Category: cavern of learning

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.

Day Fifty-Two

So. Today wasn’t my worst day of teaching ever, but uggggh. It definitely wasn’t my best. 

Mrs. T was out sick. She had a good sub, which meant I had someone who could help me keep an eye on the Cavern, but I had to give all the instruction and answer the questions. It went well, at first; students were very patient with the fact that there was only one teacher to manage all the moving parts (students w/ current events essays ready to peer edit, students still needing to do revisions, students who were absent and needed to know how to start). They got to work, and it went super well, at first…

And then it started to unravel. 

The first thing that happened was just bad luck. I was walking one way, one of my tallest boys was walking the other, neither of us was looking, and we collided. I’m a full half a foot shorter than this boy even in high heels, so… Yeah. I didn’t fall over completely, but it was not graceful. Total accident, though. We apologized to each other, and life went on. 

…. Until ten minutes later when a student started throwing pens at other students. I issued a stern reprimand… and then said student took one of the tennis balls off his chair (they muffle noise), threw that, and hit his classmate. So he’s serving detention tomorrow. 

I haven’t issued a detention in years. I haven’t felt like such a crappy teacher in years either. 

It was squirrely until the bell, but rallied for Block 4, and got the class back on track. So, of course, something had to go wrong: I had an asthma attack, and I didn’t have my inhaler (forgot it in my car). So… Ow.

At one point, a bunch of boys started trying to convince the sub she was calling them the wrong names, which was hilarious. I wouldn’t have laughed if the sub had been falling for it, but she knew what was up, so I was like, “Don’t be funny! It hurts to breathe!” For the rest of the Block, I came up with random names to call them. Of course, they always answered to whatever I called them.

So, at least we finished in good spirits…

Day Forty-Nine

Today I taught my APUSGOV class all about congressional elections, which was cool because a bunch of my students are actually going to vote in their first one tomorrow. I started by going over how to register same-day and showing a sample ballot, and taking questions about voting. Then went into the actual lesson on constitutional requirements to run for Congress, the primary and general process, redistricting, etc… At the end, I had them play The Redistricting Game, which is addictive, and read this Washington Post article on gerrymandering. 

Campaign finance law next class, kids…

In World/English, students wrote current events essays. They’ve done that before, but this time Mrs. T and I asked them to put in-text citations in their work. They learned how to do in-texts last week, and practiced that a bit, so most had no trouble doing them today. Mrs. T helped the ones who needed it while I kept a general eye on the Cavern. It was pretty smooth; I separated one pair of boys who kept distracting each other, but that’s nothing, really. 

During the second half of the double block, we asked students to look up more information about their current event, take notes on it, and cite the source. That familiarized them with our research note-taking process, which they’ll need soon. Next class, they’ll revise their essays, add the new info, and practice citing multiple sources in-text. This can be intimidating to students who struggle with informational writing because it’s a step or several beyond the basics, so the trick is to be a constant source of calm, encouragement, and positivity. 

That’s the trick with most things.

Day Forty-Seven

Today our usual Thursday morning PLC meeting was turned into a faculty meeting. We gathered in the auditorium to hear a presentation from the heads of one of the state universities; they’re transitioning to learning clusters, interdisciplinary work, hands on experiences, and so on. It’s all cool stuff, and mirrors what we’re doing in a lot of ways, buuuut… The presentation ran long, and I had a Block 1 class, and I still had to set up because I was out yesterday (that’s my own fault), so I did not care as much as I should have. I just wanted to get ready to teach.

I bolted as soon as possible, and ran up to my classroom for APUSGOV. I told my students to give me five minutes to set up, apologized, and then got on with it. My lesson was about the presidential election process; I used Powerpoint notes, a couple videos, and stories from my own experience as a staffer to teach it. I got a ton of questions as I spoke, which is what I wanted because that’s what really enriches the learning. Their homework is on the electoral college, so I anticipate more questions and a good discussion next time, too.

Because we were all so rushed this morning, Mrs. T and I opted not to reopen our wall- no time to set up the Cavern- and taught separately. She kept up with reading and book talks in English. I gave a vocab quiz, and had students watch a 20-30 minute video on the broader historical setting of the book they’re reading because it adds context. After that, we did some more citation practice. It wasn’t the original plan, but it worked, and I finished teaching with just a minute to spare, so hey. 

I did my grading during Block 5, and received a visit from a half dozen sophomores hoping I had candy (sadly, I did not). Tomorrow will feel less rushed and scattered.

Day Forty-Five

Greetings from Manchester! Mrs. T and I are in New Hampshire’s largest city because we’re presenting at NHCSS tomorrow, which is going to be awesome. 

The Cavern of Learning is too much for two subs, so we planned closed wall classes. For consistency’s sake, we did it today, too. In World, there was silent reading, vocab practice, and a really basic lesson on in-text citations. A bunch of kids were absent for various reasons, so it was quiet.

APUSGOV was not quiet, but that’s good because group projects on interest groups were due for presentation. That went very well, and afterwards I looped the discussion back to Fed. 10 and factions. I also spent some time discussing the Pittsburg shooting, of course, because how could I not? 

My post-Parkland activists talked about it all through flex time, even as they made GOTV posters to hang in the halls. The Principal actually called me into his office at lunch to talk about it, too, and get my thoughts on combatting prejudice and extremism

So… Bit of a day.


Day Forty-Four

My family is in town, so I took a personal day today. Mrs. T and my sub were in charge of the Cavern of Learning for book talks and vocab reviews. She texted me to tell me it went well.