Highs and Lows from the Week of April 1st

We started last week on April Fool’s Day.  That should have been a sign of what kind of week was ahead of me.  It was a crazy week.  We started the week out with great flow, but the NYS ELA tests ruined that flow.  The students had two hours of testing on Wednesday and three hours of testing on Thursday, which equated to twenty-minute class periods.  On Friday, we ended the week with the ancient Greek Olympics (of course with modifications) and the kids got to participate in different events, which was a fun way to end the week but the time was taken from ELA class.


  1. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the week was the Skype with Mrs. Augusta Scattergood.  It was amazing!  The students really enjoyed the book Glory Be and they had a chance to ask Mrs. Scattergood questions. We promised that we would only keep Mrs. Scattergood for twenty minutes (because she was doing the visit for free), but we interviewed her for thirty-one minutes and eleven students got to ask her a question (or two). Her answers were thorough, thoughtful, and engaging. She had the attention of ALL of the students for the entire thirty-one minute visit. For me, this was the seventh year that he has had an opportunity to Skype with Mrs. Scattergood. This year, I learned that she attended and graduated from the University of North Carolina. I found it interesting that a hero (or “good guy”) from the story is from North Carolina. She must have fond memories of her time in North Carolina.:)
  2. This is the first year that I am teaching the Forms of Energy unit, but I will write that my first week was a success.  I introduced the students to the vocabulary that we will be using, we read a little about each form of energy (and connected them with kinetic or potential energy), and then, we engaged in a thermal energy investigation on the computers.  The Internet activity from PBS Learning had the kids investigating the differences between conduction, convection, and radiation.  On Monday, we are going to finish the lab.  It was definitely a great finish to an opening week of the Forms of Energy unit.  This week, we will continue to focus on thermal energy.
  3. The last highlight is also a low.  The NYS ELA tests definitely impacted the week, but the highlight was how hard that the kids worked on the test.  They spent five hours taking the test, and they all worked hard for the entire time.  The most interesting part of the testing days is that the students still had energy for learning after the tests were complete.  We had great science classes, an unbelievable Skype visit, and started a new read aloud entitled Hound Dog True by Linda Urban.


  1. The NYS ELA tests wreaked havoc on the schedule, and the students had to sit for five hours to take the test.  The most discouraging part is that we will not get the results until September, so the students get upset because they will not even remember the test when they get the results.  The students will never find out which of the questions they got correct and which of the questions they answered incorrectly.  They will just get back a number.  I tried my best to explain the process to the students, but with me, they are used to getting constant feedback from assessments.  They didn’t understand (or love) the explanation.
  2. We didn’t do any writing last week (outside of the NYS test).  The lack of time and the social studies activity on Friday took away from the writing time that I had planned.  We needed to get through two short stories (finishing one from last week), and we never had time for writing.  This was the first week of the school year that the students didn’t do any writing.  We will make up for it in the upcoming week.  I’m trying to encourage the students to do more writing at home, so I will be showing them my weekly highs and lows and hoping that they will try it at home.  Also, I have posted the submission requirements from Stone Soup Magazine (as suggested by Mrs. Augusta Scattergood) with hopes that some of my writers will submit some of their own work.  We will make up for missed time with some writing this week.

We have one more week before spring vacation, so we will have a busy week in the classroom.  The students will be working on their literature circle final projects this week in ELA class, and in science class, we will be doing three labs about thermal energy.  My Fulbright student teacher finishes up on Friday, so he will be doing a presentation on his home country of Bangladesh for the students on Wednesday.  It looks like a great week of learning. 

Nothing Like a Skype

This week, the students have been taking the New York State ELA tests.  The students sat for two hours taking the test on Wednesday, and on Thursday, they sat for three hours.  The students worked so hard answering multiple-choice questions and answering short response questions.  They finished the testing with an essay.  It has been a long two days, which has resulted in a long week.

