Category: cavern of learning

Day One Hundred Thirty-Eight

Today was a bit wacky because it’s ninth grade college visit time; every year we take all the freshmen to visit one of three colleges: a private college, a state university, and a community college (they choose which one to visit) Half the freshmen went today, and the other half will go tomorrow.

I had APUSGOV today, so I asked not to chaperon (but I will tomorrow). We’re doing FRQ practice in preparation for the AP exam, and I really didn’t want to leave the class with a sub who couldn’t answer their questions. And I would have missed several hilarious stories about the massive Key Club conference that happened last weekend.

Some days, that class is just perfect.

During Blocks 3 and 4, I had half my team’s freshmen in the Cavern of Learning. It was kind of a study hall day; the other team teachers and I compiled list of things kids have due next week (paper revisions, math problems, novel reading, etc…) and I told them they could work on any of it. Some kids goofed off and had to be redirected, but most were grateful for the time. It’s a busy part of the year, especially for spring athletes. 

I sat and graded, for the most part, so it was a super low-key day for me. 

At practice, we shook out our sprinters’ legs with a set of 400m and 300m repeats, and a long, slow cool down afterwards. It’s still cold, but the sun was out, and everyone was in high spirits!

Day One Hundred Thirty-Two

Athlete A: *says something I can’t hear*
Head Coach: Are you worried about cooties?
Athlete B: Only girls have cooties! *looks at me* I mean, uhhh…

Being a female coach of boys is generally hilarious, in case you were wondering. 

Today, in addition to being hilarious, it was cold and windy. I’m wrapped in blankets, sipping hot chocolate now. I want spring back. 

But that’s New England.

I started my day with an APUSGOV lesson about civil rights policymaking in the 1960s. My goal was to teach them the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but I ended up answering questions about a lot of other things, too (black nationalism, Vietnam, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, Reagan Republicans…) That’s the fun of a discussion-based class, though. It goes in several directions. 

I ended up rewriting my next lesson to include more detail about some of the things they asked about. I actually like the lesson better now. 

It was the last day of debate prep in World/English. Mrs. T and I have been a bit worried because this set of students struggles so much more with group work than our other set- for myriad reasons- so we tried to monitor their final preparations closely. I watched rehearsals in the hall while she helped groups polish their writing inside the Cavern of Learning.

I did step out for twenty minutes to do instructional rounds in Mr. F’s geometry class. Got to do some SOHCAHTOA, which I actually do know how to do. Woohoo! And it was neat to see my students in a different setting.

Day One Hundred Twenty-Nine

The custodians did something weird to the second floor hallways when they cleaned last night, so the floors were super slippery today. 

At first, I thought I was just having issues because my shoes are kind of worn out, but once kids started arriving they remarked on it, too. It made getting from place to place a bit more of an adventure than usual. 

And debate prep was more of an adventure, too! We had all the opposing groups swap research notes- doing a little oppo- which generated a flurry of new work and revision. They were validating sources, planning objections, developing new lines of inquiry… It was so good, and Mrs. T and I both remarked on how well these groups are figuring out how to collaborate and be successful. Not all groups of students given a hard task do without substantial guidance.  

Meantime, Mrs. T and I were making an effort to curb excessing sign-outs from our Cavern of Learning by removing all but one of our hall passes (each teacher usually has two) so there’d be no more group wandering, which becomes a school-wide issue every spring. There was a little annoyance, but kids understood what was up; the frequent wanderers in this set of students owned it, got to work, and will do better in the future without us forcing them to. It probably won’t go so well tomorrow. 

We’ll see.

Track practice was a solid sprint ladder workout, which the team informed me was mean (four sets of 180-150-100-50 sprints with a walk back recovery). They were happy when they were able to do it and finish strong, though. 

Day One Hundred Twenty-Seven

I woke up today and wondered how it was only Tuesday, which seemed to be a common sentiment amongst students and staff. So it’s not surprising that it was a bit of a rocky day. I think there was a fight in the halls, but I totally missed that, and generally tempers seemed short.

Things were fine in the Cavern of Learning, though. Actually, they were super productive, too. Mrs. T and I got our steps in (I don’t actually track them, but you know what I mean) going from group to group to answer questions and look over various things. 

There were moments of silliness, of course, but everyone needs those. And right now our students have 160 minutes (with a five-minute break and a half-hour lunch break) to work on debate prep, which is serious and difficult. Gotta have laughter in there, too, you know? As long as it’s got an on-off switch, it’s all good.

