Thursday, July 20, 2017

New Teacher? Read This!

If you know a new teacher or a student teacher, you may want to think about sharing this with them.  This is the perfect metaphor for a teacher's first year.

It follows the opening to the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, perhaps the finest movie ever made. Shakespeare would have been proud to produce this movie.

If you haven't seen it, take the time to watch it now:

Best. Movie. Ever.

Now, getting that elusive first job is akin to Indiana Jones getting the idol.  What we didn't see in that clip was all the booby traps that he had to by pass to get to the idol to begin with.  He's confident and a bit smug.  "I got this!"  That's the first week of school.

Then all hell breaks loose.

You noticed that the cave started to fall apart, so Indiana Jones quickly just decides to cut out of there, but he forgot about all the darts in the sides of the wall shooting at him, so he runs like heck.

Your first discipline problem.  But you'll survive it, just like he did.  That's when the betrayal hits.

By betrayal, I'm not meaning anything major, just the realization that not all teachers in that department or school agree and there are some bitter ones there that will resent your youthful idealization (mainly because it reminds them of better days when they had that youthful idealization - lesson to learn - do become like those guys).

You'll survive it, maybe even see them get theirs.  It is the mid course break and you think you have it mastered.  Indiana Jones did too.  That's when the ball started rolling.  He runs to keep ahead of the ball until he leaps out of the tomb just in time.

You'll feel that ball.  You'll feel that you are so busy grading and going to workshops that you can barely stay up with the planning.  You will do everything you can to stay one step ahead of the ball and at exam time, you'll be leaping through the exit.

After catching your breath, you'll be ready to try it again.  This time it will be easier.  By your fifth time, you won't even noticed the ball.  By your tenth time, you're doing it with your eyes shut.

This is not meant to scare a new teacher, but instead to give them peace of mind.  Too often that new teacher thinks that it's just them.  It is helpful to know that it happens to us all.


By the way, I wrote up a post on the mythology behind the temple idol.  Click here to read it.

Friday, May 12, 2017

For the Daring

My former IT guru had her job changed from IT to Digital Coach.  You may have one of these individuals at your school.  You may be like me and have no real idea of what a digital coach does.  I had assumed it was for helping teachers who were not tech savvy to get through mandatory technology needed for the school year.  That's partly it.

I asked her how it was going in the new job and she said that she likes it, but it is boring because once the school year gets going, teachers are so swamped with day to day planning and grading, that they are not making use of her abilities to help design lessons using the different tech resources the school had available.

I thought about that for a while.  I felt bad that she was in a place that she felt wasn't going where she wanted it to go.  So I approached her a day or two later and said, "OK.  I'm teaching ninth grade again after quite a few years of not teaching it.  I hate Romeo and Juliet.  Wow me and show me something tech I can do with it.  She took the challenge.

A few days later, she had several ideas ready to go for me.  The thing that caught my eye was making use of the iPads and green screen in the school learning commons (that's newspeak for library).  I had, many years ago allowed a class of seniors to remake the end of Macbeth in the Lord of the Rings setting.  We were inspired by the then relatively new Star Wars Macbeth.  It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.  They painted my back wall blue (yes, I was teaching before the invention of green screens).  The kids really got into it.  I had actually offered it to my honors class at the time, but they were not very interested.  When someone in my regular class heard, they asked if they could do it.  I was skeptical, but they really wanted to do it.  It was fantastic.

So I was excited to find out that we had a green screen.  My librarian showed me the program and where the green screen was.  I decided to make a video myself to introduce the students to the program, with the benefit of giving me the chance to figure the equipment out.  It came out OK, but there was still a lot of work to be done:

While it is far from perfect, it was a lot of fun to make.  How did the project work out?  Well, let's say it was a learning experience for me.  Will I use this again with low level ninth graders?  No.   Too much down time for most of the group to handle.  However, there was a handful that really dove into the project, including a young man that is not very interesting in any school assignments who went above and beyond editing his group's project.  I will be using this idea for my mythology class next year and maybe even let my seniors make a 2 minutes hate when we do 1984 again.

So what is the moral of this post?  Go to your librarian or digital coach.  Ask them to wow you with the technology they have available.  I'll bet you'll be surprised.  Be daring and try a project or two.  You'll make their day, your students' day, and probably even your own (even if you do find yourself in a Wonder Woman wig...).

Monday, May 8, 2017

Romeo and Juliet Study Materials

My lesson plans got turned upside down today due to library availability, so I started looking for some Romeo and Juliet study questions as a quick filler.  I was going to come up with some anyway later, but now that time was of the essence - why re-invent the wheel?

I stumbled across this site from Classic Stage Company.  They have this excellent PDF that goes over everything about Romeo and Juliet.  It has a quiz to determine which character you would be, an illustrated timeline of Shakespeare's life, a visual layout of who loves and is related to whom in the play, what it was like to live in London during Shakespeare's time, notes on the play, a quick synopsis, and more.  The illustrations are great and the content is spot on.  Best of all, they say in the opening pages that it is free to reproduce for your class.

Here are two screen shots of their illustrated pages:

You can find the whole thing here:

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Should It Be Seems or Seemeth?

