Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I kept meaning to send something to Mr. D, but never did - so now that I have a sec, here's a lesson I'm doing this week in my early American history class:

  • We are in the middle of studying early American societies, and have just finished learning about Mississippian (mound builders) and TaĆ­no societies
  • This lesson introduces students to early Mesoamerican societies (Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, Olmec, Aztec)
  • The students will visit the website of ImageBase (
  • I have assigned several students to each Mesoamerican society (Maya, Mixtec, etc.) In the "Search" box at ImageBase, the students in the Maya group will enter "Maya," which will generate images of artifacts.
  • The students will choose one artifact to analyze.
  • The students will complete a worksheet that will help them analyze their artifact. The point of the analysis is for students to understand what "stuff," or material culture, can teach us about the people that used it.
  • Once they finish the analysis, they will bring what they've learned and "jigsaw" it with the other students. Next steps include a more general discussion of those societies, trade networks, etc.
I've found that this type of activity is great for kids with language processing difficulties and English language learners. If I'm delivering content day after day through English-language documents, films, and discussions, it's nice to take a break and have students learn history by examining an artifact.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thanks but no thanks, Harry Wong

Recently I've been re-reading a few pages of the Wongs' The First Days of School each day over breakfast. The book has a lot of great suggestions for classroom setup and management. But I think it's corresponded with a steadily dwindling confidence in my effectiveness as a teacher. When the Wongs say "Effective teachers do ..." one thing and "Ineffective teachers do ..." another, I generally fall in the ineffective category.

What I need to do is read more things like this, remind myself that kids actually do learn in my class, and try not to hold myself to impossible standards. There has to be some middle ground between "effective teachers" and "ineffective teachers."

Plus, I'm sorry Mr. Wong, but you would never get away with a name like that in high school.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why teachers have unions

Don't want to get specific, but a couple of things have happened to staff at my school recently that confirm my belief in the need for teachers' unions.

Suffice it to say that with a union, a teacher who wasn't meeting administrators' expectations would be entitled to due process.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What happens at the schoolhouse door

A great companion story to the chili pepper incident.

Today a student who has strong atheist views taped a sign to his shirt that read "GOD DOES NOT EXIST." When I asked him to have a chat with me about it, he said "It's my first amendment right to wear it, and there's a Supreme Court precedent."

I asked the Spanish teacher involved in the chili pepper incident to get in on this conversation with me. Then I asked the kid if he'd ever heard of the concept of the social contract. He hadn't, so I explained that when we decide to join a community, we give up some of our rights so that we can get the benefits of being in that community. In this case, we give up some of our free speech rights if they take away from other people's ability to learn.

The Spanish teacher jumped in, and it was amazing to hear her spouting back the exact same arguments I'd made against the mustached, sombreroed chili pepper. "Our school's policy is that if it offends one person, we don't allow it," she said, "and as a Christian, I am offended by your sign."

The student then said that our policy was unconstitutional. I said that there have been court precedents on both sides of the issue. But that if he was concerned about the policy, he should put together a case and come to a board meeting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fired up, ready to go!

While some other gathering was taking place at the Capitol, the School of Bloggers went to Target Center for my first pep rally since I was in high school. Except this time, instead of the class president, the person up on stage was the President.


Nothing to say but ...

... wow. Still blown away by Shorpy. And by these "prep-school gymnasts from Orange, Virginia." Can you imagine how still they must have been to keep the image that sharp back in 1910?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Fight or Flight

I'm not quite getting what all the chatter is about re: this "new" way of teaching reading reported in the New York Times. This method has been around for so long, I thought it was basically standard operating procedure.

To me it makes perfect sense: You can't teach Hamlet until students get to that reading level. Students won't get to that reading level until they have practiced enough on easier material. And why not give them books that they will actually enjoy while they practice those skills? Why stick to dusty old "classics" just because we read them when we were in school?

Today I had a conversation with a parent who was upset about my choice of book for a read-aloud. The book I chose was Flight by Sherman Alexie, one of today's most highly regarded writers, winner of numerous prizes and honors. The parent was upset because her daughter had reported that the book contained profanity. She felt that I was setting a bad example for the student by using this language, even in the context of reading it out of a book.

I explained that I had chosen the book because of its utility in teaching independent reading skills. I told her that my high school teacher had taught Cather in the Rye, which similarly used strong language to make a point. She said, "Are you saying that the only way you can connect with your students is to use bad language???"

What could I do? I'm a 28-year old teacher. It's not a battle I had the energy to fight. Most of the class loves the book, but I will make it available for them to finish on their own if they choose. I will pick a more appropriate read-aloud and learn my lesson for next time.