Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween - How to Detect a Werewolf

Life lesson #247 (although in my opinion it should be in the top 100): Stay away from lycanthropes (werewolves for the lesser informed).

But how can you tell? Here are some tricks of the trade to those of you would-be werewolf hunters in identifying werewolves in their people form:

1. The unibrow - this is a sure fire way to tell. Look out for those who shave the middle part.

2. Fur on the inside of their skin - a bit harder to tell. A Roman platoon suspected one of their own as a werewolf and used this technique to discover the truth. After they ripped his skin off and found no fur, well, he was forgiven.

3. Forget the whole moon thing - that was added in movies. True werewolves do not have to wait for the moon.

4. The ring finger - is longer than the middle finger.

5. Excessive thirst - maybe coming for the idea that dogs and wolves pant because they are always thirsty.

6. Obsession with walking through graveyards - I bet Poe was one. He even proposed to a woman in the graveyard.

7. Foul smell - werewolves have extra seat glands. Be alert for a smell of hay and horse manure.

8. Check the pee pee - yep, werewolves have urine that is a deep purple.

9. The Mark of the Werewolf - the dead give away. If someone has a pentagon on their palm, break out the silver weapons IMMEDIATELY!

10. Shoot him/her with a silver bullet - if he/she dies, probably a werewolf.

Side note, if you are out of silver weapons (and in today's economy, who has extra cash to buy silver?) and are being chased by a werewolf, always drop things. Werewolves must stop and pick them up before continuing the chase. Can anyone say, OCD?

As a teacher, I always feel that knowledge is the first weapon to use.  So let's start with a few basic terms.  Like zoanthropy.  This is merely the generic word of the disease that curses man to turn into animals.  There is also the term therianthropy, which means the same thing.

The most popular of the zoanthropes are lycanthropes (werewolves).

But what about the other, lesser known zoanthropes?

Like the boanthrope?  The dreaded Werecow?

Yes the term existed before Phinease and Ferb's cartoon.
Or what about a kuanthrope?  A weredog!

I bet he gets picked on by his wolf friends, but on the bright side, he can get his own dog treats whenever he wants them.
Of course, you can't forget hippanthropes, those werehorses that haunt your scariest nightmares.

So, what other official names of these zoanthropes are there that you've heard of?  Knowledge is power, my friends.  Knowledge is power.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Who Is the Third Murderer? - The Most Awesome Answer Ever

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth hires two murderers to kill Banquo; however, three murderers show up to the scene.  The original two even make a note of it by asking this third interloper who sent him?  The answer that he was sent by Macbeth himself has a few flaws.

It would seem that Shakespeare meant to do something with this third guy, but never got around to fleshing it out, leaving English teacher geeks around the globe speculating here and there.  This third murderer recognizes Banquo, understands his habits around Macbeth's stables, and was able to give at least some of the original plan to the other two murderers so that they would accept him.  Yet he doesn't seem to know all of the plan since he was unaware of the light going out, and as a result, the main target got away.

You can find some more awesome images from Macbeth (including some really freaky looking witches) by going to the artist's (Amy Hood) web site.
So in my class of regular level students, I use this as an opportunity to get them to think deeper.  They find the clues and facts, list off everyone who could have been the murderer, and then find evidence to support their favorite suspect.  We get into a discussion over what the third murderer's motive was - to help kill Banquo and Fleance or to help Banquo and'or Fleance get away.

I tell them that on their test, they are going to have to accuse one character and then defend their statement.  We joked this year about people putting down Banquo as the murderer - a major feat since he was the one being killed at the time.

One student took this as a challenge and on the test stapled an extra sheet so that he would have enough space to properly accuse Banquo for being the third murderer of Banquo.  Here is his answer:

Banquo.  Banquo fakes his death in a simple process.  He knew from the witches that his child would be king and not Macbeth's children.  He knew that Macbeth was willing to kill to be king.  When Macbeth became king, Banquo knew it was only a matter of time before Macbeth would kill him. Banquo then got body doubles of himself and his son and sent his son out of Scotland.  when he heard of suspicious people meeting with the king, he knew it was time, and trailed the two murderers.  He declared his double to be himself so that the others wouldn't think.  When his son's double got away and met with Banquo for payment, Banquo killed him to tie up loose ends.  I believe that after the play ended, Banquo got his son to take over Scotland and then ruled through the shadows.

