The Independent Learning Project Wrap-Up

Over the course of the semester I have learned that anything can be dehydrated. Anything. I have learned that one semester can give people a solid foundation in learning a foreign language. I watched as crafts and cooking brought families closer together. I was able to see young women grow physically stronger, and overcome obstacles in the process.

I was able to have a peek into the lives of my classmates. They have each chosen unique independent learning projects, and I have been able to follow along as they have delved into a variety of different subjects and activities. It has given me an appreciation of things I have never done before.

During my Independent Learning Project I revealed the bookworm side of myself to my classmates.

Read II

Photo CC – by Daniel Go

What I have learned

At the beginning of this project I had shared that I wanted to read books that made me think. I wanted to be stretched and encouraged. I wanted to read literature that would allow me to see the world differently.

In the past months I was able to do just those things. I read literature from France, England, Scotland, Canada, and the United States. All allowed me to see human nature through different time periods and cultures, and I was able to learn a few things in the process.

Human nature is the same everywhere, at all times.

I think that we often romanticize history. We make life seem simpler or harsher in the past than it is for us in the present. We reason that our lives are nothing like what other people have suffered. In some ways that is true because technology or forms of government are different, but for the majority of life, it is the same. Human nature does not change. People have always had within them the ability to exhibit great strength of character. Brutality has existed in every society through time. People who laugh together or cry together share a bond that ties them, even if they never share another moment like that again.

I learned that even when the values of a society are different, human character remains the same.

There is a dark side to human nature.

One reoccurring theme in my reading was slavery in the United States. I am not from the South, and my family immigrated to the Midwest from Europe after the Civil War. I have no ties to slavery that I am aware of. To be honest, the issues surrounding slavery in the United States was far removed from my thoughts, and seemed like something remote that happened long ago.

From reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin last summer, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl during the project, I saw a new side of the darker past of this country’s history. In Mark Twain’s works slavery is just a fact of life. I was impacted by the events in To Kill a Mockingbird and I have thought about the inequality present in the system that was built on the premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all men. It was hard to see this side of reality.

There is always laughter to be found in life.

Even though there is hardship in life, there is joy to be found. There are good people who see the brighter side of life. Those who survive difficulties. People who see the funny side of circumstances and the joy of working hard.  These stories communicate the lighter side of life.

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. ~AuthorUnknown

Photo CC – by Nick Kenrick

I have lived vicariously through characters who exist as words on a page.

I have enjoyed it immensely. Having a project that I looked forward to working on each week was one of the highlights of this semester.

Using Independent Learning in the classroom

I will be using this type of self-directed learning in my classroom. I have learned so much about the characteristics of my classmates through watching them choose projects that reflected their interests and passions. I will be able to gain the same understanding of my students through this type of project.  This will help me know how to create lessons and learning activities that will reflect my students’ interests and ability level.

I have also experienced for myself how passion based learning helps me to pursue topics I otherwise would leave alone. I think that through a personal learning project my students would also learn in ways that are new and challenging to them. They would grow beyond the bounds that would otherwise hold them – and they will be choosing how that growth will take place!

. . .

Independent learning, be it a project for personal growth or to develop a new skill, is one way to get students to think deeper, try new things, and develop interest in the world. It will help students become who they are meant to be.


Creating Online

This week I used Canva to create a little something for my independent learning project.

Read a Classic

This semester I have chosen to read classic literature for my independent learning project. Why? I love to read. Literature makes me happy. I want to be smarter. (And classic literature makes you smarter! True story.)

It’s nice to get school credit for something I am going to do anyway. Now instead of feeling guilty for opening a classic in the middle of the semester, I can smile and think, “It’s homework. I am required to do this.”

About my creation

On the poster I included the subject of my project, my favorite quote by Italo Cavino from his work Why Read the Classics, and the list of books I have read during this semester. A couple of the books on the list I did not post about on the blog, and the last, The Grapes of Wrath, I have yet to read. I have high hopes of making it next week’s book. The information on the poster is what, why, and which books. It sums up my project.


