Seventh Grade Genius Hour Projects 2021

As we near the end of our year together as a virtual Reading and Language Arts class, I have high hopes for the students’ Genius Hour projects. It is not an easy task—monitoring one’s own learning—no matter where, or for what. I am asking this of all the students.

Something that is posing a struggle for many of them is understanding how to record where they go and what they do when they work to LEARN and GROW. I am asking that they LOG their “tracks,” like the bread crumb trail left by Hansel and Gretel. Because they are new to this enterprise, they are struggling to leave a path for me to follow. Without that, I cannot give them project points along the way. I will go over this problem again today. This is a process with points earned along the way, not a project with all the points on the final “Show What You Know.”

The blog posts are a way to incorporate checkpoints in the process. When I would offer Genius Hour/20% Time options to my eighth graders (you can see some evidence of that in the “Past Blogs” tab of navigation here), they told me that more frequent check-ins would help them stay honest, to actually DO something with the time they were given. I am taking their advice!

I encourage parents to read the blogs and comment. Nothing makes a writer develop with more intention than knowing that someone is reading his or her work with true interest. As much as I try to be that authentic audience for each of them, I do, by definition, have a different role. Fortunately their peers are reading and commenting as part of this process, too!

We’ll keep you posted on our progress. Thanks for joining us on this journey.

Student Blogging Challenge

Due to the hectic schedule the eighth graders have during the third marking period with 20-Time Projects, online reading, and our ongoing study of legal justice, I have decided not to enter our individual student blogs in the Student Blogging Challenge.  Instead this class blog, “WORDSWORK:  The Right Words in the Right Order” will be the hub for interactions with schools from around the world.  I will ask students if they wish to serve as “Guest Bloggers” on this page, adding their posts here.  Hopefully some of your children will get to respond and connect globally.

Monday is a twitter effort launched by Pernille Ripp called “One School, One World.”  I will be photographing our class and sharing it on twitter, devoid of specific location information or names of the children.  I hope to share screenshots of other schools  with our Brielle studentsstudents.  If you are interested in following the conversation on twitter: #1S1W.

I will keep you posted.

2016 Is Here! (Your Child’s Graduation Year)

justice photo

Oh, what a vacation this has been!  Today when your children return, I will be asking them to do a “Best of Vacation” list.  If they can come up with a few “moments” worthy of a second look, I will be a happy camper.

Much of what I have been reading during the respite concerns our remaining time together.  As I have mentioned to some of you, in the third marking period the students will be engaging in “Passion Projects,” ones that they pick and devote one day a week to developing throughout the marking period.  It is a methodology supported by many of the people I most respect in the field of education and hope you will as well.  Ideally it puts a student in charge of his or her own learning.

As a “warm-up,” the students are working on book-related projects from now until the due date on Friday, January 22.  When parents ask, “So what do they have to do?  What are the requirements?” I must in all honesty respond that the final project itself will not receive a grade.  The steps along the way, the proposal, the research, the record-keeping, the reflective blogging, a completed product that can be shared and the final self-assessment will all weigh in grading.  This will preclude any “last ditch” efforts to undo time spent poorly in class or changing the project up at the last minute.  All of this will prepare your child for the next, more ambitious, effort of his or her choosing.

As we continue toward graduation in June, I will keep you posted and hope you check in with your child’s blog as well.

A Just and Lasting Peace

At the close of his second inaugural address, President Lincoln said:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As our country reeled in the aftermath of a civil war, this president urged reconciliation.  This holiday season, nations worldwide are bearing the weight of unfathomable grief and uncertainty about what the future may bring.  This is no less true for the children in our care.  For them, the wounds may be invisible,the battle psychological, but Lincoln’s words are no less pertinent to this time.

In August, unaware of the specific threats that humanity might be facing, but equally certain that we would be facing some, I posted about the coming November—optimism is my mainstay, my touchstone; after all, I teach.  I offer it once again—now that the future is here.

It’s Called the “Worldwide Web”

This Blog Action Day I don’t want to sound like a foot-stamping kindergartner who wants it HER way, but I am moved to write after reading an article from the thought-provoking blog Mindshift.  At the risk of oversimplifying, the article questions the censorship imposed upon teachers and their students when safety mechanisms such as filters—firewalls—become the rule of law at school.  It argues that such well-intentioned policies run counter to the First Amendment.

Don’t misunderstand me, I acknowledge that schools are justifiably concerned with the safety of their students and maintaining the integrity of an institution that encourages learning and growth in both academic and ethical areas.  This tension between safety and individual freedom will endure and hopefully foster the discussions that Blog Action Day invites.  I also understand that the discussion of when and for whom cannot be ignored in a school context.

Today I was pushed to write about this topic, not only because I had shared an abridged version of the aforementioned article with your children in anticipation of this blog event, but because, in planning for the lesson at home, I embedded the World’s Greatest Lesson video from Vimeo and planned to show it to your children as a way to generate some possibilities for them to “Raise [Their] Voices.”  The problem surfaced when I was unable to show the video as planned because Vimeo was blocked.  “There’s bad stuff on that site, Trish,” I was told. I’m sure there is; I’m also sure that this particular video I wish to use for educational purposes is not.  I applaud our principal for removing the filter for the day, but I have other videos planned, and many of them are housed at Vimeo.

