Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

This lesson explores the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, by Robert Robinson, performed by Sufjan Stevens as the soundtrack to the cool BluefishTV video.  I played through the song once, and then we watched this retelling of his life.

One of the curious things about this hymn is the line, Here I Raise My Ebenezer.  Not a word you hear every day, so we explored it, using the Bible verses below, and then creating our own Ebenezers with "5 smooth stones," purchased at Hobby Lobby, and mounted on spray painted wooden bases.  To top them off in accordance with the final lines of the hymn, "Here's my heart o take and seal it, seal it for thy very own," we topped our Ebenezers off with sealing wax.

Here's a breakdown of how the craft and lesson fit together:

Stones Project
Enough stones for everyone to have 5 (30 or so?)
Glue guns/glue sticks
Sealing wax
Gold Sharpies
Bases for stone stacks  Paint for bases

Bible verses on Stones
Ebenezer 1 Samuel 7:12
David’s five smooth stones 1 Samuel 17:40
Stones of the temple Matthew 24:1-2
Stumbling block 1 Corinthians 1:23
Stones and bread Matthew 7-9; Matthew 4:3
Stones would cry out Luke 19:37-40; Habakkuk 2:11
Seal it for thy very own - fire/wax

Lesson Plan
Write lyrics/chords on sheet
Write Bible verses on the board
Play Come thou fount
Watch the video
Talk about the story, read bio of Robert Robinson
Focus on the word Ebenezer - 1 Sam. 7:12

Do Project
Write citation on the base
Stack stones with glue gun (watch Michael Grab vids while doing this)
Melt wax over them, red or gold

Sunday, September 18, 2016

New Beginnings

So, another fall, another new beginning.  New students, a new school year, and another blog post. It's been
Did I mention I'm a grandpa now?
a long time, but I'm still here, still teaching.

This year we'll be using some curriculum for a couple weeks each month, and coming up with ideas of our own for the other two - one will be kind of a free-for-all (my specialty), and the other a joint Bible study with the Senior High class.

I've never had much luck with "journaling," if by that one means getting kids to make some kind of record of their thoughts, prayers, or whatever else it is that introspective, thoughtful and creative kids do. BUT, it occurred to me (when I asked the kids what lesson they liked best from last year and they couldn't remember ANY) that maybe a more pedestrian, less intimidating way of journaling might help with that.  I thought back to my own Sunday School experience, too, and thought how much I would treasure a record of what we had actually done in those days, rather than the patchy, mentally embroidered version I now recall.

So I came up with these weekly journals.  The idea is that we'll just write down a couple of notes on the week's activities, and that's that.  I also thought it would be fun for the kids to personalize their journals (purchased at Michael's on clearance for $3.99 for a 3 pack).  Here's the sample cover I made.
On the kids' journals I took a picture of them, and let them tape it on with Washi tape (thanks again, Michael's!), and then use rubber stamp alphabets to personalize them.  That's my twitter handle on the green binder tape, and a bunch of random stuff floating around on the cover.

Putting them together worked out pretty well.  Everyone chose to put their name on the cover, somewhere, and people used the tape to create designs as well, which I hadn't anticipated. Our class period is around 45 minutes, and this project took up about half an hour of that.

Here's what my notes for the week look like (the kids pretty much just copied mine).

In the past I printed in-class photos from a Canon printer that used a memory card from a compatible camera to create traditional looking 3x5 glossy pics.  I couldn't find film for it this year (not that I looked super hard), but while I was looking I found an awesome little printer from FujiFilm, that prints credit card sized pictures from your cell phone - how cool is that, right?

It's called the instaxSHARE SP-2, and I bought mine at Best Buy.  It wasn't cheap (like $200 bucks?), but I talked myself into thinking I'd get a lot of use of it at parties and whatnot.  The app was easy to install and it worked great with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy 6, using the instaxSHARE app from the Play Store (also available for Apple).  The pictures are credit card sized, and develop in a couple minutes from the printer, which uses Wi-Fi, and a rechargeable battery (no cords, yay!)  It's small, about the size of a tall box of Jello, or a super big deck of cards.  It definitely gets my vote and recommendation as a cool tool.