I discovered Canva through reading the article Tech Review: Online Creation Tools Piktochart and Canva by Karen Jenson.  She has some great posters that she has made using both sites in her article. In her article she writes about what she likes about both Piktochart and Canva, as well as what she does not like. She also includes tutorials on how to use each site. Jenson stated that Canva is a little more user friendly, so I chose to use that site for this week’s assignment.

Canva is a simple program that yield good results. If one is familiar with any Microsoft programs, Canva is intuitive. One begins with choosing what type of product they want (business card, poster, collage, etc.). Next, a sidebar appears on the left side of the screen and walks the user through choosing a template, text style, images, and backgrounds. Colors and transparency can be altered for any image on the product. The site also auto-saves after every change, so there is no chance of losing work if the computer shuts down or the internet connection is lost.  I need to mention that some things on Canva cost money.  However, there is a lot that is free and one can upload their own images and use those for free.

I really liked this program. I think that Canva will simplify making digital designs. I have used Photoshop in the past and I am becoming familiar with Gimp, but the platform I utilize most often is Microsoft Publisher. Many times I find myself switching between Gimp and Publisher to make an artifact for a class, DS106, or for fun. However, there are things that are difficult or time consuming to do using two programs at the same time. This is where a site like Canva will be a great tool.

In the classroom

I think that Canva, or a program like it, will be a fun way for students to create a product that demonstrates what they have learned or what they can do. Students can use this as partners or individually. The only limitation there would be with this program is the imagination of the kids who are using it.

I think that I may use it to “pretty-up” classroom communications to parents or on the class website. I could also use it to make signs, a teacher’s notebook, labels… Really, the possibilities are endless for a perfectionist!

At the Back of the North Wind

This week I am writing about one of George MacDonald’s works, the children’s story At the Back of the North Wind. I have read George MacDonald since I was a little girl, or rather they were read to me. On Saturday mornings I would climb into bed with my dad, curl up under quilts, and he would pick up a book and begin to read. He read the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald’s fairy stories to me in this way.

My favorites are The Golden Key and The Day Boy and the Night Girl.

Recently I have begun to collect MacDonald’s works and children’s stories on my Kindle. They are public domain and some are available for free at Project Gutenberg.

I have been reading At the Back of the North Wind since Christmas. I finally finished it this week. I have to confess that this was a hard book to read because it wanders quite a bit. If you choose to read it, select the shorter version edited by Elizabeth Lewis as it is true to the heart of the story. I read the original version published in 1871.

At the Back of the North Wind is a story about a boy named Diamond who meets the North Wind. She breezes into his bedroom through a crack in the wall.


Image Credit FCIT

North Wind takes Diamond on adventures, where they fly from place to place. She also can take on many forms, most often a beautiful woman when with Diamond, she can be a wolf, a bee on a flower, or her real form of a violent wind.

North Wind says this of herself,

I don’t think I am just what you fancy me to be. I have to shape myself in various ways to various people. But the heart of me is true. People call me by dreadful names, and think they know all about me. But they don’t. Sometimes they call me Bad Fortune, sometimes Evil Chance, sometimes Ruin; and they have another name for me which they think the most dreadful of all.

North Wind is Death.


Image Credit FCIT

She takes Diamond to her country, and it is a beautiful, peaceful place. However, he chooses to go back home to his mother and father, so North Wind returns him to them. We find that when Diamond arrives back home, he has been sick. He knows that he was at the back of the north wind, but his family thinks that he was dying. At the end of the story, illness finally takes him, but the author says that though other people think that Diamond died, he just went to the back of the north wind.

. . .

The children’s stories by George MacDonald are different from his works for adults as he moralizes, but does not mention faith or God.

The works of George MacDonald stretch my faith and my thinking. He was fond of challenging the accepted theology of his day, and many of the things he writes about in his adult works reflect this. The book The Curate’s Awakening is one that I enjoy the most for forcing me to ask difficult questions, and seek out the answers to them. If I want a ghost story I read The Tutor’s First Love.