We had a team meeting Block 5, but it was short, so I got to do a bit of grading afterwards. Then I had a club meeting with the student activists who want to continue the post-Parkland, post-March work; I’m the adult who will sign forms and backs of checks, but it’s their show. 

And then I had practice, and- cue the music of triumph- we actually got on the track! 

There’s about 200m clear of snow, which is plenty for a sprint workout. I have all the emotions about being on a track in early spring: how it looks, how it feels under my feet, how it smells like mud and grass… I associate it with so many memories. It made me so happy to be out there. 

We race (away) in two weeks!

Day One Hundred Twenty-Five

Disruptions to the routine tend to make freshmen squirrely, which isn’t an insult; they make me squirrely, too. As this week was full of them, today was like this:

Suuuuuch a Friday.

Mrs. T and I managed to hang onto control in our Cavern of Learning, but only just. There was so much energy, so many random outbursts of laughter, and debate prep petered out about fifteen minutes before it should have. But there was enough learning happening that we’re satisfied. I mean, they’re looking at the same things congresspeople, senators, diplomats, generals, and so on have to look at. It’s all HARD. 

But if they don’t start trying while they’re squirrels, they’ll never learn how to be statesmen, so I’m proud of their efforts.

I spent Block 5 doing my own learning with a few of my colleagues. The consultant who did the teacher workshop yesterday was available for small group sessions today, so we signed up for one. It clarified a lot for me. It made my head hurt, too, but it was good. 

And then I went to track practice. We’re five days in, so I’m really starting to make sprinters out of our rookies. And I realized today that I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve watched so many kids sprint that I can tell a lot about their athletic history from it.  Like, I looked at one boy and said, “You’re a soccer player,” which surprised him enough. Then I said, “You’re a defensive mid,” and he looked at me like I was a wizard. 

Which I am. 

I was also trained by a German ex-footballer (my college track coach), which helps.

After the workout, Coach T and I took everyone trekking into the hills behind our track to go sledding. We divided the kids into two teams, and gave each a sled. One kid would run up the hill, sled down, pass the sled to the next kid in line (or just crash into them… that happened a lot). The lead kept changing hands, so everyone was cheering and hollering. Gotta love a week that ends in high spirits.

Day One Hundred Twenty-Two

Today we had one of the Republican congressional candidates visit APUSGOV, which was interesting. He spoke quite candidly, and his beliefs surprised my students at least a few times- and they aren’t easy to surprise- which was a good learning experience for them. On the whole, it was a really smart, wide-ranging conversation. And I love that candidates are willing to come and talk to these kids. I say so a lot, but it’s such a big deal for them to get that access. 

Mrs. T was out again today, so I did yesterday’s World/English lesson on my own again. I think it was better today- second time around tends to be- and I’m less wiped than I was yesterday. Ooh, and the conversation about the war in Yemen was really sharp; I have these two boys who ask amazing questions, and today the sparked more questions from their other peers.

I spent my prep time helping various students, and grading so I could get to track practice on time. Hill repeats today… So painful, so good. It’s a smaller team than in past years (may the sports gods curse AAU, JO, travel teams, etc…), but there’s potential. We’ll see what happens as the snow melts. 

The language honor societies had a dinner (feauturing Spanish, French, and German foods) tonight. It’s a fundraiser for their various endeavors, and Mr. W asked me to go so he’d have a buddy there. Since it was right after practice, and dinner I didn’t have to make is always awesome.

Day One Hundred Twenty-One

All my lessons on current issues in the Middle East, including today’s (on Yemen, and how that conflict and the one in Syria have impacted the global refugee crisis), are front-loading for debate. Basically, I spend a month teaching our students what’s going on in the region, and then Mrs. T teaches them how to argue about it. 

Or, y’know, she will when her son isn’t sick. 

She was out today, so I was left all alone in our Cavern of Learning to do it myself. It’s exhausting, but I managed. I wrapped up my lesson, then did all the initial set-up: grouping students, assigning topics (groups chose what focus on, I assigned pro and anti), going over instructions. We’ll have debates on Palestinian Statehood, US military action against Bashar al-Assad, arming Kurdish rebels, US involvement in Yemen, accepting a larger number of refugees… It’s going to be interesting.

Our schedule gets funky this week because of SATs, so I won’t see this set of students again until Friday, but it should be all right. 

I spent most Block 5 in a ninth grade house meeting (I mostly behaved, aside from childish glee about the fact that morning PLC has been canceled this week, so I won’t have to get up early on Thursday for that). I spent the rest of the block setting up my room for APUSGOV; we have another congressional candidate coming to chat!

