Category: cavern of learning

Day One Hundred Seventy-Six

I was a little out of sorts this morning. Like, I just felt a bit stressed and short-tempered, and I don’t know exactly why. But then one of my APUSGOV students, who missed the last day of class, came by to turn in his final project and chat for a bit, and there was no way I could stay in a bad mood then. 

And, after that, the Cavern of Learning came back! Mrs. T and I opened the wall between our classrooms to do conferences with students about their Multi-Genre Projects. Between the two of us, we can conference with every student in two or three days, which leaves us time to do a second conference with anyone who wants one. Also, one or the other of us will always have spare time to answer questions and offer help to students who aren’t conferencing. So it works out super well.

I’ve been checking drafts, so I’ve seen students’ work coming together these past few weeks, but Mrs. T was finishing up Romeo and Juliet, so she’s coming to the party late. She’s loving how lengthy and detailed a lot of these projects are; students are really showing the progress they’ve made in research and writing. And, as I’ve said many times, what’s better than that at the end the year? We’re both super happy.

It’s a gorgeous day, so we went on a “walking meeting” during our prep time: two laps around the building. As we walked, we went over our plans for tomorrow, since she has to leave for part of the day, and discussed the students who’re behind on their work. On the second lap, we saw one of our students on the basketball court with Ms. N- taking a movement break- and when he saw us, he challenged us to play, too.

So did I go shoot hoops in a dress and high heels? Of course, I did.

Day One Hundred Fifty-One

This morning I walked into school with my escrima sticks slung over one shoulder. I was wearing my usual high heels, skirt, and sweater ensemble, so the effect was somewhere between “that’s so badass” and “huh?” 

I got to do this because today was the annual martial arts demo in World. Of course, I promptly turned my sticks over to the SRO for safekeeping, and Mr. W- who, in addition to being my colleague, is the black belt who trains me- turned over all of his weapons, too. Then we shoved all the furniture in the Cavern of Learning up against the walls, changed from our teaching clothes into our karate clothes, and got warmed up.

We started the presentation by sparring. I wanted to grab the kids’ attention, so as soon as they were seated (on top of the tables, bags underneath, so there was tons of space for us to move), I stuck my mouth guard in and threw a punch at Mr. W… and we went from there. The room went completely silent, which is saying something in a room full of 80ish ninth graders). After a few minutes, we stopped, and I went over the rules, which I’d also gone over in the classes prior to this one (no photos/video, no touching each other, no touching the weapons, stop us anytime to ask questions). Then we talked about the history of martial arts, its purpose, the mindset it teaches. We did katas and weapons forms, did some “magic tricks,” and took questions/requests. And that took up all of the time we had!

It was very cool, and I think it was valuable for the students, who think of karate as it’s shown in pop culture, which isn’t always accurate. They learned a lot by getting to see real martial artists practice, and hearing our answers to their questions. I liked getting to talk about what it means to be strong versus what it means to be a bully, using the skill only in self-defense, doing as little harm as possible; that’s important stuff for students to hear. Also, this demo showed them a something different about me, and that’s pretty neat. I’m perceived as being very “girly” because I always wear skirts and dresses, put make-up on, do my nails, that kind of thing… And, sure, that’s me, but this is also me. 

Also, I got to use the line, “A very nice boy went out in to the forest in Maine, cut down a tree, and made me weapons” to explain where I got my escrima sticks. It’s true, and it’s a funny line, so that’s a win.

After the demo, students went to lunch. Then they had about an hour after that, so Mrs. T took the students who hadn’t turned in Central Asia Novel Projects, Mr. F took students who needed to do math stuff (technical term right there).  I took students who were all caught up on everything to help me put the Cavern back in order, and then I let them work on whatever they wanted to.

During Block 5, we had a freshman house meeting, which I was admittedly not looking forward to because the agenda was kind of vague, and I wasn’t sure what direction the conversation was going to take. It ended up being a really productive, positive brainstorming session, though. So, I admit, I was wrong to assume otherwise, and I’m happy to be wrong. We’re meeting again next week, too, to keep the forward momentum going, and now I’m excited for it.

