Polski3's View from Here

Quote of some personal revelence: "Is a dream a lie, that don't come true, or is it something worse?"

Friday, September 26, 2008


Ok, Ok, I know my prior blog was one of my usual rants. But, here is something different.....something positive.

I don't know exactly how, in my period six class today, we got from discussing the Contributions of Rome, Latin Language, to buying stuff in Ancient Rome, but we did. Class was almost over, so I went to my desk for a small envelope I brought from home, dumped the contents out of it into my hand, walked over to one of my students and asked her to open her hand. She held out her hand and I placed seven Roman coins in her hand. I told her that in her hand, were coins that I was sure some girl in the Roman Empire once held and used to go shopping.....at least 1500 years ago. She got an amazed look on her face and I about had a riot on my hands as students literally ran from their desks to take a look at these simple bronze and silver Roman coins.

I quickly calmed them down and assured them that they would all get to see these coins next week. Something to look forward to. History can be so cool, )even if it is not in the standards) !

History Deficient

In a way, what I am now doing is killing me. Not in a physical sense of dying, but in a......some other way in which that part of you tries to.....I don't quite know the words. But, it is not "teaching to the standards" that is getting to me. Its dealing with, I don't know quite how to phrase it, "everything they just don't know" but need to have to fully grasp of the history I am teaching them.

For example, we are teaching about Rome. But, we start at the beginning. We start where our "state standard" begins, with the Decline and Fall, then go on to the Contributions of Rome, then end with a tiny bit of the 1000 year history of the Byzantine Empire. BUT, they don't know about Romulus and Remus. Or the Aeneid. Or the twelve tables of Roman Law. Some don't even know where "Italy" is located. Or the bodies of water surrounding the Italian Peninsula. Or what a peninsula is. Or even that Europe is one of the continents. Some have heard of someone called "Hannibal," but they think he is some psycho murder with the surname of Lecter. Gaul? Punic Wars? Nope, they've never heard of these.

We have been told to just try to teach OUR grade levels standards. But, without some knowledge of past civilizations and empires, dealing with the Decline and Fall of Rome is more difficult, less relevant, less interesting to them.

Two years ago, before the "teach to the standards of your grade level" frenzy hit us grade seven history teachers, I spent about nine to ten weeks teaching, well, not really teaching in depth, but surveying Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ancient Greece, Early Rome and Ancient China. In short, a very modified version of the Grade Six State of California Social Studies Standards. And, the results showed up in our State Standards Tests from last Spring. We were told by administration that our Eighth Graders scored "the highest" on the material related to the Grade 6 and 7 Standards. Cool. It paid off, so to speak.

The result of this, however, has been a mandate to our Grade 8 History teachers, to be sure their students are exposed to the Grades Six and Seven History Standards materials, AND their Grade 8 History Standards. The Grade 8 History teachers already gripe and bemoan the amount of standards materials they are given to teach; now, they have at least six weeks less time to teach that Grade 8 material because they must "expose" their students to the History of the World from Early Man to about 1700.

There are several ways to remedy this problem.....beginning with the California State Social Studies Standards themselves. I cannot begin to go into it here, but lets just say, they badly need work to create a quality survey of World and US History and Geography for our children. There are parts that need to be tossed from it ( I offer, as a sample, Standard 7-5-4: "Trace the development of distinctive forms of Japanese Buddhism." Wouldn't it be enough for students to have an elementary grasp of what Buddhism is ? ) And the geography.....Our world is too small for our children, the future leaders of this planet, not to know something about what is on it and where things are. At least here in California, when the current incarnation of the State Social Studies Standards were first concocted, they pretty much threw out Geography. High Schools used to have a required Grade 9 Geography class. AFAIK, most no longer have such a class; there is no required Grade 9 Social Studies class.

Another remedy could be that the teachers in Grades Five and Six taught the Social Studies Standards for Grades Five and Six. I cannot say what happens in other school districts, but in the district I teach in, Social Studies is pretty much ignored by District Officialdom as being necessary.....because in Grades Five and Six, students are not tested in Social Studies. And, increasingly, our teachers in Grades K-6 are told what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it and are closely spied upon, Oops, I mean helped by an army of "resource teachers, reading coaches and curriculum specialists". So, I cannot really blame them for not teaching their students early US history or Ancient World History. They are not given the opportunity to do so.

