December 11, 2013

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

Guest blog post by Julia Cook

Our country has been plagued with several disasters in the last few years. There was the Joplin, Missouri tornado in May of 2011, we’ve had numerous catastrophic wildfires, Hurricane Sandy tore the east coast apart in October of 2012, and then there was that day…

I remember that horrible day…December 14th, 2012…The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  My eyes filled with tears as I watched this horrific event unfold on television.  How could this happen?  How could we ever let anything like this happen?

Three days later, I found myself in front of 400 children doing an author visit at a different elementary school that was thousands of miles away.  When the kindergartners and first graders walked into the gym, sat down on the floor, and looked up at me, I lost it.  I couldn’t talk.  I couldn’t even breathe!  My heart felt like it had a hole in it…a big, empty hole.  Our world can be so cruel.  I made eye contact with one of the teachers.  Her eyes screamed “There’s a hole in my heart too!”

At that moment, I knew I had to find a way to reach out. Parents needed to know what to say to their kids and how to say it. Teachers needed to know what to do, what to say, and how to act.

When a disaster occurs, it affects everyone at different levels of intensity, much like the ripple effect when a rock is thrown into water. With natural disasters, most humans feel responsible for helping. We empathize and then focus our efforts on comforting and rebuilding. But we realize deep down that what happened could not have been prevented. Sandy Hook was different…disasters caused by man happen by choice.

The Ant Hill Disaster
In the months following, I wrote numerous articles and gave several media interviews surrounding the topic, “Helping Kids Cope with Disasters and Violence,” but the gnawing of hole in my heart continued.  I knew I needed to write a book, one that spoke to children about living through and living after a disaster. I decided to use ants as a metaphor.

Ants are masters at working together and rebuilding. Also, ant hills can be destroyed by humans as well as by storms, so the metaphor applies to both natural disasters and those caused by man. By writing this book, I could demonstrate empathetic understanding for children, as well as model positive parent and teaching strategies.

But this book would be very different from the others.  All of my other stories were proactive.  The Ant Hill Disaster is reactive…reactive to the hole inside my heart…inside all of our hearts.

After the Ant Hill School is destroyed, a little boy ant is afraid to go back to school.  His mom caringly explains to him that sometimes things happen in life that we have no control over, but we have to find a way to keep living and growing.

Helping Kids Cope with Disasters and Violence
The Ant Hill Disaster thoughtfully addresses fears associated with both natural and those caused by man. It models effective parenting and teaching responses. This book can help assure children that through love, empathetic understanding, preparation, and effective communication, they can stand strong, even in the midst of uncontrollable events.

When disasters, both natural and man-made occur, parents are faced with the challenge of discussing tragic events with their children. Although these might be difficult conversations, they are important and necessary. Always remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to talk to your child about traumatic events. At the end of the Ant Hill Disaster, I included tips for parents to help them talk about tragic events with their children. You can download a page of these tips on the right. Always remember: you are your child’s coping instructor!

I had the great honor of reading the Ant Hill Disaster over the phone to Michelle Gay who lost her 6-year old daughter in the Sandy Hook tragedy. She graciously agreed to write the forward of the book and I want to share her thoughts with you.

Foreword to The Ant Hill Disaster by Michele Gay

On the evening of December 14, 2012, my husband and I were faced with the unimaginable task of telling our older daughters of our family’s loss.  Our precious daughter and their little sister, Josephine, had perished in the tragedy at her school, Sandy Hook Elementary.  

Though a mother and former elementary school teacher,  I grasped for words that could explain the events of that morning... but there were no words. 

What I did manage to say was that I knew our Joey was in heaven and we would find a way to carry on together. That we loved them, and so did she, that we would never allow her sparkling personality and loving spirit to be lost in this tragedy.  

We came together with family, friends, neighbors, and our community to defy this tragedy with our love.  

In the weeks following, we sent our daughters back to school, confident in the love and support they would receive in our community. I volunteered to stay. I wanted to deliver a message: that we were meant to carry on together. And so we began our journey.

Julia Cook’s Ant Hill Disaster honors this journey out of loss and into hope. She lights the path for the youngest of readers with words, colors, and a familiar setting that young children understand and need. Her adorable characters model team work, empathy, and compassion in a child-friendly story that may translate to a tragic event in their own community or another, man-made or natural.   

Ant Hill Disaster is a message of hope and love that will touch and inspire young children and the adults who love them.

     Michele Gay
     Mother of Josephine Gay, A Sandy Hook Angel
     Co-Founder of Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative

Words to Comfort Us from The Ant Hill Disaster

“We breathe in and breathe out, we hold onto each other.
We shed a lot of tears, and we love one another.
We’ve all come together as a strong team of ONE,
 We’ve rebuilt our lives, and we’re get things done!
They say that when change happens, it makes everyone grow.
Our pain is never forgotten, this we all know.
But together we somehow are learning to cope.
Because disasters will NEVER diminish our hope!”

To me, it is an absolute must to align the information contained in my books with the best research-based topic information available. This led me to contact the ALICE Training Institute. For more information on disaster preparedness visit the ALICE website: www.alicetraining.com.

