Saturday, December 15, 2007

Geography: Comparative Religions Venn Diagram

In geography we have been studying the countries of the Middle East. As part of that study we examined the three major world religions that originated in the region and compared their beliefs. We took the familiar double Venn diagram graphic organizer to the next level and used a triple Venn to organize our findings regarding Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Students used information from the geography textbook and research from the internet to complete this task, and each student's Venn was different. I thought Aramis did a great job by including many interesting facts and neatly organizing his findings.


Standing L to R: Chandler, Hunter, Jeff
Kneeling L to R: Josh, Ian, Aramis

When school started, Ian was not an avid reader. But when you have a "mean" teacher like Mr. Blount who makes you read at least three grade-level books and do three book responses per grading period, you have to find books that interest you. Ian discovered the Cirque Du Freak series by Darren Shan in the Tomlin media center, and the rest is history. His book responses have had nothing short of a wildfire effect in class, and now no less than five or six other students are currently reading the series, which is exactly what I wanted to happen. I am not a fan of the horror genre, nor do I promote it, but I am always happy when my students catch the reading spark.

Another book making the rounds in both AM and PM classes is Stuck in Neutral. I read this short novel a few years back when it was recommended at a workshop I attended on professional study day. I had a hardcover copy of the book in my teacher library, but it was not available in paperback from Scholastic Book Clubs until this year, so I ordered several copies for the classroom library. I knew the book would get the attention of my readers when I shared the dustjacket blurb.

My name is Shawn McDaniel.
I'm 14 years old.
I think my father is planning to kill me.

Shawn is confined to a wheelchair and appears to be a human vegetable. What no one knows is that on the inside he is brilliant. Shawn has seizures, and his father can't stand to see his son suffer. Sound like an intriguing plot?

While I'm at it, I want to mention a couple of authors whose books caught fire last year when Mr. Blount's Classroom didn't have a blog. Robby introduced the class to the Mike Lupica sports fiction titles. Miracle on 49th Street is the latest Lupica title available from Scholastic Book Clubs.

Nick R. started the Sharon Draper Hazelwood High Trilogy fire. Perhaps the Draper titles will reignite this year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Note From Our Principal, Dr. Carbaugh

Howard, congratulations--PTSA was singing our membership praises today--seems you have the highest number of students, parents, family members, etc., of all our teachers!!! We love it!!! Bev

Beverly Carbaugh, Ed.D.
Tomlin Middle School

Focus Title: Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle

Some of you may remember Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle, the popular anthology of modern verse from the 1960s (original cover shown below). The second edition has been updated and revised, and we have been reading it for several weeks now. This collection of poetry contains some of the best and most familiar modern poems in print, and each section has an unwritten theme we try to decipher. We will continue to read through this volume in small doses into the new year, and students will be selecting a new poem from this collection to memorize.

The first poem all students memorized this year was "The Eagle" by Tennyson. The poem was used in the the novel Prairie Songs by Pam Conrad, AM class's first focus title of the year.

The Eagle: A Fragment

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Later, when we read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, students selected one of the featured poems in the book to memorize. The favorites were "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" and "The Pasture" by Robert Frost, as well as "Dog" by Valerie Worth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Best Written Book Response: AM Class

During the first grading period students completed story frames for their written book responses. For the second nine weeks I assigned students to write a simple one-page summary of their books. This was a stretch for some students, but of course my job is to nudge them to new levels. We have discussed periodically how good summaries tell the beginning, middle, and end of a story, and they must leave out lots of details. I selected Ian's paper as the best written book response for the AM class because he summarized the story well, and he wrote with complex, complete sentence structure. Over the past few weeks we have focused heavily on sentence structure by analyzing, critiquing, and practicing how to write complete sentences so we will be ready to begin constructing solid paragraphs for expository essays when we return to school in January.

