Sunday, March 20, 2016

Week 28: The End of the Quarter, Book Journeys, and College Research (3/18/2016)

It is at this point that I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that all assignments have been graded and are online. The bad news is that some grades may be a surprise, and not the good kind of surprise. Remind your son or daughter to check the "no name" basket in class. On Friday, there were a lot of papers with no name on them that would have earned full credit. Also, remind your son or daughter that it is their responsibility to check the "absents/extras" box when they're absent for any reason. The phrase "I didn't know" has run rampant lately in my class and my students know that it's absolutely not an excuse I will accept.

Speaking of grades, there is a TON of extra credit that was just put on PowerSchool. On our Travelogue project alone, there were 20 points available for going above and beyond (falling into the "above standard" category). For this project, any student who simply showed up to present and complied with the school dress code received two extra credit points. Any student who showed up looking professional/scholarly OR dressed up as a character from their book earned four points of extra credit. I have a shocking number of students with 100% or higher in my class. Way to go!!! As a reminder, any extra credit from the blue folder in my class or on my website will be graded at the end of the semester.

The Travelogue project is officially over and I am incredibly proud of my students and their hard work. This is the fourth presentation we've done in class and I really saw students taking their knowledge from past presentations and applying it to this one. I can't think of a single slideshow that didn't look professional or scholarly. My students did a great job keeping the words, colors, and pictures down to a minimum while still getting their point across and having fun. I saw a lot of their personalities come out in their slides as well as their presentations. Ask your son or daughter to see their group's slides, they did a great job!!!

You may have noticed that I was absent Monday-Wednesday of last week. I try not to be out of the classroom as much as possible, but I was invited to attend the WEB Conference (Where Everybody Belongs) in Aptos, CA and it was an offer I couldn't pass up. I'll be speaking more about it in later blogs, but what I can tell you is that new and exciting leadership opportunities are coming to Laguna Middle School! Does your son or daughter have it in them to be an amazing leader on campus, but maybe has another elective class in mind? Maybe they want to be a leader but don't want the work that comes with putting on school events. Maybe they want to be a leader but the class is a big step and they want to take smaller steps. The WEB program may be what they're looking for! I will be going into detail later in the quarter but while you wait, please talk to your son or daughter about their interest in being a leader and making Laguna a better place to be!

This week in AVID, the students started their college research project. On Monday, they got to choose the college they're interested in attending. They then took to the internet to explore their college's website to find information like the distance from SLO, how many students attend, how much tuition is per year, the scholarships available, and the traditions the school has. My students spent Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday researching their school to find as much information as they could (the guidelines sheet had a lot of information). We'll also be spending Monday researching. On top of our research, students are turning their work into a poster to present to the class. It's been very exciting to see where my students are thinking of going!

Speaking of going to college, the annual AVID college tour trip is coming up in April. I'll have more information regarding the time and date when I send out the permission slip. We'll be visiting UC Santa Cruz and Stanford University. I'm excited to go on this trip and I know the students are even more excited! It's going to be great.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-You're almost an eighth grader! How much do you think you've grown over the past three quarters? In what areas have you grown?
-What are some of the challenges you've faced in school this year? How have you overcome them?
-What did you learn about working in a group? What will you do differently next time you're asked to work in a group?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Week 27: Adventure Bound and Talking About Irony (Week of 3/11/2016)

First off, I'll be off campus at a conference Monday 3/14-Wednesday 3/16. My computer and grading will be going with me and I will do my best to get as much online as I can. I'll also try to answer emails, but please bear with me as I may be unreachable.

 On Friday 3/11/2016, the students turned in their travelogues. What I specifically collected was the travelogue prep paragraph and picture bibliography. Concerning the prep paragraphs, each student took a portion of the travelogue slideshow and wrote a paragraph on each of those slides (the introduction and conclusion slides were exempt from writing a paragraph).

I provided each student with a paragraph skeleton as well as four days in class to focus on their paragraph and build their group slideshow. The paragraph was basically their script for the presentation, telling us what location from their book they visited (using descriptive details from the book), which character from the book served as their tour guide (giving us details as to their physical and character traits), and what they learned on that day's specific topic (point of view, characterization, tone and purpose, story elements, and theme; these topics were covered over the past five weeks in their book club meetings). The bibliography that was due was the source citation for each picture they used in their slideshow. Each picture needed to be labeled for reuse and a proper citation needed to be created using the EasyBib add-on in Google Docs or the EasyBib website. We've used EasyBib previously for the bullying project and second quarter's independent book project, to name a couple times.

Friday started our presentations. Because I am out of the classroom next week, I had to make presentations start a day early (as they were slated to begin Monday 3/14). Students who signed up to present Friday received extra credit for presenting early (I didn't tell any of my students this until after the fact in order to make it fair for everyone). Already, we've been taken on some amazing journeys into the world of these books and I hope the students are as excited to read some of these books as I am. I know that Thursday 3/17 and Friday 3/18 will be just as amazing with presentations.

Speaking of March 18, our third quarter ends then. Time sure is flying! Please check PowerSchool and help your child get in any missing work so there are no surprises when quarter report cards come out. Remember that all work from the third quarter must be turned in by March 18 or it's a zero in the gradebook; anything that's a zero for quarter three after March 18 will remain a zero.

This week in AVID, we talked about sanity and insanity in "The Tell-Tale Heart" as well as what makes someone a trustworthy narrator (and how sanity plays into that). We had some really deep discussions about the narrator's motivations and made connections between "The Raven" and "The Tell-Tale Heart". My favorite was the idea that the narrator is the same man for both stories; driven mad by the loss of Lenore and the perceived raven, the narrator moves in with "the old man" to keep from being lonely. Depression gets the best of him and causes him to go insane, eventually killing "the old man" over his vulture eye. Fascinating!

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-When is your group presenting your travelogue? What specific topics are you presenting?
-Is there extra credit on this project? How can you earn it?
-What did you learn about working in a group, specifically during the four days we worked in class this week?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Week 26: Incredible Book Clubs, Student Support, and Talking About Sanity (Week of 3/4/16)

This Friday was our very last official book club meeting of the third quarter. I know I've said it just about every single week of this quarter, but I'm so impressed with the book club meetings my students are having! Each and every group has been able to have a meaningful conversation about their book. I'll take a little credit and note that the structures in place have helped (pre-paragraphs, meeting notes, visible discussion questions, and the "meaningful conversations" handout), but the students have really taken the reins on Fridays. What's great is that their maturity has allowed me to free-float from group to group and join conversations myself. I've heard the students often "policing" themselves, reminding each other to stay on task, asking clarification questions, and adding information to each other's information. I truly feel like these book clubs have fostered an excitement for reading, which in turn has deepened the students' understanding of their book. A deeper understanding is just what these students will need for next week.

Starting on Monday, the students will be taking their notes from the past five weeks of book club meetings and applying them to a travelogue. I am asking my students to imagine that they've been transported into the world of their book and are being given a tour by the characters of their book. Student groups will "visit" five different settings with five different character tour guides. In each location, their tour guide will "teach" them not only about the setting and their own character/physical traits, but about one of the "big five" discussion topics (point of view, characterization, tone and purpose, plot elements, and theme). To view a sample of a final product, created by me, please click here. Scroll to the bottom of the page and look for "Kevin Laffin: The Hunger Games Travelogue Presentation". Right now, we have Monday and Tuesday slated to work on the project in class but I may add work days as I see necessary. Please note that I will be absent Monday, March 14- Wednesday, March 16, 2016. I will be hosting an after-school G-6 takeover (we now have our very own Chromebooks!) Monday, March 7-Friday, March 11, 2016, from 3pm-4pm.

This week, we also continued on with our study of bottled and tap water. After dissecting some vocabulary using context clues, we watch the video that our transcript, "The Story of Bottled Water", came from. In each class, I heard some opinions change as we realized that some companies use filtered tap water to fill their bottles. Did you know that in taste tests, bottled water LOST to tap water each and every time? It's interesting to think that when most people prefer bottled over tap. We'll be continuing on with our study by reading a fact sheet and a government document titled, "The right to water". As we read, students are building the case for their argument as to which water is better, bottled or tap.

Lastly, I'd like to again touch on my grading procedures. Since last week, I've had a couple of students confused as to my policies and so I thought I'd address them more widely by creating a "Grading Policies" page on my website. In short, on-time work takes priority over late work when I'm grading. Late work, whether a day or two weeks late, receives a deduction of 10% off of the student's final earned grade. I also spoke about the colored symbols on PowerSchool:

Blue circle/white C- there's a comment on the assignment.
    -Click the score to read the comment.
Green check- I have the assignment but have not graded it yet
-- (two dashes)  means that the assignment itself has been added to PowerSchool, but hasn't been graded (doesn't hurt the student)
Red triangle- the assignment is/was late
Yellow square- the assignment is missing
    -this assignment also receives a score of zero until it's turned in
Blue diamond- student is exempt from this assignment (doesn't hurt student)
Orange square/white asterisk- assignment not included in final grade (doesn't hurt student)

Please also visit my "PowerSchool Support" page to help yourself navigate the useful website.

This week in AVID, we put our comprehension to the test and filled out a graphic organizer on "The Tell-Tale Heart". Students started by working alone to get all of the information they could on their organizer. Then, students traded information to complete the handout while talking about the story in a meaningful way. I collected these handouts on Thursday, but will be passing them back out for an in-class discussion Monday.
We're going to be using our knowledge to really dive into what it means to be sane or insane. Once we have our answer, we'll be moving into irony to discover how Poe used irony to not only create suspense in his story but how he also used it to add to the narrator's overall characterization.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What five settings has your group decided to present in your travelogue? Which characters are giving you the tour? Why did you choose those characters for those particular locations?
-Has your opinion of which is better, bottled or tap, changed since last week? Why or why not?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin