Category: the epic research project and book paper

Bonus Day

Mrs. T and I resumed our planning today. We spent the bulk of our time figuring out how to invert The Epic Research Project and Book Paper. See, this is the way that worked: I taught about colonialism in Africa, then students did research projects about what happened following independence in a particular country (ie- the civil wars in Sudan), read a book set during those events (ie- They Poured Fire On Us from the Sky), and wrote a paper about its themes. And that was good, but we can do better. We asked the research questions, we told them the themes to look for, and that should be on them.

I already wrote that we added more books. We’re going to start with reading, and book talking in class, and have students identify themes in their books (and ones their classmates’ books share). Then they’ll write papers. Then they’ll propose something to research further, and create presentations to share, and I’ll schedule them around my own teaching about post-colonialism. So, my lessons and their projects will compliment each other. 

Or so I hope! We’ll see how it goes.

The later units were easier to get down because we aren’t changing much. We’ve got the basics through April, and will finish next time we meet, most likely!

Day Ninety-One

That’s a wrap on midterms! I mean, there are exams on Monday, too (Block 5 classes), but I don’t have to give any. And book papers have all been graded and returned, emails have been sent to parents whose kids are in danger of failing Q2… So all I’ll have to do on Monday is grade my World midterms and redecorate my bulletin board. Oh, and go to a meeting.

I actually got one set of midterms graded today, but I spent most of the afternoon with the track team. We had a quick practice- just blocks, baton drills, and a few hallway sprints for my crew- but it was a pizza practice. This is a post-season tradition; everyone who qualified brings in a couple bucks, and we order as much pizza as we can afford so that we can eat it after practice. Today we timed it perfectly; the delivery guy arrived just after we finished stretching.

So the team hung out in my classroom and ate pizza for about an hour. One of the girls made brownies, too, so we had dessert. It was a good way to end the week. 

Day Eighty-Nine

Look how pretty my drive to work was today, you guys (Yes, I pulled over to take the photo because safety matters):

Today was the first day of midterms. The way that works at my school is that students take two exams per day with a half hour break in between, and then they can go home (though lots of kids stay until the normal dismissal time for extra help, club meetings, practices, etc…) Since we have the block schedule in which classes meet every other day, students took midterms for their “A” day Block 1 classes, followed by their “B” day Block 1 classes today.

I have prep on “A” Block 1, so I spent that time grading book papers. A ton of students- including some who aren’t even mine- came by during the break because I had bagels and donuts. And then my APUSGOV class came in to take my beastly exam. 

(Insert supervillain cackle here). 

I started grading after a break for lunch (Mr. F made venison stew, and Mrs. F made snickerdoodles… Amazing), but I kept having to do other things, so didn’t finish before 2:30. I didn’t want to keep sitting at my desk, so I took the remaining exams to the local coffee shop and graded them there where I could get some good caffeination. Then I emailed praises to the kids who crushed it, and reassurances to the ones who didn’t. 

World exams start tomorrow!

Day Eighty-Six

This morning my APUSGOV students told me that they’re going to bring cake to class on Monday since they’ve brought cake after every other potential government shutdown. It’s been “yay, the government is open!” cake these past few times, but it does shut down tomorrow it’ll be “happy shutdown!” cake instead.

I am okay with this (the cake, not the looming shutdown). 

It’ll also be time for them to show me their finished pizza project skit, which I watched them film parts of today (I cannot wait to see it in all its glory). OH! And can we discuss how they had to delete a ton of memes off their phones so they had room for the stuff they filmed, and then airdropped everything onto one phone for editing over the weekend? That’s modern high school in a nutshell. Heh. 

After the filming, we switched gears to chat about executive privilege because it’s relevant to current affairs and to the current unit. It’s also fairly nebulous and tricky to explain, so we may revisit it on Monday, too. Or something else entirely. Who knows what the government will do between now and then!

In World/English, Mrs. T and I wrapped up writing conferences and set all our students to work doing revisions. The wall between our classrooms is now closed again, and final drafts of book papers are due on Monday by the end of the day. About a dozen kids turned them in already, which is awesome.

I spent Block 5 doing some miscellaneous tasks: typing up my team’s philosophy so The Vice Principal can put it in a letter to incoming ninth graders, emailing the local Republican and Democratic Party chairs to invite all the congressional candidates to APUSGOV, asking Mr. B to order me some books… Then one of my APUSGOV students came in to ask some questions about my midterm, which is made up of the multiple choice sections of two AP practice tests. She did the 1999 test, which is on the College Board site, and wanted me to explain a couple of the questions she got wrong. Mrs. T came by as I was doing that and said I was in my element.


