Thursday, 29 December 2016

European Renaissance X Us = Our Place in History


UP NEXT: the European Renaissance Inquiry Showcase 

Final Renaissance Projects are done for some, and almost done for most!

Integrated in the project from day 1 for the students and me, assessment is essential, but very complex. This year in grade 8 humanities, the students and I have worked to focus on assessment of their "work" as a conversation between each of them and me, primarily, and at times their peers, and even sometimes their caretakers/guardians/parents. In fact, the roots of the word "assess" tell us a lot:

Joe Bower's short piece on this fact is an interesting read.
Using the assessment tool, and in-class check-ins and conversations, students worked throughout the project to inject assessment into each step.

I am really excited to have the students present their final projects. Here is a sneak peak of some from each class:



Thursday, 8 December 2016

The European Renaissance Inquiry


UP NEXT: the European Renaissance Inquiry Assessment 

Our Renaissance inquiry is almost over! Students are soon going to complete their individual projects on their inquiry questions just in time for the showcase after winter break. (More details on this soon!)

As well as developing strong inquiry questions that will allow them to think critically about the European Renaissance (some examples of which I mentioned last week), students have been challenged to consider how they will communicate their ideas. Choosing a format requires students to consider the method that would best match their findings AND enable them to effectively engage an audience. Some of the formats they have chosen include:
  • an infographic
  • a kinetic text
  • a debate
  • a newscast
  • a Ted Talk
  • an interactive timeline
  • a two-sided puzzle
  • a time capsule
  • and much more!
Another essential component of these projects is organization. For this inquiry, students have created dedicated Google docs to house their planning. A few examples show the different approaches students are taking in organizing their ideas:

Student 1
Student 2
Students 3, 4, 5

Free Reading
We are also continuing our commitment to 15 minutes of free reading every school day. We usually start our day with reading, taking the first 15 minutes of our 80 minute morning humanities period to read. Students are expected to come to class every day with something to read; most students have chosen novels, although some are reading graphic novels while others are reading non-fiction books.

Free Reading! from Jaime Groeller on Vimeo.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Renaissance: Homestretch


UP NEXT: the European Renaissance x ME

We are well into our final part of our Renaissance inquiry. We have come a long way! We spent just over a month learning about the details and importance of the European Renaissance, and then we watched this:

Click the image to watch the video.

This perspective on the European Renaissance left many in the class thinking critically about what we had just spent a month exploring, and prompted some interesting inquiry questions for the final project. Some of the questions students developed and are exploring include:

  • How do we define an era?
  • How do we make decisions about how to organize history?
  • What other "renaissances" exist?
  • What era are we living in right now?
  • Should the European Renaissance be part of our curriculum?

Last week:
-We finally finished our spread of the Renaissance presentations. We learned a lot about the European Renaissance outside of Italy, as well as some historical figures that made major contributions to European history.

-We worked on building our vocabulary by creating crosswords for our peers! We have yet to complete these crosswords created by our peers, but that is coming soon!

-We did a mini-lesson on the Protestant Reformation, an example of major worldview change in Europe. We also watched a video on the Reformation and Luther, and practiced our "live" note-taking.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Renaissance: Beyond Italy continued


UP NEXT: the European Renaissance x TODAY

This week we were very focused on preparing for our spread of the Renaissance presentations, some of which happened today. We focused a lot on good research practices last week, and this week focused on good presentation practices. Specifically, the focus was on ensuring the presenters are the presentation. We did that by co-creating some criteria on what to do, and what not to do. We also made sure to develop our visuals as an enhancement to what we are saying by minimizing text, maximizing useful and appropriate visuals, and using the enhancements like animation to our advantage.

We don't want this...
We do want this!
Image from:
Current Events Afternoons

We also started our current events afternoons this week. Students have signed up for one day over the next month to lead a 10-minute discussion on a current event of their choosing. We are mapping these current events on our own specific Google maps. Check them out!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Renaissance: Beyond Italy


UP NEXT: the European Renaissance beyond Italy

It became clear to us on Monday that we had one main question in our inquiry docs that hadn't been answered yet: Where else did the Renaissance happen? In order to answer that question, students are working collaboratively to explore the spread of the Renaissance from Italy to other parts of Europe through the lens of specific Renaissance personalities. They will present their findings to the class this week in the form of engaging and informative live presentations.

Do you recognize anyone? 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Renaissance: Digging Down


UP NEXT: the Italian Renaissance moves into Europe

This week, we really got into the thick of things with regards to our inquiry into what a Renaissance is in order to determine if we are in one, or not.

We continued to explore the European Renaissance by focusing in on the Italian Renaissance. We have accessed a documentary, engaged in class discussions, completed some specific textbook readings, reflected individually, and determined criteria collectively. We also managed to fit in an informal debate!

