Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cold Case Files: Caesar Edition

Remember my post all about how much I love Shakespeare? Yeah...well, I wouldn't say that I love Julius Caesar.

While at first I was excited to teach this play to my sophomores, last weekend when I finally finished reading it, I realized how boring it is...and confusing. I struggled to keep Flavius, Murellus, Decius, and Lepidus and [insert another weird Roman name here] all straight; how was I going to expect my sophomores to? More importantly, how was I going to get them interested in Shakespeare and avoid hearing the unanimous classroom "groan" at the mere mention of his name?

I turned to the powers of Google and, voila, I found this blog that had everything I needed: 

I think it may have been originally made as a history lesson, but with my English spin on it, this "Cold Case Files: Caesar Edition" was the perfect introduction to the Shakespeare play (and conveniently timed around Halloween!) The blog has all the exhibits, a sound clip and a video clip, as well as the "Agent Report" evidence gathering worksheet and official "Indictment Sheet." Here's how it worked for me...

First, I got permission from my principal to do this activity since it is highlighting murder and it did involve a (fake) dagger. My school is based in a more conservative community so I didn't want to just assume it was all good. He thought the idea sounded great and told me to go right ahead!

Then I got ready. I visited the nearby Halloween Express store as well as the Halloween section at Target for some extra bloody adornments. I spent my prep outlining the body of a teacher who volunteered to play dead for me, and setting up the 8 exhibits with the pieces of evidence, including my iPad with exhibit H, the historian's input video. Then I excitedly awaited my students!

I stood outside my closed classroom door and handed my students their "mission" as they walked in. It included the cold case background info and some vocabulary words that would be necessary for understanding the activity (tyrant, indictment, republic, dictator). The door was closed, and a bloody handprint was left on the window:

They opened the door to find a dark classroom, with police tape masking off a gruesome crime scene:

The outline of poor Caesar's dead body lay on the ground. (I got the whole "Police Kit" for $10...and the dagger was apparently damaged so I got that for $3... $13 is a pretty good investment since I will definitely be doing this again!)

One of the bloody daggers from the murderers was left behind, as well as a bloody handprint and blood spatter (Gel window decals from Target).

When the bell rang, I explained to them their mission as Crime Scene Investigators: to discover the motivation behind Caesar's death. Were the senators jealous and cruel? Or were they merely protecting Rome from potential tyranny? Or did Caesar purposely allow himself to be murdered, as a sort of suicide-by-cop situation?

We went through a brief PowerPoint with background information, then they watched this exciting intro clip (also found on the aforementioned website):

Then the kids assembled in to small investigative teams and rotated throughout the exhibits to gather enough evidence to make their decision:

One exhibit had them listening to a speech from Cassius, another had them watching a 2 minute video from a historian on the iPad:

After they rotated through the 8 stations, I had them examine their evidence. Then, they got in to groups based on what they believed was the true reason for Caesar's murder and wrote their indictments. As this blogger who used this lesson with her middle schoolers wrote, "It's a Common Core activity in disguise." She was so right! They are finding evidence from text in order to support a claim! That's what I've been trying to get them to do in their writing all year! Brilliant.

My addition to the lesson plan (because my class periods are 70 minutes) was having the kids debate each other afterward. They chose persuasive representatives to argue their findings and present the evidence. As with all lessons, this was awesome in one of my sections and fell flat in the other. My second section is a bit more competitive and has a few more confident/dramatic students, so having them argue against one another was a lot of fun to watch.

So here's the deal, at one point in the lesson I looked around and it appeared to me that all 29 of my 10th graders were completely engaged. No phones out. No iPads. No side conversations. That, in itself, however fleeting the moment may have been, was reward enough! And something tells me they are going to remember this lesson.

Now to find a way to do this with Romeo and Juliet for my freshmen! My mind is reeling already!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Personal Learning Target: I can be organized!

Yep, I've got a "Learning Target" for myself. It's all about getting organized...with my teaching and with my life.

I am not, by any means, a spokesperson for organization. You can ask my (insanely) organized friend Kim. When she first met me in 2011, my organization in my classroom was a tragic mess. It would not have been uncommon for me to be seen desperately searching for a lost assignment or panicking at the copy machine two minutes before class started.

But those days are over! With my new school and more time on hands has come the ability to start fresh, and be the teacher I have always wanted to be. So here's a little peek at my classroom...

My lovely bulletin boards...

My labeled drawers of everything you could possibly need... Copied from Pinterest, of course. The plastic box of drawers was found in the sewing section of Joann (It was a little pricey, so use the Joann coupon App if you want to buy one). I made the labels using PicMonkey and scrapbook paper and just taped them on the sides of the drawers.
Oh, and you can see my binders for the classes I'm teaching. I have always attempted to make binders with hand-outs, but this year I have gotten in the habit of three hole punching a copy of every single assignment and putting it in the binder. A simple way to make my life easier in the future.

 My sub folder was my big project last night. I'm happy with the results. I included a picture of one of the templates I made too.

Weekly agenda on the back whiteboard for the students. The days of the week and subjects are laminated with magnets so I can move them around when I get new classes next trimester.

 Learning targets on the front whiteboard for the kids to see daily.

The next picture really has nothing to do with organization... I was just really excited to get to use my sister's new Silhouette printer/cutter (I'm obsessed). Also, who says high school teachers can't use corny puns too?

Oh and this summer I made this binder for organizing my finances. I'd show you a pic of the template I made for budgeting out my monthly bills and expenses but that's getting a little too personal.

 So that's it! A tour of my classroom and a peek at my life. So far, I'm on track with my Learning Target. Hopefully in a few weeks I'll still feel this organized!