Julia is nationally recognized as an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. She holds a Master's Degree in Elementary School Counseling, and while serving as a school counselor, she often used children’s books to enhance her classroom lessons. Julia has written dozens of books that teach students to become life-long problem solvers and enable them to deal with difficult situations in their lives. She enjoys visiting schools and talking with kids; in fact, she's done over 800 school visits! You can learn more at her website, www.juliacookonline.com.



December 7, 2013

Bring Some Passion Into Your Classroom!

Guest blog post by Jen Runde

Have you heard of Genius Hour? If you are looking for a way to bring a little more motivation, excitement, and real learning into your classroom, Genius Hour is the answer.

Genius Hour allows your students to explore their passions.  For one hour a week, they read, research, plan and design their passion projects. Students can take on any topic they are passionate about, and create a project they can share with the class, the school … the world!

Genius Hour is based on inquiry. Students need to develop a question related to their passion that they can research.  Simple questions that they can find the answer to easily should be discouraged.  Inquiry questions should lend themselves to the creation of a project – a passion project – at the end.  Projects can be media based (movie, slideshow, etc.), or something physical they build, design, or create.  At the completion of your Genius Hour timeline, these projects need to be shared with an audience. Throughout the entire process, students will be engaged in research, reading nonfiction articles, planning through graphic organizers, writing, and reflecting – all integral areas of our Language Arts curriculum.

I introduced Genius Hour in my classroom two weeks ago, and my students haven’t stopped talking about it. I dedicated a bulletin board space to it (well, actually a blackboard space because I’m out of bulletin board space).  This is where we will post our handouts and weekly inspirations.

For our first Genius Hour, I asked my students to close their eyes and think about something they were really passionate about.  I then handed out sticky notes and had them write down their passions and post them on our board.  I then showed them the video from Kid President, “A Pep Talk from Kid President.”


I also showed them the video found on the Genius Hour site. That video is aimed at teachers so I wouldn’t show it in a class with younger students, but it was perfect for my grade 5/6 students and it gave them a great overview of the project.

I then handed out a second sticky note (in a different colour) to each student and asked them to think about how they could turn their passion into a project – something they had a question about and could build a passion project on. They then posted this second sticky note on the board.

I gave each student a folder and small notebook to keep during the duration of our project. The notebook is for all our notes – graphic organizers, written research, written plans, and a weekly reflection. The folder is to keep any sheets or printed work they have. Their excitement about this project was evident when they immediately began to decorate their folder covers.

For our second Genius Hour, the students were to come with 2 possible inquiry questions for their passion projects that they have discussed with their parents. During this second genius hour, I met with each student to approve one of their ideas. I did have to work with a few students to tweak their questions to make them a little deeper, but most were ready and it was a smooth process. By the end of the class, each student had a question, a direction to head in, and a solid idea for their passion project. In our next genius hour, all students will be able to start on their research.

Some of the inquiry questions my grade 5/6 students have come up with are:
  • How were medieval castle walls constructed?  (passion project idea:  constructing a model of a castle wall)
  • Can I create new dessert recipes?  (passion project idea:  making a cookbook)
  • How do you make doll clothes?  (passion project idea:  a sketchbook of doll clothes and two handmade outfits)
  • What was the inspiration behind the movie, Star Wars?  (passion project idea:  a media movie or slideshow showcasing pictures and information)
  • Can I design my ideal bedroom?  (passion project idea:  an interior design board complete with swatches and furniture ideas, where to find or make items, and pricing options)
I am allowing my students to work at home on their projects (if they wish) as I am not assessing the final physical projects, but rather their process and presentation. If they are working at home, they do need to have all needed materials at school each week for Genius Hour.

Genius Hour has become MY passion project.  And if I continue to show and model that passion to my students, it will continue to motivate them. If this is something you are interested in doing in your classroom, you can make it work.  Timelines are flexible (we are taking 12 weeks (12 in-class hours) for our first projects. If we do a second project this year (which I am planning on), we will have a slightly shorter timeline. Class structure is also flexible. We are doing this whole group every Friday in our language block for our 12 weeks, but it can be built into your literacy centres, or completed during your computer lab time (if this is something you have).

You can get a copy of all the handouts I have given to my students HERE and HERE

I will also be posting a weekly update on my blog:  Runde’s Room (link:  www.rundesroom.com).
  • Passion Projects in the Classroom – Week One 
  • Passion Projects – Week Two
You can click on any of the links in this post to get started on your own Genius Hour path.  It is hands-down the BEST addition to our classroom this year.  I hope I have inspired you to ignite that passion in your students.
Jen









Jennifer Runde is a teacher with twelve years of experience in the upper elementary grades.  She currently has a grade 5/6 class in Ontario, Canada.  She enjoys creating fun and interactive lessons that keep her students engaged in the learning process.  Follow her blog, Runde’s Room, to see what she has going on in her classroom, and find some fun ideas for math, literacy, and technology that you can implement in your own class.