Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Spanish Lunch

We're at the end of the school year.  Everyone has taken the final.  They are graded, and the grades are entered.  We're winding down, and really, the kids are ready to be done.  I want to start off this post by thanking all the students and parents for pushing me to be an even better teacher.  It's been a good year, and that's on you as much as it's on me.

As it's the end of the year, I don't have anything content related to share, per se...  But I wanted to give a shout out to some students who have been helping me out.

If you remember the beginning of the year, one of the big topics of our class was culture.  We listed 10 ingredients of culture: food, dress, religion, language, customs, etc...  You get the idea.  The past nine weeks, I've invited some of my students who are fluent in Spanish to help me learn.  Any student who was fluent, or was interested in learning Spanish (and had 3rd lunch) was invited to have lunch with me.

The rules (though they were sometimes broken) were that they could only speak Spanish unless I asked them for a translation.  I had to speak Spanish as much as I could, and English when I couldn't.

I invited students who weren't fluent as well.  But I didn't want them to just show up with no intent to learn.  They had to prove they were trying to learn as well.  I've been using the free app, Duolingo.  It's not perfect, but it's really helped as well.  Alas, only a couple students started to learn, and they quickly dropped out.  No hard feelings though, we're all busy.

Still, in a class where we discussed culture, language, loss of language, and increasing human capital, I thought it was worth sharing that I'm trying to practice what I preach.

If you want extra credit for reading and discussing the blog, tell me if you've ever considered learning another language.  Are you planning on taking one next year?  How do you plan on continuing to increase your human capital over the summer?  Write your responses on a scrap of paper, and have the adult you read and discussed with sign the paper.

Put your name, date, and hour on it.  Turn it in tomorrow or Thursday.




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review For The Final, Too

I'm going to copy and paste yesterday's entry.  Hopefully I don't sue myself.

At the end, I'm putting up 4 new topics to choose from.

I just want to put this out as an all-call.  We've got a final coming up.  We're going to start our review tomorrow started our review today, as well as finish finished up some thoughts on Japanese Imperialism and WWII.

In honor of the final, choose one of these topics.  Pick a previous year's blog post from one of the topics.  (You don't have to read every post.  Just scroll through until you reach one that interests you.)  Read it and discuss it.  Treat it as a regular extra credit blog post.  The only thing to add along with your name, date, and signature of the grown up you read and discussed with, you need to add the date and title of the original post.





Good luck.

The Test to End All Tests

So, we're finishing up our brief introduction to World Wars I and II.  And if WWI was billed as "the war to end all wars," may I bill my final as "the test to end all tests?"

I just want to put this out as an all-call.  We've got a final coming up.  We're going to start our review tomorrow, as well as finish up some thoughts on Japanese Imperialism and WWII.

In honor of the final, choose one of these topics.  Pick a previous year's blog post from one of the topics.  (You don't have to read every post.  Just scroll through until you reach one that interests you.)  Read it and discuss it.  Treat it as a regular extra credit blog post.  The only thing to add along with your name, date, and signature of the grown up you read and discussed with, you need to add the date and title of the original post.

Ancient Civilizations

Agriculture

Monotheism

Globalization


Good luck.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

World War I: The Teenagers

I've talked about the arm wrestling match in previous years.  It's one of those lessons I'm pretty proud of, so if you're here as a teacher and looking for it, click here.

We did that, and we also read how the system of alliances played out.  We looked at a section from THIS PAGE, starting at the line, "One Thing Led to Another."

This year, we did a close reading of that section.  Our school has been trying to build a common language and incorporate "close readings" in all content areas.  Students put a box around words they don't know, question marks for things they don't understand, exclamation points for things they find interesting or want to come back to, and they underline main ideas, key points, etc...

I told the student they had to write their thoughts in the margins at least 4 times.

As we discussed it, I tried to translate some key points into junior high metaphors.  That's what junior high teachers do, right?  We try to take these complicated subjects and simplify them - indeed, oversimplify them - while students are being introduced to them.  Then, in high school, they get to make them complicated again.

A couple analogies I used that are oversimplified.  (You already know the arm-wrestling and jolly rancher...)

Ultimatum: Charlie is going out with Sierra.  They've been going out for 2 weeks.  They're in love.  It's frfr.  Sierra tells Charlie, "You need to unfriend Veronica.  Now.  If you don't unfriend her, we're breaking up."  #ultimatum

Neutrality:  You are friends with Charlie, Sierra, and Veronica.  (Actual friends, not just on social media.)  You don't want to lose their friendship. Charlie starts talking to you, "Can you believe Sierra?" he says.  "I can't believe she made me unfriend Veronica.  Is that crazy, or what?"  ...If you say she's crazy, you're taking her side.  Sierra won't be happy about that, and she finds out everything.  If you say that maybe Charlie's over-reacting, you're taking Sierra's side.  And Charlie's sitting right in front of you...  You continue eating your takis and pretend you didn't hear the question.  #neutrality.