What is it like with you ? How unprepared for History/Social Studies are your students ? Or, are they prepared when they get to you? If so, what does your district do ?

I hear rumors that California is planning to revise their Social Studies Standards. Anyone our here on the Left Coast heard about such a thing ? I might like to be invited to that party.

Have a happy weekend. I have a ton of 4x, DBQ and Graphic Organizer papers to grade.

Thanks for reading all this. I hope it makes you think and write a comment.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Does your school have this?

Does your school suffer from NVA ? Oh, what is "NVA," you may ask ? "NVA" stands for "No visible Administrators". It is most evident when there are large numbers of students on campus, especially in the mornings before the first bell of the school day, during passing periods, during lunch and at dismissal. I really hope that something major does not happen with so many ( about 800 ) seventh and eighth grade students roaming about school, relatively unsupervised.

Oh, there are times when NVA is ok. Like when teachers in their classrooms may be occasionally deviating from the "IF IT'S NOT IN THE STANDARDS, IT DOES NOT GET TAUGHT" AllMightyTesting doctrine. Or in the lunch room when discussion, shall we say, may not be all that friendly to administration or certain students, parents, board members, district office personnel, governors, legislators, et. al.

Thanks for reading this blog post. Please share your thoughts with us.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back to Skool Nite

Our annual "Back to School Night" is soon to be here. As usual, we are being allotted just a few minutes for each of our classes. And, as usual, I will try to tell parents about our curriculum, how it is "test driven," how their child is graded (assessed) in my classroom, and how they can help their child succeed in my classroom. I plan to have the school website ( which has not been updated for this year, but my email hasn't changed ) posted so parents can email me with questions or concerns.

School procedures, routines and rules are all supposed to be discussed when we meet parents for period 1 home room.

Anything else I should tell parents ?

What do you do during your open house / back to school night ?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Thou shall meet thy.......PLC's

Of the eight and one-half days of school we have had with the kids, we have had at least five hours of required meetings. IMO, the vast majority of what was "covered" at these meetings was, shall we say, of little value to what I do in my classroom. Anyone else experiencing this ?

Anyone experiencing "Professional Learning Communities" at the junior high or above level, that is of benefit to your teaching ?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Vocabulary Lesson

Happy Labor Day to all you hard working, always working teachers out there ! So far, Polski3 has taken this "no-students today" opportunity to do some lesson planning. Among other things, I developed my next list of "Social Studies Vocabulary" that my students need to learn, a list of important, key vocabulary terms for social studies. In the past, I would have put this list up on the board and instructed students to "define each one of these terms, know how to spell it and use it in its proper context". However, I now do something a bit different that I will now share with you.

I put the list up on the board and ask students to copy it on the first column of a three column sheet of paper. The paper is folded in half, vertically, then a second vertical fold is made so that the paper has three columns; one-half the page wide and two columns that are each one-fourth the page wide. Each column can be labeled "Vocabulary", "KNOW" and "NEED TO LEARN". Students then copy the vocabulary terms in the 'half page column. Then, they carefully read each term and decide if they already know the term, know how to spell it and use it in its proper context. If they know this, they can simply check off the first 'one-fourth' of the page wide column. This column is for those terms they KNOW. If they don't know the word, are not sure of its spelling or how to use it in the proper context, they check off the second "one-fourth' page column. This gives students an opportunity to take responsibility for learning their important social studies vocabulary terms. They are not just being assigned to define and learn spelling and context for each term, no, they decide which ones they know and which ones they need to learn. I believe this activity is called a Vocabulary Survey. There are other versions of this out there, including one that has a fourth column for students to check off after they believe they have mastered the vocabulary term. But for my seventh graders, I try to keep it simply. Later, we'll do some review activity using the terms and definitions and students having to match them up and read them to their classmates.

I also made up an assessment activity (aka: Quiz) for one of the first standards I am to teach this fall. I am breaking up the standards into what I hope are small, easier to learn chunks. For example, this section is only for the part of the California Soc. St. Standard for the Reasons for the Decline (Fall) of Rome. The standard also includes Contributions of Rome, but to do all of that together, I believe, would be overwhelming to many of my "never been exposed to history" students. So, break it up into smaller bits.

I thank you for reading this blog. Comments are welcome and appreciated.
Have a Great Week out there in Teacherlandia !