Sunday, March 26, 2017

Author Polly Holyoke Visits ENMS

On Friday, YA Lit author Polly Holyoke (@pollyholyoke) visited our school to talk to the kiddos. It is not every day that kids get a chance to talk to the authors of the books they read so I am glad that we had this opportunity. Polly Holyoke wrote The Neptune Project, a Sunshine State Young Readers Award Book nominee. It is one of fifteen books that will compete for that prize.

Polly talked to the kids about her own life of adventure: climbing mountains, swimming with dolphins, and being bitten by a rattlesnake. To say that the kids were interested would be an understatement. Polly also talked about her writing process, the publishing process, and how she comes up with here ideas. She said, "Most people tell you to write what you know," but in her dystopian underwater novels, she instead wrote what she could imagine. 

Since The Neptune Project and the follow-up, The Neptune Challenge, are underwater adventures, Polly brought in some of her SCUBA gear to show the kiddos. She talked a little bit about snorkeling, diving, and spear fishing. Since we live right on the Gulf of Mexico, the kids could relate. Many had done these activities themselves. Polly told the kids that while her writing process is unique to her, there are some similarities among authors' processes. Almost all authors read a lot, write everyday, unplug from technology to clear their minds, and daydream. She talked about the lost art of daydreaming and how daydreaming is often the time when people are most creative. She encouraged the kids to develop their own storytelling abilities. "There will always be jobs for storytellers," she said. 

The time that Polly Holyoke spent with us was awesome. Kids need to see that they can do what they love for personal fulfillment, learning, and career opportunities. In the audience were many budding writers. Seeing a successful published author and being able to interact with her will only help push these kids in that direction. This was one of those essential learning opportunities that we try to get for our kiddos. It is a meaningful experience that kids won't forget anytime soon.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Experimenting with

One of the things I tell the kids all of the time is that we are in class to learn to read better, write better, and use technology better. My kiddos have not had great exposure to educational technology and so I feature as many new apps, sites, and programs as possible. The kids take to the technology quite well even though some put up an initial resistance because they are a bit afraid to try something new. I reiterate to them that their futures will include a lot of technology both in college and in their careers. I do not want my kiddos to be at a competitive disadvantage because they are not as technology savvy as other kids in middle schools across the nation.

This week we experimented with infographics. When kiddos create infographics, they have to think a bit differently than when they write text. They have to visualize the organization of their topic graphically and then create that vision. There can be a whole lot of thinking involved. I introduced to the kids. It is a great infographic creation site. Kids can start from scratch or use one of dozens of templates. Most kids sifted through the templates, trying to find the one that would best fit their needs. Some started with the blank option and created from scratch.

Over the course of our class period, kids discovered different things about the program. Could they use their own photos in their infographic? Yes. When a student learned the work flow for that task, they became the expert in class, teaching the other kids. How do we download the infographic to turn in online? After a minute, another student figured out that work flow and shared it with the class. There were dozens of decisions that the kiddos had to make in order to produce their infographic and there were numerous problems that they had to troubleshoot. That is how we learn.

This type of learning is not quiet learning. When a student figures out the solution to a problem, they often yell out, "I figured it out!" At that point, I tell the rest of the class that we have an expert at this solution. As more and more problems are solved, the kids keep teaching one another how the program works until all kids have a working understanding of the site. This is how we learn in class. I give the kids a task and allow them the time to explore, tinker, and learn. Once they discover how to work the technology, they teach each other. I manage the environment. This is the best kind of learning because it is immediate, relevant, and student-centered. This is the learning that sticks.