Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Carol Scavenger Hunt

For the past couple of years, I've really wanted to do a QR code scavenger hunt with my students.  When my 7th grade team member, Ms. Dibble, was in her interview, she talked about doing a QR code scavenger hunt with sixth graders when they were learning about The Dust Bowl and were reading Out of the Dust. Some might think I should have just gone for it, but here's the thing.  There are a lot of factors that have to line up for this type of activity to work. 
  1. You have to have a supportive administration that is comfortable with your students being out of your classroom and roaming the halls in search of clues.
  2. You have to have other faculty members who are willing to support the activity. For example, our students had clues in the library, the main office, the counselor's office, and the cafeteria.  Those adults had to be comfortable with our students disrupting their normal schedules.
  3. You have to be able to justify the activity as an instructional activity that's aligned with objectives.
Fortunately, we have all of these things at our middle school, and when we emailed our colleagues to ask if our students could come complete Christmas Carol-related challenges around the school, they all jumped on board immediately. What I loved about this activity is that it could be accomplished in one 50-minute class period, and it got students up out of their seats, which was perfect for the last week of school before Christmas break. I wish you could have heard the students' reaction to the idea that we were going to let them search for clues around the school!

You mean we get to, like, leave the classroom?!
Ms. Herring. You want us to search for clues AND take an iPad with us?!
So we get to walk around and stuff. We aren't watching a movie?

Success! They were so excited about this activity that I didn't even have to really build it up and make it "cool." However, sometimes that excitement can lead to a behavior struggle, so I started the class period by showing students my expectations for their behavior during the scavenger hunt. 
I find that giving students a small number of expectations that leave room for discussion is the most effective way to ensure that students will understand and live up to those behavioral expectations. Once we had discussed these expectations, each group of 3-4 students received an iPad and a folder with their first clue and a checklist of locations they would need to visit.  In order to prevent a bottleneck of students in any one location, each group of students received a different starting clue. The scavenger hunt included six locations, and students were to complete a small challenge related to our study of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at each location; each group used their iPad to record a video or take a photo that proved they had completed the challenge.  They also used the QR scanner app on the iPad to scan the next clue once they had completed the challenge. 
Our Christmas Carol scavenger hunt took students to the following locations to complete these challenges: 
  • Cafeteria: Film your group singing a Christmas carol to the cafeteria workers.
  • Main office: Film your group saying Tiny Tim's famous line, God Bless Us, Everyone.
  • Counselor's office: Film a member of your group reading Fred's famous Christmas speech.
  • Library: Film two members of your group acting out the scene in which Scrooge raises Cratchit's salary.
  • Outdoor courtyard: Film your group spreading "Christmas cheer," (in our case, this was confetti) like the Ghost of Christmas Present.
  • Anywhere in the school: Take a "Scrooge-faced selfie" with either a custodian or a principal.
I created little poems for each clue, and then turned them into QR codes for students to scan. There are two reasons that I loved this activity. First, I loved seeing the joy and excitement that it brought to my students.  Every group that successfully returned to my classroom with all of their videos and photos on their iPad received a small reward.  This meant that every student, all day, felt like they had "won." In my opinion, this is so much better than having one winning group in each class period.  This wasn't an assessment; it was simply a culminating activity that helped every student remember their study of this novel. 

The second reason, and the thing I loved the very most about this activity, was seeing the joy that it brought to the other adults in the building who participated in the various activities. You want to talk about collegial actions? These awesome coworkers -- principals, secretaries, counselors, librarians, custodians, and cafeteria workers -- all worked with our students to make this activity a success. Not only did they work with them, they did it joyfully. Seeing the way that they cheered for students and encouraged them as they acted out scenes from the play, seeing they way they sang Christmas carols along with our students and took selfies and let themselves be silly and feel the Christmas spirit, was so incredibly rewarding. Christmas can be a very joyful time, but for many adults, especially tired educators, it can be a very stressful, exhausting time. I loved every minute of watching the joy that this activity created in our school, and I'm so glad I work in a place where this kind of activity can create happiness instead of more stress. I hope you can spread, as well as accept, a little holiday cheer this Christmas season! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sharing Comfort

Since my mind is so scattered right now with the overload of grading a million things and finishing out the semester, I think it's best to share student writing instead of trying to wrangle my thoughts into submission.  I promise you'll thank me for this.

I have a student who asked me last week if she could share something she wrote with our class. This student is very quiet and rarely talks in class. However, we bonded early in the year over our shared love of Harry Potter and Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. I was surprised when she asked to share in front of the whole class but excited that she was willing to put herself out there.  For a writer to share her work can be a stressful thing.  Here's what she read to us...

A lone girl walked along the shoreline humming and old tune. She stopped in the middle of the shoreline, holding her head high. To anyone else the girl would seem quite alone, but the girl savored the feeling of being by herself for it gave the beach an air of calmness. She looked out at the water watching the waves come in, seeing the white foam of the ocean as it hit the rocks littered among the edge of the beach. The girl looked out, but she could only see ocean for as far as the eyes could see. Sighing, she closed her eyes, breathing in the salty breeze of the ocean. She wiggled her bare toes in the warm, soft sand, then moved closer to the shoreline so she could feel he water lap at her toes and the mushy , wet sand squish beneath her feet. The girl listened to the sound of the waves, but they sounded neither loud nor what most would call quiet. Yet it was soft and gentle like the soothing whisper of a mother to her child. The girl whispered to the wind and the ocean, telling them to wait; that she just wanted to stay a bit longer. 

She opened her mouth and breathed in, tasting the ocean on her tongue. The wind whipped at her hair, but it felt to her as if someone was brushing her hair. She breathed to the wind the words "This must be what it feels like to be alive," for at the time she had never felt more alive. The girl wiggled her toes in the sand and moved her hands in a dance through the air. "Yes," she said, "this is what it feels like." She opened her eyes ad said to the sky in a small yet strong voice, "I'm ready to go now." Then she closed her eyes and felt a peaceful feeling course through her, and she smiled. 

In a hospital room, somewhere in the world, sat three brothers who all were huddled around the bed of their mother. One brother, the eldest, held his mother's hand, feeling as it slowly turned cold. The youngest brother brushed his fingers through her mother's hair, colored silver with age. Last, the middle brother kissed the cold cheek of his mother, feeling the upturned corner of her mouth. 

The brothers did not cry for their mother nor did they frown. They looked quite the opposite actually. The brothers all held smiles on their faces as they looked at their mother, who had passed on with a smile on her face. The fact that their mother was happy in death made them smile, but what calmed them , though it was unexplained, was how the dull hospital room was filled with the smell of a calming ocean breeze. 

The holidays can be a difficult time for those who have experienced the loss of a family member.  As I heard this shared with my class, I couldn't help but think of the many people I know who will be missing someone dear this season.  I also got just real excited about the imagery she chose to express herself. What a beautiful way to look at the cycle of life. I hope you'll share this writing with someone you know who may find it comforting.  Take a minute this week to slow down and smell the ocean breeze.