Practice, like the rest of the day, was awesome. My sprinters did a workout- 300m repeates- and then a few of them asked to work on their block starts, so we spent some time fine-tuning those. As we were wrapping up, the captains came up to me with plans for next week. It’s the week of our last home meet, so it’ll be Senior Night, and one of the other teams proposed a post-meet pizza party, which is GENIUS, so we’re all in on that. But the captains want to do a whole week of “spirit week” practices, so they wanted to brainstorm theme days with me. We came up with Muscle Shirt Monday, Green Tuesday (at the meet- green socks, hair ribbons, etc… in honor of Mental Health Awareness, which is a schoolwide thing), Warpaint Wednesday (because there’s a middle school meet, and officiating with our faces painted school colors will be fun), Superhero Thursday, Funky Friday. Clearly, I think this is all awesome, and I haven’t written enough about how great our captains have been all season (and all of indoor because it’s the same two kids). I love their creativity and enthusiasm, and the tone they’re setting.

Day One Hundred Twenty-One

Mrs. T wasn’t in her room when I arrived this morning, and usually she gets there before me, so I was mildly panicking that she was still out sick. We were starting debates today, and I did NOT want to have to moderate on my own because she’s way better at it than I am, but I got the Cavern all set up and resolved to make the best of it. Mrs. T came in just before the first bell, and I burst out with, “Oh, thank God you’re here!” 

My APUSGOV students, who were arriving for class, thought that was funny. They took a test this morning, and as I was grading it I realized I messed up during test review. See, because tests are cumulative, I went over the things from previous units and assumed students would review the key concepts from the current unit, too; I should have been clearer about that, though, because students definitely devoted all their study time to the things I explicitly went over. So that’s on me, and I’m going to apologize and curve the test scores because I figure that’s only fair. Plus, retakes are always allowed, so anyone who wants to do that can.

I do try to teach in a way that prevents damage from being permanent.

As for the debates, they were awesome. We only did one in each block because we took time before starting to allow groups to converse and rehearse, and to reiterate rules, instructions, etc…  There was a terrific match-up in the debate over Palestinian Statehood during Block Two. The members of both teams were nervous, so they got off to a rough start, but then they settled in. One team definitely pulled ahead in the rebuttal round with a great line of questioning about Israeli settlements, but both turned in solid efforts. I was pleased with the amount of research they’d done.

The debate during Block Four was about whether or not the U.S. should increase the number of refugees it admits per year, and one team came in ready to absolutely crush. They had pages of research notes, well-written and rehearsed speeches, tons of rebuttal questions… The opposing team hadn’t ever gelled, and they kind of panicked when they saw how prepared their opponents were. They realized they had to rally, so they worked through lunch with Mrs. T (we didn’t start Block 4 debates before lunch because that’s only twenty minutes, and we didn’t want to pause a debate midway through to go eat). They managed a respectable performance, so I was proud of them. Hopefully, they learned a few lessons about responsibility and communication, too. 

Nifty thing: my evaluator, Ms. C, came in to observe during that debate. She was just in during APUSGOV the other day, but she happened to be walking by while the “ready to crush” team was practicing in the hall, so she asked if she could come in today, too. Obviously, I said yes. I want people to see what these ninth graders can do with topics that are complex and challenging, and know just how high we can set the bar. They will clear it if we support them and give them a chance.

I spent the first part of Block 5 in a meeting with my NEASC group, finalizing our report for the reaccreditation process. Then I spent the second part of the block in a parent meeting of the awesome variety. Mrs. T and I got some really lovely compliments for the work we did for a particular student. It’s our job, of course, but it’s awesome when parents tell us we’re doing it well.

The meeting ended shortly after the afternoon bell. I had to be back this evening for winter sports awards, so I left at the end of the meeting to go home, relax, have a coffee… The awards ceremony was good fun. The Head Coach and I gave out major awards, varsity letters, certificates, etc… Then our athletes surprised us with gifts. Look at what I got!

