Sunday, February 19, 2017

Trying Out Digital Argumentative Papers

***My students are beginning a unit on argumentative papers on Tuesday. I've been checking out Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hick's book Argument in the Real World. I highly recommend it. This is my sample paper for my students and it's a bit rough. Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions or ideas for my class as we begin this unit into writing argumentative papers. Thanks!***
When you think about your family, who comes to mind? Your parents? Siblings? What about your pet? Many people think of their household pet as a member of their family, but did you know that your pet can actually make your life better? While all animals have the potential to improve your quality of life, today I am going to dive into the research on how a dog can be good for you.

In the last few years the research on what we can from our pets has been all over the news. Adding a puppy to your home might make you smile, but according to the US News & World Reports, your heart will be smiling too. It seems that the addition of a dog to your home makes you more active - you get out and walk the dog. Even the American Heart Association has given dogs a stamp of approval. They say that owning a dog actually reduces your risk of a heart attack. The daily walks aren’t the only way you make your heart healthy, however. US News and World Reports says that having a dog in your home releases a relaxation hormone and can actually lower your blood pressure, especially while you sit and pet it. So while one could argue that you wouldn’t need the dog to get out and walk daily, it does encourage that behavior and you have the added benefit of lower blood pressure while around your pup. Seems like a great benefit from a small member of our family!

Dogs also can help their owners not just physically, but socially as well. The aforementioned walk gets you out and you have the potential to meet others. Beyond that, the AKC states that dog ownership leads to better moods, less feelings of loneliness, and general happiness. When we are happy in one part of our life, it can spill over to others. In fact, US News & World Reports argues that owning a dog can help you beat depression. They say that being responsible for another living thing gives your life purpose, which can break you out of depression or prevent it from occurring in the first place.

On a selfish level, I see how owning a dog could be good for me, but what about my own children? The dog food company Canidae reports that beyond the responsibility that owning a pet can teach a child, it might actually help their health in the long run. While many people look at pets as a source of allergies, it seems that growing up around the allergens can either eliminate the allergy as an adult or make it less severe, so says the US News & World Reports. Web MD states that while babies that have cats or dogs at home have been shown to get sick less during their first year. All of this being said, my favorite reason pets are good for kids falls into the category of unconditional love and the Healthy Pets with Dr. Becker website agrees with me too. Being a kid is tough. From our dogs my boys have received understanding, compassion, caring, and love in its purest form. While others might not be kind to them, they can come home and know that they are the whole word to the little furry family member that is waiting for them, delighted to see that they are home. This gives them the confidence to go back out there and tackle the world anew. I firmly believe that all kids can benefit from a dog in their lives.

Reflecting over this topic I’m left at a crossroads. There are absolutely downfalls to owning a dog and the Fish of Gold website dives right into all of them: time, cleaning up after them, cost, attention, etc. Yet here’s the thing - that's all true. When it comes down to it, the immense positives outweigh any minor inconveniences. What you gain from your dog is far more than any time or money you invest in them.

Owning a dog is one of the best things you can do for you and your family. While I have scientists and experts (like the LA Times) that could back me up here, but I know this to be true from my own experience. Through my dogs - Pokey, Tristan, Sally, Bally, Rosie, and soon - Leia, I have lived a better life. They have taught me about love, companionship, patience, unselfishness, and more. I’ve walked them, sat on the couch and pet them for hours, and cried tears that seemed to have no end when they’ve gone. My dogs have enriched my life in ways I cannot summarize eloquently, but Hank Green does a pretty good job here. I’ll let him have the last word.

