Tag Archives: History

Week 36 – A Pop Essay to Make You Foam at the Mouth

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As the year is winding down, I’ve been wanting to assess my students on the writing process when left totally up to them.  I also wanted to know what they took from the movie “A Knight’s Tale” that we watched in class as part of our unit on the middle ages.  (We watched a safer, denuded, and cleaned up “airplane” version.)   So when they came back from recess, I said, “Okay, Pop Essay!  Get out binder paper and your notes.”

POP ESSAY!

Using your notes and the True/False list you made while viewing the A Knight’s Tale, outline and write a first draft of an expository essay.  You have one class period only.

 Here is your prompt:  How historically accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”?  Describe the most important moments that are accurate and explain why, and then describe the most interesting  moments that are inaccurate and explain why.  What conclusions can you draw about our popular notion of the middle ages based on the film?

Do your outline here.

Go!

The students never batted an eye.  They all got out paper and their notes, and we looked at the prompt.

We took a minute to “deconstruct” the prompt.  First I asked them where we would find our thesis statement.  We underlined the first question.  I explained that they would need to turn it into a statement, but clearly I need to go over it again because one student used the question as it was written.

Then we numbered the jobs that the prompt was asking to be answered.   We put a 1 at “describe” and drew an arrow to what we were to describe and circled it: the important moments.  Then we put a 1a at the word “why” to remind us to give examples and reasons.  Then we put a 2 at the second “describe” drew a circle around the words “interesting moments” and drew a squiggly line under the word “interesting” to make it clear that “important” and “interesting” are two different concepts.  Then we put a 2a at the word, “why”.

Then we looked at the last sentence, and students were relieved to see the word “conclusions”. They accurately connected the word to a conclusion paragraph.  You don’t need to do it that way, but it does make a nice way to wrap up your thoughts.

Then I introduced the idea of the magic number 3.  They need two sets of moments.  Emphasis on the plural.  I told them that it is always useful to pick three ideas to support their thesis.  This meant that with a topic sentence they would be looking at about seven sentences for their body paragraphs.  Each moment must be supported.  The three moments plus three examples plus one topic sentence equals about seven sentences.  That gave them an idea of the length of the paper.

I wanted them to give me strong outlines, and so I told them that they needed to make the outline specific enough that if they didn’t finish the paper, I could still give them credit based on what they were planning to say as shown in their outline.  One the other hand, I warned them that they didn’t want to make the outline so specific that they didn’t have time to write it.  Only one didn’t get to write.  But his outline is amazing.  (We’ll work on it.)  Some finished early.  I told them that in this case, they need to check that they were on topic, then do as much revision as possible before the essays are picked up.  They needed to think about legibility, grammar and mechanics, idea and content, organization, word choice, and voice.

It takes time to master timed writing. They should not beat themselves up because they didn’t finish, but to consider why they hadn’t.

Instead of posting several essays, I thought I could get more student’s work up if I cherry picked some paragraphs and moments that I found to be most interesting.

Here are some openings:

The movie “A Knight’s Tale” focuses on medieval times.  But is the movie accurate to history?  In this paper:  What is accurate?  What is inaccurate? and why?

How accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”? This movie is about a squire, the helper of a knight, named William, and how he changed his stars.  Which means that he went from squire to knight.

Is “A Knight’s Tale” historically inaccurate? Or is it both?  Let us find out.

And some 1st body paragraphs:

This will be the accurate section of my paper.  Training daily is a huge part of a knight’s  life.  That is how they have lots of power to hold these huge swords (not always big swords, but heavy).  Courtly love is love in the nobility.  One of the rules is when you speak to your lover, you will foam at the mouth.  The Black Prince is a real character.  His real name is Prince Edward.  He is famous for his victories.  He does help other kings and, yes, he does tournaments.  There is still many more. 

First of all, this movie had a lot of accuracies, some unexpected.  There was, in fact, daily training for all knights.  William wasn’t doing a lot of extra training. All the rules of jousting and the stuff that happened (including getting hurt) did happen.  This is important because it was actually unwarped despite how silly it sometimes seemed.  William also followed the rules of courtly love.  That is very important because to some people could see that it would be crazy how one would follow and constantly think about another.