Cirque Du Freak #12:
Sons of Destiny

by Ian

In the beginning of the book Darren, Debbie, and the circus members are standing around Shancus, Evra Van's son who was killed by Steve Leopard, the Vampeneze Lord. So, Darren, Vancha, and the other circus members quiz Darius, Darren's nephew, about what Steve was up to. Later, Darren, Darius, Vancha, and Alice visit Annie, Darren's sister. After they meet with Annie, Darren re-bloods Darius so that Darren's vampire cells and Darius' Vampeneze cells collide, and Darius becomes a vampire. Annie later tells Darren that his friends are being held in the stadium. So Darren and Vancha arrive at the stadium. There they spotted Steve and Gannan Harts speeding for the exit. Then when Darren catches up with Steve, Darren and Steve start fighting to see who becomes the Lord of Shadow. Darren ends up killing Steve, but later he finds out Steve is his brother! Near the end, Darren travels back in time to scare off young Darren Shan away from the Cirque Du Freak, therefore altering the timeline. Afterwards, Darren ends up dying on the roof of the Cirque, finishing off with, "Good-bye world, I'm going . . . I'm going . . . gone."

Best Written Book Response: PM Class

Nick's summary was selected as best book response from PM class. He summarized well, wrote with complex sentences, and seems to show mastery of capitalizing proper nouns (a major problem with many students this year).

Dragons of Deltora #1:
Dragon's Nest

by Nick

Lief, Bardaj, and Jasmine have started a mission to track down and annihilate the four sisters who are evil inventions created by the Shadow Lord, and they are poisoning Deltora. To finish the mission they have to find and awaken the last ancient seven dragons of Deltora.

The seven Ak-baba, another of the Shadow Lords evil accomplishments, hunted the seven dragon tribes near the point of extinction. At the end of the hunt only one dragon from each domain, separated by gem type, remained alive. To save the seven dragons, the best known adventurer in Deltora, Doran the Dragon Lover (one of the dragons' best friends), talked them into sleeping until a king, wielding the magic Belt of Deltora, called them to awaken. He made each dragon promise not to take advantage and conquer each other's domains while they were in their magical sleep.

The Sister of the East is located at Dragon's Nest. Once Lief and his companions locate Dragon's Nest, they find out that the Sister of the East is a giant egg. To kill it, they give the ruby dragon, Joyou, all of their strength. Joyou releases a giant fireball, and the Sister of the East is annihilated. Then they find a map showing them where the Sister of the North is located, and on the map it says it is at the Shadowgate.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Six Students Honored at Outback Steakhouse

Last week, six of my students were recognized along with several other Tomlin students for selling over $300 each during the PTSA's annual fundraiser. Nick B., Sara, Chase, Holly, Tyler, and Alexis K. were treated to a Hummer limo ride and a luncheon at the Plant City Outback Steakhouse. When they returned, I couldn't resist snapping a picture of them in their cool Outback t-shirts. Congratulations, kids, and a special thank-you to our business partner Outback Steakhouse!


This week we recognized Hanukkah and read the historical story of the Maccabees and their battle for Jerusalem and the Temple, as well as the miracle of the oil. William brought a small menorah to class to share. The celebration of the Feast of Lights tied in well with our current study of Israel in geography.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Last week we read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Because of its authentic voice and engaging characters, I must say this book is my favorite read-aloud "ever." Originally published as a short story in McCall's magazine, this 7-chapter novel is nothing short of a contemporary literary masterpiece.

I had the privilege of meeting and spending time with Mrs. Robinson when we were featured speakers at Frank Hodge's Let the Reading Begin XII in Albany, New York, ten years ago. We shared conversation over dinner with author and my dear friend Dr. Gloria Houston. Barbara even bought one of my books for her daughter who is a teacher. We were able to continue our conversation at the airport on the day we flew out. After I returned home, Barbara sent me a manila envelope of materials, including copies of the original story from McCall's and subsequent reprints. It was a great privilege to meet the lady who wrote one of my favorite stories "ever."

Yesterday we watched the film adaptation of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Students took notes to compare and contrast the book with the movie. On Monday, they will complete Venn diagrams to illustrate their observations.