As far as the substance of the lesson goes, my theme was "Stories," and I plan on continuing that theme throughout the year.  Our journals are going to be the place where we record the story of this year, and during the course of it, I plan to return to that theme ad infinitum.  Today I started (while everyone was working on their journal cover) by asking what Bible stories they remembered, and the usual suspects came up - Easter, Christmas, Noah, Joseph, Sampson(?), David & Goliath.  I had the kids read the verse from Hebrews 13:21, and then talked about the epigraph from this cool book by Robert McKee (see my notes for details), purchased during one of my sporadic fantasies of creative accomplishment.
I talked about how equipment is essentially a tool for a specific task, like sports or sound equipment, and my take on the quote, which is that stories allow us to process the chaotic flow of experience in ways that help us make sense of it, and obtain value from it.  I asked if anyone remembered a favorite story from when they were a kid, and the first one that came up was - the Barbie version of The Princess and the Pauper.  My take on that was that at some point everyone wonders how they ended up in this crappy family, when clearly they are meant for better things, and to be appreciated for their awesomeness.  Having a story about it not only validates that feeling (maybe not healthily, lol), but makes us feel we're not alone, and not really weird for having those feelings.

Then we watched a YouTube video while finishing up on the journals.  This is a super cool song called "Storyteller," by Morgan Harper Nichols (recommended to me by my Spotify Discover Weekly, can't say enough good things about that, btw).  There's a couple versions, both good, but this one was better for discussion, I thought.  It sparked more "thoughtful contemplation" than "active discussion," but I'll be coming back to it.

So, that was week one of the 2016/17 academic Sunday School year at our little Episcopal corner of God's kingdom.  I've gotten off to worse starts, for sure

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Stealing What Should Belong Only To God: Adam & Eve, Prometheus and Frankenstein

This lesson focuses on the creation myths of Christianity and Greek Mythology, and attempts to find parallels that explicate and illuminate the Biblical creation story, and the story of the fall.  I'm also going to try to work in some references to, and discussion of, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, relying on my old friends at Shmoop to tie it together somehow.

First, we'll read the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis out loud.  I'm going to use The Message translation for this, because it's more story-like and accessible and less remote sounding. We did read these chapters earlier, with the names lesson in our first week, but what the heck. As I've mentioned, not every kid is there every week, so no harm no foul, right?  

At this point I'm going to try to steer the discussion towards The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.   Without belaboring it too much I'll try to get in the notion that some things are rather ambiguous, in terms of being good or evil, and that it can be burdensome to figure that out.  Maybe that's what God was trying to avoid?  He didn't want Adam and Eve to worry so much, to be weighed down with the issues of figuring things out - he'd be in charge of that!  The example I'm going to use of an ambiguous thing is Fire, which is obviously hugely useful, but can also be destructive and dangerous as per this video of a forest fire in Greece.  Greece, btw, is how I'm going to segue to the Myth of Prometheus, and after showing the forest fire video, I'm going to show the Prometheus animation from above, with a brief introduction of the notion that the Prometheus story is the Greek myths' version of the creation story.


So at this point, after we've watched the Prometheus video, I'm going to introduce the activity for the day, which is candlemaking.  Candlemaking certainly introduces us to the benign side of fire, producing illumination and a moderate amount of heat, without much destruction (usually, but these are middle schoolers, so be careful!).

I'm using granulated wax, wicks and votive holders I purchased from Hobby Lobby and Michael's.  I chose the colors because Fall, and also the red and gold are firelike, especially when combined in layers, as I plan to do.

Making the candles is pretty basic - I just have them place a wick in the votive (probably smart to glue gun it to the bottom, and then fill in layers of wax (with spoons), until the votive is full, at which point we trim the wick.  I should have put more in the first layer, and less in the succeeding ones, but that's why you make a sample/test/prototype, I guess.  Still looks pretty good!

Here's what it looks like when lit.  As the wax gets hot it melts and stabilizes a bit.  

While we are doing this, I will bring up what I'm going to introduce as a modern creation myth, which also has cautionary elements about the dangers of usurping the role of God.  I'm going to ask them to guess what I could be referring to (some of them are pretty smart), and then show the trailer from the original Boris Karloff 1931 Frankenstein.

After watching this preview, I'm going to talk briefly about Mary Shelley's original version Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, using Shmoop as my guide.  There are many thoughtful and insightful point to be made, and I'll keep talking, raising and discussing them until the class time runs out (after about 40 minutes or so, total).