Photo CC – by .imelda

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Last summer I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This is a must read. Uncle Tom’s Cabin made a significant contribution to the change in our nation regarding how we view and treat our fellow man, and it made an impact throughout the world.  The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center has an article about the work and the events surrounding the publication and time period on their website.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Title Page

Photo CC – by Katherine Hala

This week I decided to take a rabbit trail in my independent learning project. When reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin I wondered how accurate the depiction was of slavery. There were many aspects to the issue presented. Some made me rejoice in the strength and bravery of mankind, and even more left me brokenhearted at the depth to which man has fallen. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one of the most difficult pieces of literature that I have ever read.

I wanted to dig deeper into the issue of slavery in the United States. I have read the works of Mark Twain where slavery is depicted as a fact of life. I read To Kill a Mockingbird, which addresses race relations in the South in the mid-20th century. I wanted to see what slavery was like, not from the perspective of a storyteller, but from one who lived this terrible institution.

This week I read an autobiography written by an escaped slave and abolitionist named Harriet Ann Jacobs. The book is called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Written by Herself. The book was published under the pseudonym Linda Brent in 1861.

Image retrieved from

The book talks about slavery, specifically how women were treated in slavery. After reading this book I understood why Harriet Beecher Stowe has the women so desperate to escape in her work. Rather than give a recap of the book, I would like to share a few quotes that impacted me while reading about the life of Harriet Jacobs.

The cost of enslavement

In talking about the abuse that slave women endured, Jacobs writes,

[Slavery] makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughter, and makes the wives wretched. And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine to describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their degradation.

Yet few slaveholders seems to be aware of the widespread moral ruin occasioned by this wicked system.

Talking about the effect this has on the enslaved men she says,

Some poor creatures have been so brutalized by the lash that they will sneak out of the way to give their masters free access to their wives and daughters.

I cannot even comprehend the pain endured by the women who were forced to live this life. The author in her work shows such character by not only presenting her point of view, but in sharing the overall effect of these actions on all involved. This is only two quotes from the book that deal with the abuse women were made to endure. I think that after reading this account, the events of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were mild by comparison. Jacobs also talks about other events that she witnessed and was a part of that corroborate Stowe’s work.

The purchase of life

At the end of the book, Harriet Jacobs had been an escaped slave for years. Her owners had found out where she lived and went to New York to retrieve her. The woman that she worked for in New York sent her away and then arranged to purchase the freedom of Harriet. She succeeded at the cost of $300. Though Harriet shares this should have made her happy, she writes this about her feelings in a letter,

I thank you for your kind expressions in regard to my freedom; but the freedom I had before the money was paid was dearer to me. God gave me that freedom; but man put God’s image in the scales with the paltry sum of three hundred dollars.

I believe that this is at the heart of what made slavery such a tragedy; as people we placed the premise that all men were created equal aside. We as a nation of people decided that men and women, who were made in the image of God, could be sold and treated like little more than cattle.

. . .

I recommend the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. As a companion piece, I would suggest reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Though one work altered the opinion of a nation, the other relates a firsthand account of why the minds of the people needed to be changed.

“Anne” & the Bee

“Well, I suppose I must finish up my lessons. I won’t allow myself to open that new book Jane lent me until I’m through. But it’s a terrible temptation, Matthew. Even when I turn my back on it I can see it there just as plain. Jane said she cried herself sick over it. I love a book that makes me cry. But I think I’ll carry that book into the sitting room and lock it in the jam closet and give you the key. And you must not give it to me, Matthew, until my lessons are done, not even if I implore you on bended knees. It’s all very well to say resist temptation, but it’s ever so much easier to resist it if you can’t get the key.”

100 Books Famous in Children's Literature

Photo CC – by Herry Lawford

I love Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I love the entire Anne series. I can’t tell you which book is my favorite, because each has its own charms.

Anne, with an e, Shirley is an orphan girl that is mistakenly sent to a spinster woman and her bachelor brother who are looking to adopt a boy to help run the farm. The book is set in the late 1800s on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are shocked when this girl is sent in place of the boy, but they decide to keep her.

