Happy (belated) Birthday, Maya Angelou!

Yesterday would have been Maya Angelou’s 88th birthday, and though she is not here to celebrate with us, she’s left a legacy of the written word that we can celebrate in her honor.

angelou

Today, I would just like to share some of Angelou’s poetry that we may not know as well as “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise” – and poems that would easily add to much of what we’re teaching:

A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou  (1995, for the UN’s 50th Anniversary)

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

There are many topics and “big ideas” we could connect this poem with – in order to work it into what we’re teaching about contemporary and current events or literature. We could connect it to war, the environment, the potential (and disappointment? and hope?) of people.  The repeated “When we come to it,” emphasizes our still-coming-into-itness.  What might our students have to say about this in light of other things they’re learning or reading?  Are we closer than humanity was in 1995 . . . or further away?

This poem may also work nicely paired with a poem from a previous post, Matthew Olzmann’s Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz, which is about the violence happening in America – in schools and elsewhere.  It begins:

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

I wonder what these two poems would have to say and reveal about one another. It might be an interesting discussion or Socratic Seminar.


At the time of Angelou’s death, she had been working on a collaborative project with producers Shawn Rivera and RoccStarr, who focused on original beats and instrumentals as Angelou recited her poem, “Harlem Hopscotch”:

One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.
Good things for the ones that’s got.
Another jump, now to the left.
Everybody for hisself.

In the air, now both feet down.
Since you black, don’t stick around.
Food is gone, rent is due,
Curse and cry and then jump two.

All the peoples out of work,
Hold for three, now twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
That’s what hopping’s all about.

Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost, I think I won.

The video can be seen with this Huffington Post article, “The Music Video For ‘Harlem Hopscotch’ from Maya Angelou’s Posthumous Hip-Hop Album, is Here.”


 

And, finally, the poem most often used in tributes right after her death, “When Great Trees Fall,” published as the last poem in the 1990 collection of poetry, I Shall Not Be Moved. 

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.


 

And if you want to participate in “Take a Poet to Word Day,” here’s your chance with Maya: http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Take-Your-Poet-to-Work-Day-Printable-Maya-Angelou.jpg

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Poetry & Personal Narrative: Two Texts to Get Students Writing

For this #writingworkshopwednesday, I’m sharing a poem and a NYT resource, both of which can be used to get students writing, thinking, and creating.

Background Noise & Narrative:

This gem showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday:

tweet

And it immediately made me think of personal narrative (or really any kind of narrative writing) writing – in the tradition of Penny Kittle’s “Music of my Heart” and the life-soundtracks many of us have had kids think about.

The article, “What are the Sounds That Make Up the Background Noise in Your Life” by Michael Gonchar uses a New York Times article by Michael Kimmelman, “Dear Architects: Sound Matters” as a jumping-off point to get students thinking about what kind of background noises are in their lives.

The “Dear Architects” article is a great starting text for all of us, and when you and your students go to read it (I recommend using excerpts from it, which would work better since the whole article isn’t relevant for our purposes and to get the idea across in a manageable time frame.), make sure you have the opportunity to hear it as well.  Included in the article are photographs of everyday places, such as the New York Public Library’s Reading Room, an office building, and the subway that, when you hover your mouse over them, reveal the background noise of each place.  As Kimmelman states, “The spaces we design and inhabit all have distinctive sounds . . . It may be sealed off from the outside, and you may think it is quiet. Is it?,” sound is part of the architecture designers create and it also part of the architecture of our lives.

What can our students’ writing gain by thinking about, discovering, or recording the background noise of their lives?  How can this study reveal more about their personal lives (or the personal lives of any character)?  How can background noise be articulated in font and how might it drive, enhance, or amplify an existing narrative?

As we answer these questions, I think we begin to arrive at a valuable resource and idea to both prepare students to write about themselves and to test out new narrative techniques in their writing.  The original article, “What are the Sounds . . . ” provides some reading-response questions that might be a good transition from reading to thinking to writing.