The card cracked me up. I’m totally hanging it on the cork board by my desk. And, yes, that water bottle is full of candy. My athletes know me so well…

Lots of learning and lots of joy today. 

Day Seventy-Two

Did you go sledding at work today? Because I did. 

The track team trekked into the woods at the end of practice for a sledding relay, which was a ton of fun. There was a dramatic, come from behind win, courtesy of one of my best dashers. He’s a fairly serious kid, but he couldn’t stop smiling as his teammates mobbed him for hugs and high-fives.

The rest of the day was fun, too. 

I went to ask Mr. T a question during Block One, ended up talking to him and Mrs. M about all kinds of stuff, and then playing a round of speed chess. I lost, and I kind of can’t believe it, but it’s all good. 

World/English went well, and I am so happy I’ve been able to say that for multiple days in a row! Mrs. T and I saw some awesome projects coming together. One girl is planning activities for her classmates to teach about apartheid, another has detailed maps- which she made herself- to show the path of Sudanese refugees, a boy found a rap song about child soldiers to incorporate into his work… It’s all fabulously creative. We’ve also had breakthroughs with a few of our less engaged students; Mrs. T’s been working with two or three, and so have I. We’re seeing some real growth and academic successes, and it’s awesome.

We sat and talked Block Five, and agreed that it’s a difficult, tiring year, but the progress we’re going to help our students make is going to be huge. We’re going to look at our plans for next semester to make sure we do what’s best for these kids now that we think we’ve figured them out. It means we’ll have to adjust some of the timing and delivery of lessons, balance “open wall” days with some days in our separate spaces, and so on.

We’ve also realized we have to change up our tag team routine when we do teach together in the Cavern. I’ve been starting classes while she takes attendance because we thought the consistency would be good for students; I say good morning and explain the agenda the same way everyday (and I’m the louder of the two of us). But it’s created the perception that I’m “in charge,” and that isn’t good.

I apologized to Mrs. T for not catching on to this sooner, and she said it didn’t click for her either until today, so now we’ll fix it. Constant communication and willingness to adjust are so key to team teaching.

What else? Mr. T and I observed Mrs. Z’s US history class for instructional rounds… The Cacophony planned a Christmas party… All good things…

Day Seventy

I like to tinker with my upcoming lessons if I have time, and this morning I had time, so that’s how I spent most of my prep block. Then Mr. W and Mr. F came by to chat about various things. Mr. F had candy, so he wins. 

Mrs. T and I had the best day in the Cavern that we’ve ever had on a B day. Our students chose their own seats and they stayed on task. They were determined to show us that they could. They did great work, too, and it was fun rather than draining to oversee it. I was even able to take a few minutes help some APUSGOV kids who came in with questions about their papers; no one acted up while my focus was off of them.

It was amazing.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but it looks like we may have finally figured out how to make class work for these students. 

Best story of the day: a boy who’d really struggled to write his book paper and asked for an extension got ahead on the research project and used some class time to finish his revisions. He turned in an awesome final draft, and brought his grade in my class all the way up to an A from a C-. I’m so proud of him. I sent his parents a note to say so.

If you’re not ever contacting parents with good news, make time to start doing it. It’s good for everyone involved.

Day Sixty-Eight

Mr. F and I were supposed to go to an IEP meeting this morning, but it got rescheduled, so we were able to go to the prep room, grab the cinnamon rolls Mrs. T made, and grade papers and stuff. 

World/English started smoothly. It was day two of introducing the research project, giving public speaking pointers, and laying down the law about being able to choose seats, etc… About twenty minutes in, Mrs. T got a call to pick her son up from preschool because he had a fever, so I was left alone in the Cavern. I hate to admit it was frustrating because, obviously, she had to go… But, yeah, it was a little frustrating in the moment. When there are two of us, one can handle the particularly needy and/or disruptive students while the other handles everyone else; it’s exhausting to do it solo. 

But, again, nothing for it. I survived.