Anne is a skinny, freckled, redhead. She uses big words, had a bigger imagination, and gets into “scrapes” constantly. The dream of her life is to have a dress with puffed sleeves, a home, and a “bosom friend” which she finds in her neighbor, Diana Barry.

Anne hates her carrot colored hair, so she purchases hair dye off a peddler that is guaranteed to turn it a “beautiful raven black.” Instead, Anne’s hair is coppery green streaked with red. It is permanent, so she has to have all her hair sheared off.

Anne is allowed to invite Diana to tea where they get to drink cherry cordial. Instead, Anne gives Diana red currant wine and makes Diana drunk.

In school, Anne meets Gilbert Blythe who becomes her enemy because he calls her carrots. She reacts by cracking a slate over his head and as a consequence is forced to sit with Gilbert. She drops out of school from the humiliation of having to sit with a boy.  The pictures below are from Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, and show Anne and Gilbert.


Photo CC – by norika21

Good things happen too. Anne’s vivacity brings joy to the people around her. Over the course of the two years the book spans, Anne grows up into a young woman that is funny, sensitive, and ambitious. Marilla and Matthew are glad they kept her. Anne eventually gets a dress with puffed sleeves, gets to sleep in a spare bedroom, and at the end of the book becomes friends with Gilbert Blythe.

This book is defiantly a classic. It is also light reading, which is not always the case with classic literature. There is little deep thinking required, and although L. M. Montgomery has spread some pearls of wisdom through the pages, one does not need to work too hard to find them. The themes in Anne of Green Gables revolve around friendship, family relationships in a not so traditional family, and personal growth.

I chose this book for this past week’s independent learning project because I was in the car traveling across Wyoming to the state spelling bee. I wanted something that I could enjoy between the textbook readings I had to do in the car as well. I can identify with Anne’s need to lock up a good book when studying needs to get done. I had to hide this book away in the bottom of my suitcase, which was in the back of the minivan, just so I would get some studying done along the way!

I apologize for this post being a day late, but we got home late Sunday evening since we visited with some “bosom friends” of our own after the Bee. I did not feel that I could post on this book and do it justice at the last minute.

The spelling bee was great, and there are some really smart kids out there. Though my son did not win, he studied hard and held his own. We are really proud of the good job he did! Congratulations to the winners of the Wyoming State Spelling Bee, and good luck in Washington D.C.!

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

MONDAY morning found Tom Sawyer miserable. Monday morning always found him so – because it began another week’s slow suffering in school. He generally began that day with wishing he had had no intervening holiday, it made the going into captivity and fetters again so much more odious.

Tom lay thinking. Presently it occurred to him that he wished he was sick; then he could possibly stay home from school. Here was a vague possibility. He canvassed his system. No ailment was found, and he investigated again. This time he thought he could detect colicky symptoms, and he began to encourage them with considerable hope.

I love this book. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, is a book about a boy who IS a boy. It is one of the funniest books that I have read in a while. It also perfectly describes every Monday of my life.

Mark Twain has little lessons to teach through the story and writes about the humorous side of what Southern village life was like back in the 1800s.  He uses the vocabulary of the time, includes the superstitions of the day, and includes common religious and schoolhouse practices.  However, the reason this is such a good book is because it describes the thoughts of a child.  All the hopes, excitement, mischievousness, and offences of childhood are traversed.

Tom is an orphan who lives with his Aunt Polly, cousin Mary, and brother Sid. He is always getting into trouble. His imagination knows no bounds, and he is happy being Robin Hood, an army captain, or running away and being a pirate. He finds true love, “licks” the new boy in town, survives the measles, and gets others to do his work for him. The everyday, and not so everyday, parts of life are in this book.

Tom Sawyer, whitewashing fences, and building communities online

Photo CC – by

At one point, Tom, Huckleberry Finn, and Joe Harper realize they are misused individuals. Nobody wanted them. They would lead a life of crime. There was no choice. They decide to be pirates. The three boys row out to an island on the Mississippi where they stayed for the week, and then went home on a Sunday to attend their own funeral.