On the war starting in 1914 and the U.S. entering in 1917:  You have a dentist appointment, and miss the first half to three-fourths of gym.  You get back at the end.  The kids are playing basketball.  Winning team gets ice cream sandwiches.  The good kind.  Mrs. Kelly says that with this much time left, you can just go wherever you want.  The score is 45-12.  You join the team with 45.  When they win three and half minutes later, you congratulate yourself on helping win the game.  You did take an elbow to the chin, but the rest of the team thinks you're giving yourself too much credit.

(Again, let me reiterate that I'm really over-simplifying these today...)

On Japan being on our side in WWI, and bombing us a mere 20 years later - not long in the lifespan of nations:  Do you know anybody who was friends with someone in 5th grade, but then wasn't friends with them anymore in 7th grade?  ...If that happens, you may ask yourself, "What happened?"  Indeed, when you did the close reading, and you saw that Japan was fighting with us in WWI, you should have realized they bombed us at Pearl Harbor and said, "I wonder what happened in those 20 years..."

There are plenty more thoughts to think, and I'd love to hear them.  Can you think of any better analogies?  Can you think of more I should share that would help us understand WWI or WWII?  Where do these analogies fall apart?  (The basketball one, for instance has what I believe to be a glaring problem.)  Students can get extra credit if they read and discuss this with an adult.  When they're done, they should write some thoughts answering the questions from this paragraph.  Have the adult sign the paper when they've finished discussing/writing.

*Edit* Also, if you notice any typos, let me know.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Seven Point Five

Mr. Cowells shared a website with me the other day and told me the world population was about to break 7.5 billion.  The website is fantastic.  You can see world population over time.  Countries by population and population density.  It tracks births today and deaths today.

It's a little depressing if you imagine yourself devalued down to just a number.

But there's another way to look at it: think about all the experience and value each one of those numbers has.  The knowledge and skills, the love, the will.  There's something to be said for the notion that nothing is new.  That the sun rises and the sun sets on empires, let alone human lives.  And that there's nothing new under it.

But there's also something to be said for individuality, innovation, freedom of thought, and human capital.  That right now, in this moment, I exist.

To get the extra credit for reading and discussing the blog with an adult today, students have to check out this website for at least 5 minutes.  (The adult can look at it with them, or they can go scroll through their phone or do whatever they want...  They were here for the blog part...)

THEN, students have to find a scrap of paper and write five things they found on the website.  Discuss those five things with the adult, and have the adult sign the paper.

Turn it in tomorrow in the extra credit spot.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Progress Reports and an Influx of People Wanting Extra Credit

So, progress reports come out tomorrow.  And we just took a little quiz that a lot of people got Ds on.  SOOOoooo... I'm anticipating an influx of students who are looking forward to some extra credit.

You've come to the right place.

We've finished studying religions.  You should now know the difference between monotheistic and polytheistic religions.  What theocracy is, and when it comes into play.  You should know some differences between the monotheistic religions - what Jews and Christians believe about the Messiah, for instance.  What are the Five Pillars of Faith for Islam?  What does "poly-morphic monotheism" mean?  Which religion is it specifying?  Which religions believe in karma and reincarnation?  How is the idea of karma in Hinduism different from the idea of mercy in Christianity?

We'll come back to the religions in review, but we're done for all intents and purposes.

For now, we're doing some moderate review - both for the ISTEP, and for our final, which is coming up in about 3 weeks.

It's been a while since we've discussed globalization, standard of living, or human capital.  Hopefully you still remember the differences between limited and unlimited governments.  More recently we've talked about colonization and imperialism.  How many of you remember the colonization simulation?

Does anyone remember why you learned TKWA?  Not just what each letter stands for, but why you learned it?

If you want extra credit for reading and discussing the blog with an adult, you need to read and discuss it with an adult.  To get the points, write the answer to at least 3 questions asked above.  They can be any three questions.  Third paragraph.  Fifth.  Have the adult you read it with sign your paper.  Turn it in tomorrow in the extra credit tray.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Life is a Test

"...If this is only a test, I hope that I'm passing, 'cause I'm losing strength..."

Good news, tomorrow you don't have a test.  It's only a quiz.

Hopefully you brought your Venn Diagram home and studied it.  And if not, there's always the bus tomorrow morning.  ...Or, if you're reading this tomorrow... this morning.

