31 December 2007

Our laptops, our situation, and our responsibility

We have been blessed in F14 - and at Branford High - to have access to plenty of the latest computer technology to enhance our learning. As you know, this year is the first year using a portable laptop cart to provide easy, in-class computer access for each student.

And as you also know, not everything has gone perfectly. We've had problems accessing the Internet or even just signing on. Glitches in the computers have surfaced, making our work sometimes difficult, sometimes frustrating. Maybe we haven't completely tapped into the full potential of these machines. However, with a new year, I got to thinking that despite any minor malfunctions, just how fortunate we are. Not everybody in the world is so fortunate.

This lead me to consider about just how powerful a tool a computer can be for our learning. Maybe we haven't fully tapped into the full potential of these machines, but trust me, there are limitless possibilities for what we can do. So why not do something productive, something that reaches beyond the walls of the classroom, and this school, to make a difference somewhere else.
I stumbled across the One Laptop Per Child project, which ships inexpensive computers to children in third world countries who have minimal resources for learning. For $200, an XO Laptop - designed to be durable, easy-to-use, and accessible to the Internet - can be shipped to a student in a third world country. See more details here.

Don't we have a responsibility to help those out who are less fortunate? How could we get involved in something like this? What could we do to help? Are we capable of collaborating as a class and coming up with ideas to make this happen? Can we make it happen? Can we raise at least $200 to purchase a laptop?

From now until February break I'd like to find out. I'd love to hear your ideas.

20 December 2007

Learning vocabulary and feeding the world

Learning new vocabulary words is an important component of our class this year, and it's a skill that will help you in your writing and reading comprehension. So far this year, we've compiled a list of 52 new words from the literature we've read. In addition, students pursuing the honors option will have a separate vocabulary component, this one modeled on a sample SAT-type vocabulary test. One way to prepare for the midterm is to review all the quizzes you've taken this year. All the words and definitions are there.

But wouldn't it be great if you could improve your vocabulary AND help defeat world hunger? Well you can. Here is an online vocabulary quiz that raises money for the hungry – This unusual website – http://freerice.com/ - has a multiple-choice vocabulary test with instant feedback (words get harder if you are more successful, easier if you get words wrong). For every word you get correct, ten grains of rice are donated to the world’s needy through the United Nations.

Any site that can promises both an improved vocabulary and feeding the hungry is worth a try. If you do, I'd like to hear what you think. Post a comment if you'd like.

18 December 2007

Just what kind of mother is Beatrice? - Gamma Rays post #5

This is the 5th, and final homework blog posting of Gamma Rays... Have you completed them all to earn full credit?

Now that we've gotten to see Mrs. Beatrice Hunsdorfer in the play, how would you categorize her as a mother? Go back and re-read the article on dysfunctional families that we studied in an earlier post. Using information from the article, decide what type of parent category Beatrice fits into. In what way will her parenting style affect her children, either now or in the future? Explain your reasoning by pointing to specific examples from the play.

16 December 2007

More dreams - Gamma Rays post #4

This is the fourth homework blog posting for Gamma Rays. The calendar says it's due Monday, but we'll extend it to before class on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Langston Hughes, the poet who wrote "Dreams" from an earlier post, also wrote "A Dream Deferred." In both poems Hughes address the power of dreams. Likewise, Zindel's play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds deals with the impact dreams have on human beings, both for the power they have to instill hope and the emotional havoc wrought by broken dreams. Now that we've read most of Gamma Rays, read "A Dream Deferred." Which character do you think this poem speaks to the most in the play? Hughes uses several evocative similes. Choose some lines that you can connect to incidents and events from the play. Explain the connections.

A Dream Deferred*

What happens to a dream deferred*?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

by Langston Hughes

* deferred = to put off action, to delay

13 December 2007

Assignment: Submitting an essay from MyAccess

Twice this semester, we have used the MyAccess writing program to write, submit, and revise an essay assignment. Both essays that we completed - An Important Change and A Lesson Learned - are now part of your portfolio in MyAccess. You are required to have both of those essays submitted to the MyAccess online scoring program.

In addition, you are required to hand in one of the essays to be graded outside the online scoring program. To do this, you need to print out your essay. Select the one essays you like the best and make any final revisions and submissions. I expect that what you submit will be final essay qualilty work. Use the feedback from MyAccess to help you achieve that. Once you are done editing, print it out from MyAccess and turn it in.

For printing, the best way to do it is to select the publish icon from the My Portfolio screen. See diagram below. Once you select publish, you will be given a choice on the layout you'd like.

A copy of your printed essay from MyAccess is due in class on Tuesday, Dec. 18. You will not be given class time to print. If you have problems accessing MyAccess and printing your essay, please let me know BEFORE the day it's due.

12 December 2007

Dreams and the Hunsdorfers - Gamma Rays post #3

This is the third homework blog posting and it is due before class starts on Thursday, Dec. 13

So far in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, we have been introduced to the Hunsdorfer family - Tillie, Beatrice, and Ruth. Tillie is working on a science project, which has gained her some attention at school. Read the following poem by Langston Hughes. Who in the play do you think this poem speaks to the most - Tillie, Beatrice, or Ruth? Who has dreams? What line or lines stand out that seem to speak directly to her situation? Make specific references to incidents in the play and explain your connections.


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

- by Langston Hughes

11 December 2007

Why marigolds? - Gamma Rays post #2

This is the second homework blog posting... Did you already complete the post on good literature?

It is due before class starts on Wednesday, Dec. 12

In The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Tillie conducts an unusual science project. She subjects three different batches of marigolds to the potentially damaging effects of gamma rays - a topic we addressed in a previous blog post. But why did the play's author, Paul Zindel, choose marigolds as the flower to use in the science experiment? Check out some information on marigolds at wikipedia and this information site on growing marigolds. Focus on the characteristics of the flower and how they grow... Then post your ideas about the use of marigolds in the story. What makes marigolds unique? When do marigolds bloom? How might the characteristics or qualities of this particular flower be a symbol that connects to important ideas in the play? Why might have Zindel used marigolds as the flower?
photo credit: Marigold by Floridapfe on flickr.com

09 December 2007

What is good literature? - Gamma Rays post #1

This posting is due before class starts on Tuesday, Dec. 11

One of the most difficult questions you are asked in an English class is "What makes this a good piece of literature?" As we read The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, we will ask ourselves that on a regular basis. There will also be an in class essay quiz that asks you to evaluate the quality of the play.

However, before you can come up with a good answer, you should have clear ideas for a definition of good literature. For this assignment, I'd like you to define the characteristics of good literature. Remember to avoid meaningless reasons like "it keeps me interested" or the like. Good literature, by definition, should keep you interested - you have to point out just what the author does to make it interesting. Think about the literary terms we studied with previous literature we've read. If possible, use some of them to help you craft a concise, clear definition. Once you have your definition, tell us your favorite piece of literature that we've read in class this year. Evaluate your selection using your criteria.

07 December 2007

Vocabulary for Gamma Rays unit

We are beginning a new unit on the play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel. The play, with it's long, strange name, tells the story of the Hunsdorfer family. At times disturbing and hilarious, Gamma Rays shows us just how fragile human beings can be.

In anticipation for the unit, there are 12 vocabulary words assigned. There will be a quiz Friday, Dec. 14. A cumulative list of the words is linked here.

Some of the definitions are linked below; the rest you are responsible for looking up the definitions.

chronic - continuing a long time or recurring frequently
omission -
sterile - lacking imagination, creativity, or vitality.
precedence - priority in preference or order
convulse -
balustrade -
debark -
oblivious -
pervade -
explicit -
gargantuan -
saccharine - exaggeratedly sweet or sentimental

05 December 2007

Making connections between Gamma Rays and dysfunctional families

In preparation for the play, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, we've read about two starkly different subjects: we looked at a brief summary of Gamma Rays and a psychological perspective on the different types of dysfunctional families.

On the surface, it appears we are dealing with two entirely different topics, and it might seem like neither of them have anything to do with one another. But what if we went out of our way to come up with a connection, anything? Can we do it? Maybe we need to think about it beyond a literal level. What can we come up with if we stretch our minds and look for any connections? What are the parallels we can draw?

Working with your partner, please post your findings in the comment section...

For your reference, here is the article on the different types of dysfunctional families. There were two articles on Gamma Rays, one a NASA brief linked here, and the other adapted from a Wikipedia entry here.