Friday, November 28, 2008

Tree in Need of Aid

I made this Christmas tree back in the mid-80s--1980s, not 1880s, which is what my students would think. The branches are made of tiny seed beads. I bought the kit and instructions at Michael's. At the time, I could only afford a few of the more expensive cloisonne ornaments, the angel on top, for example. For a couple of years, I added a few more, then life intervened, my children got older, and every year the tree was just put out, the globe dusted, and nothing changed. Now, however, I have grandchildren who are interested in the tree, and I would like to spruce it up a little. (Hey, that was a pun!) Anyway, does anyone out there know where to find the tiny ornaments? All of the ones that I have found for miniature trees are much too big. This entire tree is less than a foot tall, and the ornaments are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch. They have tiny s-shaped hooks on them. Ornaments with long string loops will not fit over these branches.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving

Eat turkey.

Accompanied by good music.

Followed by THE GAME.

It was truly a day for remembering what's important, including my own parents. Today was my daddy's birthday, and tomorrow was their wedding anniversary. They would have loved seeing these children.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving--Teacher Content

First things first—Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

For those of you out there who teach, here’s some information about the project we just finished:

Each year, students at our high school read a novel at the same time. The first year, we all read the same novel, The Great Gatsby, but we found the range from regular 9th grade to 12th grade Advanced Placement to be a stretch. Last year, we did King Arthur legends in different versions depending on the grade and level. This year we chose the Western. Because we live in an agricultural area of Texas in a small town whose main industry is agriculture--specifically feeding cattle, producing food for cattle, transporting cattle, producing milk, and beef packing, we thought this would be a familiar subject to our students. After all, no one here even looks up at the rattle of spurs and pickups with horse trailers in tow are parked regularly at the drive-ins. I remember going to a touristy Western restaurant with my small son a few years ago. He looked at their waiters in full cowboy regalia and said, “Mommy, those cowboys don’t smell right!” Well, imagine our surprise in finding out that most of our students were totally unfamiliar with the Western as a genre. I suppose we had thought they would have picked up some things by osmosis, but very few of them had.

Our novel selections for most students were very traditional:

9th grade—Hondo, by Louis L’Amour
10th grade—The Cherokee Trail, by Louis L’Amour
11th and 12th grade, 10th grade Pre-AP—Conagher, by Louis L’Amour
And for the 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement, a coming-of-age novel that explores the myths of the West as a theme, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses

Each teacher—one on each grade level—chose her own activities and developed her own lesson plans for each book. The McCarthy book was taught with not only an eye to theme and plot, but also with a more traditional AP approach of style analysis, study of literary archetypes, study of symbolism, and structural analysis. The students are now in the midst of group multimedia projects over aspects of the novel or background issues in the novel. We will finish after the Thanksgiving holiday. If anyone wants a list of the projects, let me know. I can already tell that some of them should have been designed a little differently. Student response to the novel was mixed. I know that two students really disliked it—one was vocal and one too polite to say so. However, some of the students who are in the AP class because that’s our college-track class, but who really are science or math oriented, liked the book, finished reading a week or so early, and went on to read another Western. One, who thought we should have read a “more challenging” McCarthy—GT students can be that way—told me she is taking No Country for Old Men to read on the road for their Thanksgiving holiday trip. I told her I hope her holiday is very festive!

The other novels were taught with a more traditional approach. We read and discussed in class. We explained an amazing amount of Western terminology—words like stagecoach, corral, stirrup, saloon, etc. The 10th grade students produced tracking posters on various Western topics. These are researched and documented in MLA form, sort of a visual research paper.

These were displayed on the wall as part of our decoration for the final barbecue. One of the results of this project was that students became familiar with all sorts of Western places and legends that they were not familiar with before. It was also a good exercise in documentation skills.

My classes took a more varied approach to projects. I gave students in my 10th grade Pre-AP and 12th grade regular classes a choice of followup activities for the novel. I deliberately chose for the 10th graders activities that would lead them to take “compositional risk,” to think about writing in different ways other than a traditional essay or paper. Those students will be taking the state writing exam in March, and to score really well, being able to think about writing in a creative fashion is essential.

Here are some sample project suggestions. I was more detailed in spelling out requirements to the students, but you can suit youself if any of the ideas appeal to you:

  • A 25-entry dictionary of Western terminology used in the novel. This was to be in the form of a book. The results were much more varied and interesting than I had expected.

  • A diary “written” by a character in the book. It had to include not only incidents in the book, but thoughts and feelings and events fitting “between” episodes. It was to be properly aged, of course.

  • A short story retelling an event from the novel written from the viewpoint of the 11-year-old boy or the younger girl.

  • A research project using a poster and Venn diagram comparing the two Native American tribes mentioned in the novel—the Zuni and the Apache.

  • A project investigating the setting of the novel, the San Agustin Plains of New Mexico, at the time of the novel and as it is today. (This is the location of the Very Large Array, the enormous radio telescope.)