On Wednesday afternoon, we had the pleasure of Skyping with Mrs. Augusta Scattergood.  We finished reading her book Glory Be last week, and after we finished the book, each student had a chance to write down two questions about the book, writing, and/or reading.  The kids came up with some amazing questions.  The main character, Glory, came to life during the reading, and they talked about her as if she was someone in our classroom.  They were very excited about the visit.

Before the visit began, I prepped them on the expectations.  I explained how important it was that they were a good audience because I had been Skyping with Mrs. Scattergood for six years, and I want to be able to Skype for six more years (or more).  Right at the beginning of the Skype, Mrs. Scattergood told the class that we had been Skyping since 2012 and that would make it seven years.  I was wrong, but I was amazed that she kept all of the emails.  I realized that over the years my students must have asked good enough questions for Mrs. Scattergood to remember us.  I was honored and proud.

Mrs. Scattergood was amazing!  She answered thirty minutes worth of questions (I told her that we would only take twenty minutes of her time) and never seemed rushed at all.  Her answers were thorough and she had the students’ full attention.  She explained how she wrote the book.  She explained the inspiration for the characters in the book.  She talked about the challenges of writing the book.  She made writing seem real, and the kids completely understood what she was saying.  They were inspired.  I was inspired.

When the Skype ended, the kids were running to the library to check out her other books.  They were talking about it in the hallways and study halls.  I’ve learned that some were even talking about it at home.  Without a doubt, it was the highlight of the week.  I can’t wait for another visit next year.:)

Experience leads to revision

On Wednesday, I was privy to a conversation of a coach that was trying to persuade an athlete to come back to track and field (after taking last spring off). I was very impressed with the coach’s approach. He did a little begging, but his approach was undoubtedly good hearted and occurred because he believed it is what the athlete needed. The athlete is not the fastest runner, but he could use the camaraderie that the track and field team offers. As the coach talked, I observed the athlete’s facial expressions and body language. In the beginning, the athlete was not interested at all, but in the end, the coach had his attention. Today, the athlete joined the track and field team.

After witnessing this interaction, I went back to my young adult manuscript and made some revisions. Here is a snippet of the revisions:

As the overhead lights flick on, I step back to take my last three-pointer of the night.  From the corner, I pick up the dribble, spin the ball through my hands, and let it fly.  Swish!  A good way to end the night.

“Nice shot.” The voice startles me.  I turn towards the chain-link doorway.

“Hi, Coach Buchanan.  I was in the zone.  How long have you been standing there?” If the surprise didn’t show on my face, it definitely shook my voice.  Coach came over and gave me a hug.

“Sorry for startling you.  I just walked up.  Your dad said I’d find you here.”

I haven’t seen Coach Buchanan since the funeral.  He looks exactly the same, and he’s wearing a Sedgwick Heights Hockey sweatshirt.  When Casey went to hockey prep school in Vermont, Coach Buchanan had just got the job two years before, and he turned the school into a hockey power.  I’ll never forget when he came down to watch Casey play and talk him into coming up to Vermont to play hockey.  Mom and Dad loved him.  Casey loved him.  He told Casey that he was the best player he had ever coached, and he coached offense in the NHL and was an assistant in the AHL.  Casey once referred to him as a second father.

“What are you doin’ in town?  And you’re wearing a Sedgwick Heights sweatshirt?” I started to laugh and so did Coach.

“I didn’t think you’d heard.  I’m the new junior varsity hockey coach.”  He pulls on his sweatshirt to show he’s proud of the new position.

“Why’d you leave Frost Prep School?”  There is no way that they would fire him.  He led the team to the Northeast Championship title last season.

“My wife got a new job at Palmer Elementary School.  She’s the new principal.”  The school is one of three elementary schools in the Sedgwick Heights School District.  Casey and I went there for school.

“No way.  Are you bummed?”

“This is a huge opportunity for her, and she’s super excited.  She was an assistant principal up in Vermont, so she’s thrilled to have her own building.  Ever since we came to visit with your family a few years back, she’s wanted to move here.”  He pauses.  “I’ll be honest.  I came to talk to you for a reason.”

“If it’s about hockey, I’m not interested.  Please don’t take it personal.  I hope that I’m not sounding rude, but I can’t.”

“I could use you.  We need the passion that I know you’d bring to the ice.”

“I can’t.  There are so many reasons.  Casey’s death and what it’s done to my mom in the number one reason, but those aren’t the only reasons.  I just can’t.”  My eyes start to swell up, so I grab my bag and make my way to the door.  Would Casey be mad at me?

“I get it.”  Coach puts his arm on my right shoulder.  “Your family means the world to me.  Coaching your brother changed me as a coach and a person.  He loved life.  I wouldn’t of even asked, but I heard that you were still skating, so I thought that I’d ask.  If anything changes, call me.”  He hands me a small card with his number.

We walk in silence to his car.  “Sorry, Coach,” I say.

“Don’t be sorry.  I should be the one apologizing.  I’m glad that we get a chance to talk.  If you need anything it doesn’t have to be hockey related, call me.  I’ll help with anything.”

“Thanks.” I say and we shake hands.

*The original scene took place in Coach’s office. Griffon already knew that he was the coach. In this revised scene, Griffon is surprised and will become more interested as he thinks about the offer.

Highs and Lows from the week of March 25th

You know when you have one of those weekends where nothing gets done?  I mean nothing, not even schoolwork.  This was one of those weekends.  Mini me had his middle school musical (he premiered as Link in Hairspray), he shaved his head for St. Baldrick’s, and my sister and her boys came to visit for the weekend.  It was an unforgettable weekend, but nothing got done.:)


  1. On Thursday, we finished the read aloud Glory Be.  This coming Wednesday, we will be Skyping with the author, Mrs. Augusta Scattergood.  The kids can’t wait.  I can’t wait.  My ELA classes have been Skyping with her for the last five years and she is WONDERFUL.  The kids will ask her questions about her book, writing, and reading.  This will likely be a highlight again next week.  The next read aloud is Hound Dog True by Linda Urban, which we will start on Tuesday.
  2. The Women Scientists museum walk was extraordinary.  The kids worked on the project on Tuesday and Thursday, and then on Friday, they showcased the life and accomplishments of their specific women scientist.  In between walking around the room, we took breaks to watch a few short Brain Pop videos about six of the scientists.  We closed with an awesome discussion about why it took so long for these women to be recognized in history.  We also talked about how this can’t happen again, and we will have to keep learning about women scientists and all of the great things that they are doing for the scientific world. 
  3. We did some “mood” writing this past week.  I wrote about it on Saturday.  This year’s modification of adding some of my own writing to the examples was crucial to the understanding – authentic writing beats out a worksheet any day of the week.  The kids did some great “mood” writing, and this week, we will look to identify the mood of the writing in our Kate Messner literature circle novels.


  1. Grading, grading, grading – I had so much grading to do this weekend, and the weekend got away from me.  I only got two small piles of grading complete.  I have three more piles that I will tackle tonight.  I just walked in from a budget board meeting, so it is unlikely that I will get all three piles graded, but I’ll get two piles done.:)  On Sunday night, I had this hanging over my head as I tossed and turned in bed.  I needed sleep, so I am hoping to start the week off right by getting the grading completed on Monday and Tuesday.
  2. Over the last few weeks, I have spent tons of time planning the Forms of Energy unit that I will start tomorrow (Tuesday).  It was very difficult to spend so much of last week with my final preparations because this will be the last year that we teach the unit.  I spent hours last week preparing for the unit, and next year, the unit will be replaced with an astronomy (space exploration) unit.  I will be able to use some of my lesson plans and activities in the Energy, Forces, and Motion unit, but the unit is already tightly packed with information, so I won’t be able to use much.  It is a bit difficult to get fired up to teach a unit that I will only teach for one year (this is my first year teaching science; I taught social studies for seventeen years).  I am hopeful that after teaching the beginning of the unit this week I will be moving this up to a “High” for next week.