And then I went to track practice.

It’s cold. It’s windy. There’s still a ton of snow on the ground… But it’s track season, and we’re gonna rock it.

Day One Hundred Nineteen

There are several upcoming disruptions to the school schedule (assemblies, SAT testing, an early release day, etc…) so I spent the better part of my prep time staring at my plan book and trying to get it all straight in my head. I think I managed it, but we’ll see. 

Mrs. T started class today in the Cavern of Learning with the weekly grammar lessons she does to build up our students’ writing skills. I’ve been taking all of our combined time for the past several days- and I’m glad she let me, but it’s exhausting, so it was nice to split the time a bit today. 

When I did take over the teaching, it was to discuss what’s currently happening in Syria, which students had read about for homework. I wanted to be sure they understood the progression of the war, and how it became so multifaceted. Then I had them take a closer look those facets, and all the forces and proxies involved, and really examine what a tangled web it is.  They assessed the strength of various alliances, discussed the dangers of allies with differing interests (ie- Turkey and the US) finding themselves on opposite sides of a battlefield, and so on. Seeing the whole board helped them understand why restoring peace to Syria is so difficult. 

Then I told them I was going to make it even more difficult. 

I introduced the war in Yemen, which involves many of the same actors and therefore influences the regional dynamics. We read a quick overview of what’s happening there, then started watching a video a teacher buddy of mine made to compile media coverage about the war. We’ll finish that next class and talk about the implications.

Day One Hundred Eighteen

Whenever anyone asked me what I was going to do if students walked out of my class today, I said, “I’ll hold the door, then walk out with them." 

Doing so was one of the proudest moments of my career.

I thought it’d happen in the middle of World, so Mrs. T was going to supervise any students who didn’t walk since we’ve got the Cavern of Learning open, but school started on a two-hour delay because of the snow, so I was actually with my APUSGOV class. They all walked. 

Most of them had actually been part of planning the walk-out. They and other students worked with the administration to plan a 17-minute march, student speeches, a petition drive, and info session on registering to vote and writing their representatives. They also called for a “Walk Up,” as in walk up to 17 people and be kind. 

I can’t even tell you how incredible it was to listen to them speak. I know I’m not the only one of my colleagues who got emotional because they were so impassioned, honest, brilliant… A few of them went to Concord to meet to the governor this afternoon, others spoke to NHPR or other outlets. They want it to be clear that walking out wasn’t the end of the action; it’s the start. 

And change is coming.

I taught my classes, gave the same exhortation that I gave yesterday and so many other days- decide where you stand- and then I got ready to teach more about the world tomorrow. I spent the evening at winter sports awards, and got what is becoming a traditional (and awesome) coach’s gift: Thin Mints and flowers. So the ordinary things went on, and that might make some people think everyone will move on and forget about school shootings until the next one- it’s happened before, after all- but I don’t think so. 

Day One Hundred Seventeen

While basically every other school district in New England canceled today because of the storm, mine stayed open. So I went to work and taught ninth graders about the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Boom.

We did have an early release, which was the right call since it didn’t start snowing until 11AM, and we totally rocked and rolled with the time we had. It was all me again in the Cavern of Learning because Mrs. T let me have her time, which was super helpful for me because this stuff is A LOT. Plus, it gave her time to grade recently-submitted argument essays, so it’s a double win.

I started the lesson by recapping what they’d learned in previous classes about ISIS’ origins, rise to prominence, and takeover of land. I went on a bit of a tangent about what it was like to watch on the news as the cities and towns my brother had spent time in during his deployment were destroyed. I told my students that we and our friends had frequently debated what the US should do in response- and there was a whole national debate, too- and it got heated. Then I reminded them that I’m always asking them what they think the country should do in certain situations, to which they nodded emphatically (because I seriously ask that all the time). I explained that I do it because, at some point, we all have to decide where we stand. I had to during the war and afterwards because it was my country, my family, my life… 

It’s theirs, too. That’s the point.

Anyways. After I was sure everyone had a solid understanding of our past lessons, I had them find out what happened during last year’s fight to retake land from ISIS. They watched a video about the Mosul offensive, read about the Raqqa offensive, discussed the whole situation with me. Aaaand once they’d done that I dropped this on them: “Hey, if ISIS was largely defeated months ago, why’s the UN saying the war in Syria is worse now than ever?”

Cue the bell. 

Find out for homework, kids. We’ll talk about it next class.