Flawed?  Sure, but he was so excited to prove that I was wrong when I said that Banquo COULDN'T be the third murderer.  It's not often that you get a regular level student to get this passionate about a test answer.  I'm sure you honors and AP teachers get this sort of crazy stuff all the time.

This same kid followed up this response with the answer to this question:
Who is most at fault for what has happened in this play?

King James I.  Shakespeare wrote this play because of the big stink James made about a supposed "witch" visiting him.  If he had stayed calm and not made a big deal out of it, this play would never have been written.

Folks, it's hard to argue with this kind of logic.  :)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jack's Lament

If you have not seen the movie Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton, you really should.  It is not a great movie for little kids, but excellent for middle school age children and older.  I'm not suggesting this as a movie to watch in class, just if you have children at home.  As far as class goes, there is a particular song in it that is useful for instruction: "Jack's Lament."

A quick bit of background information for those who have never seen the movie. Jack Skellington (pictured to the left) is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town (every holiday has their own town).  He has just had another successful Halloween.  He has, once again, won all the praise of the inhabitants of Halloween Town.  And he is bored out of his mind.  This is the song he sings to express how unhappy he is, even though everything is going great.

Why show this song clip in your class?  To teach allusion. There are several examples and depending on the level of student that you have, they should be able to pick out most.

Here they are in order as they appear in the song:

  1. Sally, the rag golem is an allusion to Frankenstein's monster.  Students might be able to figure that out from the stitch marks.
  2. He is walking through a pet cemetery (Stephen King's Pet Cemetery).
  3. Zero the ghost dog - easy Rudolf allusion
  4. There is a grave stone figure that looks like Mushu from Mulan.  If students make that connection, that's great.  However, The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993 and Mulan came out in 1998, so no true allusion there.
  5. The horse head tombstone is actually an allusion/pun.  It looks like the chess piece knight.  Use the homophone reference for night.
  6. You have two versions of the Scream painting by Edvard Muench.  One tombstone looks similar to the painting and the other looks similar to the Halloween mask designed after the painting.  To really drive it home, he even says that he, "grows so weary of the sound of screams," at the same time that he drapes his arm around one of the tombstones.  Students might recognize the tombstone from the movie Scream, which has a mask based on the same painting.
  7. He calls himself Jack, the Pumpkin King.  Maybe an allusion or at least a play on the idea of a Jack o' lantern?
  8. As Jack stands in front of the moon, it is a reference back to Tim Burton's Batman, when the batwing flies in front of the moon for a special visual effect.
  9. And of course, the Hamlet allusion as he takes off his skull and holds it to recite "Shakespearean quotations."
O.K., did I miss any?  I feel like I did.  If you notice any more, please leave a comment so that I can add it to the list.  I'll give you full credit!

If you have the movie, you'll find this song starting at about 6:10 and ending at 9:45.  If you don't, here is a You Tube version:

You can find the lyrics here if you would like to do a lesson on assonance.  every second and fourth line of each stanza uses assonance to fake the rhyme.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Scream

You are probably well aware of the painting The Scream, but you may not be as familiar with the poem that goes with it.  Edvard Munch, the painter, wrote this poem to attempt to express what he felt the painting was about:

The Scream

I was walking along a road with two friends –
the sun was setting –
I seemed to sense a breath of melancholy –
suddenly the sky turned blood-red –
I paused and leaned against the fence, feeling utterly exhausted –
and looked out over clouds like blood and swords, the
bluish-black fjord and the city –
My friends walked on –
I stood there quivering with fear –
and I felt a great, endless scream passing through nature.

To go along with this, I created a few reading comprehension questions.  The original intent for this was ninth grade regular level.  Two of the questions as a student to make his/her best guess on the meaning of a word.  Often this making a student put down a guess is the first step in getting a student to get the answer right.

