by Wendy Mass
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Student review by Aiman A.
A Mango-Shaped Space is a novel by Wendy Mass. It is about a girl named Mia Winchell, who has been seeing colors for 13 years. After being called a freak because of it in 3rd grade, Mia hasn’t spoken about it to anyone. When she starts eighth grade she is forced to tell her parents due to some bad grades. They go to a few doctors and eventually find out that Mia has synesthesia. Mia’s life has now changed, in ways which are good and bad.
Mia lives in an expanding house and has a cat named Mango. She has two siblings, an older sister, Beth, and a younger brother, Zach. Her best friend is Jenna Davis. She starts thinking about telling about telling her parents about her colors when she meets a boy named Billy Henkle. He tells her that her name is purple with orange stripes, and she says it is candy apple red with light green.
Billy makes Mia think if other people see colors like her but she isn’t sure after the incident in 3rd grade. When she tells Jenna, she gets upset that Mia had hidden this from her, and ignores her from some time which sets off a series of events that make up the wonderful read, A Mango-Shaped Space.
As I posted back in September, I began a classroom economy system this year. I based my economy on materials shared by many teachers online as well as free resources provided at MyClassroomEconomy.org. I have been pleased with how it has worked so far.
My main goal was to give students a sense of ownership in the daily routines of our class. I feel that when students are part of the classroom management process, their investment in class goes up. It also frees me as a teacher to focus on other more important things. It requires a release of power from the teacher to the students, but it makes such a positive difference in student engagement.
In the fall, my students applied for various jobs ranging from Bank Tellers and Communication Assistants to Environmentalists and Librarians. Their applications had to be detailed and highlight why I should hire them for each of the three jobs they had selected, a great exercise in persuasive writing!
After going through all of the responses, I assigned jobs and gave students a "job offer" to sign. Like an employment contract, it listed their job title, job description, salary, and training time. Most students were satisfied with their assignment, but for those that weren't they knew they would have a chance to apply for new jobs in January.
Students are paid a weekly salary for their job and pay rent at the end of every month. The first Friday of the month is class store day and they can choose to spend some of their hard earned money or save to purchase their desk (and get out of paying rent). They can also save for the end of year auction.
Running this program has given me a lot of insight into my students' personalities and strengths. Students who sometimes struggle academically have found a way to show their strengths as technology assistants helping their classmates, while others take pride in have special responsibilities, like composing tweets for our class Twitter account, organizing the the class library, or inventorying items for the class store.
I'm particularly excited by two new jobs I've added for the second half of the year, the Class Book Whisperer and Google Jockeys. Here are the job descriptions:
The Google Jockeys post on topics related to our class discussions and units of study at least weekly. They have special permission to post their links to the course update stream on Schoology. The students have really done a great job finding resources and their classmates are already finding it useful. It even has turned into a forum for discussion. One posting of a Wikipedia link ignited a conversation on the credibility of Wikipedia. Below is an example of a Google Jockey post.
The Class Book Whisperers also have unique duties. They are charged with sharing their recommendations in class weekly and creating a blog post for the class website that students can check for more information. Inspired by Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer, I created this role as a way for students to engage other students in their passion for reading. They will make their first post the week of February 25th and have already begun helping their classmates with making book selections for our weekly independent reading. We tweeted our introductory blog post and were excited to hear from Donalyn herself!
Running a classroom economy has been a learning experience this year, but one that has definitely been worthwhile. It adds a taste of real world learning and has placed the responsibility for many interactions with the students. "Check your bank accounts and figure out your budget for spending at the store" or "Talk to a tech assistant if you need help with that." In a classroom economy, students know they have to be responsible and, ultimately, are able to feel like part of a team.
I wrote the following post this week as a guest blogger for our weekly middle school newsletter, but I thought others might find it useful...
The recent ISACS Conference was a great chance to learn new ideas and think about how teaching and learning has changed in the 21st century. One of the new mantras in education is the importance of nurturing creativity and innovation in both teachers and students. Bloom's Taxonomy was revised in 2000 to include "Creating" as one of the higher order domains of learning (check out this chart and this adaption by tech integration leader Kathy Schrock). Daniel Pink's keynote address touched on the fact that motivation (and creativity) is increased when people are given the time to explore new ideas and the choice of how to express their thoughts. Here's a great video from RSA Animate that restates some of the points he made in his keynote.
I think all of us want to be more creative and want to encourage creativity in our students. I went to a session on teaching creative thinking that I found a bit disappointing because I wanted tools for improving the creative process in students. The session focused more on how students that are naturally creative think and how assignment structures can sometimes limit creativity. Having that information is useful, but practical tools are what most teachers are looking for and need to make change in their teaching.
I happen to be taking a graduate class right now entitled, "Creativity in Teaching and Learning" and thought I might share some of the tools we have explored so far in our studies. We're reading a book called Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People. The premise of the book is that creativity is not simply something we are born with and either have or don't have. True, there are many examples of extraordinary people throughout history who have made amazing achievements in fields of science, mathematics, art, literature, and music. Some individuals do have ways of looking at things that come more naturally to them than it might to others. Yet, these ways of thinking are inherently skills that can be developed. I will never be an Olympic athlete, but I can certainly learn a sport and with practice even become pretty good at it.
So what are these tools? Here's my summary of what I've learned so far:
I find it interesting that so many examples of creative work in teaching relate to Math (go math teachers!) when usually we associate creativity with the arts and literature. It highlights that creativity is possible in ANY domain and subject area. The tool that I have left to explore this semester is Synthesizing. I'll be sure to update this post when I have completed my coursework and can share my experience with that final tool. If you are interested in more explanation, there is an excellent wiki that summarizes all of the tools and the book. My personal exploration of these creative tools can be found here on my course workspace.