“10 Life Lessons Pet Ownership Can Teach Your Child.”,
“7 Ways Pets Can Make You Healthier.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report,
Akc. “The Many Ways Kids Benefit from Having a Dog.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 24 Oct. 2017,
Fields, Lisa. “6 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health.” WebMD, WebMD, 24 Oct. 2013,
“Five Ways Having a Pet Teaches a Child Responsibility.” CANIDAE®,
Green, Hank. “Thanks, Lemon.” Vlogbrothers, YouTube, 19 Feb. 2016,
“Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk.” AHA Journals, AHA, 9 May 2013,
“Pets and Your Health: the Good and the Bad.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 18 July 2011,
Staff, Author Orvis. “The Real Benefits of Having a Dog.” Orvis News, 25 Apr. 2019,
Staff, Rover. “Dogs Make Us Happier, and Now We Know Why.” The Dog People by, 30 May 2018,
Taryn, et al. “The Pros & Cons Of Dog Ownership.” Fish Of Gold, 16 Jan. 2016,
“10 Life Lessons Pet Ownership Can Teach Your Child.”,
“7 Ways Pets Can Make You Healthier.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report,
Akc. “The Many Ways Kids Benefit from Having a Dog.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 24 Oct. 2017,
Fields, Lisa. “6 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health.” WebMD, WebMD, 24 Oct. 2013,
“Five Ways Having a Pet Teaches a Child Responsibility.” CANIDAE®,
Green, Hank. “Thanks, Lemon.” Vlogbrothers, YouTube, 19 Feb. 2016,
“Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk.” AHA Journals, AHA, 9 May 2013,
“Pets and Your Health: the Good and the Bad.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 18 July 2011,
Staff, Author Orvis. “The Real Benefits of Having a Dog.” Orvis News, 25 Apr. 2019,
Staff, Rover. “Dogs Make Us Happier, and Now We Know Why.” The Dog People by, 30 May 2018,
Taryn, et al. “The Pros & Cons Of Dog Ownership.” Fish Of Gold, 16 Jan. 2016,

Saturday, February 18, 2017

When It Doesn't Come Easy...

Yesterday Luke and I were talking as I drove him home from a practice. Liam had a game today (Saturday) and Luke was lamenting the fact that he had to go watch. Liam's team isn't great, they were playing a team that killed them last year, and Luke said it was hard to watch.

That made me pause for a bit to reflect before shooting off my thoughts to Luke. As the older brother, and one that is very driven, Luke has had a lot of success in middle school sports. It remains to be seen if he will continue to find success in sports in high school, or if he will struggle some. While I do not deny that Luke puts forth 110% effort, he hasn't had to experience failure in sports in the way his brother has. I wanted him to reflect a bit.

What I asked Luke was to think about how it's easy to cheer for someone in the lead, to cheer the team that always wins, but what do you do when the reverse happens? 

I asked Luke to think about his little brother... the kid who often came in at the back of the pack in Cross Country while his brother won the race. The kid who asked to play in three park district basketball teams over five months, for the second year in a row, because he didn't make the travel basketball team for his grade again. I asked Luke to realize that Liam hasn't given up, even when it's been hard, even when he didn't win. He didn't need success to motivate him, he went out each time and competed because he wanted to. That's someone I'm interested in cheering on. The person who goes out, knowing it won't be easy, knowing he might not make the team, knowing that he might not win, and tries anyway. That's perseverance.

As we continued our drive home, the van was quiet. Luke was, I'm sure, thinking about how I find the need to have a conversation about everything. I was thinking about how this applies to my classroom. Teaching the kids that "get it", that have great home lives and come to school ready to learn - that's the easy stuff. What about the kids who struggle in school, who have a home life that would make me weep, but show up each day anyway, ready to try again? That is what I'm ready to cheer about in my classroom. 

You've got this, kids. Let's go.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


I came across this article (HERE) thanks to someone I follow on Twitter. It's on empathy and has a fabulous video illustrating part of a speech from Brené Brown:

I was immediately drawn to it because empathy is always something I'm always trying to teach my students. Maybe not teach it, but I strive to share with them the importance of having empathy. I think they need to be aware of what it actually is, then maybe it will be easier to find it in themselves.

I do think you can grow, for lack of a better term, your empathy in others. The ways I've found to do this are through three things: reflection, awareness, and story. Middle school kids are built for empathy. A statement which would surprise many, yet it's true. They naturally want to help, they can be drawn in to stories, but they also want to talk about them too. They understand the phrase "walk around in someone's shoes" and do it all the time. Here's what I do to continue to build up their empathy gene: 

We reflect at the end of every unit, every project, and every quarter. I ask students to reflect on a multitude of things: my teaching, our classroom environment, their reading/ writing habits, their effort/ attitude, what their goals are (academic, social, organizational), and more. At this point they aren't shocked at all when I ask them to pull out a paper to do a reflection. They are ridiculously honest on them. After some reflections, I confer with each student. Currently my conference cycle is going through their reflection from the halfway point of the year and helping them to make goals to finish seventh grade strong. I think empathy for others needs to start with an awareness of self. For some, that's easy. For others, they are learning.

Kids can get tunnel vision. They see their friends, they see themselves, but not much else. I ask them to observe and write through our daily quick writes in class. Sometimes we watch a video, sometimes we look at an image, sometimes we get outside of our classroom. I share the impetus for our quick write, we briefly discuss, then they write. Some examples of what we wrote from just last week include:

  • This picture from The New York Times Learning Network's What's Going on in This Picture? I shared it with my students without comment. They wrote about it. Then I asked them if any of them judged this kid for being on his phone at a game. Many hands went up. I talked about how social media had done that too when the photo came out. We discussed why he could be on the phone, whether being on the phone means you deserve to be hit by a bat, and why we tend to rush to judgement instead of just observing without commentary. 

  • This video on Conner and Cayden Long. We talked about disabilities. One boy brought up what a struggle it is to deal with a disability like anxiety and depression that others can't see. Many kids wrote about how we treat others, and what people are dealing with that you can see, and what you can't.

  • We headed outside. We just started this, but once a week, we're heading outside for our quick writes, as long as it isn't pouring down rain. We live in Illinois, so the weather can be a bit erratic, but I want the kids to get out more, to find the quiet you can only find with nature. We take ten minutes for our quick write on these days. The first three are just for them to wander in silence, to get lost in thought. Then I tell them to find somewhere to write - standing, at a table, on the concrete, leaning against a building, on the ground. They write whatever they want. Then we come together to share. 
As I've told my students multiple times recently, I think the world would be a better place if everyone lived and breathed story like we do. Story is where we truly do see what it would be like to live in someone else's shoes. Story is where you can realize what experiences someone of another race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., experiences. In that vein, here are some books I've recommended just this week to my students. 

And I'll end with March. As I've already said in a previous post, this graphic novel trilogy is one I think needs to be read by everyone in this country from at least 6th grade on up. (I did have several fifth graders read it last year.) I've told my 70+ students, anyone who reads it before the end of February is invited to my room for lunch, I'll bring dessert, and we'll discuss it. I hope I have to buy a lot of cookies. 

The author C. Alexander London wrote a post for Nerdy Book Club back when it began that I absolutely love. There is a quote from that post that has long hung on my classroom walls. It talks about story:

It's a fact: people can survive without books. People can even have wonderful, full lives without books. But they can't long endure without community, and community is build on stories. 

Through stories - our own and the stories of others - we live more lives that just one. It is through those stories we learn empathy, we learn how to treat others, and we can leave this world just a little better than we found it. When I think about what I want to teach my students, what I want my legacy to be, I can only think of that. I hope it's a lesson they grab on to and keep close to their heart for the rest of their life.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What Are We Reading in Seventh Grade?

Seventh grade rocks. While the world has gone a bit topsy-turvy at the moment, these kids make every day one that I look forward to. They're hilarious, kind, and they devour books like nothing I have seen before. This week my 73 students read about 18,000 pages. What??? They are unreal. Feeling the need to share some good with the world, I asked them to hop in front of my camera and take a selfie with the book they are currently reading. They happily obliged. So friends, meet my students. They are glad to share their current books with you. 

Happy Reading!