Creative Book Responses

Creative book responses will be presented in class beginning this Monday, December 10 through Friday, December 14. This will be the last book response of the second grading period, and as a formal project it is weighted equal to a test grade. Students have a choice of visual and/or performing creative book response modes keyed to Bloom's Taxonomy. For more information see the handout distributed in class. As always, students will need a copy of the book or a printed cover of the book to share when they do their presentations.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Writing Sentences with Series

For several weeks we have been learning how to make our writing more descriptive with precise nouns, strong verbs, and vivid adjectives. I have found that integrating parts of speech with writing lessons is more meaningful to students than isolated grammar lessons. Let me show what I'm talking about.

Instead of writing . . .
She smelled the flower.

We have learned it is more descriptive to write . . . .
The lonely hiker inhaled the fragrance of the wild rose.

Before Thanksgiving I introduced a lesson on commas with the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. With hilarious illustrations, the book shows how comma placement can completely change the meaning of a sentence. I always tell my students that commas are like traffic signs. For example, a period is like a stop sign, and a comma is like a yield sign.

This week we learned how to use commas when writing a series of three or more parts, so I decided to build on what we had learned about parts of speech by combining the two. For homework, students were assigned to write four series sentences: one each with a series of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. I selected the best four sentences from homework to illustrate the task in this post.

Carly wrote the best series of nouns:
I've been through three pairs of socks, two shirts, five pairs of pants, and four pairs of underwear in one day.

Teresa wrote the best series of verbs:
My friend imagines, builds, and shows off his stunning art.

Billy wrote the best series of adjectives:
The seats on the airplane to Maryland were leather, plastic, and metal.

Jeff wrote the best series of adverbs:
I quickly, accurately, and efficiently cleaned my pigpen of a room so I could go play with my friends.

In case you're wondering about writing series with the remaining four parts of speech, we have studied one example with prepositions, but we decided that series of pronouns, interjections, and conjunctions don't make much sense!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conference Night

Conference Night was a great success! It all started with a hearty lasagna supper for teachers sponsored by our always-wonderful Tomlin PTSA. Then, in two and a half hours I was privileged to meet with the parents of eleven of my students. I send a huge "thank-you" to all the parents who came out for showing your support. I truly appreciate all of your kind words to me as a teacher and the genuine concern you have shown for the welfare and educational growth of our children.

Thanks again!
Mr. Blount

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanks for the Mini-Grant, Tomlin PTSA!

The always-supportive, ultra-generous, tireless, best-ever Tomlin PTSA board has awarded our class the funds to purchase a class set of 26 hardcover copies of the award-winning adventure novel Peak by Roland Smith.

(Can you tell we have been writing sentences with series of adjectives in class?)

The books arrived from Scholastic today, and Peak is scheduled for May 2008 to be our final focus novel of the year. Several students in our class have read Peak already this year, and all of them have given the book high ratings.

"[When] Peak Marcello is arrested for scaling a New York City skyscraper, he's left with two choices: wither away in Juvenile Detention or go live with his long-lost father, who runs a climbing company in Thailand. But Peak quickly learns that his father's renewed interest in him has strings attached. Big strings. He wants Peak to be the youngest person to reach the Everest summit--and his motives are selfish at best. Even so, for a climbing addict like Peak, tackling Everest is the challenge of a lifetime. But it's also one that could cost him his life."
Peak blurb from

Video: Roland Smith Introduces Peak

Further background on the mini-grant . . .

A few weeks ago Tomlin PTSA president, Mrs. Sharon Ours, caught me in the parking lot and encouraged me to apply for a PTSA mini-grant, letting me know that funds were still available. One reason I had not applied earlier was because Tomlin PTSA had been so generous to me last year when they contributed to the expenses for my Holocaust Summer Seminar in Poland and Israel. This award was completely unsolicited and unexpected, and PTSA surprised me when they presented me with a substantial check at the faculty luncheon during pre-planning last year. When I remembered that hardcover copies of Peak were available from Scholastic for $5.95 each, I decided to submit a mini-grant application to the PTSA for a classroom set. The rest is recent history.