  • A children’s book describing what it was like to be a cowboy. I have not yet read all of these. Some did sort of a “this is what a cowboy uses” type. Some did coloring books. Some wrote stories with plot. Levels of execution varied. One of my more artistic students used scrapbooking materials in a creative and unusual way.

  • The one very unsuccessful assignment, probably because it was selected by students who don’t want to work anyway and who just threw something together--a resume for the main character.

Due to both teachers having to be out due to illness, the 11th and 9th grade classes are not through with their projects yet, so I can’t tell you about them.
We also watched the associated movies for the books we read, and we did comparison activities—How is the movie different from the book? Why would the makers of the film have left out certain scenes that you found interesting? Did elements in the film change—why did bad weather become heavy rainstorms instead of snow, for example? Are the characters as you imagined them?

The L’Amour books were a big success. Students who usually choose not to read are checking out more. We were careful to choose books that have strong female roles as well as the traditional Western hero, so the girls liked them as well.

Activities that we all did:

  • We showed excerpts from a film on the Western as a genre. It was originally on television, so it was broken into parts. We showed the parts that were relevant to our particular classes. Therefore, we covered the concepts of the Western hero, the treatment of Native Americans and Hispanics in traditional Westerns, the bad guy, the role of violence, and other topics with liberal examples from film.

  • Every English student attended a presentation by Eldrena Douma, a Pueblo storyteller. Although I wasn’t sure at first what the response would be, I found that they did incorporate some of what she said into discussion of the scenes involving Native Americans in our novel. In addition, she gave some good examples of how to turn everyday events into interesting stories. This was a deliberate choice on her part to give us examples for teaching TAKS writing.

  • We also spent a day on Artifiction, a project from the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame and Museum in Amarillo, Texas.

We teamed for this project. Working at the tables in the library, students examined artifacts from the museum to determine what they were. They made the determination by answering questions on analysis sheets. Then we gave them the history of the object. When we go back from the holidays, we are going to be asking students to choose an “artifact” from their homes or lives and write about that artifact and its meaning, not as an explanation, but from the viewpoint of someone using the artifact, someone making the artifact, someone finding the artifact, or from the p0int-of-view of the artifact itself. There are graphic organizers provided by the museum for this purpose. (I know that it seems like poor planning on our part to split this project over the holidays, but we made 2 levels of the football playoffs during this time If you don’t teach in a small Texas town, you may not understand what effect that would have on planning, but take my word for it.)

  • Our final event was a pre-Thanksgiving feast of barbecue, cole slaw, and beans in the cafeteria. Students from the National English Honor Society did the decorating and cleanup.

When my daughter was a preschooler many years ago, her school sponsored a "Thankful for Pioneers" day each Thanksgiving, and the students could dress as traditional pilgrims, as Indians, or as pioneers from our area. The menu was barbecue and chili, and the children gave thanks for the settlers here. That was probably a very appropriate choice, since there is some evidence that the first "Thanksgiving" in the sense of a meal for that purpose by Europeans occurred long before the pilgrims in the Palo Duro Canyon about 50 miles from here when Coronado's men held a feast of thanksgiving for finding the canyon with water and good hunting after so many days of crossing the relatively barren Llano Estacado.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Almost to the Holidays

We only have two days of school this week. I'm thinking that is a good thing. Actually, we have one real day of school--Monday. Here is my schedule for Tuesday:
Period 1--breakfast; decorate the cafeteria for our Western barbecue luncheon; students are all coming to school in Western dress. Since many of our students are from Mexico originally, the style of Western dress is not what you expect from cowboy movies, but that's ok. Period 2--continue decorating if necessary.
Period 3--class as usual
Period 4--assembly in gym rewarding student achievement for the first two six weeks. This is a new thing for us, but it sounds really neat. I'm an official award T-shirt passer-outer.
Period 5-have someone cover my class so that I can supervise my serving crews in the cafeteria.
Period 6--supervise cleanup in the cafeteria while my class is watching the required instructional film and then practicing a schoolbus evacuation.
7th period--class. Do you think we'll accomplish much?

Over the holiday, I will write up and post pictures of the activities for those of you who are teachers. We learned some unexpected things from this project.

On the knitting front--Today, I'm knitting 15 minutes, housework/holiday cooking/laundry 15 minutes, in sort of a Flylady adaptation. I am not a ribbing person, and I'm working on a hat that is all ribbing on size 4 needles. I'm very pleased with the way it's turning out now that I'm ready to start the decreases, but it has been slower than I expected. I had planned a second, but I think I'm going to adapt for larger needles and fatter yarn. The original, however, will be extra warm and needs to be for the particular recipient. Pattern: Jacques Cousteau, for those of you on Ravelry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Book, Another Christmas Knit, Another Great Saturday

My latest read is Plague Ship, another book in the Oregon series by Clive Cussler. Some of the books have been written with this co-author, Jack Du Brul; others were written with Dirk Cussler. The plot has its improbable moments, just as all Cussler novels do, but for me that is part of the charm. This writer has always been able to make the most unlikely events and the most widespread settings seem possible. This is not an author to read for fine desciptive passages, symbolism, or depth of characterization; however, the issues examined are often "ring a bell" with contemporary issues and concerns. This one concerns world population alarmists, a cult gone awry (Are there any that don't, in fiction, at least?), and a mysterious virus, with an origin that is truly Cussler in nature.