I am looking forward to a good (and busy) week.  This week, the students will take the NYS ELA tests on Wednesday and Thursday, so the schedule will be impacted for those days.  We have a two-hour delay on Wednesday and a three-hour delay on Thursday.  Three hours of testing seems like a long morning for a sixth grader.  I’m not sure what I will be able to teach the kids after five hours of testing.  I will try.

He can dance, sing, and act – Who knew? – SOLSC Day #31

Title: Hairspray Surprise

The weekend

is finally here

Seat C13

in a packed house

Chest tightens

as lights go to black

Can he dance?

Stomach churns

as he takes the stage

Can he sing?

Roll call

And “I’m Link”

He remembered

his lines

He CAN dance

Pressure builds

to his first solo

“Link will sing a song

to Tracy”

I grip the

seat handles

A little sweat

forms on my neck

“They say it’s a man’s world”

He CAN sing

Chest loosens

Sweat disappears

Relief, excitement

Each song

Each line

Each dance move

looks effortless

Curtain call

Takes his final bow

He CAN act

Feeling PROUD

For the last four months, my eighth grade son, has been preparing for his middle school musical.  The musical was Hairspray, and his part was Link, a lead character.  He practiced his lines, but I never saw him practice his moves or hear him sing seriously.  He had good rehearsals and bad rehearsals, but the premiere of the show finally arrived on Friday.  He seemed nervous, but I felt extremely nervous.  I just wanted him to feel happy about how he performed.

He was awesome!  He strutted and danced across the stage.  He belted out his lines and songs.  And most importantly, he had a blast.  Since he was born, he has loved nothing but sports (his first word was “ball”), so I was surprised when he found his way to the stage (I actually questioned his older sister, “Did he really sign up for the musical?).  Well, this weekend, he proved that he could play in another venue, the theater stage.  I am feeling very proud on this Sunday morning.

Identifying (and writing) mood in a reading passage – SOLSC Day #30

Mood vs. Tone – This week, we started with identifying mood.  It is very difficult for sixth grade students to note the difference between mood and tone.  The students are familiar with the definitions of both but become easily confused when identifying either or both.  The focus this week was to identify mood in different passages and to create a mood with our own writing passage.

The students started by reading short passages and identifying words that express a certain mood.  We then watched a short video that also showed them examples of how a situation or setting can change by using different words.  After the video, the students received a mood word sheet with different emotions and words that displayed that specific emotion.  The students were given time to add words to each list.  For example, they had a list of words for boring: dreary, dull, uneventful, and tiring.  Then, they added words to this specific emotion.  By the end, they had a list of words for each emotion.

With their list of words, the students then wrote a short passage trying to create a specific mood.  On the sheet, they had lines to write the passage, and then, under the lines, there was a spot for the mood.  I printed off and displayed six different pictures for the students that struggled to come up with an idea on their own.  Their favorite picture was a cat standing over a fish bowl.  Some of the students even used the computers to find a favorite picture to write about.  On day one, they only wrote one passage.  At the end, a few students shared aloud and the other students guessed the mood.

Before going to day two and writing the same passage but with different words, I showed them an excerpt from a manuscript that I am writing.  This is something that I modified for this year’s lesson.  I asked the students to help me change it from a romantic (loving) mood to a more anxious (but exciting) mood because it is the beginning of a first love.  The students did a tremendous job offering words to make the passage more of a anxious, exciting love versus a romantic love.  They added words like fidgeting, embarrassing, and a scene where the character is talking to the owner of the diner, which he knows, versus giving his full attention to his date because he is so nervous.  It was a wonderful addition to the mini-lesson.

