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.