To this point, the article advances the critical perspective that students need to be trained as digital citizens, as dicerners of content, and we, as their teachers have a responsibility to develop that skill. Banning content, hyper-regulating it, does little to foster insight and might even encourage duplicity as students work to circumvent barriers.  As one of my students, an eighth grader, wrote in his notebook after an activity dealing with online ethics, “…if kids were given more freedom, it would open up new opportunities to learn more.”  I understand the desire of a school administration to protect the students, but I firmly side with the opinion that “Students need to be part of the discussion of classroom norms and can help set the consequences for breaking them. But prohibiting the students from accessing the tools…restricts their intellectual rights.”

More importantly, however, the article speaks to a deeply fundamental issue.  Our students, fortunate to have internet at home and in other easily accessible spaces, will not require school as their conduit to participation in public life.  This is disturbing after further consideration because, once again, it underscores the widening divide between voices we get to hear, those who get to speak, and those who remain silent and marginalized because of inherent inequity.  In the World’s Greatest Lesson one of the 17 Sustainable Goals is to remediate the great disparity that exists across multiple categories.  Number four declares: Provide equitable and inclusive education and life-long learning opportunities for all.  If some students remain outside the halls of access, then all students are less informed because of it.

One of the most influential professors in my Masters program at Rutgers once said something that resonates.  When discussing our attempts to achieve equity, he explained that it is so often framed “on its head.”   He would argue that those who most benefit from inclusiveness, from an effort to “make situations equal,” are not those who are recipients of such efforts, but rather those who extend the opportunity, for as a result, they experience increased engagement with a wider swath of humanity.  These interactions enrich their human experience and understanding and nurture the capacity for empathy.  Facilitating a greater human conversation, while realizing that we may hear what we don’t especially want to hear, will cause growth.  This is education.

“Raise Your Voice” on Blog Action Day 2015

This graphic, taken from Mindshift, and created by Sylvia Duckworth and J Casa Todd, captures the essence of Blog Action Day.
This graphic, taken from Teach Thought, and created by Sylvia Duckworth and J Casa Todd, captures the essence of Blog Action Day.

The second statement distinguishing a digital leader from a mere citizen is, “I use the internet and social media to empower others with no voice.”  When I think about that statement, I have to consider the most recent goals established by the United Nations for sustainability.  The video embedded here discusses the “World’s Largest Lesson” and presents many ideas worth “raising our voices” as well as actually DOING something about.

The Worlds Largest Lesson Introduced by Malala Yousafzai from World’s Largest Lesson on Vimeo.

Welcome Back!


Nat'l Book Award Finalists 2016 YA


As the second full week of your child’s eighth grade year at Brielle Elementary School draws to a close, I wish to welcome you and invite you to participate in the ongoing adventure this year will hopefully provide by subscribing to our blog.  In two weeks, your child’s individual blog will be linked on the sidebar here.  I urge you to check in periodically, visiting and leaving comments—not only on your child’s blog but on the work of fellow students as well.

If you were unable to attend Back-to-School Night (I missed meeting you personally!), these are a few of the highlights:

  • This year each of the classes is informed about homework and more impromptu announcements through Google Classroom.  Ask your child to show you the webpage.
  • The class webpage associated with the Brielle school account has tips for writing, a link to this blog, and other information.
  • We will be utilizing several online tools for creation and curation.  These technological tools will facilitate learning for your child.  We have been, and will continue to be, discussing what it means to be a digital citizen.  A valuable resource in addition to Common Sense Media (linked on the sidebar) is InCtrl, a comprehensive program to address this most important topic.  Safety and Responsibility are at the heart of our approach.
  • Your child participated in an activity on Global Collaboration Day, September 16th, with other students from around the world through an international art exchange.  They used VoiceThread to comment and connect.  They will be participating in Blog Action Day on Friday, October 16th as well.
  • The essential question we will be considering throughout the year is:  What is justice?  The seventh and eighth graders will be reading books in mixed-grades book clubs that focus on different social justice issues.
  • Students will engage in an inquiry-based project of their choosing during the third marking period, related to an aspect of social justice and their personal interest.
  • They will participate in the Global Blog Challenge for ten weeks during the spring.
  • Please contact me by email or phone with any questions or concerns:, 732.528.6400 x.124.

I will do my best to provide an update every month, sometimes more often if the circumstances warrant it, via this blog.

We are already on our way to a successful and happy school year; I can’t wait to see it unfold.  Thank you for sharing your children with me.

Mindfulness for International Peace Day









On Monday, September 21, we will be observing International Peace Day.  As a part of our involvement, we have been considering the importance of mindfulness for creating inner peace.  A mindfulness trainer will visit and speak to the eighth graders about this practice and lead them in guided meditation and conscious breathing.  Any method that creates more personal peace—less stress—seems like a path to explore.