After that I went to practice and got to see an alumn who’s just back from Basic. He threw down and did a few sprints with the kids, which was cool. He and his relay teammates won a state title as juniors, and they were some of the classiest competitors I’ve ever coached, so he’s a good role model to have around.

All in all? It was a good day.

Day Eighty-Five

Snow Day Calculator said there was a 99% chance that school would be canceled today, but it didn’t happen, and I feel so betrayed. And the snow fell all day in big, fluffy flakes, so my drive home was interesting. 

It’s good that we had school, though, because the semester is about to end and everyone has a lot to do. Mrs. T and I edited about a dozen book papers each, fielded questions about midterms, and managed our bunch of bitter-they-didn’t-get-the-day-off students. 

We ended the day in a team meeting, as we always do mid-week. We had some students to discuss, and a few plans for second semester to go over, but it was fairly low key. We finished before the last bell, I went and made photocopies for future classes, and that was that.

Day Eighty-Three

TGIF! Pay day! Three day weekend!

Poor Mrs. T was out again- she caught the bug her son’s had- and her sub was the guy who watched me do absolute teaching wizardry during debate prep last year. He had no questions this time; he just watched me do my thing. 

It wasn’t nearly as wizardly as debate prep is. Our students were writing rough drafts of their nonfiction book papers, and they were doing fine, so I didn’t have much to do. I edited drafts if kids completed them early, and answered questions as they came up, but that’s basically it. 

I did a bit of midterm prep Block 5 and went to practice. Head Coach and I are scheming to break up the monotony of hallway practices next week. I’ll let you know how that goes. 

I came home a bit ago, and was met with an email from my dad (who, as longtime followers will know, is the school board chair in my old hometown) about cell phone usage. He knows my school doesn’t ban cell phones and asked me to explain what I thought about that. I said this:

Banning phones doesn’t teach kids anything except how to be sneakier about using them. The philosophy up here is that we should be teaching responsible usage. So we allow cell phones in our classrooms as long as students get our permission to use them; if they don’t ask, or if they’ve been told no and use them anyway, or if the usage is keeping them from getting their work done, then we’ll address it. But, more importantly, we look for beneficial ways we can show students to use their phones. Some examples:

  • writing their homework in their Reminders
  • taking pictures of board notes, posters, book pages, or other things they want for future reference
  • audio recording a class discussion (w/ permission)
  • making videos for projects
  • using the Remind app to text their teachers questions (or we text info to them)
  • using flashcard apps, quiz games, etc… to study

I have some colleagues who integrate cell phones even more. They can be a great tool. I think it’s attributable to our approach that Incidents of inappropriate usage are increasingly rare.

And that’s me on my soapbox. 

Day Eighty-Two

I don’t know what happened, but this morning when I went to teach APUSGOV, my brain basically stopped knowing words. 


It was a bad day for that to happen because, rather than giving my students all of class to work on the pizza project, I took about 45 minutes to give a quiz and lead a discussion about some things that have been in the news (POTUS’ physical, section 4 of the 25th Amendment, Cliven Bundy, the DOJ and states that legalized marijuana). 

I mixed up “appropriation bill” and “authorization bill” before the quiz, which… ugh. I corrected myself, but still. I’m annoyed by my mistake. And afterwards, as we chatted about the current state of affairs, I kept saying “judiciary” when I meant DOJ, and having to correct myself… and yet I managed a tongue-twisting “no precedent for the President’s decision” just fine. 


I also had to say “I don’t know” a lot because they kept asking hypotheticals that put us in uncharted constitutional territory. So there’s no way I could know (I did put some guesses out there when I could, but one of the boys posed a question I just had nothing for), but I still hate not knowing. Mr. F and Mr. S gave me crap about it when I told them how class had gone- like, “YOU didn’t know something?!” And that’s the thing: I have such a reputation for being a know-it-all, and being flashy about it. I show off constantly. 

It’s such a different situation in this class, though. I like the challenge, but I’m also a little rueful. Grr. 

In other news, Mrs. T was back, so life in the Cavern of Learning was much smoother and less exhausting. Thankfully, my brain had rediscovered words by Block 3, too. Our students got a lot of good work done; we even had some who were ready to conference, so they’re about a class and a half ahead of schedule. 

I went on instructional rounds during Block 5, and observed the beginning of Mr. W’s Spanish I class. Then I went to do some prep for midterms. This is when Mr. F and Mr. S were teasing me about not knowing stuff- we all ended up in the staff room together- and they also agreed that my APUSGOV midterm is beast.

As it should be.

Day Eighty-One

One of my former students, who’s now in tenth grade, asked me to proofread a short story he’s writing for his English class. This is how he repaid me:

The stickies say “Go Red Devils.” So I responded by writing “Manchester is BLUE” in huge block letters across the top of his story.