I did end up assigning seats, though. The class couldn’t even manage five minutes of quiet work time in the seats they chose (yes, I was timing). When I told them that, and pointed out that I’d warned them repeatedly to stop talking and focus on their work, there was a general acknowledgement that my assigning seats was a reasonable move. 

It was mostly quiet and productive after that.

I saw some cool projects coming together. Topics include the Biafran War, Nelson Mandela, refugee camps in Kenya, the rehabilitation of child soldiers, the hunt for Joseph Kony… It’s all big stuff these students knew little or nothing about prior to ninth grade, and I’m hoping their presentations will be really eye-opening by the time we’re through.

I spent Block Five editing APUSGOV papers, mostly, but I did take a break to talk to Mr. F, Ms. N, Mrs. R, and The Vice Principal about how hard this year is. I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling that way. 

At practice, The Head Coach had me take the sprinters to do starting blocks, which was fun, and it’s something I pride myself on doing well. I spent some time after practice finishing those APUSGOV papers, so my car was all alone in the parking lot when I left. 


Day Sixty-Three

I really liked my APUSGOV lesson today. Each student got a handout describing a bill’s path to becoming a law, and they had to “follow” it by walking around the room and finding answers to twenty questions about the process. I’d taped info blurbs all over the Cavern of Learning (Mrs. T doesn’t have a Block One class, so I could use her half, too).  Half the class had bills that originated in the Senate, and half had bills that originated in the House, so students were spread out and didn’t bottleneck in any part of the room. It worked super well, and it got them out of their seats- which last class did not do- and got them asking questions as they went. 

Definitely a keeper.

World/English started with a vocab quiz. By popular request, Mrs. T and I split the vocab into two parts this unit (the given terms and their choice words), and gave two quizzes instead of one. The grades and the students’ feedback both indicate that we should keep doing this, so that’s the plan. We like it when they advocate for something and experience success as a result. That’s a great thing.

After students finished their quizzes, they got back to work on their book papers (or research projects, in the case of the half dozen students who are ahead). Mrs. T and I both did five or six conferences, and sat with various students needing one-on-one help with their writing. It was a wicked productive day- perhaps because the due date is approaching (Thursday)- and we were impressed. We said as much repeatedly. 

During my prep time I had one of my APUSGOV students in to make up a test. While she worked, I did my grading, hung up some new posters (Christmas gifts from my mom), and glanced over my lesson plans for the next couple weeks. And I got an email from our front office secretary, who does Pampered Chef, telling me I’d won a raffle at an event I was at yesterday! So my mailbox was full of Pampered Chef goodies, and that was awesome.

It was almost 50 degrees, so we got outside for track practice and did 50m time trials followed by a bit of a workout. There were some surprises in the time trials- in the form of big improvements from last year- and that’s delightful. 

Day Fifty-Eight

You know it’s time for a vacation when you try to lock your desk and this happens:

(And my cuticles are a mess, I know)

Luckily, it happened at the end of the day, not the beginning! I sent an email to maintenance and went home because it’s Thanksgiving vacation, and I’ll deal with it later.

But let me write about how the day was going before that. 

It was a full day of school, despite a steady snowfall that started around 5AM. The fact that it was snowing and it’s the day before a vacation meant our ninth graders were wicked hyper and reluctant to do any work. It took a loooong time for Mrs. T and I to get them to settle down and focus on their book papers. We always allow breaks, but today we really had to keep an eye on their frequency and duration. We managed to do that while checking outlines, proofreading drafts, and answering questions because we are wizards. 

I also had to explain the First Amendment to some boys who tried to tell Mrs. T she couldn’t ask them to stop talking “because Free Speech!!!!” This is a trick lots of students try; they bank on teachers not wanting to (or not being able to) explain why the First Amendment doesn’t apply. Of course, since government is my jam, Mrs. T just sends students my way, and I do explain it. Plus, I answer any follow-up questions. 

Sometimes students think still getting away with avoiding their work, even though I’m teaching something I’d have taught eventually anyhow. They definitely thought so today… until I related the concept of freedom of speech back to the books they’d read, and jokingly told them to thank me for enriching their understanding. 