 

Current Events & Poetry:

The other gem that found me yesterday was my poets.org poem-a-day, “Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz” by Matthew Olzmann.  “Letter” is a haunting poem that could be effective not only for writing workshop, but also for Socratic Seminar or literature circle discussions. (Here’a a word document version with line numbers: Letter Beginning Olzmann)

It’s going to take up a lot of room here, but please (PLEASE) take the time to read it all (you won’t be able to stop once you start . . . )

Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

Matthew Olzmann

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed

for children walking to school?
Those same children

also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop

to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might

reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,

I had one student
who opened a door and died.

It was the front
door to his house, but

it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written

any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old

and was aiming
at someone else. But

a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t

distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent,

and how was the bullet
supposed to know this

child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment

because his friend
was outside and screaming

for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who

opened a door and died?
That’s wrong.

There were many.
The classroom of grief

had far more seats
than the classroom for math

though every student
in the classroom for math

could count the names
of the dead.

A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,

nor could the gun, because
“guns don’t kill people,” they don’t

have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose

or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t

have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how

we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,

and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside

each of them. Today,
there’s another

shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,

a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world

is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,

you may open a door

and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be

mourned, then buried
in rhetoric.

There will be
monuments of legislation,

little flowers made
from red tape.

What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close

like a door above you.
What should we do?

And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.

Wow, right?

So since this is #writingworkshopwednesday, I’m going to stay focused on using this with our Writers’ Notebooks, but feel free to let your mind wander into all of the incredible possibilities available here.

One way to use this poem as as mentor-text inspiration is to allow students to borrow the same lines from Czesław Miłosz that the author did:

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

I think there are so many opportunities for students to write about themselves or characters in novels (from the perspective of the author, other characters, etc.) by beginning with these two lines.  I imagine Sethe writing to Beloved (Toni Morrison’s Beloved), Jay to Daisy (Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby), Ida or Vivaldo or Eric to Rufus (Baldwin’s Another Country), or Walt Whitman writing to the Country (since he desperately wanted Leaves of Grass  to keep the nation from falling into civil war).  There are so many possibilities; it could easily work with independent reading selections as well.

We could also use this poem to talk about this writing-move of the response poem (of sorts) or the “life a line” (or two from another poem) to begin our own.  Students could take lines from poetry or songs and use it to frame or inspire a poem. (The could lift a line from this poem to start another as well. I would choose something related to the “the deadbolt of discourse,” I think.)

And of course, this could be a wonderful mentor text on how to write poetry that is also relevant and timely social commentary.  Maybe students research current events (we could collaborate with the history teachers on this too) and use this format to write a poetic letter that makes a comment about an issue in the community that they care about.

Lots of inspiration with these two texts! Happy workshopping! 🙂

As always, feel free to share any adaptations, additions, etc. you make and student samples or work produced from these ideas.

 

Infographics for the Week of January 4th: The New Year

Happy New Year!

To help our students and us usher in 2016, this week’s infographics are all about this new year.

Statistics on New Year’s Eve in NYC:

New-Years-Eve-2016-BB-Inforgraphic-

These are New Year’s Resolutions from around the world:

new-years-resolutions-2016

And these are New Years Resolutions that include SMART goals for our Resolutions . . . just like our SGOs . . .

new_years_info

 

#WWW Writing Workshop Wednesday: Tips for Productive Peer Conferences

As both students and teachers, we’ve seen the many failures of peer review. We’ve experienced and witnessed students not knowing how to comment on another’s writing or how to identify flaws in writing, and sometimes we witness students who think that criticism is “mean” and they would prefer to be “nice.”  On the flip side, we’ve all seen situations where students are too mean on purpose and don’t take the assignment seriously.

So, how do we make peer review meaningful and productive in our classrooms?

This question arose out of a discussion of Writing Workshop during the 11th-grade full-day PLC.  Below is a compilation of our brainstormed solutions as well as a few additional ideas.