One of my colleagues posed a question to all of us - why does Shakespeare sometimes use an -s ending and sometimes an -eth ending?  Is there a rule for that?

No one knew the answer.  However, we do have a Shakespeare buff in our department, so she was not about to let this question go unanswered.  The question was asked yesterday.  Here is the answer she gave us this morning after researching last night:

Here's the answer to Dan's question about why Shakespeare would sometimes say "seems" and sometimes "seemeth." In a nutshell, it's really about the shift from Middle English to Modern English forms. Shakespeare is considered Early Modern English. The -s ending gradually replaced the -eth ending. Shakespeare wrote during this shifting time, so he was free to choose based on his preference for emphasis and scansion.

Here's more info:

So now you know too!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

There Art Thou Happy

One of my least favorite Shakespeare plays is Romeo and Juliet.  The last year that I taught the play I swore that the next time I did, I was going to start in Act V with Romeo stepping over Paris's body and reaching for the poison.

Well, semesters of non-freshmen bliss went by and here I am, for at least one semester, back in English I.  So did I make good on my oath?  Nope.

However, the teacher across the hall from me (Hi Meredith!) has a killer lesson idea for Act III scene iii.  Romeo is whining about how awful his life is and the Friar, speaking for us, I guess, has had enough of it.  He lists off a few things that Romeo should be grateful for and ends with this line:

A pack of blessings lights upon thy back: Happiness courts thee in her best array; but, like a misbehav'd and sullen wench, thou pout'st upon they fortune and thy love.  Take heed, for such die miserable.
 Not wanting her students to "die miserable", she has them as a homework assignment, list out their "pack of blessings".  Puts a bit of a positive spin to her class.

I am quickly approaching this scene and I am ready to try this out in my class.  Anyone else do something similar for this work or a different one?

This is so much better than what I did as a fairly new teacher (I was in the game long enough to know better, though).  We were about to read Night (first time I had ever taught it at the time) and I was going to be absent that day, so I gave them the journal assignment, "What is the worst thing to ever happen to you?"  In my young foolish mind, I figured that when they read Night they'll realize how simple their lives are.

When I returned, my inclusion teacher jumped my case (we got along very well).  She said I had better not EVER give that journal entry again.  The class she was in was a group of kids that did not get along with each other, normally.  When the sub asked anyone to share, she said it was one depressing thing after another.  They were all crying.  Kids who hated each other were connecting over how miserable each other's lives were.  She said that if I ever did that to her again, she was retiring.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Odyssey: Stop 6 - Hades

Let Your Mom Drink Blood

Odysseus goes here to speak to Tieresias, the blind prophet. What Tieresias tells him (Don't touch the cows!), while is the most important thing that happens here, is not nearly the most interesting thing. Odysseus pours out some blood to attract the blind prophet. It also attracts many others. It is the other spirits that we will discuss.

The first spirit he sees is Elpenor, who evidentially died at Circe's island. He got drunk while sitting on her roof and fell over and broke his neck (sounds like a Darwin Award to me)! I guess nobody knew that and they just left him there. He begs for Odysseus to go back and bury him so he can rest.

Next he sees his mom. She died after he left for the Trojan war. She doesn't recognize him. This really bums him out.

Then comes Tieresias. Blah blah blah there. By the way, he also tells Odysseus that if he gets home, it will be in a strange boat and he will have more problems there than on his way home. Oh yeah, don't forget to give Poseidon a sacrifice when you get there. He also says, give your mom some blood so that she will recognize you.

It grosses him out a bit that she is drinking blood, but she does recognize him again. She tells him that his wife has been faithful to him. That must hurt after his little fling with Circe.

A couple of other women who are wives and daughters of the men who sailed with him show up.

Next comes Agamemnon King! He drinks the blood and tells Odysseus that when he gets home, he should smack his wife around a bit since all women are evil. It seems that he did not have a good experience when he got home, to say the least. His wife had found someone else and they stabbed the poor guy. Well, he is not so poor. He brought home a girl with him to have on the side. I'm sure he was, in his heart, faithful to his wife. This girl could see the future and told him that his wife was cheating on him and planned to kill him that night, but he didn't listen.

Achilles shows up and whines about how awful it is to be dead. He has a neat quote, "Better to be a slave in the sun than the king of Hades." I'm sure that John Milton had this in mind when he has Satan standing in hell, his demon buddies all depressed because they just their butts kicked out of heaven. Satan says, "Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven." I love that epic!

Ajax shows up, drinks the blood and tells Odysseus he is still angry with him (During the Trojan War, Odysseus tricked Ajax into giving him Achilles armor). Then he walks away. Odysseus, being a smart guy, didn't stop the huge guy who only needs a coat of green paint to effectively play the Hulk.

Hercules shows up and he is having a ball down here. Neat contrast between him running around and Achilles crying. I know some myths have Hercules living in Olympus and some with him in the stars, but I like the idea of Hercules running around having tons of fun!

Finally he looks around and sees on his way out Minos, Tityus, Tantalus, and Sisyphus.  These guys are interesting enough as it is.  Try making your students research who these fun guys are and why they are here. 

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tech Tuesday: Socrative

Socrative is an oldie, but goodie.  It allows for students to QUICKLY be interactive with your lessons.  There is no sign up for them, not account name to remember, no password.  All they need is your room code.

