Thursday, September 30, 2010

book club

A few years ago, I made a resolution to read a book a month in order to keep my mind fresh and to develop the habit of reading. I so enjoyed this new hobby that I decided to offer the same challenge to my students. And thus started Mrs. Freeman's 8th Grade Book Club. At the end of each month, those students that completed a book during that month get together during study hall, talk books, and partake of a little snack.

This month I made gingersnaps (yum) and read David McCullough's John Adams.

I loved the book and was somewhat said to finish it and say good bye to Adams. McCullough is an amazing story-teller and an awesome writer. He blends Adams correspondence into the story beautifully making vivid and dynamic portraits of real people in history. There were a few parts where I felt the book dragged a little. By far, the most compelling parts were about John and Abigail's marriage (a remarkably faithful and loving relationship) and Adams' relationship with Jefferson (very on-again-off-again). Adams was truly a remarkable man with an amazing amount of integrity. At the end of the book, McCullough cites the inscription that Adams had engraved on his family's sarcophagus: "This stone and several others have been placed in this yard by a great, great, grandson from a veneration of the piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, frugality, industry and perseverance of his ancestors in the hopes of recommending an affirmation of their virtues to their posterity." Adams' humility and willingness to sacrifice everything for virtue and patriotism is truly admirable.

(I heartily recommend the companion book to John Adams also by David McCullough, 1776. It is one of my favorite books and an easier/shorter read than John Adams.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

historical fiction


not so studious

I love some good historical fiction in my life. My seventh and eighth graders are currently reading Johnny Tremain and it is nothing less than fabulous. My mom read us this classic when we were kids before taking a vacation to Boston/New England. While I think I liked it then, as an adult and teacher I LOVE it! This being my fifth year in the classroom, I am estimating to have read Johnny Tremain's story about 7 times, and each time it gets better and better.

For those of you that are not familiar with the childhood classic, Johnny Tremain tells the story of a young, cocky Boston silversmith who suffers a terrible accident and as a result gets swept up in the activity of the Revolutionary War from the Boston Tea Party to the Sons of Liberty to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The book does an excellent job of drawing readers into the colonial era and introducing them to the real players of the Revolution like Paul Revere, John Hancock, Sam Adams, James Otis, and Dr. Warren, but it also tells a very compelling story about a boy that learns to think outside of himself and grow up. And if that is not a ringing-enough endorsement, my kids all love it.

Several months ago, I read another historical fiction book that I really liked called The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent. Kent tells the story of Sarah Carrier Chapman whose mother was accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692. I really enjoyed this book as it brought the hardships of colonial life to light and drew you in to the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials. I read the court scene to my seventh and eighth graders to give them a sense of what it was really like; they were entranced. It is a great story and a well-written book.

So there you go. If you start feeling a little colonial--which I always do this time of year--pick up one of these great historical fictions and be transported.

marriage as evangelism

Recently my students, especially the girls, have had weddings on the brain. One of my former colleagues got hitched just a couple of weeks ago and many of the middle schoolers got to attend their teacher's nuptials. So with all of the anticipation prior to the event and reminiscing afterward, we have had lots of fun converstaions about weddings and marriage. (One of my seventh grade girls announced at the lunch table that she wanted a 20 foot train on her wedding dress! To which I wanted to respond, "Dang girl!" but held my cool.)

In the course of these conversations, the girls began to ask about my wedding. When I told them that I wore my grandmother's wedding dress, they were fascinated and asked to see pictures. So a few days later, I brought in the wedding album that my mom made for me this Christmas, and all of the girls poured over it during study hall. It was so sweet to get to share those memories with them. They loved everything from the church to the flowers to seeing how much my sisters and I look alike--it was quite precious. They even said that Barrett looked like Robert Pattinson--which for them is a very high compliment. One of the sweetest parts was when one girl found one of their vocabulary words in the little letter my mom wrote to me at the end of the book: poise.

I am so thankful to teach in a school where I have so many opportunities to teach my students about everything and to share Jesus with them at every turn. It is moments like this one that I am so humbled to have the chance to show these young ladies what it looks like to have "poise" and even what a Christian wedding and marriage look like. Whether it be reading through passage where Jesus talks about marriage and divorce or the kids asking about my husband, we have had some very cool conversations. What I think this reveals more than anything else is that a Christian marriage the way God intended is totally counter to just about everything that the culture tells us marriage is. When I know all my students see in the world is Bridezilla and shows that portray marriage as boring, stupid, and temporary, I am so thankful that they at least got one small glimpse of something else even if it was just in their teacher's scrapbook.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

shakespearean transition

Lately, there have not been a lot of inspirational moments in my classroom as I feel like we are still working on getting the basic procedures and good habits down, but today there was a little light bulb so I thought I would celebrate it.

As we went over the basic format for a three paragraph essay today, the subject of transition words came up. I explained that transitions are words that signal to the reader that you are moving from one point to the next and they are important because they lend clarity to your writing. The class was giving examples of different transitions words they could use like first, then, next, also, in conclusion, in addition, furthermore, secondly, and lastly. Then I remembered one of my favorite lines from Much Ado About Nothing. The crazy fool of a constable and the comic relief, Dogberry, brings some criminals before the Duke. His explanation of their crime and his use of transitions is absolutely hilarious:

Dogberry: Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

After we established the fact that the transitions were all jumbled up, we had a good laugh over the fact that he found six ways to say, "He lied." I love it when we can use humor and Shakespeare in a lesson. (By the way, if you haven't seen Much Ado About Nothing, you need to asap. With Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh you cannot go wrong. Michael Keaton plays Dogberry and is hilarious.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

two thumbs up

I realized recently that I have done a surprisingly small number of movie posts of late in spite of all the good movies I watched in the recent past. I intend to remedy this tonight!

Recommendation numero uno: Me and Orson Welles
Barrett and I heard about this movie back in December but missed it in the theater and have been waiting for it to come out on video. When that day finally came, we were not disappointed. We both agreed that this is one of the best movies we have seen in a long time.

The movie is about Orson Welles' early career in theater (post-radio and pre-film) directing Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the early 1930s in New York. The acting in this movie will knock your socks off. Orson Welles is played by Christian McKay who we recognized in a Masterpiece Theater later (which proves he is actually, really good). More than once throughout the movie we had to stop and remind ourselves that we were not actually watching Orson Welles. The movie also stars Zac Efron who does an impressive job as a young high schooler who dreams of being an actor/singer/writer/artist, and his role in Wells' play is supposed to be his big break. Efron is both likeable and very believable in this role. I loved him! The plot of the movie centers around Welles' eccentricities professionally and personally as you watch the director of theater develop into the man that will direct the greatest movie of all time. There are some wonderfully smart references throughout the film to Orson Welles' work in Citizen Kane and The Third Man. The only complaint that I had with the film is that I think Richard Linklater (the director of the film and one of my favorite directors) could have done more artistic choices with the cinematography, but Barrett disagreed with me on that point. The movie is well-written, interesting, and engaging. I highly recommend this movie especially if you are a film history buff or a Citizen Kane fan.

Recommendation numero dos: The Messenger
We heard about this movie watching the Oscars and loved it.

The Messenger stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson and is about the soldiers in charge of informing families when they have lost loved ones. As the subject matter suggests, the movie is very intense and very personal. The camera work, while hand-held, is effective at creating an up-close and personal tone at very intimate, intense moments. The chracters in teh movie are complex and dynamic, and the acting is stellar.

Recommendation numero tres: An Education
This was another one we saw on the Oscars and had to see.

An Education takes place in England in the 1960s and tells the story of a young, naive girl who befriends a cultured, worldly man, falls in love with him, and gets a jarring lesson in life. The plot of the movie is very intriguing and takes a few small but unexpected turns. One of the best parts of this movie is definitely the sets and costumes; the clothes are to-die-for. The cinematography is also beautiful. Carrie Mulligan and Alfred Molina are awesome in this movie, but the real star of the show is Peter Sarsgaard as the playboy. His charisma wraps everyone in the movie including the audience around his little finger. Plot-wise, I think there were a few things that would have made th movie stronger: namely spending more time developing Jenny's (Carrie Mulligan's) relationship with her teacher and her relationship with her friends. But some of the deleted scenes help solve this. This movie is very enjoyable and engaging--a must see.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

paper airplane arsenal

Some of you may remember my eraser bullet arsenal post from yesteryear. Well, on Friday while I was doing the inevitable new seating arrangement after the second week of school (when kids have gotten a little too comfortable with their neighbors and, thus, have gotten chatty), I found this in one of the desks. . .

a veritable paper airplane arsenal, all meticulously lined up and ready for action.

Notice that there hasn't been enough time to fill the desks with trash or clutter, but there has been enough time (apparently) to make 13 paper airplanes. Seriously? I never cease to be amazed by children's ingenuity and craftiness especially with school supplies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

one job, three persons

I have a strong recollection of thinking my first year of teaching that I needed two other people in my classroom full time in order to do my job properly and to its fullest extent. First, I needed a bouncer to manage the discipline and stand next to troublesome children with muscles bulging and face glaring to keep them in line. Second, I needed a secretary to make sure all the papers got passed out, taken up, forms filled out, filed, and turned in properly (and maybe to help out with a little grading). With the help of these two capable yet imaginary individuals, I could do the fun part: teaching! Oh to focus all of my attention on academics. . . (sigh). . .

But I can honestly say after completing four years in the classroom, that I enjoy the "training" aspect of my job because it implies that education is more than books and writing; "education is a life" (one of Charlotte Mason's four pillars of education). By spending the time to teach and train children in every aspect of their lives and behavior, I get to take part in a much more complex and developed picture--the picture of a person growing not just a brain. So yes, I am my own bouncer and I kind of like it. But I could still use a secretary.