There's also the map section, and the Gandhi section.

Seriously, though, I'm expecting most people to ace this.  We'll see tomorrow, I guess.


I'll keep this short: if you want extra credit for reading and discussing the blog, write 3 similarities and 3 differences between Hinduism and Buddhism.  Then, have the adult you read and discussed it with sign the paper you wrote the differences on.

And as far as tests, tomorrow is the last of the LA ISTEP.  Rejoice.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Life is Pain

Anyone who says differently is selling something.



We are moving from Hinduism to Buddhism.

I asked students this morning to think about and write down some big questions religions try to answer.  I hadn't taught them this, per se.  And as I believe it's important to teach students how to think instead of simply what to think, I let them struggle through it for a while  (So often teachers give students information, then students give that same information right back on the test.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But if we only teach them how to regurgitate information, we're going them a disservice.)

Some students came up with some good "big questions":

  • What happens to us when we die?
  • Is there a God?
  • How does God want me to live my life?
  • What do I have to do to get to heaven?
  • Is karma real?
  • Why do people get cancer?  (Or why do good things happen to bad people?)

We've looked at what Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism believe.  We're moving on to Buddhism.  The biggest two questions Buddhism tries to answer are these: Why do people suffer?  How can someone stop the suffering in their life?

One of The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that we suffer because of desire.  We watched to videos in class today.  If you want to get the extra credit for reading and discussing this blog with an adult, tell that adult what the videos were about.  Tell who was suffering and why.  Finally, tell the adult whether you agree or disagree - and why.  Do we suffer because of desire?  If not, what do you think causes suffering?  Then, write a few of your answers from the conversation down on a piece of scrap paper.  Have the adult you read it with sign the paper.

Turn it in tomorrow.

(In case you were absent:  video one from class, video two from class.)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Life is Unfair

I started off today by asking my students to draw the caste system pyramid from memory.  Then, they had to explain why Gandhi was against it.  Here it is the picture I made, by the way:



*Side note*:  Before break, I wanted to show students how a lot of other people made the caste system pyramid - with the "untouchables" as part of the pyramid itself, and how I drew them as not part of the pyramid, but rather the ground around it - not even worth of being part of the society.  But when I searched google, I found this:


But THEN... I saw that my picture was showing up under searches, but NOT on my site.  (For instance, you can find it HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE... to name a few...)  I didn't know whether I should be annoyed or thrilled.  So I chose thrilled.  I was happy that none of them came with the comment, "this is the worst rendition of the caste system I have ever seen..."  *End of side note*

Many students told me that Gandhi was against the caste system because it was unfair.  ...This is true.  But why was it unfair?  It was unfair because at the time, people couldn't move from caste to caste.  Where you were, you stayed.

I told students a story (common to many kids, I'd bet) about my dad.  I asked him if I could go to my friend's house.  

"No," he replied.

"But that's not fair."

"Life's not fair."

"But everyone else is going."

"I'm not every one else's dad.
"But! But!"

"Hey... you should have thought of that when you were in the dad aisle picking which dad you wanted.  #sorrynotsorry."

And we get it, right?  We can't pick our parents, our race, which culture we're born in...  There's so much that's out of our control.

Here in the US in 2017, we're striving toward equality of rights.  Gandhi understood that life is inherently unfair.  I can't help that I was born into a super-rich family (lie) any more than my friend could help being born into a super-poor family.  But we can go to school, increase our human capital, and try to work our way up and out.  In India, in Gandhi's day, this was not possible.  And that's why Gandhi fought against it.

If you want extra credit for reading and discussing the blog today, you should discuss it with an adult.  How is being born poor today similar to being born an untouchable in Gandhi's time?  How is it different?  Is it a fair comparison?  What are some things you can do now to help ensure you have more money later in life?  Write your answers to some of these questions on a piece of paper, and have the adult you read and them with sign the paper.  Turn it in tomorrow.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Civil Disobedience Pictures 2017

While we've moved on to study Hinduism, I thought I'd post some samples of the civil disobedience pictures my students drew this year.  I always love their creativity, and seeing what they've come up with.

So, for the blog post today, just check them out:



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Community in Mourning

We don't understand ourselves.  How can we understand others?

Today we started off class reading a New York Times article about a United Nations researcher who was working for peace in the DRC when he was kidnapped and killed.

The story touched on many parts of the 7th grade curriculum that I am to talk about: human rights, citizenship, democracy, The U.N., and The U.N. Security Council.  As they were non-violently looking to solve serious global conflicts, it made sense to read the article right after watching and discussing Gandhi.  There were many parallels.