So what can you do?  Once you sign up for an account, you will see your dashboard, which will look something like this:

I like the quick question option.  Usually I'll click True/False.  This will bring you to a two answer question.  Let's say we are reading 1984 (good choice, by the way), and you want to see who they think is trustworthy.  I'll tell the class to go to and use the room code lordalford,  It takes no time for the students to log on since they do not need accounts.  

So then I'll ask them something like, "Can Winston trust O'Brien?"  Click True if he should and False if he shouldn't.  The SmartBoard (or whatever you are projecting on) screen will look like this:

Immediately, as students click True or False, you see the results.  There is a meter bar that pops up for all of them and you can see how many have answered.  Once I am satisfied, I can use this as a springboard for why the students feel that way or just hit the TF again and ask about another character.

The Multiple Choice option is similar, but instead of T and F, they get A, B, C, D, and E.  I'll put on the board which means which.  The short answer option allows them to type in a response ("What is your guess that will happen when Winston approaches the girl?") which will start displaying on the board immediately.

It also has the Space Race quiz option, which is fun for review and provides something different than Kahoot, but for me money, it is hard to beat the simplicity of using to engage the students in a classroom discussion.  This works for all students, but especially well with students who are reluctant to speak up in class.  It also encourages kids to be risky and not take the answer they think everyone else is.

I've never used the Exit Ticket feature.  I would like to hear from someone who has.

The downside is that you cannot get names from the responses, but that downside is so minor for what I use this for in class.

Anybody have something else about Socrative I should have mentioned?  Do you have a favorite tech site I should look at for a future review?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop 5 - Circe's Island

I'm not too interested at Circe's Island (she is also called Kirke), but I am interested in the idea that Odysseus had children with her. So, let me recap the story quickly and move on with what I am interested in.

Basically, the men stop at Circe's Island. Some go ahead to scout out and find all sorts of animals. They get to Circe's house and she uses her magic to turn them into pigs. One gets away, goes and tells Odysseus, who feels that the man is a coward for running away. He goes and with the help of Hermes, defeats Circe, she turns his men back to men and falls in love with Odysseus. When he leaves, which in some accounts is over a year later, sometimes knowing how long he stayed and sometimes not realizing the time that flew by, she tells him to go seek out the blind prophet Tieresias in Hades for help.

This is how Odysseus tells his story (which would be the Homer version). However, other poets tell that more happened and that he and Circe, um, held hands. gives up a few alternative views:

Hesiod says that there are three kids: Agrios, Latinos, Telegonus - these boys rule some people named the Tyrrhenians. I looked up these people, but quickly became bored with it.

Another version from Eustathius says that Telemachus ventured to Circe's Island after his father's death and that he married Circe and that Penelope married Telegonus. EWWWW!

Eugammon also says this, but adds that Circe made them all immortal. So I guess their weird little tryst is still going on today.

Psuedo-Apollodorus tells us only that Penelope and Telegonus married and that Circe sent them to the Island of the Blest (Maui?).

Pseudo-Hyginus says that Athena is the one that orchestrated the intermarriages.

And lastly, Oppian tells us that it was Telegonos that killed Odysseus with a spear made from the stinger of a sting ray. It was of course, not on purpose (well, he meant to kill the guy, but did not know it was his own father).

There are a few that I left out. Check the Theoi site for the complete list. Basically, what we have here is one messed up ending for the family of Odysseus. Some things are best left unknown.

If you'd like, I have a worksheet that is a context clues practice for this stop.  It is super easy and short.  Also, while you probably won't have your students delve too much (if at all) into the children Odysseus had with Circe, it might be a good time to teach unreliable narrator.  Remember this epic is in medias res - Odysseus is telling the king his story and he leaves out things that may make him look bad.  From this point forward, students may start trying to find other places that Odysseus is giving "alternative facts". 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop 4 - The Wind God's Present

Stop # 4 - Aeolus

This stop often gets overlooked by text books.  It's short, but I think it helps to paint the proper picture of Odysseus' men and why they shouldn't be pitied too much for the events that happen.  Sure, the sun god scene does the same, but this helps to establish a pattern of behavior.

Aeolus is a minor god that helped Odysseus out by giving him a bag of bad winds so that only good winds would blow him home. Of course, he didn't tell his men and they just assumed it was gold.  When he fell asleep (right as they approached Ithaca) they opened the bag, releasing the winds, and sending them way off course.

Who is this guy? Most of us probably don't know that much about him, so consider this a tribute to the unknown god.  He has a floating island close to Sicily for one. The gods used him to release the winds for bad storms. His nickname is Hippotades (the controller of horses) since the Greeks saw winds as horse-shaped spirits.

His dad is Poseidon (makes sense since Poseidon is also credited with stormy seas) and Aeolus is the father of the four winds:

Boreas - The North Wind - he has serpent tails for feet and likes to hang out at Mt. Haemus (where Typhoon likes to hang out). He usually uses a conch to blow his winds and has golden/amber colored wings. He is very strong and tends to be destructive. He even shipwrecked Hercules once. He also disguised himself as a horse and got some fillies great with child (Why? I don't know). Of course people would remark that these horses are as swift as the wind. His most famous story is the kidnapping of Oreithyia. He did this because her parents delayed in answering his marriage proposal. They bore two children, both boys, who were a part of the Argonauts (you know, they guys who did all the work while Jason took all the credit).