Our inquiry turned toward art on Monday to help us understand some of the societal aspects of the Renaissance, and the time before the Renaissance. Looking closely at the similarities and differences between these two paintings allowed us to start thinking about the changes that were taking place in Italy around the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Students' observations of these two paintings led us to discuss big ideas such as humanism, linear perspective, and feudalism. We also talked about the rise of the merchant class, trade routes such as the Silk Road, and the Black Death as conditions for the start of the Renaissance.

We had two checkpoints this week regarding our big guiding question. Checkpoint 1, before the debate and individual reflection, but after a week of exploration, saw quite the exodus of students moving from one side the other. At checkpoint 2, after the debate, there was very little movement!



We are in an excellent, but slightly uncomfortable, place right now as we are still building our understanding of what a "Renaissance" actually is. When asked, each group of students had a different definition, and that means we have room to keep exploring! Next week, we continue our examination by answering some of the questions that remain unanswered in our class inquiry doc, specifically how and where the Renaissance spread beyond Italy.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Renaissance: Getting Started


UP NEXT: the Italian Renaissance in detail

While searching for some images to include in this post, I came across this fun article. The Renaissance era continues to influence us today! Click the image for the article.
Sacha Goldberger

The Renaissance! 
What pops into your mind when you hear that word? Here's what 8.1 and 8.2 said, initially:

8.2's initial large-group word association
8.1's word association, and then the results of a quick Google/dictionary search on the left

(My word association with "Renaissance," has really changed over the last 7 years. Primarily, I think "outcome" because it is one of the case studies in the Grade 8 Social Studies Program of Studies. This is my fourth time teaching grade 8, and I am really looking forward to the way 8.1 and 8.2 are taking up this work!)

After the word association, we took a look at the Alberta Program of Studies for grade 8 Social Studies and focused in on general outcome 8.2:

This, and our word association, prompted a flurry of follow-up questions, and we really exercised our brains to go beyond the surface, and ended up arriving at some pretty interesting questions such as:

  • If the word means "re-birth" and it refers to a specific era in Earth's history, why did there need to be a "re-birth?"
  • Can we see evidence of the Renaissance today? How is the Renaissance still influencing us today?
  • Were there other Renaissances (other than the Italian Renaissance of the  c.14-16 centuries)?
  • What does the Renaissance have to do with how we understand North America?
  • When did the Renaissance start? When did it end? 
  • What changed during the Renaissance? 
  • How did the Renaissance affect the worldview of the time?

We are now working on answering these and many other questions through research via a PBS documentary called Godfathers of the Renaissance. (While the students identified a few different ways to find out what they don't know (a foundation of good inquiry!), I suggested this documentary as a nice starting point.) While watching the documentary, students are focusing on using 3 Talking to the Text strategies to ensure they are making the most of their viewing: determining importance (finding answers to the questions); questioning (being aware of the new questions that arise as we are learning); monitoring understanding (working on being aware of new vocabulary or concepts that we don't understand).

These questions above, and the many others contained in our class Google docs, are going to help us start to determine where we fit in history by answering the following big ideas:
  • What era are we living in? How do we know we aren't in a Renaissance right now?
Keep reading to see what we decide, and where our inquiry goes...Every day we are asking new questions and answering the old ones!

Friday, 21 October 2016

First Individual Litspiration Post (Journal Entry 10)


UP NEXT: Renaissance X Worldview
Pre-write - Plan - Write/Draft - Edit
After reading and listening to the students during their debates, I was struck by the compelling speeches that were written, and felt that the students' ideas and composition needed to be shared with the world! And, I thought, what a perfect way to re-inforce the steps of the writing/composition process introduced to the students earlier in the year, while also exploring the concept of the "Goldilocks zone" in composition. Like planets, composition has an (admittedly sometimes subjective) area in which it belongs if it is going to thrive. Successful communication need not only be clear, but also compelling, engaging, concise, and precise. In order to get to the Goldilocks zone, students are encouraged to consider carefully the writing process, as well as the intentional choices they make when composing and revising.
Students have been working this whole week on composing these blog posts, and are posting them Monday and Tuesday after some opportunity for peer feedback on Monday morning. They have been encouraged to ensure they come Monday morning with a polished draft ready for feedback, and will have the rest of the class Monday morning to make revisions as they see fit. After final polishing, students will publish their best work to their individual litspiration blogs, and then work on cultivating an audience. Stay tuned for more details on that!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Let's Debate: Part 2

Image from
The debate is tomorrow! Students have been preparing since Friday afternoon, and are in the homestretch. Today they are polishing and practicing their speeches. They are also working on identifying and including some rhetorical devices after exploring Aristotle's model of persuasion today.

Here are some specifics on how to use these devices in your writing:

Click the image for a video on Aristotle's model of persuasion

Friday, 30 September 2016

Let's Debate!

Next week, students will be debating the following question inspired by the film The Little Prince:

Be it resolved that children’s exposure to whimsical ideas should be limited in order to effectively prepare them for adulthood.

Use this graphic organizer to get organized for the debate. MAKE SURE I CAN ACCESS THIS! (Make a copy, change the share settings to “anyone with the link can edit,” and put the link at the top of your journal.)

Students will be debating with a partner, but will NOT know which side they are defending until the day of the debate; students must prepare beforehand to defend both the proposition and the opposition argument!

Students should use the film they just watched The Little Prince (2016) to start with when collecting support for their arguments, as well as other appropriate/related movies, novels, etc. Students may also do some extra research if they wish.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Literature Appreciation a.k.a. LITSPIRATION Meets Short Fiction Part 4: CHARACTERIZATION


UP NEXT: Narrative Mode

One of our final mini-lessons on literature analysis was on characterization. We reconfirmed our understanding of important terms (protagonist, antagonist, round/flat, dynamic/static) and learned two new terms, stock character and foil. We will use this knowledge to help us analyze the literature we read this year more carefully, working to understand why the choices an author or creator makes regarding character are important to the development of the narrative and deeper meaning.

To deepen our understanding, and show our knowledge of characterization, we used the short story "Thank You, Ma'am" by Langston Hughes. Superficially, this story is pretty simple, but there is a lot of subtext, and students had to make quite a few inferences to understand the deeper meaning.

The short story, "Thank You Ma'am," can be found here.

A beautiful, influential poet, click the image for information on Langston Hughes.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

RMT Follow-up - Townsite Tours

The view from Connaught Street in the town of Jasper.

After a brief discussion about effective communication (see notes below; more work on that as the year continues :) ), students have been working on finessing the townsite tours they developed while walking around Jasper during the Rocky Mountain Tour last week. Many have decided to develop a printable pamphlet, while others are creating a website for potential tourists. All must include their 10 stops around Jasper that fit in with their original theme. When complete, all 100 students and teachers (and maybe admin?) will have a chance to vote on the top 3 tours after carefully perusing the options. The top 3 tours will then be submitted to Friends of Jasper to be housed either on their website or in their store front for people interested in taking a unique, student-developed tour of Jasper! 

We talked about different areas students should focus on to ensure their tour is polished and communicates effectively.
Connect's campsite in Jasper's Whistler's Campground.

Friday, 16 September 2016

It was the perfect day to read outside!


Literature Appreciation a.k.a. LITSPIRATION Meets Short Fiction Part 4: THEME


UP NEXT: Analyzing Characters

We ended this week exploring the idea of "theme" in literature, and tried our hand at developing and writing theme statements. We learned that theme statements should be universal, culture-less, precise and concise, and apply to multiple texts, not just the one we are exploring. In other words, a theme statement has to be just right, so it's not an easy thing to determine.

After practicing on "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," students recorded a roundtable discussion about possible themes in "Day of the Butterfly." Amongst the two classes, we came up with quite the variety of possible themes:

After some discussion, we came to the conclusion that none of these theme statements fits the story, although some come close. 

Remember, in order to develop an effective theme statement you need to understand the protagonist and the protagonist's struggle, and think carefully about the author's intention for creating the text. It's also important to remember that the theme has to fit the entire story, and there must be evidence for your theme in the text. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Reading Strategies A.K.A. Talking to the Text (TttT)


UP NEXT: The Twilight Zone X Narrative Mapping & Theme!

Find more information on the Talking to the Text reading strategies here!

In class today, we did a mini-lecture and lesson on some reading strategies we like to call "Talking to the Text." The focus of these strategies is to encourage students to be more aware of what they are doing while they are reading, and to know how to engage in ACTIVE reading. When reading for school, or for work, or even sometimes for pleasure, it's useful to ensure the time we spend reading is as effective as possible.

Enter: Talking to the Text, or TttT for short!

The 7 TttT strategies are:

  • determining importance
  • monitoring understanding
  • making connections
  • questioning
  • making inferences
  • visualizing
  • summarizing

To get a handle on these strategies, students read a current events article, using highlighters to make their use of the reading strategies visible to them, and me!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Literature Appreciation a.k.a. LITSPIRATION Meets Short Fiction Part 2 & Litspiration Challenge



Our focus for this short week has been on creating. Students were challenged to create a visual representation of themselves as readers in order to complete our first litspiration challenge. Using the assessment tool for guidance, students focused on their intentional choices while working to create a cohesive representation, trying to include symbolism and flex their creative muscles. Students were given a lot of freedom when determining how they would go about making this representation after initially answering some guiding questions as pre-writing, and then having their rough plans approved by me. Using in-class check-ins, and my ability to access their planning in their Google doc journals, I was able to give each student early feedback on their process and remind them to keep the assignment expectations in mind while they let their creativity run wild!

Claire M. decided to create a mixed-medi, non-digital piece.
About 3/4 of the way through, students went through the process of giving peer feedback. Using a modified version of the assessment tool, and after a class discussion about how to provide effective, action-oriented, specific FEEDBACK, pairs had conversations about their creative pieces in order to explain their intentional choices so far. Then, each student took some time to write down some feedback for their peer and identify any strategies for success that might benefit their partner in improving their piece.

Matthew M. used marker to create his visual representation.
This creative piece, and the accompanying explanatory paragraph/recording, is the first post on each student's personal LITSPIRATION BLOG. These blogs will become amazing records of the students' interactions with a variety of texts over the next year, and showcase their learning from, and deep analysis of, these texts. They will be searching for a supportive, interested audience over the next few months which will include their teachers, peers, others in the school, and...who knows? Hopefully you, too!

Sarah G. used digital editing tools to pull together a variety of images she found online.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Literature Appreciation a.k.a. LITSPIRATION Meets Short Fiction


UP NEXT: Litspiration Challenge 1!

Literature appreciation is an essential component of the English Language Arts curriculum, and for many, life! The Program of Studies insists students explore and analyze a variety of texts, not just written pieces, so we began our LITSPIRATION inquiry this year with a short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. (This is also a picture book, but for once, the movie is better!) This short film is a beautiful examination into how the act of reading is not just important, but essential to a full life. 

A wonderful scene from the short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Next we explored the short piece "Day of the Butterfly" by Alice Munro, a short story included in the Sightlines 8 textbook anthology. Many students knew who Munro is, and were aware of her being recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

After reading the short story students were asked to answer some comprehension to give us an understanding of where they are in our ability to analyze literature. Then, we used "Day of the Butterfly" as an exemplar to investigate the literary element "setting," reading closely to find evidence in the text about the "where, "when," and "what" of the story.


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Social Studies 8 Foundation, continued


UP NEXT: Literature appreciation a.k.a. LITSPIRATION!

Our introductory investigation into the 7 elements of worldview culminated on Monday, but fear not: worldview will be back! In fact, it will be an undercurrent during our whole year in grade 8!

Over the last few days, we carefully watched the film Star Trek: Into Darkness, taking notes using a graphic organizer to help us consider the 7 different worldview elements.

Engaged, and engage!
After the film was over, we worked in small groups to critically consider what the BEST example of each of the 7 elements might be, using large sticky notes to help us organize our thoughts.

Colours help us organize our thoughts.
We ended up with many examples of each element, which we then reconsidered as a large group to ensure these examples actually were strong examples of each element. Because we used different colours for each element, and combined our thoughts together on the bulletin boards outside our classroom, we were able to easily determine which elements we had a good handle on, and which elements some of us might be confused about.

These categories were sparse...fewer examples in the film AND less clarity on these elements as some sticky notes from these elements were moved to other categories.

The "Responsibility to Others" category was well-understood (all the oranges stayed there), but it seems other categories were not as well understood as many colours are represented here!


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Social Studies 8 Foundation


We started school less than a week ago, and have hit the ground running with our inquiry into the Social Studies 8 Program of Studies. As an introduction, we talked about the different themes of years past such as "Government" in grade 6, "Confederation/Canada's History" in grade 7, and some even remembered as far back as grade 4's theme! This year, our big idea, worldview, is abstract, difficult, and as we explored in class, might make us feel intellectually uncomfortable at times. It's going to take the year for a lot of students to get a firm handle on this concept, while others might grasp the smaller details more quickly. We have to work on being comfortable with being a little "uncomfortable."

As a large group, we explored the idea of "worldview," coming up with a definition, some factors influencing it, and some analogies to help us understand (goggles and art galleries).

Next, we went a little deeper and started digging into a model that will help us to deconstruct this abstract idea. Here is the guide to the 7 Elements of Worldview* we used in class today.

Then, we used the World War C scenarios from last week and had a relay race to see which team could match up the most scenarios with the BEST corresponding worldview element.

Our next step to help us dig in to the individual elements more deeply, is an awesome film study...

*Mr. Dittmann and Ms. Groeller modified these a bit from resources on Learn Alberta. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Up and Running!

We have had a successful first week! The start-up to any school year is often tough, especially coming out of a 2-year loop. Grade 8s, you have really made it a great start!

Last week during the beautiful weather on Friday afternoon, we took a stroll to Bishop Pinkham's field to play some games and get to know each other a bit better. The shoe relay was fun to watch! Click any picture for a fun video, password "shoes".