One of the boys shook his head and begrudgingly said, “You’re good, Miss M.”

I really am sometimes. 

So that was fun, as was the point ten minutes before lunch when it was getting chatty. I said the conversations needed to stop, and the room immediately and unexpectedly went dead silent. It NEVER happens like that. I have no idea why it happened this time because it wasn’t like I’d yelled, or said anything I don’t usually say. It was so weird, and so awesome.

Class ended with a moo-off because of course it did. Then it was prep time, and key-breaking time, and going out into the snowy parking lot time. 

And now it’s vacation. Happy Thanksgiving!

Day Fifty-Five

This morning, I spent the better part of a block playing devil’s advocate against my APUSGOV class. The topic was whether we have a participatory, pluralist, or elite democracy, and they had to cite foundational documents as evidence (which they’ll have to do in writing on their next test). I gave them time in groups to construct their arguments, and then we talked it out. Someone would make a claim, I’d counter it and push them to respond. It was good fun. 

Mrs. T was at a conference, so the Cavern was mine for World/English. I started by defining vocab words from their most recent vocab building assignments (for these assignments, students find us five words excellent words and define them, and we pick ten for the vocab list). This set:

  • Querulous
  • Secular
  • Arid
  • Enmity
  • Draconian
  • Furtive
  • Quell
  • Magnanimous
  • Despot
  • Ostracize

A lot of those words came out of the books students just read. And after I defined them, I gave instructions for outlining book papers and had them get started. They’re outlining by hand (combats attempts to cheat), using a template Mrs. T made; she or I will check it before they start drafting. It breaks up what is a challenging thing- writing a full paper, that is- into manageable pieces with lots of checks for understanding.

I had anyone who hadn’t finished their book find a place to sit where they wouldn’t be distracted and read- no judgment- to get caught up. Some finished after twenty minutes or so, and some will be reading again next class. I had to monitor some of them closely to keep them on task, but I expected that because this is a challenge for the academic stamina of many students.

Still, things went really well during Block 2. I let some kids work out in the hall, and passed around my giant bag of candy, and life was good. 

(Spoilers: it was too good to last, heh).

The 9th graders left for flex time, and about half my APUSGOV class came to see me for test review. I went back over campaign finance law, Fed. 10, iron triangles, whatever they wanted. And I showed this:

That’s how we roll. 

Anyways, World/English resumed Block 4, and we rocked and rolled for a while. But then the kids in the hall started behaving inappropriately, and bits of candy and candy wrappers ended up all over the floor. So I had a word with them about the choices they were making, and had them pick up the room before leaving. It was definitely a “this is why we can’t have nice things” moment. Hopefully it’ll stick. 

Day Fifty-Three

Okay, so I got my teaching mojo back today. 

I did a lesson on voting in APUSGOV: protections on voting rights, reasons for increases/decreases in turnout, demographic trends, etc… And we took a look at some of the data coming out about the midterms. That was ALL THE POLITICALLY NERDY FUN, and I got to answer some really good questions. We cracked some jokes, too; it’s a room full of unbearably clever young people, and that’s the best part. 

In World/English, it was time for students to revise the current events essays they’d worked on all week and submit them as a portfolio. As I went over the instructions, I was able to explain that this is the build-up to bigger things. This is research. note-taking, citation, and writing practice because book papers and research projects are coming. I wanted to be really clear about the purpose of the work they’re doing.

And it was great! Mrs. T and I took turns working one-on-one with students and monitoring the Cavern. We do it pretty naturally at this point; one of us will sit beside a student, the other will walk around. I ended up sitting with one boy for a good twenty minutes because he kept getting off task and distracting others. He buckled down once it was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere, and I was able to praise him for catching up and getting everything done, and he looked super proud of himself. That was a breakthrough.

I had an IEP meeting during my prep time, and got called out of it to go to another IEP meeting, which… oof. It was unexpected, so when The SpEd. Director pulled me, my initial thought was, “Oh, God, what went wrong?” I was relieved that it was just her needing a regular ed. teacher.

That would be me.