Eurus - The East Wind - He also has wings but is a bit more gentle. He is known for bringing rains, so he is usually seen with an upside down vase pouring out water.

Notus - The South Wind - known for his fog and mists, shepherd and sailors didn't really like him. However, he was revered by thieves.

Zephyrus - The West Wind - Probably the best known of the four winds. Cupid used him to bring Psyche to his palace. He known for being gentle. Despite that, one of his more famous stories is about violence. Zephyr fell in love with a young man named Hyacinthus. When he saw Hyacinthus playing discus with Apollo, he got so jealous that he caught the discus in mid air and sent it back at him. The discus hit Hyacinthus on the head and killed him. Where his blood hit the ground, the hyacinth flower bloomed. He too fathered horses, two of which were ridden by Achilles and could talk a la Mr. Ed of TV fame.

Next stop - Odysseus and his men get invited to dinner!

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop # 3 - The Cyclops

Stop #3

Our next stop is the most famous of stops for Odysseus - Polyphemus the cyclops.

Below is a recap of the story of Polyphemus. If you're familiar with it, skip the green writing. If not, read the green writing. If you're color blind, tough.

Odysseus and his men are pretty hungry. How many of his men he has right now, I don't know. I read in one place that he had 3 boats and in another he had 12 boats. Whatever. In a few stops it won't matter anyway, so suffice to say, he had a small enough number to take with him, but a large enough number to feel confident that they could over power whatever enemies they might find.

You all know this story - in a nutshell, Odysseus must prove here how clever he is by finding a way out of the cyclops cave. The rock used to block the door is too heavy for his men to move. They need the cyclops to move the rock, so they can't kill him. They can't wait it out because the cyclops keeps eating the men. So he gets the cyclops drunk, stabs him in the eye with a hot pointy log, and hides under Polyphemus's sheep when they are let out to graze.

This story is also important because it shows Odysseus' hubris - his pride. You see, he told Polyphemus his name was Nobody. When the other cyclops came to see why he was crying, he said Nobody hurt me, so they just left him alone. However, Odysseus couldn't bear to let this opportunity pass so he calls out to the cyclops and gives him his name, his father's name, and where he lives. Being the son of Poseidon, Polyphemus just calls daddy and whines. Poseidon heard. Poseidon delivered. O.K., that doesn't do it justice. Here is his prayer to Poseidon:

"Hear me, Poseidon … If truly I am your son, and you acknowledge yourself as my father, grant that Odysseus, who styles himself Sacker of Cities and son of Laertes, may never reach his home in Ithaca. But if he is destined to reach his native land, to come once more to his own house and see his friends again, let him come late, in evil plight, with all his comrades dead, in someone else's ship, and find troubles in his household." (Polyphemus 2. Homer, Odyssey 9.528).

Alright - recap over. Let's look a little more deeply at the cyclops. One of the problems is that according to Hesiod, there are three cyclops, all sons of Uranus and Gaia. There names are Argos (dang, how many things are named Argos in Greek mythology?), Steropes, and Brontes. They helped Cronus overthrow Uranus because Uranus kept them locked up. In return, Cronus locked them up in Tartarus. When Zeus took over, he set them free. Being pretty good at metal working, the returned the favor by making Zeus' thunderbolts, Poseidon's trident, and Hades' helmet of invisibility. Supposedly Apollo killed them when they hit his son.

The problem comes in with Homer. He writes that they are Poseidon's sons and they are not nearly as intelligent as mentioned above. So, to make things work, let's assume that both Poseidon and Uranus sired cyclops, but Uranus must be better at it than Poseidon.

Another issue is the pronunciation of the cyclops's name.  Is it POLY-FEM-US or PUH-LEE-FEMUS?  I asked the Latin teacher on my hallway and he said that since it is coming from Greek, it really should be PUH-LU-FEMUS.  In a last ditch effort to figure out the correct pronunciation, I did a final Google search and found this study guide that has pronunciations for all the names in The Odyssey.

Cy the cyclopic kitten was born in the last few days of 2005 and sadly enough died in the last few days of 2005. When this first came out there was, quite reasonably, a lot of doubts about this picture. I mean, come on! In this day of Photo Shop, who wouldn't think that a possibility? Live Science and the AP regional photo editor Tom Stathis and has confirmed that this in indeed a true incident.

So truth remains stranger than fiction and now we have Cy.

This kind of thing happens so much that science has a name for it: Holoprosencephaly. This condition is a birth defect in which the brain doesn't properly develop. There are different levels of severity and obviously the above case is a severe one. There have been reports of people with this condition being born with a nose on the forehead, one eye, single-nostril noses, one middle tooth instead of two front teeth, and others.

Traci Allen, the owner of Cy, spent the night and the next day feeding and caring for it, but the deformities were just too much for the kitten to survive.

So what do you do with a dead one-eyed cat? Well, her owner put it in the freezer to save for science. Imagine that nightmare ice cream run in the middle of the night.

