Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Alas, Poor Buzzy

Buzzy the Fly, who reached notoriety in a blog entry just last week, has passed away. He went quietly, perched on a tissue on my classroom desk, undoubtedly of old age. He had been buzzing around the classroom for just about four weeks.

I was prepared to give him a simple funeral -- wrapping him in the tissue and dropping him in the wastepaper basket -- but the students insisted that Buzzy deserved a more formal burial. Well, since everything really is a writing prompt, I told them they would each have to write a eulogy to be delivered at graveside. And, indeed, they did.

My pal Bob Greenberger, visiting for the day, served as our gravedigger, scooping a hole under a tree outside the classroom building while the students read their tributes to our class mascot. "I have never liked flies," wrote one of the girls, "but you were the first fly I liked." Another apologized for trying to swat Buzzy when he landed on her head: "I should have realized you were just interested in my writing."

Once we'd all said our farewells, I pushed the dirt back into the grave and erected the marker, made from a pencil and a piece of paper. We had a moment of silence and then the kids went off for their afternoon break.

I can only imagine the reactions of the parents when they asked their kids last night what we did in class and were told, "Oh, we had a funeral for a fly."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Ultimate Else

Dining hall conversations among the instructional staff at CTY can go pretty much anywhere and such was the case this morning at breakfast.
Arsalan, our robotics wizard, was telling me about a woman in Great Britain who came up with a way to teach computer programming to young children by turning the if/else statements into stories that begin with "Once upon a time..." Each new choice would take the story in a different direction and create numerous versions of the tale.
It is, I pointed out, a spin on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, in which the reader is asked at various points to choose action a or b, and is then directed to a different page depending on that choice. But since the computer is not strapped by the physical limitations of a printed book, there is the availability of many more options to any given choice.
There did have to be, however, an end to the story and that would be the "ultimate else." It is the same in any video game; at some point you make a decision to do or not do something and you are killed/ destroyed/ whatever and the game ends. The ultimate else.
And, in fact, isn't that how to describe life itself? You make choices that lead you to more and more choices until you reach that ultimate else and then your "game" is over.
At this point, the discussion intrigued our tablemates, Brittany, Holly and Zach, who joined in. I postulated that Arsalan was actually an agent from the future, here to prevent the ultimate else of the entire universe from happening. Each time we reach that final if/else, we further speculated, he is able to "skip that line of code" and come back to reset things to change the outcome.
Ah, but is it something one of his students does? Or a number of students? Or one of us?
The possibilities, it would seem, are endless...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Everything's a Writing Prompt

When I moved into my classroom for this summer's installment of teaching Writing & Imagination at CTY, I noticed that someone had left a fork and spoon sitting on the window sill. Not the plastic variety, but the stainless steel kind they have in the dining hall.
Jennie, my teaching assistant, asked if I wanted her to take them back. "No," I replied, "there's a writing prompt here somewhere."
And so there was two weeks later, as the students came up with tales ranging from one about ghosts dining in the classroom to another in which my grandson Alex brought them to the classroom to play with.

A rather persistent fly took up residence in the classroom, buzzing around and landing on desks, notebooks, and even the student's heads. He proved to be quite adept at avoiding being swatted and eventually became something of the class mascot. Buzzy's fly's-eye view of what was happening in the classroom and the people in it made for another round of interesting tales. "Why do these guys keep chasing me away?" he moans in one. "I just want to see what they are writing."

Just this week, two different lessons contributed to create another writing prompt. One, which we call "Squeeze the grape," has the students adding a word or short phrase to those original three until we have an often outrageous, yet still legitimate sentence. This time it expanded to include the description of "Oliver's Dad," who had an orange uni-brow with pink highlights and a neon yellow mustache with rainbow sprinkles.
When I was explaining the "hamburger theory" of writing a five-paragraph essay, I used a green marker to draw a lettuce leaf on the whiteboard. Turned out this marker was the "wet-erase" variety rather than the "dry-erase" version so, when I erased everything else, the lettuce leaf remained.
Long story short, that lettuce leaf turned into the mouth for a rather scary-looking version of Oliver's Dad. We joked about him showing up in the dorms and I added a word balloon to the pic: "Sleep well, children." And thus was born the prompt for "A Visit from Oliver's Dad."

Meantime, our class has been regularly disrupted by the group in the classroom upstairs who are constantly moving the furniture around, dragging it back and forth across the floor. Can you guess what this morning's prompt is going to be?