At another point in the book Tom and Huck go into the graveyard at midnight with a dead cat so they can cure their warts.

“Why, you take your cat and go and get in the grave yard ‘long about midnight when somebody that was wicked has been buried; and when it’s midnight a devil will come, or maybe two or three, but you can’t see ‘em, you can only hear something like the wind, or maybe here ‘em talk; and when they’re talking that feller away, you heave your cat after ‘em and say, ‘Devil follow corpse, cat follow devil, warts follow cat, I’m done with ye! That’ll fetch ANY wart!”

They don’t actually get to throw the dead cat at anything, because they end up witnessing a murder, and then eventually saving the falsely accused. The only problem is that the real murder escapes.  I’m afraid you just have to read the book to find out what happens. (Side note: if I get warts from holding frogs, this may be the answer. But where does one go about finding a dead cat or a wicked person?)

You can read this book from the beginning, or pick it up and read a section of the book on its own. Any way that you decide to peruse this book, it is a good read.

Have you ever read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? What is your favorite part? Whitewashing the fence… Running off to be a pirate… Saving Becky Thatcher while escaping from the cave? Leave a comment and let me know!

Lost in the Caverns

Photo CC – by Connecticut State Library

The Conclusion of the Count of Monte Cristo

I finished the book by Alexandre Dumas. It took all week, every spare moment I had, and some moments that were not so spare.  It was wonderful to loose myself is a good book between studies, observations in the classroom, and my duties at home!


Photo CC- by Victoria Nevland

Here is a recap of last week:

Long book. Edmond Dantès is falsely accused, and sent to prison. He makes a friend, escapes, finds a treasure, then seeks revenge. This book is the epitome of classic literature.

The rest of the story

While in prison he learned from his friend, Abbe Faria, that, “…to learn is not to know; there are the learners and the learned. Memory makes the one, philosophy makes the other.” During the ten years of his stay in prison, Edmond becomes someone who is learned. He leaves prison with an education, and so he is able to assume the new role he has established for himself with credibility.

Marseille from Château d'If cell

A view of Marseilles from the Prison of Chateau d’If

Photo CC- by Dusty Dean

Dantès returns to Marseilles to seek out his betrothed, Mercedes, who married one of his betrayers. She is gone, and his father is dead. There is no one left who knows who Edmond is. Dantès goes into disguise, and over a period of ten years he creates a persona for himself: The Count of Monte Cristo.

Through time and inquiry, Dantès learns what his betrayers have done and where they live. He sets about the business of manipulating circumstances so that the greatest amount of destruction can happen in their lives when he meets them again.  Dantès moves to Paris where all live, and is rich, handsome, and quickly established as the foremost personage in the city. He quickly becomes a personal friend of his betrayers, and then systematically destroys them and their families.

Dantès views himself as a messenger of God, sent to seek vengeance on those who have wronged him. Some die by their own hand, and others are ruined through loss of fortune, family, or sanity. At the same time, he is seeking restitution for those who have done right or who are innocent.


The greatest theme in this story revolves around the nature of man. Those who are good, grow greater. Those who are bad, grow worse. No character is perfect.

The interesting thing about this study of human nature was the extent of the destruction that people brought upon themselves. The Count of Monte Cristo does manipulate circumstances to bring about the ruin of those who have wronged him, but they created their own circumstances. Monte Cristo simply brings their deeds to light.  Those who began with jealousy, moved on to betrayal, then found it easy to commit murder. They look pristine on the outside, but hidden beneath is a cancer that has destroyed all that is good in them.

Another theme is that the right always wins and those who seek the good of others will be repaid tenfold. This is a persistent theme in classics: the good wins out. Just as Monte Cristo seeks vengeance on those who have done wrong, he finds those who have been wronged like himself and creates beauty from ashes. These characters are few and far between in this story, but they are rewarded for the pain they have endured at the hand of another.

If you are looking for a good read, and like revenge, murder, and vengeance in an old fashioned story, The Count of Monte Cristo is for you. I learned from the study of human nature, and liked the story of restoration.

This coming week I will be reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. I am looking forward to a good laugh.