Since this condition does exist, might it have some relation to the belief of cyclops in the past? Perhaps.  However, there are better possibilities, such as mammoth skulls (seen to the right) that fit both giant and one-eyed beings, but it might have something to do with it.

Here is a handout I've used in the past that has a prose version of the story with reading questions.

Here's a silent movie from 1911 called Homer's Odyssey (well, really L'Odissea):

You can watch it (or show this section to your class) here (start at 2:50 if you just want to skip to the cyclops scene):

There is a Simpsons version of The Odyssey, but it does not have the cyclops scene.  They drew it, but took it out.  Why?  Because it featured someone more uncouth and more of a glutton than Homer (who was playing Odysseus).

Want a crazy really bad voice over of a cartoon version of this stop?  Look no further!

O.K. - next stop - the Isle of Aeolus!

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Hands Are of Your Color...

Tests can be so stressful.  Those poor students.  So I have a solution.

Why not put a coloring page on the last page of that Shakespeare test?  Give them a chance to relax a bit and de-stress.

Silly, but could be fun.  Plus, it could keep some kids busy and quiet while they wait for others to finish. I found this coloring book for free online and did what teachers do best - steal borrow it!  Feel free to make as much use out of it as you would like.

Shakespeare Coloring Book

And maybe you can save one for yourself to de-stress after all of that grading.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Do I Love Thee?

Today is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's birthday.  She is known almost as much for love letters as she is for her poetry.  For those of you who need a refresher, Elizabeth (and her ten siblings) was forbidden by her father to ever marry and have children.  When Robert Browning read her poetry, he fell in love with her and began to write her.  Between the two of them, they wrote 570 letters to each other before they ran away and eloped.  They both kept all the love letters and the door to the Barrett house which half of those letters came through, was saved before the house was torn down.  I believe it is kept at Wellesley College Library and was a popular place for college students to slip Valentine cards until it was sealed shut.

So why did Elizabeth's father want to stop his bloodline?  Well, according to one scholar, Julia Markus, in her book Dared and Done, It might be because either her grandfather or gear grandfather has a child with a Jamaican slave. Either he was such a racist that he did not want his bloodline tainted or, being an abolitionist, he was ashamed of his white bloodline and wished to end it.

Either way, it was the reason for Elizabeth and Robert's secrecy.  Her father never forgave her for running off and getting married and having a child.  She wrote to him often and he always returned her letters unopened.

Here is a reading comprehension practice for her poem "How Do I Love Thee?"

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop #2 - The Lotus Eaters (AKA Hippy Crackhead Island)

Stop #2: The Lotus Eaters

The second stop of Odysseus is the island of the Lotus Eaters. I've seen several maps of the travels of Odysseus always to find it somewhere different. Herodotus thinks it is the coast of Libya and Polybius has determined that it is off the coast of Tunisia, but nobody really knows for certain.  One guess is that Odysseus is trying to spare us from finding it.

What is so bad about it? Having learned from his last stop, Odysseus only sends out a few people to scout out the area for food. These guys didn't want to come back. It seems that the land is full of these Lotus flowers (the actual translation here is vague and could mean any type of plant) that, when eaten, produce a state of forgetfulness and tranquility. Odysseus has to go out and literally drag these men kicking and screaming back to the boat. Now you know why my students have affectionately nicknamed it Hippy Crackhead Island (hey, I encourage mythology in them in any way I can).


Here is part IX of the Odyssey, as written in Poetry in Translation (not a bad place to get parts of this epic, by the way).

'For nine days I was driven by fierce winds over the teeming sea: but on the tenth we set foot on the shores of the Lotus-eaters, who eat its flowery food. On land we drew water, and my friends ate by the ships. Once we had tasted food and drink, I sent some of the men inland to discover what kind of human beings lived there: selecting two and sending a third as herald. They left at once and came upon the Lotus-eaters, who had no thought of killing my comrades, but gave them lotus to eat. Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return. I dragged those men back to the shore myself by force, while they wept, and bound them tight in the hollow ships, pushing them under the benches. Then I ordered my men to embark quickly on the fast craft, fearing that others would eat the lotus and forget their homes. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars.’

However, for this section, I do not have them read part of the Homer epic, but instead part of Tennyson's piece "The Lotus Eaters".  Part eight to be exact:

The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
The Lotos blows by every winding creek:
All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone:
Thro' every hollow cave and alley lone
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll'd to starboard, roll'd to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl'd
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl'd
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world:
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.

But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho' the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, 'tis whisper'd—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more. 

When I give this to my regular level ninth graders, I tell them that this is college level reading and I build up the challenge for them.  As we break it down, I really praise anything they pull from it.  One interesting thing to do is to have them circle all the "s" sounds in the poem then get them to brainstorm what effect that has on the reader.

The Lotus Eaters is a popular title for books.  I did a quick search on Amazon and counted twelve different books with that title before I lost interest in pursuing it any further.  To my knowledge, The Odyssey is the only place where this island factors into mythology, unless, of course, you count The Lightning Thief.  The book, of course.  Nobody counts the movie.

(From the Graphic Novel - a good adaptation)

In the Olympians series, it is a major stop in The Lightning Thief  as a hotel/casino.  It makes appearances again in The Titan's Curse and The Last Olympian when we realize that Hades used the place to keep his children safe from prying eyes.