Whole-Class Peer Conferencing: Krystal shared a strategy she used with advanced students, in which students’ papers (the names blacked out) were projected from the document camera.  Krystal would then model peer review/constructive criticism, a process the rest of the class would ultimately join in on.  The class comments and asks questions about the paper, and the author has the opportunity at the end to respond to that feedback.  It both holds students accountable for producing quality drafts and provides practice for students in constructive feedback.  In addition, the process makes the writer think about his/her choices as he/she responds to the questions that emerged throughout the review.

Small-Group Read-Aloud & Annotation: Abbe shared a strategy that she and I have done with our AP Language students, which could be applied to accelerated and college prep levels with additional support and structure. In preparation for peer review, students bring multiple copies of their drafts, one for each member of their peer review group and one for them.  During peer conferencing, the student reads his/her paper aloud while the rest of the group listens and annotates the draft. After the student completes his/her reading, the group reports back their comments/questions, etc. and they discuss the paper.  This becomes a productive back-and-forth dialogue between the group and the writer.  Once they’ve exhausted the first paper, the move around the circle until everyone’s paper as been the center of attention.

I first did peer conferencing like this in a college creative writing class, and even though it made me uncomfortable to read my work aloud, it was a productive process as both peer review and self-evaluation.  In the college classroom, there was also a nice dialogue with questioning more so than strictly commenting, which would be the ultimate goal of productive peer conferencing.  Of course, with our various levels of students and abilities in high school classrooms, getting our students to ask each other productive questions that make the writer think and reflect and respond is more difficult than it would be in a college setting, but it is by no means impossible. 

Conference with a Question in Mind:  In a discussion about conferencing, Nicole talked about requiring that her students come to teacher-student conferences with a question (prior to them doing this the first time, Nicole models conversations to help student turn their concerns into viable questions).  The same expectation is feasible in a peer conference.  Often, we set the focus of peer review.  If we could work with students in developing those questions from the issues, weaknesses, or stumbling-blocks in their writing, then those questions could also drive a small group peer conference.  In a writing workshop model, where students will have had the same scaffolding, mini-lessons, etc., and in a classroom where collaboration and questioning is routine, students could productively help each other in working through those questions.

Peer Conferencing Circles with Roles: I suggested a peer-conferencing model that might look like an inquiry circle or literature circle in that we’d assign group roles.  What those roles would be would largely depend on the assignment and the strengths and experiences of the students.  Some examples of writing circle roles that could work are the “Format-Fiend,” who would look for adherence to MLA format, the “Transition-Tester,” who makes sure that paragraphs and ideas are connected through transitions, the “Thesis-Tracker,” who reads to make sure that the body paragraphs explicitly and clearly support the thesis,” or the “Audience Auditor,” who finds out who the intended audience is and evaluates the paper for the appropriateness and/or effectiveness of language and content for that audience.  These roles might be too much to start, depending on the level of the student, so they could also be simpler, including roles that focus on sentence structure, logical progression, a strong introduction and conclusion, topic sentences, evidence, citations, etc.  We can provide expectations/guidelines for each of the roles so the students know what to do and what to look for, and in doing this kind of focused peer conferencing, we’re also meeting some of those reading standards we’re always practicing.  The opportunities here are really endless. The benefits are that students can play to their strengths and have one specific focus for every paper they read in the peer conference.  This way, not every student has to look for everything, but the writer still gets a variety of specific feedback.

Must-haves: Modeling & Focus. Whatever approach we take, it is important to keep two things in mind: modeling and focus.  As teachers with extensive practice in peer-review from our education, we need to model what constructive criticism, academic conversation, and effective questioning looks like.  Students don’t often have the language to communicate effectively in peer conferencing, and this is something we can model and practice throughout writing workshop units. Even if a conversation begins with, “I don’t like this,” we can work with students to better zero in on what they don’t like by continuing to ask them questions in return, such as, “What don’t you like about it?” and starting to give them the language of word choice, sentence structure, etc.