Thanks again, Tomlin PTSA! You are the BEST!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Great American Teach-In 2007

Tomlin Middle School hosted its annual Great American Teach-In last Wednesday, November 14. Our own career specialist, Mr. David Horn, did an amazing job booking and scheduling speakers as he has for the past ten years. A total of 121 guest speakers conducted 256 presentations school-wide. A special thank-you to Tomlin PTSA, Mrs. Carol Field, Mr. Horn's mom, and everyone else who assisted with this beneficial event. Early on, I asked Mr. Horn to give me a full slate of speakers for every period, and he did. Thanks, Mr. Horn!

First period, our extra-special guest speakers were my parents, Roland & Evelyn Blount. They are newly-retired career missionaries, and they have been visiting my class each year for as far back as I can remember. Their message to my students is always about overcoming adversity in our lives. My father went blind when he was 10 years old. He graduated from Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, and then went on to earn a ministerial degree at Southeastern Bible College. He is a musician, singer, carpenter, pastor, missionary, audio technician, translator, and the best man I know. My mother is a sharecropper's daughter from right here in the Plant City area who overcame poverty to become the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Later, she became a television producer, director, and ordained minister. She is the most beautiful woman in the world to me and the best cook anywhere!

Other guest speakers were Mr. Galvez (internet marketing), Mrs. Girling (optician), Mrs. Spencer (cosmetology), Ms. Rodriguez (dog grooming), and Sensei Parker (martial arts). As a follow-up to this special day, I reviewed the five parts of a friendly letter, and the students wrote thank-you letters to our guests. We send our sincere thanks to all of our speakers for sharing your time and your careers with us!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Written Book Responses

Written book responses are due Wednesday, November 28. For the second quarter students will be writing a simple one-page summary of a recent novel or nonfiction title they have read.

Blog Parent Consent Form

The consent form for parents to allow student information to be posted on this blog was sent home today. If you as a parent wish to give consent for your child's first name, work, photo, or video clip to appear on this site in the future, please complete, sign, and return the form to school tomorrow.

Mid-Quarter Progress Reports and Conference Night

Progress reports were sent home today. Please sign and return them to school tomorrow.


Second quarter conference night will be Tuesday evening, November 27, from 4:55-7:25. All parents are invited to attend conference night on a walk-in, first-come first-served basis.

December Scholastic Book Clubs

December Scholastic Book Clubs went home today. All book club orders are due by Monday, December 3.

Click below to view the memo and learn how to purchase Christmas gifts from Scholastic Book Club and keep it a secret. Shhh!

Follow the link below to place your order online. You will find the class user name and password on the memo sent home from school.

Scholastic Book Club Online Orders

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Focus Titles: Zach's Lie and Jack's Run

The PM Class is currently reading Zach's Lie, an adventure novel by Roland Smith about a boy whose family must be placed into the Witness Security Program after his father is arrested for illegal drug trafficking. The AM Class is reading Jack's Run, the equally engaging sequel.

I have encouraged my students from both classes to read independently the companion novel the other class is reading so they can know the whole story. Some students have already started, and at least one or two have finished the other book already.

Roland Smith is the author of several other adventure novels. For more information visit his web site at this link:

Both titles are available from Scholastic Book Clubs. December book club newsletters will be distributed Monday, November 19, and the deadline for orders is Monday, December 3.

Mr. Blount's Classroom Goes Online

Since school started this year I have been attempting to find an electronic communication medium to suit the needs of my classroom. At first, I thought I would be able to start a class blog similar to my three personal blogs. It would be relatively simple to update the site regularly from school. Unfortunately, “personal networking sites” are blocked on school computers. So, I attempted to get special approval to unblock either a specific hosting address or my classroom computer. Categorically denied! Then, I tried to become a blogger on, but alas they had already selected their five teachers for this year. My next attempt was to create a homeroom page on, but the miniscule limits on uploads shot that down. I don’t really care for the format and features of the Tomlin Middle School official site, so I went back to square one and decided to initiate a class web site at and run it from home. It will require more work for me, but hopefully I won’t run into anymore roadblocks, and we can get this thing up and running.