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Carpe Diem

If you find yourself teaching the Carpe Diem poets, you may wish to try using this modern day song from Smash Mouth.  The song is "All Star" and is fairly old now, but you students will still recognize it.  Here are the lyrics:

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me
I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb
In the shape of an "L" on her forehead

Well, the years start coming and they don't stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn't make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb

So much to do so much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets?
You'll never know if you don't go
You'll never shine if you don't glow

Hey now you're an All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you're a Rock Star get the show on get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold

It's a cool place and they say it gets colder
You're bundled up now but wait 'til you get older
But the media men beg to differ
Judging by the hole in the satellite picture

The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
The water's getting warm so you might as well swim
My world's on fire. How about yours?
That's the way I like it and I'll never get bored.

[Chorus 2x]

Somebody once asked could I spare some change for gas
I need to get myself away from this place
I said yep what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change

Well, the years start coming and they don't stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn't make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb

So much to do so much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets
You'll never know if you don't go
You'll never shine if you don't glow.


And all that glitters is gold
Only shootin' stars break the mold

Perfect carpe diem message.  Your students will recognize the song as being from Shrek, but the song actually was written for the movie Mystery Men, which is about loser super heroes trying to seize their day.  The video of the song was made for the movie:

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Odyssey - Stop #1 Cicones (or Odysseus' Men Get Caught with Their Pants Down)

Stop #1 - Cicones

Odysseus leaves Troy after a clever wooden horse ruse (worked better than that wooden rabbit idea in King Arthur). Cicones is north of Troy and they were allies of Troy. Odysseus needed supplies and decided that they would be easy pickings. Which they were. This was the problem.

They were so easy to conquer, that the men got cocky (in more ways than one) and decided not to spend their time loading the wine, food, and other plunder like Odysseus told them to and decided instead to drink more wine, slaughter more animals, and, ah, hold hands aggressively with the women (need to keep a non-explicit rating here).

Some of the neighboring areas came to the Ciconians aid and unleashed their spears upon the men of Odysseus. I've read two accounts here. One is that Odysseus arrived with 3 ships and lost 18 men in this battle (six from each ship, for you non-math whizzes out there). Another is that Odysseus arrived with 12 ships and lost 70 men. Whatever the case, the result is clear. Odysseus still has no supplies and lost some stupid men. Mythic Fail.

By the way, the picture comes from an elementary school which is reading The Odyssey. Check them out at Their pictures are awesome! Their teacher is truly an EXTREME Elementary Teacher!

Of course, you can always get into a debate about what sort of light this puts Odysseus and his men in. One justification is that they were still at war and only were paid for their ten years of service by what they were able to plunder. Odysseus, being on the lower end of top dogs in Greece, got late pickings. Plus, Troy didn't have much left after ten years of battle. Add to that the fact that the Cicones aided the Trojans during the ten years, then you have a reason for attacking them.


This is not the only time that Cicones comes into mythology. There is this poor chap named Orpheus who was deeply in love with a young lady that died. Later in his life he passed through Cicones. Several of the women made advances toward him, but still being in love with Eurydice, he turned them down. They were not very happy and tore him apart. This would have happened prior to the Trojan Way, so maybe that is more justification for Odysseus' men for raiding this place.

If you want a great retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice, try Winged Sandals.

Next stop? Hippy Crackhead Island (or as more commonly translated, The Lotus Eaters)!

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Odyssey

So I am about to embark upon the epic in my ninth grade class this semester and around here, English I epics are all about The Odyssey, which I love.  In my old school I used to teach the mythology course and I cannot get enough of gods and goddesses.

I thought I would share with you some of the things that I do in my class with The Odyssey and in turn maybe a few of you would be so kind to share some of what you do.  Then, in subsequent posts, I'll share each of Odysseus' stops along the way.  Many teachers follow the text book (if you still have any of those dinosaurs hanging around your school) which often jumps straight to Polyphemus, maybe Circe, and on to home and the suitors.  I did this once before, many years ago, when I ran a mythology blog called Bubo's Blog, but that was long ago in a virtual space far, far away back when I used to teach mythology.  *sniff*  I'll start with those old posts and update them with teaching the unit in mind to make it more XET friendly.

Before starting The Odyssey, I give them this PowerPoint on the gods and goddesses that they take notes on.  I tell them a story on each deity that I do not expect them to take notes on because myths were primarily oral literature and I like the story-telling feel that they give to the class.

I take a day to tell them the story of the Trojan War.  I feel that it is important that the students at least have some idea of what happened just before this epic begins.  You can find it several places if you need a refresher or if you want to turn it into a reading comprehension activity.  One good place for some ideas and projects (including an awesome Trojan War Find It image) is from my friend, Mr. Mythology.  Here is a link to his site, Mythology Teacher, where you can find the Find It image.

We also take notes together with this stop-by-stop notes sheet.  When I created this, my students were very low learners and it will be interesting this year to see how much guidance my students will need in the note taking department.