While we’d like students to be able to work through research and writing with self-generated questions based on self-evaluation, we know that this is not necessarily going to happen immediately.  This is why helping students focus when conducting peer review is an important facet to productive peer conferencing.  Assignments that blankly ask students to “review” one another will end in little productivity.  If we’ve taught mini-lessons on thesis statements and organizing an essay from that thesis statement and that’s a focus of our rubric, then perhaps we have them review for those things.  We can give them questions and guidelines to help them evaluate those elements in the form of a handout, but because they’ve had the mini-lesson and the practice, they already have a basic working knowledge and language to discuss that component. The focus can easily be set by the teacher and align with mini-lessons taught before writing or in the revision process.  This way we zero students in on something they have had practice on and something they should definitely be looking for as peer reviewers, and the more we do it, the more experience they’ll have in the types of things we can revise for in peer conferences.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll apply all of this knowledge to self-evaluation as well.

Infographics on Infographics for the Week of 12/7/15

This week’s infographics are all about . . . well, infographics.  These are great resources if you’re looking for students to create original infographics in lieu of notes, as a study guide, or as a product of their research.  These can also begin discussions about purpose and audience and the decisions writers must make to reach the audience for their desired purpose.

Included are:  “The Anatomy of a Great Infographic,” “An Infographic about Infographics,” “7 Tips to Create an Awesome Infographic” “Why Infographics,” and “Why You Need Infographics.”

If you want students to create their own, check out piktochart.com and sign up for free!

 

anatomy of an infographicinfographic about infographicstips for creating an infographicwhy infographicswhy you need infographics

Meme Monday: Grammar RULES!

This Monday, we have more comma memes for grammar instruction, review, and practice.  In case you missed it, check out last week’s comma meme post.

The first meme hints at this rule:

In sentences where two independent clauses are joined by connectors such as and, or, but, etc., put a comma at the end of the first clause.

Incorrect:He walked all the way home and he shut the door.

Correct:He walked all the way home, and he shut the door.

Some writers omit the comma if the clauses are both quite short:

Example:I paint and he writes.

The second meme makes this mistake:

Many inexperienced writers run two independent clauses together by using a comma instead of a period. This results in the dreaded run-on sentence or, more technically, a comma splice.

Incorrect:He walked all the way home, he shut the door.

There are several simple remedies:

Correct:He walked all the way home. He shut the door.

Correct:After he walked all the way home, he shut the door.

Correct:He walked all the way home, and he shut the door.

The Oxford-comma support comes from meme 3:

Use commas to separate words and word groups in a simple series of three or more items.

Example: My estate goes to my husband, son, daughter-in-law, and nephew.

Note: When the last comma in a series comes before and or or (after daughter-in-law in the above example), it is known as the Oxford comma. Most newspapers and magazines drop the Oxford comma in a simple series, apparently feeling it’s unnecessary. However, omission of the Oxford comma can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.

Example: We had coffee, cheese and crackers and grapes.

Adding a comma after crackers makes it clear that cheese and crackers represents one dish. In cases like this, clarity demands the Oxford comma.

We had coffee, cheese and crackers, and grapes.

These rules/examples are from grammarbook.com.  

commas 3 commas 4 commas oxford

It’s #WriterCrushWednesday featuring Edgar Allan Poe

We all know the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, but it seems only apropos to highlight him and two of his lesser-known (and not-so-often-taught) “haunted’ poems the week before Halloween.

So for today’s #wcw, I thought we’d feature “Spirits of the Dead” and “The Haunted Palace.” These poems can be practice for annotation, finding literary devices, studying how writers create mood, rhyme scheme . . . or as mentor texts for a spooky poem of the students’ own.

 

Spirits of the Dead

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

I

 

Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

 

II

 

Be silent in that solitude,
   Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
   In life before thee are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.

 

III

 

The night, tho’ clear, shall frown—
And the stars shall look not down
From their high thrones in the heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given—
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

 

IV

 

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more—like dew-drop from the grass.

 

V

 

The breeze—the breath of God—is still—
And the mist upon the hill,
Shadowy—shadowy—yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token—
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

 

 

Source: The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (1946)

 

The Haunted Palace

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

In the greenest of our valleys
   By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
   Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
   It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
   Over fabric half so fair!

 

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
   On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
   Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
   In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
   A wingèd odor went away.

 

Wanderers in that happy valley,
   Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
   To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
   Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
   The ruler of the realm was seen.

 

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
   Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
   And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
   Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
   The wit and wisdom of their king.

 

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
   Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
   Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
   That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
   Of the old time entombed.

 

And travellers, now, within that valley,
   Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
   To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
   Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
   And laugh—but smile no more.

 

Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950)

 

Since many of us already know Poe’s basic biography, I thought I’d highlight the Edgar Allan Poe House that it just over the bridge in Philadelphia.  The Edgar Allan Poe House is a National Historic Site located at 532 North 7th Street, just off of Spring Garden. This is just one of the homes in which Poe lived during his time in Philadelphia, which were some of his most prolific years. He wrote many of his well-known works in Philadelphia, including “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Murders of Rue Morgue.”  It is free to visit and is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 5 pm.

Here are a few pictures from the website:

poe hosue poe house 2 poe house

Infographics of the Week for October 19-23: The History & Benefits of Social Media

“Infographics of the Week” is back!  The subject for next week’s cluster is all about social media as a way to reach customers and about the evolution and trends in social media.  With the constant barrage of the negative aspects of social media, these infographics could begin a conversation about social media that is broader than usual.

Infographics are fun and valuable ways to work with students in hitting CCSS.  They can easily be used for:

  • analysis practice (how ideas/claims are developed = RI.9-10.5, effectiveness of structure = RI.11-12.5)),
  • in-depth compare/contrast (what information is included in and excluded from each and why?, evaluation of sources, how sources address a question  – RI.9-10.7, RI.11-12.7)
  • evaluation of the credibility/reliability of sources – (W.9-12.8 – “assess the usefulness of each source”)
  • as a way to gather information on a question or topic (W.9-12.9)
  • models for organizing and designing their own research-based infographics (such an assignment would include W.9-12.4 [“development, organization, and style appropriate to task, purpose, and audience”], W.9-12.6 [“Use technology to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.”], W.9-12.7 (“Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question or solve a problem . . . synthesize multiple sources on the subject . . . demonstrate an understanding of the subject.)
  • Socratic Seminar texts and writing prompts
    2015-BusinessWire-MediaLeaders-PR-Social-Media-Infographic-700x700 a8445b4fa7241590c02e76782b31e313 history-social-media-2004-2014 social-media-trends-infographic social-media-users-02-2015-2

Socratic Seminar & The Big Ideas: On Mars, Wonder, Colonization & Imperialism

Google Mars

Google’s animated Mars drinks water to celebrate NASA’s recent findings.

What are the implications of hunting/searching for life on Mars?

With the discovery of flowing water on Mars, many ethical issues are likely to arise as we consider, “What are the implications of hunting/searching for life on Mars?”  As educators, I think we are responsible for helping students understand, analyze, and evaluate what’s at stake with discoveries like this to ensure they become responsible and curious citizens.

We can do this by bringing the Mars announcement (liquid water!) to the classroom through Socratic Seminar.  Through Seminar, we can connect the news to some of the “big ideas” that run through some of the texts we teach.  This would make students think about the implications of the current event while also helping them understand connections and patterns among various texts, eras, etc. and create a larger context in which they could understand the big ideas in the texts they’re reading.

For resources on Socratic Seminar, check our the Socratic Seminar page

Here’s a quick sampling of some of the issues the news has covered with this finding:

Ian Sample, in his article in The Guardian, “NASA Scientists Find Evidence of Flowing Water on Mars,” quotes John Bridges:

John Bridges, a professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester, said the study was fascinating, but might throw up some fresh concerns for space agencies. The flows could be used to find water sources on Mars, making them prime spots to hunt for life, and to land future human missions. But agencies were required to do their utmost to avoid contaminating other planets with microbes from Earth, making wet areas the most difficult to visit. “This will give them lots to think about,” he said.

And Jonathan Amos’s article on BBC, “Martian salt streaks ‘Painted by Liquid Water‘,” raises a similar issue:

An interesting consequence of the findings is that space agencies will now have some extra thinking to do about where they send future landers and rovers.

Current internationally agreed rules state that missions should be wary of going to places on Mars where there is likely to be liquid water.

A UK space agency expert on Mars landing sites, Dr Peter Grindrod, told BBC News: “Planetary protection states that we can’t go anywhere there is liquid water because we can’t sterilise our spacecraft well enough to guarantee we won’t contaminate these locations. So if an RSL is found within the landing zone of a probe, then you can’t land there.

And here are some issues that we can discuss in conjunction with this current event:

  • 10th & 12th Grades: Colonization: (What happens when we introduce something foreign into a culture/society?  What happens when one culture overruns another? What responsibility to we have to other cultures/lives/places?) – with texts like Things Fall Apart or conflicts with Native Americans
  • 11th & 12th Grades: Language & Bias (AP Language): (Why are each of these news accounts providing different perspectives? What is the impact of their differences in word choice? What can we learn from their differences? Similarities?) – each of the articles below are different.  The CNN article, for example, is hopeful about the “search” for life and includes nothing about the potential sterilization issues that are discussed in both The Guardian & BBC articles.  The Guardian refers to the search for life as a ” hunt.”
  • 10th & 11th Grade: Manifest Destiny & Imperialism (American & Western Studies): (What right does one have to invade or expand its borders? What are the potential benefits and dangers of such an expansion?) – would work nicely after students have some background and in conjunction with political cartoons or other images/texts from the time 
  • 11th Grade: The Unknown: (What is our relationship with the “unknown”? How can not knowing impact how we perceive and react to it?) – pair a discussion of what Beowulf’s Grendel, who represents much of the uncertain and unknown of the times, with “Why are we obsessed with Martians?”
  • 10th Grade: Nature & Wonder: (Why do we go to nature? What happens when we over-turn nature?  What are the implications to interfering with nature? What value is there in “wonder”?) with The Secret Life of Bees & the moon-landing scene (August wants to turn it off . .. some things should be left to wonder – thanks to Sherrie E for this connection) or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature.” John Muir & excerpts from the National Park documentary might also fit nicely here . . . in terms of the importance of preserving of nature (should we?). 
  • 9th Grade: “The Butterfly Effect” (What happens when we introduce something foreign into nature? What are the possible long-term effects?) – with the short story, “Sound of Thunder.”
  • All Grades: Perspective: Will we become the evil, power-hungry, & destructive aliens of science-fiction fantasies if we seek out life on Mars? (thanks to Sherrie for this one!)

Finally, here are some texts on the Mars findings to pair with the literary:

There are many more possibilities for bringing the issues with Mars to the English classroom. If you develop any of your own, please share them in the comment section below or via email.

Introducing . . . Meme Mondays! This Week: Book Censorship

At last year’s in-service, one of the suggestions for the blog was “Meme Mondays,” and so today we roll out the red-carpet for Memes.

To coincide with Banned Books Week, these memes are all about censorship.

censorship students first amendment self censor thought police

A few ways to use memes in your classroom:

  • As warm-ups to start a discussion or concept you’ll be introducing
  • As classroom rules/expectations
  • As discussion starters, enhancers, or “curve-balls”
  • As prompts for writing
  • In a group or paired with another text, as seminar text (the really good memes)
  • As models for memes students will create (based on grammar, literature, authors, current events, etc.) – Mematic is just one free app available for easy meme-making.

Additional resources: