Saturday, April 30, 2016

Week 33: The WEB Program, Total Equality in 2081 and Dystopian Literature (week of 4/29/16)

We began the week by reading Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s "Harrison Bergeron". The story takes place in 2081 America; a futuristic America where everyone is finally equal. Equality, however, comes at a cost; each member of society is "handicapped" based on their abilities or appearance. If you're too strong, you're weighed down with heavy weights. Too smart? You're required to wear an earpiece that emits a thought-breaking sound every twenty seconds. Those who are too good looking are forced to wear masks or alter their appearance with rubber noses and tooth caps. The goal, of course, was to make everyone equal so they would never have to feel bad about their abilities or lack thereof. Through this story, we explored the idea of the "perfect" society. Our conversations on Friday revolved around the idea of fairness and equality as well as power and control. My students all agreed that the 2081 government in "Harrison Bergeron" took their power too far, leading to an uprising by the people of that society. Little did my students know that their epiphanies lead nicely into our unit on "The Giver".

We ended Friday by starting our notes on Dystopian Literature and "The Giver". Students were tasked with using the tools given to them (my website, the notes packet, and their eyes and brains) to find the notes and begin their work. While frustrating for some students, this was an exercise in slowing down and finding the answers without any outside help; the answers were, of course, in front of them the entire time. The lesson here was that they could find the answers for themselves and didn't need to have the answers handed to them. We'll be continuing our notes on Monday before we really dive into the world of utopias and dystopias. I like to frontload my students, in this unit, with an in-depth look at dystopian literature (The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and the Divergent trilogies, for example) and the themes behind it. We then take a look at real-life utopian societies, that either tried and failed or tried and succeeded, through nonfiction pieces. This frontloading really hits the point that perfection is only an opinion and trying to meet those expectations is tough, and not entirely necessary (a nice tie-in to the real world of these middle schoolers and their search for themselves). All of this work is leading us to Lois Lowry's The Giver, which we'll be ending our year with. Whether your son or daughter has read it or seen the movie, or both, the lens we're looking at the novel through will really change their view of the novel as a whole.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of presenting a new program to our entire seventh-grade class on Friday. The program I'm referring to is the WEB program, which stands for Where Everybody Belongs. The WEB program is a seventh-grade orientation and transition program run by 75-80 of our eighth graders and overseen by myself and Ms. Ahearn. Through this program, our eighth graders will learn how to lead effectively and make a real difference at Laguna. We kick off the year by welcoming next year's seventh graders to Laguna through our orientation program. This orientation is geared at pulling the entire seventh-grade class together and making them feel comfortable on campus before registration and the first day of school. It's geared at creating a community of not only the seventh graders but the seventh-grade class and their eighth-grade leaders. For the entire year, ten seventh graders will be grouped with two eighth graders who will lead them through what it takes to be successful in middle school. It's a truly great opportunity for this year's seventh graders to step up and become next year's eighth-grade leaders, spreading their own love for Laguna to next year's seventh graders. If this sounds like an opportunity that would be good for your son our daughter, encourage them to apply for the web program. Applications are available in my classroom (G-6), Ms. Ahearn's classroom (G-7), at the Laguna website, and in their other 7th grade classrooms. Applications are due Thursday, May 5, 2016, by 3:30 in the Student Services office (hand them to Ms. Morgen).

For more information about the WEB program, please view the presentation on my homepage or feel free to email me.

We spent the week polishing up our websites and getting them ready to publish. Before too long, we'll be ready to show off our work! We also had a Tutorial and played Pictionary in Ms. Ahearn's class for Fun Friday; special thanks to Mrs. Blanco who took over for me while I got set up for the assembly.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. trying to teach us through "Harrison Bergeron"?
-How did the government in "Harrison Bergeron" keep control and power over the citizens of that society?
-What weaknesses does the person you're reading about for your Independent Book Project have? How could you spin these in a positive way?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Week 32: Progress Reports, Open House, and the Perfect Society (week of 4/22/16)

 4th Quarter Progress Reports come out next Friday, April 29, 2016. Please check grades on PowerSchool now to ensure that there are no surprises next week.

On Monday, we spent one final day working on our Water Unit letters and getting our folders completely finished. Please check with your son/daughter; if they have their folder in their backpack this weekend, it means they need to finish their folders completely. The final collection of these folders is on Monday.

On Tuesday, I passed out the Project Guidelines for the 4th Quarter Independent Book Project as well as the rubrics that go with it. Please check my homework website, specifically the KBAR tab, for digital versions of both. They're at the bottom, below the calendar for the year.

Wednesday through Friday of this week was dedicated to taking the District Writing Assessment on Argumentative Writing. The DWA was placed immediately after the Tap versus Bottled Water Unit in my class because both dealt with argumentative writing and I wanted to ensure that students had their knowledge of argumentative writing fresh in their minds. One day was dedicated to reading and annotating the provided research (students all received the same prompt, directions, and articles). The other two days were dedicated to writing the essay and editing it. Immediately after students left my class on Friday, I printed their DWAs and am working on getting them graded and put online. Timed writing is always stressful, so I made sure to let my students know that I'm really focusing on arguments and counter-arguments as well as a cohesive essay (introduction, body paragraph, conclusion). Spelling, grammar, and punctuation won't be as focused on in this essay as they are in other assignments because we didn't have much editing time. You'll notice that Conventions is worth 1 point online while Evidence/Elaboration and Purpose/Organization are both worth 3 on PowerSchool.

On Thursday, May 12, 2016, Laguna is hosting an Open House from 6:30pm-8:00pm. Please plan on stopping by to visit your son/daughter's classes to see their amazing work from throughout the school year. On display in my classroom will be the following: bullying presentations, bullying informational/expository essay, 1960s presentation, 1960s historical narrative, "The Outsiders" character development essay, 2nd quarter Independent Book Project Infographic, 3rd quarter Independent Book Project group travelogue, Tap versus Bottled Water argumentative essay (letter) and unit folder, and the "Shut Down Your Screen Week" argumentative essay. I will also be on hand to chat and say hi. Please note that Open House is not a conference period. Please set up a meeting to talk specifics about your son/daughter.

Next week, we'll be moving on to The Giver and dystopian literature. Before diving into the novel, we'll be taking a look at specifically what utopias and dystopias are, how they formed (both in fiction and in real life), and why they fail (both in fiction and real life). We'll also be creating our own version of the "perfect society" to present to the class. This is a fascinating unit because dystopian literature is so prevalent in young adult fiction right now. The Hunger Games (pardon the pun) sparked a fire in these young readers that spawned other favorites like The Maze Runner series, the Divergent series, The Fifth Plague series, and many more. Students are always fascinated to learn that dystopian literature isn't a new concept; it dates back to the 1950s with Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (a personal favorite) and earlier with H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Our study of perfect and imperfect societies is sure to be a great end to the year!

Special shout out to Ms. Lincoln and her third-period class for inviting me to watch their debates this week. On Friday, I got to see arguments for and against Supreme Court Justices being chosen by the President and allowing students off campus for lunch. It's so great that students of both Ms. Lincoln and myself are getting essential debate/argument skills, especially if they have both of us. AWESOME JOB, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!!

This week in AVID was a pretty standard week. We continued working on our AVID websites and added a reflection of our college visits. We also had an amazing tutorial and had a lot of fun on Fun Friday!

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What is your idea of the perfect society? What are the benefits to your perfect society?
-What would it take to make the current society (San Luis Obispo or the United States) the perfect society?
-What kinds of jobs would your biographical person be good at, aside from the jobs they actually had throughout their life?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Week 31: Mailing our Letters and Visiting Stanford and UC Santa Cruz (week of 4/15/16)

This week, we officially finished the Tap versus Bottled Water unit. Starting Monday, we took our research, discussions, and understanding of the effects of tap and bottled water and used our knowledge to craft a persuasive letter that will be sent to the district office. The prompt for this letter was: The district office will be providing students on campus with water, how should they provide it? Choose from 1. drinking fountains with bottle fill stations using tap water, 2. water coolers in every classroom, or 3. daily water bottles provided for students.

Monday and Tuesday, we began gathering the facts we'd use as support from the articles we read as part of this unit. We then started the process of crafting our ideas into full, cohesive arguments and began working with counter-arguments. In seventh grade, students are expected to begin acknowledging counter-arguments as part of their overall argument. While it's a tough concept, my students did incredibly well incorporating the counter-argument into their letter and then using their support facts to prove their own argument. Wednesday and Thursday were dedicated to editing, critiquing, and refining our letters with most students printing, signing, and turning in their letters on Thursday. Students who didn't get a chance to finish Thursday will be given one more day in class to work, Monday, April18, 2016. After that point, it will be up to the student to complete the letter on their own time and turn it in for credit.

With the end of the water unit comes our final unit, The Giver. With this popular novel, we study the idea of utopias and dystopias and their failure or success (cause and effect). It's a really engaging novel because dystopian literature has become incredibly popular these days with series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. We'll also be tying our 4th Quarter Independent Book Project to the novel and its ideas. I'll have more on The Giver in later blogs.

Before Spring Break, students checked out biographies or autobiographies on the person of their choice. In this case, I allowed and pushed for students to choose shorter books. Similarly to the 2nd quarter nonfiction book project, we'll be adding online research into this project to make up for the shorter books. The culmination of this project will ask students to apply for one of the jobs listed in The Giver as the person they read about. They'll be tasked with picking the perfect job for their person and then going through a job interview in front of the class, essentially arguing that their person is best for the job they've chosen to interview for. Because no job interview is complete without a resume, we'll also be creating a resume for our biographical figures using relevant, well-chosen facts from their life.

 On Friday, Mrs. Dellinger took our seventh and eighth-grade AVID trips on a tour of the Stanford University and University of California, Santa Cruz college campuses. The college trips are an annual tradition for the AVID classes and an integral part of our program. Students in the AVID program are students who will be the first-generation in their family to attend college. The AVID program not only fosters organization skills, study skills, and effective communication/questioning skills, but it also provides these students with the support they need to see the bright future in front of them and succeed.

 The AVID college campus tour does just that. It shows these bright, budding students that their hard work and dedication can lead to a bold future. At Laguna, the AVID students are driven, hard-working students who seek the best and hold themselves to a higher standard with their eye on the prize. The college trip is an opportunity to reward them for their hard work and to show them exactly where their hard work can lead them.

We were lucky enough to get to spend the morning touring the Stanford campus. The students were tasked with a "Selfie Scavenger Hunt" where they were asked to find three important campus buildings, locations, etc. with their group. They then needed to take a "selfie" with it and make note of the location's importance to the entire campus. We ended with lunch at the Tressider Union and a quick stop at the bookstore before getting back on the bus. At UC Santa Cruz, we took the students on a driving tour of the campus before parking. Once we got off the bus, we visited the Wellness Center, Upper East Field, and walked past the Cowell Apartments on the way to the McHenry Library. At the library, we got a personal tour led by two incredible student volunteers! The students were amazed to find out that the college library has a lot to offer, just like the LAMS library: computers for all students to use, couches, chairs, benches, and other places to sit and study, a yoga corner, study rooms where students meet and view movies for classes or study in a quiet location, and even an outdoor study porch. The students, although tired, really enjoyed the tour.

Mrs. Dellinger and I are incredibly impressed by the maturity and responsibility our students showed yesterday. They were on time to all meetings, their behavior was on-point (and noted by the students and staff on each campus), and they handled the disappointment of skipping the Santa Cruz Boardwalk with finesse. Although they were disappointed to miss the boardwalk, as Mrs. D and I were, they took it in stride as they reflected on what the trip was truly about; visiting colleges and looking towards our futures.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-Now that you've written and mailed your letter to the District Office, what have you learned about effective arguments?
-Why is the editing process important to writing? How did your writing change this week as a result of the editing process?
-What are the strengths and weaknesses of the person whose biography you're reading?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

Monday, April 11, 2016

Week 30: Argument Writing, Biographies, and an AVID field trip (week of 4/8/16)

We're back into the swing of things over here at The Laffin Place, better late than never. I took a break from blogging over Spring Break as I was in LA visiting my parents and my former colleagues. It was a nice break and I hope you enjoyed yours.

At this point, we're nearing the end of our nonfiction argumentative writing unit, Tap versus Bottled Water. After weeks of research, discussion, and study, we're ready to take our knowledge and put it to the test. Our culminating writing assignment is a letter that will be sent to the District Office. The District Office and School Board have been asked to read the letters under the guise of a new state legislature that requires all schools to provide students with water. Students have been asked to present their opinion (drinking fountains with bottle filling stations, in-class water dispensers (like office water coolers), or individual bottles of water daily. This opinion will be backed up with facts found in our in-class research. At the end of this unit, I will collect the letters and send them to the District Office for review. Who knows? Maybe we'll enact some change on campus with our amazing writing!

With the fourth quarter having started, a new Independent Book Project has also started. This quarter's focus is biography and autobiography. Students are free to choose the person who interests them. I have encouraged my students to pick shorter books because we'll be researching our people more fully later in the quarter. I have checked off students who've brought their books to class. I sent out an email to those of you with sons or daughters who haven't been checked off yet. Please make sure that they have a book, as they've lost four weeks of reading at this point and will need to be caught up to be successful on this project.

This Friday, April 15, both the seventh and eighth-grade AVID classes will be taking a college visit field trip to both Stanford and UC Santa Cruz. Permission slips were sent home last week and need to be returned by Thursday, April 14, 2016 at the very latest. Any student without a permission slip will not be able to attend and will have an alternate activity on campus.

 Here are the specifics:
Who: The seventh and eighth-grade AVID classes; chaperoned by Mrs. Dellinger and Mr. Laffin.
What: college visits and campus tours
Where: UC Santa Cruz and Stanford University
When: Friday, April 15, 2016.
          Please meet at LAMS between 6:00am and 6:15am so we can leave promptly 6:3am.
          Please arrange to pick up your son/daughter at 7:30pm.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-Has your opinion of tap versus bottled changed as a result of your research? How has it changed or stayed the same?
-If it was up to you, how should the School Board provide water to students at LAMS? Why is your option the best option?
-What makes for a good argument? How is argument writing different now than in sixth grade?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin