Friday, May 31, 2019

What it is to start Middle School

In May I was fortunate to spend the day with Ms. Strohman’s seventh graders at Marsteller Middle School. I was there to facilitate their discussion of the Giver by Lois Lowry. I am currently thinking about writing a book about the first week of middle school so instead of 'thank yous' I asked them if they would share with me some of the good and bad experiences from starting middle school the previous year. I received almost a hundred shares from them.

According to these students about one-third of older siblings are nice and tell you the truth about what to expect in middle school. The other two-thirds tell you about the mean teachers and all the homework and that even if you can remember your locker combinations it will usually jam on you anyway. None of this ended up being true.

The three biggest fears about starting middle school seem to be the locker, changing classes, and making it to class on time. I picture opening the book with a musical dream scene where our hero and heroine have lockers on either side of the hall from each other, they have not yet met, and neither can open their locker.

The rest of the students sing “Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock.” While opening and closing their lockers.  Interspersed in the song are singers calling out multiple locker combinations. And because it’s a dream sequence, students can dance into lockers and then come out another locker further down the hall. “Stack your books, check your books, get your books.” Finally, the hall clears. Our hero and heroine are still standing in front of their unopened lockers, but they see each other and smile. We know it’s going to be love.

One boy reported that he got written up several times a day for being late to class and was given notices he was supposed to sign and return to the teacher. When she didn’t ask for them back, he threw them away. Another boy who thought the whole idea of changing clothes for gym was disgusting accidently put his pants in another boy’s locker and closed it. He had to ask around to find out who now ‘owned’ his pants. Another boy reported that on the first day of school there was no bus assigned to his neighborhood so he was a half hour late.

There was also a fear of not knowing anyone. This came strongly of course from people who had just moved to town but also from kids whose elementary school friends went to a different middle school. I think they should invent speed friending so those who wanted to, could meet a bunch a people and maybe find a friend.

My thanks to all the kids who shared.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Visit to Marsteller Middle School

May 16 I had the fun of spending the day with Ms. Strohman’s 7th-grade classes at Marsteller Middle School. We talked about The Giver bye Lois Lowry. It was the basis for a great discussion about what are utopian ideas for society and how they easily become dystopian ideas. There were very few defenders for any of the rules, in The Giver, that gave shape to the society. We also did some grammar exercises.
What I liked most was that I had been with them for a day last fall when they were practically brand knew seventh graders. Wow, they have grown so much. At least a third of them are taller than there teacher. And a couple of the boys are about to look me straight in the eyes. More importantly, though they have matured in themselves and in their thinking. They had a much greater ability to state and defend their thoughts and increased confidence in their positions.
One of the things I do is include incorrect words in my PowerPoint slides. And I tell them up front that I might lie to them, after all, I write fiction and it’s all maid up. I have small prizes if they challenge me and if they can give clear evidence about why what I am saying is not true. More of them were quick to call me out and made good arguments for why my claims weren’t true.
It was a great day.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart a 2 and a half hour read

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart                          a 2 and a half hour read

Okay this book made me cry, not constantly but several times. It is another story about a youth who stages a successful runaway aided by the silence of a friend, his devoted dog,  and one adult at the very end of the journey. There are others who might have helped him but he wouldn’t have it, he was determined to make it on his own.  The fact that the one adult at the end doesn’t intervene is a little hard to believe, but it makes the story. The story makes me think that sometimes we are certain we have to do things on our own, but maybe we are wrong, and maybe we should let people help us.

One of us is Lying by Karen McManus a four hour read

One of us is Lying by Karen McManus                     a four hour read

Five high school students end up in detention and one dies. Everyone including them thinks one of them committed murder. The four tell us the story. It is a good mystery and a look at what happens when suddenly your friends are not your friends anymore. A little talk about who is hooking up, who has hooked up and who has not;  other than that not much high school material.

Nightmares by Jason Siegel and Kirsten Miller a three hour read

Nightmares by Jason Siegel and Kirsten Miller                a three hour read

Charlie Laird is certain his stepmother is a witch. She is not only the spell casting, potion brewing type, but also the kind that catches children in their nightmares and threatens to eat them. In fact, every day the evidence grows, unfortunately not even his best friends believe him. They think she is rather nice. This is a fun and at time scary read. The thing about nightmares is that if we don’t face the underlying fears that feed them we will never escape them. Will you go back into the darkness to confront your fears?

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie a five hour read

And Then There Were None  by Agatha Christie          a five hour read

Agatha Christie is the premier mystery writer and this is no disappointment. Her stories are not scary but intriguing as the reader and the character both seek to figure out what is going on. I think there is a legitimate question as to whether she gives the reader enough information to actually solve the mystery or does she keep the truth so hidden we don’t stand a chance. I did not see the solution to this one coming. One of the things she does do very well is set scenes of large numbers of people, in this case ten, and you are able to track them all. This book doe include some older vocabulary and uses some prejudicial terms that would not be used in current writing. These did not distract from the story and helps us understand the time period in which it was written.

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass a three hour read

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass                        a three hour read

Mia has a secret she hasn’t told anyone. When she was eight she started to tell everyone but then heard “Freak.” And pulled it back in so even her parents don’t know she sees colors. Yes, letters, words, and numbers have colors. Somehow it is very helpful in history and language arts but not so much in math and foreign languages.  Now, like me, you are probably thinking why doesn’t she just search ‘I see colors?’ and discover it is a thing called synesthesia. Well, there are two reasons; one is we wouldn’t have a story and the other is the family is not very computer oriented. This is a good story about losing friends and making up. It’s about family being there for each other and it’s about assumptions being wrong. There is a lot of healing in this story. There is also a cat named Mango who is very important.