We have been keeping a creativity journal this term to record our experiments with trying to open up our own creativity. In the book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author describes several ways to enhance personal creativity that are concrete and executable. There is a great summary here of all of the exercises. Here are a few highlights:
I think the idea of time is really important. How can you be creative when you have a million things to do already and not enough time? I recently read an article that discussed how Mark Zuckerberg wears the same grey t-shirt and jeans every day. He literally has a drawer of 20 of the same shirt. Think about Steve Jobs and his iconic black turtleneck. It's not necessarily that these men had no fashion interest or creativity. They just chose to focus their attention elsewhere. Five minutes saved choosing clothing equals five minutes applied to thinking of new ideas or about things that do interest you.
I loved Daniel Pink's idea of "Fed Ex Days" for teachers and students. Google tried to make innovation part of its culture by doing something like this and many of its best products came out of their Labs, which are projects started by employees "just for fun." See here for more on Google's philosophy.
I plan to incorporate my own version of a "Fed Ex" day with my students sometime in the near future. Teacher Josh Stumpenhorst, who Daniel Pink mentioned in his keynote address, called them "Innovation Days" with his 6th graders. In my class, I plan to tell students that they will have some time (a period or perhaps more) to work on something related to our subject but they will need to share with me and the class a product. Will they choose to write a story or poem? Build a web page on a favorite book? Who knows, but I'm curious to see what will happen. When people are allowed to pursue their interests and talents, sometimes interesting and unexpected things can happen.
We're off and running at my school for the new school year. We have been in session for about two weeks and I am enjoying getting to know all of my new fifth graders.
I will have lots to reflect on this year and hope to post to this blog more frequently. We have rolled out a 1:1 pilot in the 5th and 6th grades with Chromebooks this year. Having all students with a device in class has certainly changed the teaching environment and opened up some excellent opportunities for 21st Century learning. I also am teaching a new class of my own design this year which I'm calling Language & Literacies. It combines a focus on independent reading, writing, and digital literacy skills.
Another new idea I'm implementing has nothing to do with Language Arts or digital literacy per se, but it is about finding effective ways to better manage my classroom. I've implemented a classroom economy in which all of my students will have jobs and earn salaries based on their work. In addition, they will pay rent for their work area and earn bonuses for positive classroom behavior and fines for the not-so-good behavior.
If you Google "classroom economy," you'll find a ton of excellent resources posted by other teachers about what works in their classrooms. Here are some links I bookmarked in my Diigo library. I found some great information and resources at MyClassroomEconomy.org, a site that developed from a partnership between fifth grade teacher and author Rafe Esquith and Vanguard.
This past week, I explained the classroom economy system to my students and introduced the jobs for which they would apply. I made a Google form to collect the applications and installed the Autocrat script in the spreadsheet from the Google Apps script gallery. It allows me to merge the spreadsheet information into a template I created in Google Docs and create personalized job offers letters with very little work.
A key element of this was creating an online banking system for my students. I did not want to deal with a lot of paper money or record keeping, so I created a class bank using MyKidsBank.org. Each student has a personal login and can view his or her balance and deposit "bank notes," coupons generated from the site with a special one-time use code. I can designate up to five tellers who can deposit and withdraw funds due to bonuses, fines, or purchases at the classroom store. The site will also let me set up a weekly auto-deposit for student salaries and make multiple withdrawals at one time, for example when rent is due. Overall, it makes a fun, real-world connection for the kids and eliminates much of the paper.
We're just getting started, but I'll share other pieces of how I've organized the classroom economy and how it goes as the year goes on.
I had one of those moments this weekend that makes you stop and think about how much times have changed. Our last day of classes was Wednesday, and as I've sat at home grading papers and projects this weekend I realize that in many ways the school year hasn't ended. I've had numerous emails from students and parents asking about summer reading and I've emailed some of them about other issues.
Here's an example... My students finished a book trailer project last Friday, but because I was out of town for a family wedding, I am just now looking at what was submitted. They are great and I will be posting some of them in the coming days, but for some reason, a few students' projects were not submitted. Additionally, two other students turned in videos that appeared cut short, perhaps due to some network glitch while they were uploading. In the past, if this had been a lab-based project, I would have to decide whether to grade on work I saw done during the process or even to give a zero. Now that our tools have moved to the cloud, this is what I did.
I emailed the parents of each student and wrote that I was missing their child's video. I asked if the child could download the project again from Animoto.com (the video-creation site we used) and resubmit it to me in Google Docs for grading. I sent those messages out on Saturday afternoon. Here's one of the email messages from the parents that struck me the most,
It is now Sunday afternoon and I have all of the missing videos in hand, including Riya's video.
Using tools like Google Docs, Schoology, and Edmodo over the past two years has definitely made me feel like the walls of my classroom have lowered and learning can happen at anytime, but this experience has certainly cemented that feeling for me. What could have been a major problem has instead become a small hiccup in my workflow thanks to the cloud.
Now back to grading...
My "To Read" List
StorySnoops Book Finder
Lexile Framework for Reading
Mrs. P Interactive Storybook
Get Caught Reading
A Year of Reading
YA Book Nerd
Young Adult Books Central
Reading Rewards Blog
The Well-Read Child
100 Scope Notes
Raising Readers & Writers
INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids
Children's Books on About.com
Children's Books & Reviews
The Story Siren
Diversity in YA Fiction
Harper Collins Children's
Publisher's Weekly Children's
Simon & Shuster Teen
Children's Literature Network