Here are the reading comprehension questions I used:

1. What time of day is it in this poem?

2. In the third line, the word “melancholy” is used. What do you think that means (just take your best guess)?

3. Now look up “melancholy” ( and write the definition here.

4. The phrase, “clouds like blood and swords” is an example of two literary terms. Write both of them here:

5. In line 8 the word “quivering” is used. What do you think it means (take your best guess)?

6. Look up “quivering” (try this time). What does the word mean?

7. How many sentences is this poem?

8. Why do YOU think he is screaming?

Or, if you want, you can just use this Google Doc.  If you want to make any changes, all you need to do is make a copy.  If you've got some better questions (I created this a looooong time ago and it could use some more revamping), put them in the comments.  I might change my original.

Since it is a short activity, it is a good one to have in reserve for when a lesson ends too soon or you need something for the students to work on while waiting for everyone to finish a test.

Just for fun, here is an ad for when M&M's released their new dark chocolate M&M's:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Everybody Dies

Check out this poster created by Caitlin Griffin:

You can buy it from the National Theatre Shop in London by going to this link:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Spider-Man Unmasked!

Here is a great creative writing prompt to get kids pushing their thoughts a bit.  You do not need to be a comic book fan to participate (although if you are, there is that much more interest in it).  All you need is the ability to think divergently.

Show students this cover:

Now, supposing that everything shown on the cover is true for the story inside, how could this happen and Peter Parker still keep his identity secret?  We have these characters on the cover:

  • Dr. Octopus - his four extra mechanical arms are just as strong as Spider-Man and allows him to reach far away.
  • Peter Parker - the true identity of Spider-Man.  He has the strength, speed, and agility of a spider and has a nifty spider-sense that warns him of danger (which didn't help as the cover shows).
  • Four random police officers
  • Betty Brant - she is a secretary for the newspaper The Daily Bugle and Peter Parker's girlfriend at the time of this comic.
  • J. Jonah Jameson - a newspaper editor who hates Spider-Man with a passion.
Let students write out how Peter Parker is able to keep his identity secret even though seven people clearly see him unmasked.  Give prizes to the most creative and the closest to the original.

So what is the real story?

Peter Parker has a cold, so he has lost all his spider powers.  Doc Ock, however, wants revenge on Spider-Man.  He notices that the Daily Bugle seems to get all the press on Spider-Man, so he breaks into their building, tells the editor, J. Jonah Jameson, that he will print a challenge to Spider-Man to meet him at a certain location.  He then kidnaps Jameson's secretary to insure that it gets done.  Peter Parker, fearful for his girlfriend's safety, dons his Spidey suit and goes after Doc Ock, even though he doesn't have his powers anymore.  Doc Ock beats him easily and unmasks him.  When he sees it is a teenager, he exclaims that the real Spider-Man is too scared to fight him and sent this kid in his place.  Figuring that was why Spider-Man's punches were so weak and why he was so easily beaten, Doc Ock throws Peter to the ground and leaves.  Betty and Jameson both think that Peter is quite the hero, albeit rather stupid, and the police, after toying with what to charge Peter with, finally leave them alone.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Defense for the Zero Grade

For quite a while now, there has been a movement to explore grade reform and in most of the reform movements I've seen, getting rid of the zero grade is usually one of ideas.  People cite several reasons for this, but mostly it is because the zero is so far off the ten point grade scale that it has an exaggerated impact. An article that sums up the mathematical fallacies that is referenced quite often is Douglas Reeves's "The Case Against Zero".

However, I think the zero grade has merit and the typically the exaggerated impact is largely misrepresented. However - I want to be clear - when used incorrectly, the zero is a bad way to grade. The problem comes in that people who are against the use of this grade assume ALL teachers use this grade incorrectly.  Maybe that's because they were using the grade incorrectly before they came to change their opinion and figure that the rest of us must be doing the same.

Let's take a minute to rebut the arguments:

1. The Zero is a NOT punishment grade.  Well, I'll back up a bit.  It is.  But for that matter, so is a 60,  a 70, an 80, and even a 99 (give an honors student less than a 100 and watch the whining begin).  Every time you take a point off, you are doing it as a punishment for not being 100% correct.  There are some right now arguing that I'm wrong here because 96% grade is a grade that reflects how much the student has mastered that content.  Well, a 0% does the same thing.  To a student, every point marked off is a punishment for not getting everything correct.  I read somewhere a teacher saying that they feel guilty because sometimes they enjoy giving a particular student a zero.  My response to that is that is between you and your conscious.  I don't get joy in giving a student a zero any more than I worry that I gave out too many 100s on an assignment.  I would say that if you are giving students zeros for assignments that do not reflect the content (i.e. not turning in a signed progress report) then that does enter the range of punishments.  A zero because a student chose not to do an assignment is not a punishment any more than me not getting paid for a job I didn't do.

