Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Festival of Light

   We have wonderful diversity of cultures and traditions represented at our school.  Our students’ families are from all over the world every continent is represented except Antarctica.  Therefore, the holiday season means different things to different students.  We honor these different traditions in many ways at our school, specially in this last week before our Winter Break.  In my classroom I wanted to focus on the shared tradition of “Light” during this time of the year.  So many cultures and traditions have Light as a theme in their holidays.  Most even have some sort of “Festival of Light”.  Well, in Social Studies we are still in ancient Egypt so I was curious.  Did the Egyptians have a Festival of Light?  To my great surprise they did.  Herodotus, a Greek historian in BC tells of the festival of Lychnocaia, “the lighting of lamps”.  Lamps were lit in rows on the outside of houses around this time of the year to help Osiris find his way back from the underworld.

    I shared this information with my students.  I also found some wonderful pictures of the different expressions of light in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, as well as the story of Egypt and light in the natural world.  We brainstormed to understand what Light symbolized.  The students thought it symbolized: peace, happiness, life, power, energy - these were their words.  I told them that I wanted us to experience some type of celebration of Light but that I knew we could not have lit candles in school since it would be a fire hazard.  We could, however,  have a string of lights.  Thanks to help from Erika Glazzard, a fellow EFL teacher, I had come up with a lovely plan.  We would make a walking spiral of light that would lead the students to its center where they could pick up a glass stone that would symbolize a personal excellence quality that they wanted to nurture in themselves in the coming year.  I needed a focal point of light at the center so I brought in an angel that I had from my daughters' childhood.

     The visual experience of having the lights on the floor was beautiful.  It was like walking inside our Milky Way Galaxy.  I played Pachelbel’s Canon in D for music in the background as each student made their own way into the heart of the lights.  After every one had a turn we sat around and had a few minutes of silence as we all tried to expand our own heart’s light.  I’ve asked the students to keep their glass stone to remind them of that special quality that they want to nurture in themselves.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Plants Have Feelings Too.

Food made from wheat.
   Lately I feel like I am in a time warp.  Even though the winter holidays are upon us in present time in my Social Studies class we are in ancient Egypt 3000-2000 BC.  We have been studying agriculture as we left Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent to visit Egypt and the Nile Valley.  Both cultures boasted advances in agriculture in ancient times.  Since I’m always looking for ways to have my students experience what they are learning I decided that we needed to spend more time in the garden.  One teacher had already planted wheat so that the students could watch the wheat cycle through out the year.  After we went out to observe the five inch tall wheat the students said a bit surprised, "It looks like grass!"  Following this, we had a pot luck where students could only bring foods that were made out of wheat.  We ate as we watched a video on wheat production from planting to bread on the table.
    We waited for the seasonal heavy rains to stop before we went out to the garden to see what else we could find.  The students had a focus; they needed to observe plants and take notes.  I find that they concentrate and calm down if they have a purpose to focus their energy.  Some of the boys still were excited by the dirt, mud, and water, especially since someone in the past months had dug a tantalizing moat complete with water as they were trying to reproduce an example of irrigation.  One student was intrigued by the mushrooms growing and wanted to show us how mushroom caps once put on paper and left to dry will unburden themselves of spores leaving a magical dusty ring.  I love it when the students are the teachers.  We also found many other cool things growing like strawberries, broccoli, cabbage as well as the remains of the summer tomato plants.  We also found empty soil beds crying to be used.

    I chose fava beans for the students to plant because they can be a cover crop feeding nitrogen to the soil or we can let them propagate and have fava beans to eat- hopefully right around the time we study Greece and Rome.  Also, each bean is big and each student can plant one bean and have their own plant.  I explained to the students that plants have feelings and that they need to be treated with kindness, respect, and gratitude.  This was a new concept to some of them but their hearts naturally responded.  I asked them to talk to their bean seed while they were waiting their turn to plant it.  To encourage their little baby to grow.  It was so enjoyable to see what they did with this suggestion.  One student named her bean “Stewart” so then many others named their beans.  One boy planted his bean, stayed to talk to it some more, and ended up 'teaching' his bean math and singing!  A group of girls got carried away and decided that their beans would marry and adopt some of the other beans.  I tried to get them to wait until their plants were fruit bearing age before they married them off but they did not want to wait.  After school apparently they got together to make invitation cards for the wedding and went out at lunch the next day for the ceremony.  This is all making us learn, smile, and laugh big time!
    I’ve also suggested to the students that they bring a present to their plant like a dry leaf, a handful of compost, a worm for its soil.  We will be going out and visiting our plants and watching them grow.  How wonderful to live in mild California climate and be able to do this in December.  Thank you Mother Nature.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Grammar, Symbolism, and EFL

    I’ve always loved teaching. What’s amazing is how much more I’m enjoying my job now that I’m trying an EFL approach in my classroom.  I find myself chortling at some of the teaching ideas and situations that come up with EFL.

    Take grammar for instance.  I’ve been plugging allow with my students teaching the required grammar lessons.  However, I’ve been trying different experiential ways of having the students practice the grammar concepts they are learning.  My goal is to engage all the students and their different tools of maturity to make sure that all are learning through their natural inclinations - physical, feeling, will, or intellect.  After trying several activities for our grammar lessons the most popular one involved skits.   They needed to learn/review the specifics of pronouns.  I found an activity that got them up out of their seats, engaged, and taught them to label and identify 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person pronouns.  They were divided into groups of 6 to put on a short skit. 
There were limitations:
2 people could only speak using 1st person pronouns such as I, me mine, we, us, etc.
2 of them could only speak in 2nd person pronouns, you, your, yours. 
Of course, the last 2 needed to speak in 3rd person using he, she, it, they etc. 
They loved it! They thoroughly enjoyed performing and coming up with very silly skits which also helped them learn to identify pronouns.

    It also turns out that symbolism keeps coming up.  Ever since the students worked on finding their own personal animal symbol (see Nov. 12 posting) the concept of symbolism keeps working its way into our lessons.  As we studied ancient Mesopotamia and the beginning of writing in pictographs and the ancient writing of cuneiform the students began to realized the importance and prevalence of symbolism.  Mental ideas from the realm of thoughts were brought into this material world through symbolic pictures that evolved into cuneiform writing on clay tablets in Sumer long ago.  Thanks to watching a fellow teacher, David Riordan, I was reminded of this experiential  project that I hadn’t done in a long time.  The students needed to make their own pictographs or picture symbols and write a message on a clay tablet.  I gave the students the recipe for Salt and Flour Clay and the option of extra credit.  About two thirds of my students had fun over their week long Thanksgiving break creating a message in their own invented pictographs.  One student came to school and told me that he had left his tablet to cool after taking it out of the oven and his dog ate it!  His dog really did eat his homework!

    The last helpful activity I want to mention is the reading of a popular picture book to my classes.   Unfortunately, like many other public middle schools we have problems with students being inappropriate and mean to each other.  I decided to share with my students the book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, which I had seen at the EFL family summer camp in Laurelwood, OR.  I’m finding that picture books are a fine literary medium even for middle school students.  My sixth graders love having a picture book read to them and this book engaged their heart qualities of caring and kindness.  I told them that they could understand and enjoy the concepts in picture books on a deeper and more mature level.  They now know that “filling someone’s bucket” is using symbolism and metaphor for making others feel good through acts of compassion.  Their homework was to go out and fill others' “buckets” through kind acts.  The next day they wrote about their experiences in their journals and came back with stories to share that reminded us of all the meaningful ways that we can reach out to others and make their day more joyful.