Joan Hiatt Harlow, for writing such an endearing story, and thank you, students, for putting such heart and soul into a fun learning experience.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


A couple of good friends publish a newsletter full of everything literary, and this week they really struck a chord with me when they featured an array of appealing science books for kids.  As a sixth grade science teacher, I know my students could easily get engrossed in Sylvia Branzei's book Grossology.  I mean, who wouldn't want to know that the Latin word for a zit actually means "fat maggot" because early doctors thought zits were really homes for maggots under the skin?  And I can't think of a single student who wouldn't eat up (maybe that's not the right phraseology) gobs of scientific trivia about everyday secretions, scabs, smells, barfs, burps, and well, there's more......

If you are a parent or teacher looking for ways to spark scientific interest, check out Carol Baldwin's and Joyce Hostetter's web site, Talking Story

Along the way, I've done my part to write some pretty bad poetry (I'll try anything once) to liven things up in my science classes.  One year I gave the following poem to the students at the beginning of the year without the science terms underlined, and if they could underline and define them all by the end of the year (and catch the play on words), they would have completed "the circuit" to everybody's satisfaction! 


Welcome to Ms. Quiggly's class
Where "pun" ishment is for you,
Only if you fail to see
The scientific point of view.

Now here's the year, at a glance
A "sci" nopsis if you will.
Pull in your chair, take in some air,
Science IS a thrill.

First of  all, don't cell yourself short,
(There's  not a fungus among us).
Careful now, don't protist too much
Lest all the monerans run for the bus.

We deal in classified information here
But the rules of the kingdom are free.
Always line up in single phylum  and
In this class, keep your eyes on me.

In order to make this year go well
And be part of the family,
You don't have to be a gen(i)us
Just a species, like you and me.

During the year, without a doubt
You'll find out what the matter is.
Clearly, these will be lessons of substance
Worth  atomic weight on the quiz.

We'll get reactions both physical and "com"ical;
Test the law of "conversation"of mass.
I'll learn your properties, as you will mine,
You'll know the state of your fate, fast.

You'll find an element of surprise (or 111 of them)
Laid out on the table for free.
Periodically, the atmosphere will be positively charged
With nary an electron cloud to see.

Ionically, you'll win some and lose some
But  I'll  not compound your troubles.
Instead, we'll find a formula for success
A solution, saturated with results, (or maybe bubbles).

Within the space of a few weeks
Your knowledge will increase astronomically.
You'll meet red giants and white dwarfs
An expert of  the universe you'll be.
You'll  get a big bang out of this class
Your pulsar just might get too quick.
No falling into black holes, if you please
Avoid becoming a lunar-tic.

Develop good study habitats.
You'll stay off my endangered species list.
I prey that you will find your niche
Of course, in this community, I insist.

I promise to conduct an electrifying class
Well insulated from all static distractions.
You must, however, do watt-ever you can
To complete the circuit to my satisfaction.