Hint: I repeated the last project in a different color and different yarn. It's on my Ravelry project page.

Last Saturday was great! I drove to Amarillo that morning to stay with the younger DGD, who is almost 2 and a real sweetheart. We watched a VeggieTales movie, and she napped in my lap on the loveseat with both of us wrapped in an afghan. Meanwhile, the older DGD and her Mom and Dad were helping with a local charity, the Eveline Rivers Project. The adults have been helping almost every year since college.

For lunch, the older DGD and my DGS from my son's family and I went to a Japanese restaurant. That's 2 five-year-olds. They watched with some trepidation as the fire shot up from a grill a few seats away. When the chef came to our table to cook, one child ducked behind my chair and the other crawled under his! The chef just looked at me and grinned and said, "No fire, yes?" I nodded. Once he started cooking, everything was fine, and I think they enjoyed the meal. I know that we took go boxes, and DGD ate the leftovers for supper that evening. I will not, however, repeat this on a Saturday. We'll go for a weekday lunch. The restaurant was so crowded that we were rushed, as in they brought the check before the bean sprouts were finished cooking. I do not enjoy dining that way.

Today I'm a little bit nervous because I have brought in a project from a museum for a department-wide writing project. I hope it works well. We were a day later getting the materials than we had expected, so I'm the only one who got to look at the lesson plans and materials last night. Otherwise, we're winging it. This should be interesting, but I'm hoping that high school students will respond well to a hands-on writing project. I'll post the results and the link to the project if it works well.

OTN--nothing till this evening. Tonight is the one night of the week that I consider TV night, so I'll get lots of knitting done, I hope. I need to swatch for a project first.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Knitting and Literature

Hint: Sir Gawain's opponent would have worn my newest Christmas knitting project, although his would not have been knitted. Check my Ravelry project page for the picture.

I just finished listening to the audiobook of Divine Justice by David Baldacci from I am a fan of the Camel Club series, but this is the first that I have listened to instead of read. It was a good listen and fun to knit to. The setting was a little bit different from what I expected after reading The Camel Club and The Collectors, but that only made the book more entertaining. I think that anyone who likes the spy novel type of mystery would find these books good reads.

VERY light reading--

A friend and I have also been having a blast reading or listening, depending on availability, to a series of romance novels by Jayne Castle, one of the pen names of writer Jayne Ann Krentz. The particular books we have been reading, some of them scrounged from used book stores, take place on another planet which was settled by Earth colonists during a temporary opening in the space/time continuum. The novels are pretty much standard romance fare, but we particularly enjoy the dust bunnies, tiny creatures which inhabit the planet. They start out in the first novel as just minor creatures, but in succeeding books the companion animals take on rather interesting personalities. I remember back in the '70s thinking that I would really like to have an R2D2 unit of my own. Very handy. I sort of feel the same way about these tiny fictional creatures. I rather hope the author continues the series.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hello Again!

I am back. I spent a couple of weeks not feeling well, but I'm OK now.

You will notice that there is not a knitting picture on this post. That is going to be a problem for a little while. Yes, my camera is still working, but I am doing some Christmas knitting for people who look at my blog. For those of you on Ravelry, I'm posting pictures on my project page there. After all, one has to keep some amount of mystery going! Hint: the newest project is a lunar event.

What's been going on? School is rambling on at full speed. This week, due to the intelligence of our legislature, is the end of the second six weeks, which is not six weeks, but five. Our first semester is significantly shorter than our second, something that makes almost no difference to elementary grades, but is a real killer in high school, where there are several one-semester classes. It also means that students who find out they are on the 3-weeks failing list have very little time left to fix anything. I know, you would think that since a student didn't turn in 3 papers and had an F on the one he did turn in, the fact that he is failing would not be a surprise, but somehow it always is! Of course, next semester, when we have a couple of seven-week six weeks, he will have more time. . . .

There are academic high points: our Western novel reading project is going well. We are seeing students who have finished reading ahead of time because they have become interested and are heading to the library for another book. Yippee! I am particularly happy about the ones who have done that with a major novel by Cormac McCarthy. Next week, my classes will have their turn at the computer lab to work on research and writing projects. Amazingly, this project turned out to be more cross-cultural than we had anticipated--many students had no idea about the popular history of the Southwest. I suppose there hasn't been an MTV version.

Side note: I actually had to stop a film-clip-illustrated documentary on the Western hero because a classroom full of sophomore girls was buzzing so loudly about how "hot" the younger John Wayne was.

How do you let the world know you're a knitter? Put on your shoes in the living room by your chair in the dark because you're in a hurry to get to school to check on the guest speaker. Teach all day. Look down 8th period, and see that you're trailing a length of bright green yarn out of your right shoe. At least it wasn't toilet paper. It was also "Dress Crazy" day for Red Ribbon Week, so perhaps some thought it was my costume.