Leading up to this year's conflict project, the students studied conflict through reading Suzanne Collins's book, The Hunger Games. No doubt you've heard of it by now.
Students from all three class periods who owned the book temporarily donated their copy to the classroom, so that each period had enough copies for all of the students to follow along and take turns reading aloud.
Throughout the reading, each class participated in their own version of the Hunger Games. Each period had a designated paper "arena" on the wall, and tributes (students drawn from a hat) moved around the arena seeking food, water, and shelter. When tributes encountered each other, those students had to battle it out with Minute to Win It style games. Non-tributes played the roles of mentors and stylists, and advised their tributes on winning strategies.
As each class finished reading the book, they then had one week to complete a project, proving that they understood the nature of conflict between various characters in the novel. The project could take any format, and below are some examples of the students' work (click any picture to enlarge).
Some other board games appeared in the mix. The students finished reading the book and creating these projects before the movie debuted in theaters, but images of the characters were already readily available, and the students took advantage of them.
Dioramas were also a popular medium for showing the various conflicts involved in the story. Each project, regardless of medium, involved some sort of write-up, to demonstrate full comprehension of the concepts. Some write-ups were attached to the projects themselves, as in the diorama on the left.
Students took advantage of the open-ended nature of the assignment and played to their individual strengths. Shown below, left to right and top to bottom: a poster, a brochure, another poster, an essay, a student finishing up the cover of her fan-fiction piece, students playing a student-designed Hunger Games themed computer game, a complicated diagram showing the interrelationships of the story.
Overall, the projects were quite impressive, and the fictional conflicts were a good starting point for studying real historical conflicts in the future.
I have read a bunch of bad books lately. Or just mediocre ones. I'm not too excited about any of the four I'm currently reading, either. I checked my recent reviews, and of the last 17 books I've read, I have only really been impressed by one. Steinbeck knows his stuff. But I already knew that.
The book 18 books ago that impressed me was Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman. But it's a Caldecott Honor Book, so there's that.
I'll tell you what has impressed me book-wise lately (though it's not a book at all):
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
I saw this little charmer quite a while before it won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. It was free on the internet back then (this post was in draft mode, with the embedded video, but now that it has won the Oscar, the video is no longer embeddable). Now you can download it for $1.99. I promise you, it's worth your time and money. You can't tell from the trailer, but it's a really sweet story. Plus, it won an Oscar, so there's that.
Does this mean I just need to stick to award winners?
Don't worry, I have literally hundreds of books in my house I can read. Plus, you know, a library card. So it's not about not having something great available to read, I just haven't chosen wisely lately. I'm due, though. Time to go pick.
This winter has been absolutely beautiful. According to the Fox 12 Weather Blog from late January, the long-range weather forecast for Portland is decidedly un-Portland-like:
So, hurray for spring, right? Flowers are blooming...
...but just in time for me to spend every waking hour outside, the Portland weather comes back:
Yes, that's right, that's snow you're seeing there. ...Sigh...
Leading up to this year's conflict project, the students were shown a variety of images, and asked to generate "non-Google-able" questions about the pictures. For example, for the picture of the space shuttle, a boring, Google-able question would be, "How much fuel does it take to get to the moon?" A much better, high-level question would be "What makes humans want to explore space?"
But other questions were so universal that it didn't really matter which picture they were originally intended for. Below are some of my favorites, along with the pictures. I'll bet you can't tell which questions match each picture.
At school, why do they teach us to make friends while America is making enemies?
Why does it take such a massive effort to create simple changes to society?
Why don't some people agree with using non-violence to get their point across?
If one thing simply stopped existing, how would that affect other things around it?
The next step was just as powerful. The students were asked to create a title for each picture based on the questions. Just like the questions themselves, the title for each picture could be applied to almost any of the pictures:
The ultimate goal was a single title or idea for all of the images together, which was "power." This is the launching point for understanding the nature of conflict for the project.
Early Monday morning, two strong earthquakes awakened the Bay Area. At 5:33 am, a magnitude 3.5 quake, followed immediately by a magnitude 4.0 quake shook approximately 5.5 miles below the surface in El Cerrito, CA. Another mild aftershock was felt a half hour later.
Though the quakes served as a rude awakening and were felt as far away as Santa Cruz, they were relatively minor. Police dispatchers in the surrounding cities received no reports of injuries or major damage. Nearby transit systems and bridges were inspected and given the all-clear.
My friend, Mac (below) was less than 2.5 miles from the epicenter that morning, and his important job of keeping my mother's feet warm while she sleeps was interrupted by the jolt.
Earthquakes are a constant threat in the vicinity of the seismically active San Andreas Fault, but individual minor quakes are only as significant as something like a nearby tornado: sure you pay attention to it, but if it doesn't destroy your house or community, you can forget about it pretty quickly. Here it is just a few days later and I bet most people have forgotten it already.
Every once in a while, though, an earthquake is a big deal. Longtime residents of the Bay Area will certainly remember the Loma Prieta earthquake (a.k.a. the Quake of '89 or the World Series Earthquake) as vividly as others remember 9/11 or the assassination of JFK.
The Loma Prieta Quake measured 6.9 on the Richter Magnitude Scale. The Richter Scale is logarithmic in nature, so each whole number is 10 times as powerful as the preceding number. That makes the '89 quake roughly 1000 times as powerful as Monday's quake.
Because of the timing of the event, the earthquake happened during the warm-up of a World Series game, making it the first major quake to have live, national coverage on television. It was also the event that triggered more long-distance phone calls than any other date in history up to that point. Everyone wanted to know if their Bay Area loved ones were OK.
As, of course, did I. My mother (the one whose feet are warmed by Mac) was unable to cross the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge because of the collapsed section, and took a circuitous route around the bay on public transportation to get home from work that night, along with everyone else in the same boat. A commute that normally took about an hour on the bus ended up taking her closer to seven hours.
Before cell phones, there was really no way for me to know if she was going to be able to come home at all that night. As a ten-year-old who had just experienced a major earthquake, it was pretty scary. I stayed at a friend's house that night, as did my brother. We didn't leave a note for Mom, mostly because we didn't want to remain in the high-rise apartment building longer than necessary, but she knew exactly where to find us anyway. She called our respective friends' houses around midnight when she finally got home.
Twenty-two years later, I can still remember exactly what I was eating just a moment before the shaking started. I can remember the underside of the heavy wooden table under which we took cover. I can remember exactly what the shaking felt like. I can remember the color of my friend's socks as we ran down eleven flights of stairs without stopping to put on our shoes. I can remember debating whether to continue walking to my friend's (one story) house in just our socks, or to risk going back inside for shoes (ultimately, we decided to go back inside for shoes and to rescue the cat). I can remember the exact clothing items I had to borrow from my friend to wear to school the next morning. I can remember looking around at the empty desks of my classmates the next day, and hoping that nothing terrible had happened to them.
And I can remember swapping where-where-you-when? stories for years afterward.
Plugging his new book, Space Chronicles, Neil DeGrasse Tyson appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and nearly made Jon want to become an astrophysicist himself (watch the clip, you'll want to become one, too!). Tyson is doing pretty well bringing the wonder back to science and making it friggin' awesome.
Just like the great Carl Sagan. Known as a popularizer of science, Sagan helped people want to learn about the Universe with the same passion as Sagan himself. In Carl Sagan's words:
As it turns out, the very thing that Carl loved most about the Universe, is also what Neil loves most, and both of them just make you want to pack a bag and head for the stars (well, them and Doctor Who), because really, you're just going home.
The transcript of the video:
Thanks, Neil. Carl would be proud.