On day 2, the students went back to their original passage and rewrote it with a different mood.  Then, they had time to share both passages with classmates.  The reader had to guess the two different words based on the words that they used and the mood of the passage.  Again, the students did a wonderful job with both the writing and reading part of the second assignment.  Finally, I showed them two examples that I wrote and they had to identify the words that I used to change the mood.

Here are the examples:

First example: Dad’s aggravation is seeping out of every pore of his beet red face.  He violently snatches the phone from my hand and begins to pace with rage.  “Why didn’t you tell me?” He screams at me in an irate voice.

Second example: Dad’s joy is seeping out of every pore of his smiling face.  He delightfully grabs the phone from my hand and begins to bounce elatedly.  “Why didn’t you tell me?” He asks in a delighted voice.

Next week, we will be working on tone.  They are ready.

Friday Morning (story) Secrets – SOLSC Day #29

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t think that I had a good writing session in me, but it went much better than I had anticipated.  I also didn’t know that I had another secret (for the supporting character) for my story.  I suppose that is the interesting thing about secrets.  You don’t even know that they are there until they appear.:)

Here is an excerpt:

Due to all those winter days and nights spent at hockey rinks, I’d never been inside Bedford Sports Complex.  As I walk into the viewing area, the four full size turf fields that surround me swallow me up.  The ceilings are so high, and even the netting that protects the lights doesn’t interfere with the game.  The same netting hangs all around the perimeter of the field.  In the center of the field is another net that divides the filed.  It is pulled back like a curtain for today’s action.

There are girls running around on all of the fields.  The fields to my left have soccer games, and to my right, are lacrosse games.  It looks like different age groups on each field.  In front of me it looks like high school girls.

I immediately spot Samantha running towards the viewing area and this side of the field.  She’s wearing a white Sedgwick Heights Girl’s Lax t-shirt, red shorts, and I quickly discover she’s easily the fastest player on the field.  She cradles the stick high and close to her body and moves through defenders effortlessly.

Coach yells out to put on the brakes, so instead of fast breaking to the goal, her team sets up around the goal.  There is no doubt that she’s the conductor of this play.  After two passes, she gets it at the top of the arch.  She fakes right, dodges left, switches the stick to her left hand and fires a shot into the bottom corner of the goal.  During the play, the defender falls to the turf and watches the goal from her seat on the field.

Parents standing in front of the small bleachers I am sitting on are commenting on Samantha’s play.  “She’ll play division 1.” They mumble.  “She’s the real deal.” They whisper.

After a barrage of about four or five more goals, the coach blows the whistle and practice ends.  She moves towards the field door as quick as she moved on the field.  She’s covered in sweat from head to toe and her hair bounces in a bun on top of her head.  How is it possible that she looks even better after exercising?

She spots me as she comes through the door.  “What are you doing here?” A hint of annoyance in her voice.  “How did you know I was here?”

“You are amazing.  You were breakin’ ankles all over the field.” I jump down from the bleachers.

“Stop,” she puts her hand up. “Seriously.”  The annoyance is still there.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re an awesome lacrosse player?”

“I guess we both have secrets, or at least, had secrets.” And finally, she smiles.

While she packs her bag, she scolds me for coming to watch her play.  She won’t let me help carry her bag of sticks, and is ready to leave way quicker than I usually am after a hockey practice or a game.  The scowl is still on her face.  As we head for the doors in the front of the sports center, she grabs my hand.  Hers is still sweaty, but I don’t mind.

“The parents were really impressed.  They were sayin’ you’re gonna play D1 lacrosse and that you’re gonna lead the team to a ton of tournament championships this summer.”

“They talk too much.  Just like hockey parents.  Many of them have never played lacrosse.  Livin’ through their kids.” Now she’s really smiling.  “How’d you get here?”

“I ran. Do you think Patty could give me a ride home?”

“You what?” She stops us both and looks me right in the eye. “It’s like ten miles from your house.  Are you crazy?”

Crazy about her, but I keep that to myself.  I look at my watch.  “It’s 8.9 miles.”

She hugs me.  “You are crazy.”