It’s a soccer thing.


The special ed. department set aside today for teachers to meet with case managers and discuss students’ progress toward their IEP goals. They offered us food and coffee, too, which was so nice. Mr. F, Mr. W, and I went down first thing since we all had Block 1 prep, and all had to see the same case manager, Ms. N, so it became a nice little breakfast meeting.

Mrs. T was out again, so she couldn’t join us, and I was left alone again in our Cavern of Learning. Actually, I wasn’t totally alone; her sub was one of our former students, now a senior in college, to whom my initial reaction was, “Ugh, I’m old.” 

But it was cool having him help out. He wants to teach, so subbing is good experience, and this bunch of students is fun to work with. I was super happy with their work, too. Even my most chatty, distracting little group buckled down when I separated them, and acknowledged that was what needed doing.

The team and I had a working lunch because we had a parent request a meeting during our typical team meeting time Block 5. I thought that the parent meeting would take an hour or so, but it actually took nearly two. Shows how well I estimate… But it was a meeting with many layers, so it was hard to guess how it would go. I think it was productive, though. 

I was late to practice because of it, of course. When I arrived, I discovered one of my relay boys from last year had come back to visit, and Head Coach had asked him to do baton practice with this year’s relay teams. Since he’d already started, I just sat and let him finish. It was fun. 

Then the kids asked us for relay stories, which was totally to delay running stairs, but we obliged them (I told the story of my final collegiate race). And then they ran stairs. And then I went back to my classroom to write quizzes for APUSGOV. I only got home about an hour ago.

So it was a busy day, and I’m tired now, but it’s all good.

Day Eighty

I didn’t get lunch today, so I’m devouring macaroni and cheese as I write this.


I had a meeting during my lunch time (making a plan with my team’s special ed. case manager to support a student who didn’t read their book for World), and a team leader meeting during my prep block (during which my colleagues noticed I don’t take notes… because I am a wizard… and an auditory learner), and a faculty meeting after school. 


But it’s all good. My classes were good, too. 

My APUSGOV students kept working on their “Pizza Bureaucracy” project, which they’ve decided to present as a skit. They storyboarded it today, which was fun for me to watch because they’re such a creative bunch of kids. They are prone to going on tangents, but I don’t mind as long as the work gets done. I probably could have given them a tighter deadline, but one never knows how many snow days there will be this time of year, and setting the due date at the end of the quarter just works.

I also passed along an invitation to a “meet the candidates” event hosted by the local Democrats next week (note: I pass on invitations to Republican events, too). It’s being held at a rather fancy inn (this is a ski town, so there are lots of those), so there was much discussion about how to dress. My students’ thoughts:

  • “Pantsuits!”
  • “Country club casual.”
  • “Like you’re wearing $55 socks.”

I love it. 

It was an open wall day for World/English, but Mrs. T was absent, so I was all by my lonesome in the Cavern of Learning. I told the sub coordinator to use her sub elsewhere because there was need, and a sub on an open wall day is just one more person I have to pay attention to. In a room of forty ninth graders, all my attention has to be on them. 

I got a good workout going from student to student to answer questions and look over outlines or beginnings of drafts. 

I’m going back to replenishing my calories now.

Day Seventy-Nine

A half dozen girls complimented the skirt I wore to work today (a hot pink maxi skirt- with pockets!- I got from Gap years ago), so I’m feeling like a fashionista. 

Mrs. H called me a Disney princess, which also works.

And the teaching was good, too! 

The two sections of World that were behind are all caught up, and I actually really liked how the lesson went. I was showing Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children again, but I had full class blocks this time, so we really got to discuss it. The final point I made was that conflict recovery is possible, and the choices we in the global community make- even seemingly unrelated ones- will determine how long it’ll take and how hard it’ll be.

So endeth the lesson. 

For the rest of the quarter students have my class time and Mrs. T’s to write papers about the nonfiction books they chose to read. They had about six weeks to get the reading done, and I made weekly reading calendars for each book (there were six to choose from) to help them manage it, so most of them are totally ready for this. We’ll have to figure out what to do for the ones who aren’t, of course; we already have one meeting tomorrow that I’m not looking forward to. 

I wasn’t looking forward to chatting with a student about academic honesty this morning either- it’s not fun to watch the severity of the poor decision truly hit a a kid- but it had to be done (the other student was absent, so it’ll have to be done again…) And I was quick to explain how to make amends; I’m a big believer in that. 

I missed most of track practice because I was in a meeting, but I got there just in time to see one of our former athletes who’d come to visit. That was cool.