Of course, once all is said and done and the students have taken their test, why not reward them with this clip from The Simpsons - episode "Tales from the Public Domain".  The first tale is their take on The Odyssey.  The next is a not as funny on about Joan of Arc and the last tale is Hamlet, which is very funny.  I only show them The Odyssey.  I may be an EXTREME English teacher, but I also want to be an EMPLOYED English teacher.  Here is a legal link that you can use to show it to them.  Any Simpsons clip you find on You Tube is a violation of copyright law.  I suggest that you also find a way to incorporate this into a class activity to be extra safe on Fair Use law.

O.K., so you are ready to begin.  I'm going to skip the invocation to the muse (sure we do it in class, but I find it on the boring side).  Next Odyssey Post - Stop 1 - Odysseus' Men Get Caught with Their Pants Down.

Coming late to the party?  You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Should Teachers Wear Body Cameras in Schools?

I ran across this article in an online newspaper.  It is in England, but it could very well be a question that we tackle here in America before too much longer.

Teachers Wearing Body Cameras to Film Unruly Pupils

"Teachers in schools are using police-style body cameras to record misbehaving pupils
The cameras are used in at least two comprehensive schools in England, one of which has a history of pupils with behavioural problems, and have been approved by local education authorities, The Times understands.

Teachers turn on the cameras during incidents in the classroom to tackle “constant low-level disruption”, the cameras’ manufacturer said. They give verbal notice before starting to record, according to Tom Ellis, a lecturer at Portsmouth University."

The gist of the article is that these cameras are always on, but constantly record over itself.  When an incident happens, the teacher hits record and the camera (or the teacher - it was unclear) alerts those around that it is recording events.

I'm not so sure that my school would benefit from money being spent on these devices, but I've worked in schools where behavior is a bit dicey and gang activity is high.  In those cases, I might be persuaded to give the cameras a shot.  

Of course, ethical issues come into play with the recording of children and if cameras are introduced, then the possibility of recording all aspects of a teacher's day at school becomes a possibility as well.  Big brother truly is watching you.

So what do you think?

Of course, body cams won't help us with those pesky grizzlies, but that's another issue altogether.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Great Way to Teach Symbolism

Sometimes we need a bit of magic to get that light bulb going.  Often students will here the word SYMBOLISM and shut down.  So what is an extreme English teacher to do?

Well, just in case you can't get your hands on the right aquatic hardware*, you may wish to try out this story - "Hills like White Elephants" by Hemmingway.  I have a copy here already highlighted into reading parts.  I took out some of the "said the man" and "said the girl" for the sake of reading it out loud.  It is very short, so give it a try right now.

So, when we read it, we know right off the bat what the two are talking about.  When you give this to ninth graders, they have no idea (or at least lower level ninth graders - I've never taught honors freshmen and just assume that they are all brilliant individuals).  At this point, I have them go back and find the three paragraphs that give imagery on the setting.  I draw it on the board.  Then we talk about what we think each thing means.  They give different answers and sometimes I have to guide them on a river being an archetype for time passing and such.  When we get to the rail road tracks, I explain that major forms of transportation usually means a major life choice.  Polar Express is a great example of this concept.  At one point the conductor says something to the effect, "It doesn't matter where the train goes.  What matters is if you get on or not."

Sometimes this is enough to get them to realize that the operation Jig is considering is an abortion.  If not, we continue with pointing out that she says the world is not theirs anymore when she is standing in the sun and he wants her to get back in the shade.  This usually triggers a discussion on the sun possibly meaning truth.

Finally, if they haven't gotten it, or if someone wants to know why the only thing not labeled is the mountains, I tell them this story:

There was once a clever emperor who had a problem with one of his noblemen who was stirring up trouble.  The emperor knew he couldn't scold or punish the nobleman outright for the nobleman had many influential friends.  So instead, the emperor praised the nobleman for his intelligence and the example he set for all others in the kingdom.  He then said he wished to honor the nobleman with a gift - something of great value and rarity.  The nobleman, feeling very proud of himself, gladly accepting the emperor's praise and was excited to get the gift.  At this point, the emperor presented the nobleman with a white elephant.  The nobleman was in a bind.  He could not refuse the emperor's gift.  That would be insulting and he would lose standing in the court.  So he accepted it with false graciousness.  The elephant was very difficult to keep up and eventually the nobleman went bankrupt trying to care for the beast.  The clever emperor got his revenge upon the troublesome nobleman.  Ever since then, a "white elephant" means something that you do not want.

At this, many students may mention that they have played "White Elephant" at Christmas.  Once they know this is an optional operation that symbolically deals with life and death and that time is running out and it deals with something the the guy does not want, but the girl seems to want it, they often get it.  My board usually looks a little like this:

I understand that you may not be the artist that I am, but I am sure you could get the point across.  If nothing else, try not to let the train tracks converge like I did here!

Anyone else out there teach this story?  Do you have another way to get symbolism into student heads?  Let's hear it!

* I talked to my 7th grade biology teacher years after taking his class and he told me this story - for his first teaching job, he brought in an expensive salt water tank and filled it with exotic fish he had procured over years of scuba diving.  He was so proud of it and thought about how cool the kids were going to think his classroom was.  On the first day in the first period, two kids got into a fight and one was pushed right into the tank, knocking the whole thing over and shattering it.  The fish all died, the equipment was ruined, the floor had water damage, and the kid was sent to the hospital.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Inference Using "Ordeal By Cheques"

One of my son's middle school teachers gave this to him and I think it is absolutely brilliant.  I've used it ever since in my ninth grade short story unit.  Students who do not read well, can handle this one.  It is an excellent story to work inference skills.  I like to put it on the SmartBoard and do the discussion about what is really happening and who are the characters.  I do have to review a little bit about what are the components of a check, since these objects are becoming obsolete.