2. The F grade being overly weighted is NOT a bad idea.  Let's take the 10-point scale.  The argument is that there are only 41 points in the A-D grades, yet there are 60 points in the failing category (counting for the 0 and the 100).  This is touted as a bad thing.  However, when we alter the scale to a 4 or 5 point ratio, we are saying the opposite and over weighing the pass category.  The fail category is so large because we do not want people in society to only know 10%, 20%, or even 50% of their job.  In life, it is often a mastery or fail scenario.  I do not want a person painting my house that only knows 60% of how to do it properly.  I do not want a person representing me in court for a traffic violation that only knows 40% of the law.  I do not want someone fixing my food that only knows 70% of the cleaning policy.  They guy working on my car better be 100% certain on how to put those brakes back together.  The reason why 60% of the grade is failing is because that is not nearly good enough for ANY job.

3. Two or three zeroes should NOT fail a kid for a semester.  This is where the real problem comes in.  The examples that I see time and time again are using a small collection of grades to prove their point.  A former principal of mine (many, many years ago) used the example of ten grades where 6 of them are 100, two are 80, and two of them are 0 that this pulls the kid to a D (we were in a seven point scale at that time) even though the student has obviously shown mastery by their eight high grades.  My counter is, who only gives ten grades a semester in a high school setting?   If your grading system allows a student to drop 10, 20 points for one assignment, then the problem is you, not the zero.  I give 40 plus grades a semester.  You know what two zeros do?  Very little.  At this point you should be giving them lots of practice.  The more grades you have, the more solid that grade is a reflection of what that kid has learned and mastered.  I've seen from my own children's grades teachers who don't pay attention.  My son had a high A in his band class in middle school.  They took one quiz.  ONE QUIZ.  Because the teacher didn't realize that there was only one grade in the quiz average, he failed to notice that this one quiz was now worth 40% of the final grade.  My son was absent on the day of the quiz and did not make it up (he says he asked the teacher for what he missed that day and was given a worksheet only).  When this teacher finally put in the grades for the report card, our son's grade went from an A to a D.  That's a reflection on this teacher's poor grading policy - not a reflection on the zero grade.


1. Understand its power as a motivator - Not all students find value in a grade, but many do. Teachers need to use all tools at their disposal to get each student to care about what is being taught in the class.  When I input a zero for a missed assignment, I frequently get emails from students and parents on what can be done to make it up.

2. Keep your grade book up to date as much as possible - O.K., research papers are going to take time to grade, but all of those quizzes, crosswords, vocabulary practices, etc. need to be put in as soon as possible.  Students and parents need to be able to see their grade evolve.  Students have very little understanding about how their grade works.  By giving them up to the week updates, you are enabling them to take more responsibility for their actions. Don't have an online grade book that parents can see?  Print out reports or at least call the students up to your desk so that they can see the grade.  Teachers who wait until the last week to get their grades in cannot blame a zero for it's weighty effect.  It is also hypocritical to penalize a student for turning in something late when the teacher cannot get the grade out in a timely manner.

3. Take make up work - The zero is best used as a motivator to get an assignment turned in. This only works if the assignment can still be turned in.  When I put in the zero for a missing grammar practice, I'm not telling the student, "Ha, ha - you're going to pay for it now!" I'm telling the student, "This is the impact on your grade if you do not get this done."  At that point, all the responsibility falls upon the kid.  Some teachers want to say that taking late work doesn't teach responsibility for their actions, but I say otherwise.  Teenagers are going to make mistakes.  That's a fact of life.  Even the most mature 17 year old student is going to forget an assignment due date.  Giving the student a chance to make up that error teaches them to fix bad situations that they are going to find themselves in in life.  Plus, are you in the business of teaching unyielding responsibility or literature?  If the kid turns in the practice late, but learns the literary concept I was attempting to teach, well, I would say I have accomplished my job.