Questions I hope to get raised and discussed include:

  • Why did God create human beings and what did he expect from them.  Like Prometheus, whose name literally means "Sees the Future," God is all knowing, so he must have realized what would happen with the tree.  So what was the point?
  • Are these stories about humans "usurping" the knowledge or power that only God should have?  Is God jealous, like Zeus?  Or protective?
  • Are there cautions for scientists in the Biblical and Greek stories?  In Frankenstein?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Learning Names - Artist Tiles Activity

This is an activity that goes along with the "Learning Names" lesson of the Rite 13 curriculum which is popular in a lot of Episcopal churches.  This is obviously for one of the first weeks of the church school year, and it's my way of getting the kids to talk about their names and learn each other's, while creating a name card which we then put on our bulletin board display, where it will stay up for the rest of the year.

Here's a picture of all the supplies I used, along with the samples I created using my own name (and you will see here that I am most definitively NOT artistic, but I haven't let that stop me from having fun with it):  

Basically what I've done is take either a black or white sheet from one of the "Artist Tiles" books of what looks like heavy card stock to me, that I purchased earlier today at Michael's.  They are both Strathmore products, and I think are pretty widely available either at Michael's or Amazon.  I also bought a few gel pens, including white (for the black tiles), and some medium fine point drawing pens, for the white.  I also bought gold and silver for both tiles, as well as some blue color family Faber Castell markers, just because I thought they looked cool.  I also bought stick on letters in black and white glitter, and plain white, in case there were kids who didn't feel like free-handing it.  

The basic idea is that the kids will write or sticker their name on the tile/paper square, and then embellish it with Christian symbols.  This accomplishes several of my goals for this project:

  1. Everybody kind of pays attention to everyone's name while we're doing this, and they hopefully learn and remember them that way.
  2. We look at and talk about some Christian symbols as they doodle decorate.  I just downloaded some symbols from a Google image search for "Christian Symbols."  Some of these will be familiar to the kids (like, the cross?), some not so much, like the ChiRo, or the Alpha and Omega.  So, a good way to talk about them, too.  This picture gives an idea of what I downloaded for them to copy.  
  3. We'll be doing something with our hands while we talk about the symbols, their names (are they named after someone in their family, do they know what their name means, is it a Bible name, that sort of thing).  So much less awkward talking while doing something - this is a key element of my pedagogy, lol, always have a lot going on (I usually have music playing while we're doing all this, too, unless we're watching a video.  I have a Chris Tomlin station on Spotify that I usually play.)
Anyhoo, here's a closer look at what my samples look like.  I know, I know, they're not the great - but that way they don't intimidate the kids, lol (can I rationalize or what!).  

Doodling around the images, like I started to do in the center image, is fun and kind of cool, it's just for embellishment.  Here's a blog post I like on how to doodle that is fun and helpful, from a cool art techniques blog, Sparkle Tart, by Kate Palmer, an Australian creative art blogger.  Doodling is like a thing now, especially on Tumblr and Pinterest, so your kids might be familiar with it.  If not - here's their chance!   Here's an instructive video on "Doodling - How to Get Started," from Art ala Carte on YouTube.  Kinda long for Sunday School, I haven't showed this yet, but I might tomorrow, while they've getting started.

Okay, that's it, thanks for stopping by, hope someone finds this helpful!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Welcome - More to Come, I Promise!

Image by Twitter user @Chiaroscuroflux
We Are stardust, we are golden
We are million year old carbon
So in light of that, hopefully you can be patient a few days longer while I get some content together. Meanwhile, the Learning Objectives, Materials and Resources Page is a good place to start, if you're looking for big themes and some helpful ideas for tools, sources and suggestions on where to start.  

And here are some links to sites I've found super helpful in putting together my lessons:  Shmoop is an education site - it describes itself as a "rollicking homework help, teacher resources, and online test prep. Homework help lovingly written by PhD students from Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley."  I do a fair amount of literary stuff, especially poetry in the great Anglican tradition (like John Donne, and George Herbert), and Shmoop is an awesome resource, funny and insightful.

The Saint Nicholas Center has a lot of fascinating material on this mysterious and influential bishop.  A great way to transition from childhood to a more mature understanding.

Sometimes I get good ideas from, especially their columnists, like Anne Lamott, for example.

Donald Miller is kind of a hero of mine, and his Storylineblog is always awesome.