"Ordeal by Cheques" by Wuther Crue is a visual story that must have the entire plot inferred as we only get to see a series of checks written over a period of 28 years. The checks look like this:

Over the course of the story, little things change, such as the name that signs the check, the date, etc.  The students are left to figure out why these check are being written and who these people are that are having checks written to them.  Certain people get checks in the same amount while some checks are way too high for the time period.

Here is a copy of the story.  It is not long and if you teach inference skills or short stories, I encourage you to give it a shot in your class.  Let me know if you have any stories similar to this.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Inaugural Address

Treading into the realm of politics has caused all sorts of problems for teachers for years past and most certainly years to come.  However, when done correctly, can yield rich material for lessons for the English curriculum and extracurriculars that fall in the English domain, such as public speaking.  Every election year I have my students watch and analyse one of the debates.  They are just looking for public speaking aspects (although I do allow them to put their own views into the report), but presidential debates get their attention (especially low level seniors who have never paid attention to this stuff before).

So that brings us to Lit Charts.  They have an AnaLITics part of their site where they will break down books by word usage, sentence structure, reading grade level, etc.  They used their technique to compare all the inaugural speeches, including Trump's speech for Friday to see where they all connect and what trends we are seeing.  Here are a few charts provided on the page:

There are more, plus a good explanation of what these charts mean from a language perspective, and not from a political perspective (you can get enough of that by watching cable news).  I think it is a must look at for all public speaking teachers and anyone who loves English language.

Here is the link to whole site:

Just curious - how many of you already have plans to incorporate the inaugural speech into your lessons this week?

Monday, January 9, 2017

YA Novel Review - The Red Queen

Recently a student was raving about this book:

Here is the back of the book blurb:

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

Since my student was so excited about the book, I decided to give it a whirl.  I then started thinking that this should be a new thing here at XET - a book review with the classroom in mind.

So let's break it down:

My personal reaction - I like the book.  It has a Hunger Games feel, much like a combination of the best of book three and book one.  Just add super powers to half of the people involved.  I will certainly pick up the sequel to this book.

What sort of students would this appeal to? I think it fits 9-12, but that would depend largely on the ability to read.  Low level ninth graders would not typically be into this book, in my opinion.  Students should like fantasy and science fiction.  Any student who is a fan of Hunger Games ought to try it out.

Suitability for the Classroom -  Well, for this category, let's break it down into these areas:
  • sex - while this is love story at heart, the emphasis on physical love is non-existence.  The most we have in this book is a kiss.
  • violence - well, there quite a bit of this.  However, it is not as graphic as Hunger Games.  Some people die and die horribly, but there is no real graphic detail
  • religion - not a factor in this book
  • language - very clean
So would I choose to teach it to a class?  No, but I would certainly like to have copies in my classroom for individuals to read or maybe use it as a small group unit.  I think the fantastical elements in this book would probably turn off many struggling readers.

XET Grade:  B+

Anyone read it?  Please give it a grade in the comments or add your own thoughts to the mix.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Befana - The Christmas Witch

At first I was thinking that the early Christians had the right idea to celebrate Christmas for twelve days, but then I started to realize that we start the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving and celebrate a lot longer than twelve days!

Back to the twelve days, on the twelfth day (January 6th), not only are you supposed to give your true love twelve drummers drumming, but children should prepare for the coming of La Befana. In Italy, on the Epiphany (Jan. 6th), La Befana, or sometimes known as the Christmas witch, brings fruits and small goodies to stuff in children's stockings that they hang by their bed. If you're a naughty little chap, she'll give you charcoal. She travels by either broomstick or on the back of a donkey, and so doesn't have the capacity for large toys like Santa. And for the adults, she sweeps the floor before leaving (Nice!)

Speaking of Santa, she also doesn't frequent malls for kiddies to hang out with either. She is a witch - ugly nose warts, rags, haggish cackle, and all. But children in Italy seem to love her all the same. She is rather rotund and it is common to leave her, not milk and cookies, but a glass of wine and a small doll.

How did she get her start? Well, according to legend, she was cleaning house when these three wise guys showed up looking for Jesus. She thought they were full of it and chased them off, only later to have some second thoughts. She ran out to help them, but had dallied too long. They were long gone. Distressed that she missed her chance to help the baby Jesus, she began handing out gifts to children hoping that one of them was the baby Jesus.

An alternate version is that her son was one of the babies killed by King Herod. She doesn't believe he is really dead, so she goes out in search for him every Christmas. Personally, I like the first one better.

Regardless of the origin, her search turned her old, gray, and into the hag-like appearance she now has. Finally, she found Jesus and laid all her gifts (or her son's belongings) before him. He called her "Befana" (giver of gifts or the White Witch) and gave her the ability to deliver gifts each year on night before Jan. 6th.

So, get those socks hung up!