4. Provide alternate assignments - What about the assignment that just can't be accepted late?  Sometimes I do not take an assignment late because we've moved on at that point.  In my class I have several Deus ex Machina assignments.  Just like a deus ex machina in a story helps the character out of an impossible situation, these assignments, which tend to be more difficult than the typical class activity, still teach a concept I want the student to learn and can be used to replace a low grade (including a zero).  Now that we are on block schedule, there are some concepts that I would like to teacher but just do not have the time to do so.  They tend to get turned into these types of assignments.  So a student is not required to be stuck with that one mistake.

5. Give a lot of assignments - I already discussed this above, but it bears repeating.  One assignment is a poor indicator of mastery.  There are so many things going on that could affect that grade from luck to boyfriend/girlfriend problems to teenage angst.  Multiple chances not only provides more practice (practice makes perfect, after all), it keeps the grade stable so when the student does have a bad day, it doesn't overly impact them.  One zero out of ten grades will bring the grade down 10 points.  One zero out of fifty grades barely makes a dent.

After doing these things, if a student has a zero in your class, then they are choosing to take it.  They have all the opportunity in the world to get it fixed.  Does it require a little extra work from you? A bit.  But hey, that's why we get paid the big bucks.

Against the zero? If you see flaws in my defense, I would love to hear it.  I am open minded (most times) and never shy away from someone who has a different world view than I do.  I also freely admit that teaching is not one size fits all and what works for me may not work for the teacher down the hall.

Agree with me?  Let me know (it's nice not being a lone voice in the wilderness).  What practices in your classroom did I not account for here?

UPDATE: I just read "Grading for Mastery", a blog post by Caitlin Tucker.  While I still am not sold on the 4 point scale, I do like one suggestion that she made.  She doesn't do her grades in categories such as Classwork, Quizzes, Tests, but rather by skill - Grammar, Argumentative Writing, Vocabulary, etc.  I find this approach intriguing and will consider changing up the way I do categories for next semester.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Eclipse Crossword

If you have not found Eclipse Crossword, you need to.

It is a crossword maker that is easy to use and free.  There are no ads, no spam, nothing.  It is completely customizable and it leaves you wondering, "How can this be free?"

Just go to

*WARNING* If you've bought a crossword maker program - do NOT go to the Eclipse Crossword web site.  You will curse yourself for wasting money.

Let's take a moment to review it's features:

  • Free
  • Allows you to use your words
  • Allows you to save your word lists to access easier in the future
  • With a mere click of a button, it will create a new lay out.  I will create ten or more crossword puzzles for each class.  Sure, the clues are the same, but students are forced to at least read the clue before cheating and finding the answer from a friend, which is the whole intent of assigning the puzzle to begin with - to make the students read the clues and attach a word to it.
  • You can tell it to print out a variety of formats - Empty puzzle grid, word bank, clues, answer key, and a list of clues with answers (I like this last feature - just the other day I had a student who lost their notebook and with it, their vocabulary lists so I just printed this up and viola!  She had all the words and all the definitions and it took me less than one minute).
  • You can save it as a webpage both static for printing and interactive for completing online (see an example of it from my class web site here).
  • You can even save it in a format that allows you to open it in Microsoft Word (fun for making the border look nice).
Plus, It's an easy to create assignment for when you have a sub or a review session.   You also do not need an account nor do you need to have your students create an account to use it.

No, I do not work for them nor do I know anyone there.  I found it several years ago and have used it often.  What a great program!

Grade for Eclipse Crossword . . .    A+

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Funnies #2

We all need a laugh once in a while.  Read this from The Onion and while you're smiling, reflect on how true this really is...


LINCOLN, NE—Slowly shaking his head as he watched the wide-eyed young educator arrive early for her first day of work, Southwest Senior High principal Jeff Harker remarked to reporters he could already tell that the school’s 10th-grade class would eat new history teacher Rebecca Bray alive. “The second I saw how excited she was to have her own classroom, I just knew that she was immediately going to be ripped into and gutted by those snarling little monsters,” Harker said of the enthusiastic 25-year-old woman currently making handwritten name tags for the rabid beasts who will “tear her apart and leave her for dead” within a week....  Read the whole article