Sunday, November 25, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure: Cinema Club!

One of the special and surprise joys of this year has been getting to teach an evolving humanities "Choose Your Own Adventure" program for  for 6th and 7th graders, in which the "specials" teachers (i.e. art, music, library, tech) were encouraged to dive into our more passionate professional interests with the children in a long-term subject-area exploration, with a focus on material the children would enjoy pursuing (how refreshing, in an age of testing and standards, to remember why we love to learn!). For me, one of my great passions is media literacy, so I was so delighted to have the opportunity to introduce this unique and intelligent group of students to some of the best movies in film history!

Movies are selected by me on the basis of established excellence in media, largely pulling from established lists generated by Facets Multimedia, AMC, The British Film Institute and the New York Times (click here for some of them!), and the Frazier Thomas Family Classics and Morning Movies we of a certain generation might remember so well. Special preference is given to movies that are connected in some way to literature, biography or history, though some movies are shown because they demarcate something special about the history of film itself, and we are learning to appreciate different aspects of the craft: cinematography, special effects, makeup and sound, for instance, and different genres: musicals (the favorite of our kids), silent films, squashbuckling films, melodramas, comedies. The films are mostly American-made, for now, and classic with a capital C; no films from the 21st century! My hope is to introduce students to films they might not otherwise experience, and even on the occasion that they are familiar with them, they engage in discussions that hopefully give background knowledge and put the film into a social context, and will add to the richness of the experience and our conversations.

Here are a just a few samples of what's been playing and on the docket in a library near you:  

The Gold Rush, with Charlie Chaplin
Trip to the Moon (by director Georges Méliès, one of the first motion pictures ever made!)
The Red Balloon (wordless French classic, tapping into the universality of film)
Singing in the Rain (the introduction of "talkies" and sound to the movies!)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (with Charles Laughton! French revolution and the art of makeup!)  
Boy's Town (with Spencer Tracy, about Father Flannigan and the real Boy's Town of Nebraska)
 Oliver! (a great opportunity to talk about the Industrial Revolution, and Charles Dickens)  
It's a Wonderful Life (in December, with an exploration into the Great Depression and World War II and the great Frank Capra)  
The Little Princess (in December, with Shirley Temple or Eleanor Bron, I haven't decided, maybe both, we can compare and contrast! Set in Victorian England, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the same author who wrote the beloved novel The Secret Garden!)

Plus, we have been enjoying great clips of movies as well, with a special session devoted to "hoofers." Hard to imagine going through life without seeing Fred Astaire's slow motion grace in "Stepping Out with my Baby," Eleanor Powell charming audiences from behind her mask in "Rosalie," or the Nicholas Brothers making lightning in "Stormy Weather!" I consider these movies and clips to be treasures, and part of our students' cultural heritage as Americans. I also think the beautiful language and dialogue, nuanced narratives and opportunities for the development of a moral imagination that these films impart have the potential to be every bit as valuable and transformative as the experience of reading. As one girl expressed to me: "These movies are so wonderful. I feel like I'm seeing everything with new eyes. And sometimes in black and white." Please enjoy a few favorite moments on the clips posted here, and also consider taking your child to see It's a Wonderful Life at the glorious Music Box Theater on Southport this coming month!  And don't forget, you can look up most any movie on the IMbd database and find a parental guide and advisory notes.   Enjoy!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thank you! Muchas gracias! Merci beaucoup! Shukriya! Xie xie! Arigato! Hvala! No matter how you say it...

Thank you so much to all the parents who volunteered at the Scholastic Book Fair, and all the parents who made donations to the school library!  Your contributions really did wonders for our Battle of the Books team collection, and gives some of our students who may not be able to afford books right now (and ALL of our voracious Stone Bookworms!) the chance to check out the more popular titles in the school library.  The waiting list for Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: the Third Wheel and Rick Riordan's Mark of Athena is already growing as long as my arm! Thanks also to the many families who have been so generously donating their used books to the library, we have really been able to build our series collections this way (and if it's something we can't use in the school library, we pass it along).   Your efforts and donations are so truly and deeply appreciated by myself and also the whole school community.  I'll say it again:  thank you!!!

Some of you have been asking about the library wish list; for now, you can view it here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fun for Stone Booklovers around the city!

Lots of exciting events coming up!  Check these out:

The Chicago Public Library Bookamania event at the beautiful Crystal Garden in the  Harold Washington Library, featuring costumed storybook characters (Olivia and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, woo-hoo!), authors/illustrators Tad Hills, Don Tate, David Diaz and Fran Manushkin, performances of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, juggling, magic, puppets...and all free, free, FREE!

Bi-partisan theatrical fun at the Lifeline Theater, with their latest production, Duck for President based on the book by Doreen Cronin, running until the 25th;

Grown-up Stone Booklovers can have a lovely evening for the best possible cause by attending the spirited Write Club Stone Fundraising event on Friday night;

and in-house during report card pick-up, please visit our Stone Scholastic Book Fair, hosted by our hard-working PTA (or should I say, P-T-YAY!). New books are a great way to reward academic excellence (and to encourage it!). Please stop by and say hi in the library during report card pick-up, too, and check out the lovely new purple shelves that put books where our youngest children can actually reach them (thanks, Ms. Onofrio), the eye-candy that is the new mural inspired by Peter Reynold's picture book The Dot accomplished with the creative abandon of 2nd and 3rd graders, play choo-choo at the new kindergarten train table, share a quarterly overview/UBD for your child's grade level (print-out available on request) and converse with me about your child and anything I can do or we can do together to support your child's literacy.  

Hope to see you soon, at one happy event or another!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Stone Bookworms more ways than one!

Stone students are Safe, Organized, Accountable and Respectful, but did you know our Stone Eagles also soar with SOAR, the new online school library catalog and database?  Our children can look up which books area available in the Stone Library catalog at home or in the classroom, read e-books through CPS Virtual Library, check their library book check-out status, review titles or say "open sesame!" to the treasure trove of resources in the databases and reference section, including an online encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, almanac and so much more!  Click here to begin the adventure!

The mantra in the library is that the 21st century belongs to those who can both access and communicate information. One of our essential questions is "how do we find the information we need?" To that end, the first semester for grades 5 through 8 was dedicated to exploring SOAR and learning to use reference materials and databases.  We talked about a database being like a treasure chest. You need to do a little digging to find the treasure, and you don't just arrive at the box and think you're done, you open up that box and see what's of value inside.  Students created "beelines," a kind of treasure map that allows someone else to recreate steps taken to arrive at the same online spot (a skill that will also be useful down the line as children learn to cite their sources).  Students shared their most valuable "treasure" with classmates in an oral report, and I sure am proud of the bounty our students unearthed as they went on a scavenger hunt for three kinds of gold pieces:  online resources useful for homework, for fun and for learning something new. Children determined that the most useful and likely-to-revisit pages were the homework and subject area practice offered both at Infoplease's Homework Center and FactMonster, and the current events and news access at, but the kids also found some pretty amazing, quirky and obscure goodies in the databases based on their own interests, such as:

Amazing Paper Airplanes, complete with video instructions;

Great information about all our favorite animals, such as the BBC's video library, or the Zoobooks Encyclopedia of Animals (hmmm, I feel a primary research project coming on!);

Games like thematic online Hangman, in which we can guess words from our favorite books, or the Science Museum of Minnesota's "Guess that Candy Bar" game;

Timelines that practically do our homework for us, for better or for worse;, a source for mythology that crosses time and geography; 

Biographies of animated characters and their creators;

and how to talk like a detective, in case of a Damon-Runyon-related emergency. 

I think the most valuable thing we got out of this semester is an appreciation that while there is a ton of information online, it's not all created equal.  Issues of currency, usability and relevancy came up organically.  Knowing they would have to share with the whole class and that they would receive feedback from peers, the students started asking questions.  "Who created this site?" "Is it current?"  "Would anyone really use this?"  "Do we need a database to get here, or would this have come up more easily on a Google search?"  This sets the stage for other relevant questions:  by which criteria do we judge information we find online, and when we use the information, how do we give credit where credit is due?  Plagiarism, citations and website evaluation are next on the docket...keeping it fun and keeping it real world! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Parade of Books 2012 a success, thanks to YOU!

Another great Parade of Books!  Not everyone celebrates Halloween, but everyone at Stoncelebrates reading! A special shout out and hugs to all the teachers who got gussied up...a lot of nature themes, with two trees (the palm from Chicka-Chicka-Boom Boom by Bill Martin Junior played by Ms. Bucasas and Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree fetchingly played by Ms. Wynne, Ms. Lugo an adorable Mama Berenstain Bear and new art teacher Ms. Tiesenga stepping up and dressing as water inspired by George Ella Lyon's All the Water in the World (yay, nonfiction!). Thanks so much to the kind eighth graders who kept our little march on track, and certainly to all the parents who went out of their way to help make such amazing costumes and found matching books...hope it was an occasion for some happy reading time.  More photos to come, but click here for a few that will get your cute-o-meter spinning!

Also a perennial hit was our Haunted House/Autumn House Museum, for which we had over 100 participants!  More photos to come! The originality of the work, was, as always, eye-popping.  A special treat this year was that one of the families used their haunted house creation as an inspiration to create their own keepsake digital book.  Read the preview here or download the whole book and be amazed!  Kids can check out the print-out copy in the library!

Thanks again for another booootiful month!