But The New York Times article didn't mention one thing: Michael Sharp was from Elkhart County.  He graduated from Bethany Christian, and many in our community are mourning the loss of a friend, a former student, someone they knew from church...

Social studies, in the abstract is impotent.  We understand the ideas, but only when they get close to touching us - or actually, heaven forbid touch us - do we understand power.

After MJ (as his friends and teachers called him) was kidnapped, his father said this:

"I have said on more than one occasion that we peacemakers should be willing to risk our lives as those who join the military do.  Now it's no longer theory."

That idea of peacemaking reminded me of a scene we just watched:



There is great injustice going on right now in the DRC.  And Michael Sharp was making it visible.  But he also did it without hate, or violence.  The NYT article mentions him going to church in order to build relationships with mass murders.  "Mr. Sharp, 34, had been in Congo for five years, with an enviable network of rebel commanders and local leaders, most of whom he had met in church.  'Michael told me one time: 'Rebels go to church.  You build relationships with them there,' said Rachel Sweet, a researcher who knew him."

And, he had much success.  In a separate article, which we didn't read in class, it says that his joint work with the Congolese Council of Christian Churches had, "convinced some 1,600 fighters to give up arms."

MJ had many friends around here.  On social media, the outpourings of grief were troubling and moving.  It was a reminder that social studies is real people.  Real consequences.  And it was a reminder that our students have many paths laid out before them.

I've had my quote of the day quote on my back board for several days now.  I put it up well before the news broke.  I put it up because we had just learned of Gandhi's assassination, and it was from his holy book, The Bhagavad Gita.  "The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead.  There was never a time when you and I and all kings gathered here have not existed and nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist."

Though Gandhi and Sharp were different: different nationality, different customs, different ethnicity, different religions, different theology...  They were able to find commonality with people vastly different than themselves in their work towards peace.

Students in my class can earn extra credit if they read and discuss this blog post with an adult.  After you read it and discuss it, write 5 sentences about your discussion.  Have the adult you discussed with sign the paper.  Make sure your name is on it, and turn it in tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

By the Numbers

Much of the hour today we spent working on our Civil Disobedience pictures.  If you were absent today, or left yours at school, and need to finish, you can see some examples

HERE

HERE

HERE

If you were absent, just do it on a piece of paper.  Draw a picture showing an example of civil disobedience from the movie.  Write an explanation of what you drew, AND what makes it civil disobedience.

By the numbers:

I mentioned in yesterday's post that the number of people killed during the partition of India was between several hundred thousand and 2 million.

That's a lot of people for a war, let alone a "non-violent movement."  (In quotes, because in spite of Gandhi, there was a lot of violence... but you got that...)

...I just looked up some war numbers.  You can check them out.  There are a LOT of major wars with fewer than a million (or two million) deaths.

(And we're only talking about the deaths during the partition...)

The American Revolution (depending on the source) had a total of somewhere between 55,000 and 100,000 people killed.  (See here, for instance.)  That's SO much less than 2 million.

Of course, the population was smaller back then, and should be taken into account.

Still, with all the similarities between the two: fighting the British, wanting freedom, wanting to keep money within the continent/country...  It's easy to see why the line at the end of Gandhi, "He thinks he's failed" resonates.

I wasn't sure how much my students knew about the US Revolution, so I played some School House Rock while they were working:




Students can get extra credit if they read and discuss this post with an adult.  To get credit, write down three questions you answered, and write down the answers.  (Or three discussion points.)  Have the adult you read and discussed the blog with sign the paper you write on.  Make sure your name is on it, and turn it in tomorrow.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Gandhi, King, Silver Lining

PART 1: Gandhi and the Silver Lining

We finished watching Gandhi last week.  Although we skip a lot, we watch a significant portion.

At the end of the movie, students often ask questions about Gandhi's assassination.  Why was Gandhi assassinated?  Who killed him?  What happened to the man who assassinated Gandhi?

Today we read an article from The Guardian that was published the day after the assassination.  (Read it HERE.)

Gandhi's assassination was similar to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  Both were assassinated by extremists within their own religion, because the extremists thought they were giving too much away to "the other."

The partition of India-  (Adults, ask the student you're reading this with if they know what "partition" means.  If not, have them click on the word... You're welcome.) - The partition of India into India and Pakistan was a major blow to Gandhi who wanted a unified India.  And, depending on the sources, there were somewhere between several hundred thousand and two million deaths during/due to the partition alone.  For an old man advocating non-violence, one can imagine how trying it was.

Gandhi had been planning a trip to Pakistan in the name of reconciliation when he was shot.  (It's more complicated than this, involving money owed by governments, the threat of weapons purchased with that money, etc... but this is a blog for 7th graders.  If you're interested in it, research it on your own.)

To the point: I had a thought today that I don't think I'd had before.  While Gandhi's assassination is a tragedy, the silver lining is that it's better that he was killed by a Hindu than by a Muslim, the British, or his own fast.

Throughout the film we kept coming back to the principle that, "the only demons we have to fear are those that lurk in our own hearts."

My guess is had Gandhi gone to Pakistan and been killed by a Muslim, many Hindus would have used it as pretext to fight.  Or even if he had died on his own during the fast.  -Or earlier killed by the British in prison or such.

That Gandhi was killed by a Hindu precluded the possibility of  the Hindus taking revenge on themselves.  And it appeals to Gandhi's broader message for individuals to "be the change."

PART 2: King

A couple weeks ago, Mr. Krecsmar asked me if I realized it was the anniversary of MLK's march from Selma to Montgomery.  I did not.

Many students draw parallels between the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  They were both fighting for civil rights.  They both endorsed nonviolence.  They both fought racism and ethnocentrism.  They were both unjustly imprisoned.  They both practiced civil disobedience.  They were both assassinated.

The Selma marches occurred in March of 1965, and were mainly over voting rights.  The tactics used by King mirrored that of Gandhi.  Those used by Alabama State Troopers mirrored the British.

Here's a clip of the actual Selma footage:




Here's a brief (1:12 minute) interview with Ava DuVernay, who directed the movie Selma:




This is a short promo for Selma which includes parts of the bridge scene:




And last, this is a clip from "Turn-Around Tuesday" - not to be confused with "Bloody Sunday":




I hope you took the time to watch one or two of the videos.  Keep in mind that this was in our United States, and only a little more than 50 years ago.  Some of you have parents who are over 50.  Most of their parents are over 50.  My point is, we're watching Gandhi and thinking about what happened long ago in a land far away...

If you read and discussed this blog with an adult, I'm hoping the adult asked you some questions about it.  To get the extra credit, write at least 5 sentences.  Maybe tell me whether you agree with my "silver lining" comment.  Compare what you saw in the Selma clips to what you saw in Gandhi.

When you wrote at least 5 sentences about your conversation, have the adult you read the blog with sign the paper.  Turn it in tomorrow in the extra credit tray.  Make sure your name, date, and hour are on it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spoilers: Am I Spoiling Gandhi?

We watch large portions of Gandhi in 7th grade social studies.  It had been part of the curriculum long before I got there, and it doesn't look to be going anywhere.

Spoiler alert: Gandhi dies.  As Gandhi was born in 1869, and the film was released in 1982, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Gandhi dies in it.

But what many... maybe most? of my students didn't know was that Gandhi was assassinated as a 78 year old.  (I mean, who assassinates a 78 year old?  Just let the man live out his life...)

Here's the thing, though: the movie starts out with his assassination.  In the past, I've shown the beginning first.  Then, after some discussion with colleagues, I kept his assassination a surprise.  I'd go back and forth from year to year.  Unsure which I liked more.

In 1982, when the film was released, the majority of people going to see it knew what had occurred.  They knew who Gandhi was, what his life was about, and how he died.  Like watching a movie about a husband and wife that work on separate floors of 1 WTC in August 2001 - we know where that story is going.  And it would make sense to start with the planes.  Or the opening of the Titanic with a submarine exploration of the boat.  We already know.

But a 7th grader watching in 2017 (or whenever you're reading this) has little background on Gandhi.  And they're not tied to him.  So, watching some random man get killed at the beginning of the movie cheapens how horrifying the assassination really was.  It makes sense to let them see the man, his cause, and develop an attachment to him so they can perhaps more fully grasp what happened.  Context is everything.

Students can get extra credit if they read and discuss this blog post with an adult.  Even though it wasn't brought up in this particular blog post, we've been been discussing India's independence movement for a while.  So, they should discuss the following: who was Gandhi?  What was he fighting for?  Was he successful?

Write at least 3 sentences about your discussion, have the adult you discussed with sign the paper, and put it in the extra credit tray on Monday.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Back? Back? Are We Back?

This is not the best undead blog on the internet.  But... there are far, FAR worse undead blogs.

But this is my undead blog.

It died somewhere around the second quarter when I realized very few students were reading it, and taking advantage of the extra credit opportunities I was offering.

But I didn't realize how much I used it to remind me of things that I've taught.  And how many people around the world were stumbling across it.  I had a couple thousand page views last month, and I haven't posted anything since December.

So, I'm going to let my classes know tomorrow that I'm bringing it back.

We'll see if it lives this time, or if it dies.