Now I will describe a few accurate parts.  Most of the dances were accurate, but not all of them were.  This was important because William got closer to the girl he liked.  Only widows having men’s job (blacksmithing) was accurate.  William needed a good blacksmith.  People were hanged.  Roland uses this to show William what could happen to him.

First, I will discuss the accuracies of this movie. First on accuracies is Knights.  Knights had to have people pay them taxes so they can go to a tournament.  Also, in Europe, if you are not of noble birth, you cannot be a knight.  Next is Ulric von Lichtenstein.  Ulric was an actual character from history who was a knight.  Next is apprentices.  Most children were apprenticed around the age of 7.

And some 2nd body paragraphs (I didn’t give the whole paragraphs for some of these because there was a lot of repetition.)

This next paragraph is about how inaccurate it is.  They filled the lances with pasta.  The makers did that so they could have an effect.  The blacksmith put a Nike symbol on the armor.  First, they didn’t have Nike, and second the blacksmiths did not put a symbol on armor (as far as we know).  They did not know what people looked like back then.  For example, the Black Prince, we don’t know what he looks like.

Now I will explain three false moments.  One of them is that David Bowie did not exist then.  He was born very recently.  The outfits for women were very inaccurate. They looked like “Star Wars” clothes!  The lances broke.  They wouldn’t have been able to afford so many.

Next,  the inaccurate moments.  They had no trial for criminals.  When William got arrested, he went straight to public humiliation.  They also filled the lances with linguini.  I would not expect to see that in the middle ages, but it did add pop to the jousting.  Finally, the women used hair dye.  We know that women would dress their hair elaborately, but did not color their hair. 

Finally, roses were pink and white, not deep red.

They did not eat turkey legs.

First, in the middle ages, there was no hair dye and women would have worn their hair up and covered.  I know this because we have watched many middle ages documentaries and they said exactly that.

And for some conclusions:

Not thinking historically, this movie was funny and exciting.  If we had not learned about the middle ages, everyone in the class would think that the middle ages wasn’t all that bad.  They also would think most knights were mostly too snobby and proud to congratulate anyone else.  If everyone had thought these things, they would be totally wrong.

I learned that some movies are accurate and some aren’t.  Example, this one was more accurate.  I learned and saw some of the rules of courtly love. Like when the two lovers, William and Jocelyn, are talking and William is tripping over his words and you can hear him.

I am very pleased with the results.  The students’ voices come out loud and clear while strongly reflecting what we learned in class.  They also had little problem transferring the writing process to a quick essay test.  So, yay, yay, and yay.

So, here’s to Heath Ledger (god rest his soul), people having fun with History, and whoever created the essay.  Add them all up, and you get statements like “when you speak to your lover, you foam at the mouth.”

Cheers!

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Week 32 – The Medieval World (It’s only a flesh wound!)

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It’s been such a long time since I’ve written about what’s going on in our History classes.  Let’s catch you up.

The Middle Ages has got to be one of the most difficult units to teach. (I’ll admit that, mentally, I add the word “properly” as an addendum.)  Historically, the age varies by country in Europe depending on when the Romans left, if they left, when the Renaissance started, etc., so you have to be specific about who and when you are talking about.  Not even this is simple.  People moved a lot and one group invades another with astonishing rapidity.  You really can’t say the English fought the French because of the moments when the king of England was French, and vice versa.  Not even the popular monikers make it easy.  Is it the Medieval Period, or the Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages?  Many historians are coming to argue against the idea that there even was a “dark age” despite the History Channel’s gratuitous offering.  (Watch that video with a bucket, because their main idea is to make you vomit from all of the blood, screaming,  and general grossness.)

As a teacher, you are constantly swimming uphill against what the Victorians did to the stories and histories of Medieval England and France.  I have just about out-and-out banned fairy tales at this moment.  Never mind the damage that Shakespeare did.  I’ve explained about thirty times that Shakespeare’s History Plays are more like Shakespeare’s Trying to Get in Good with The Ruling Monarchs and Not End Up Dead or on The Rack Like Christopher Marlow or Thomas Kidd Plays, no matter how much I love him.  Then, there is the question of two major characters of the middle ages who simply didn’t exist except in fiction, King Arthur and Robin Hood.  People have wanted them to exist so badly that they selectively present research to feed into the idea that they did.  Again, enter the History Channel, in cahoots with Ridley Scott (more shame to them).  And let’s not get started on the crusades, all five of them.  Let’s face it, most educators don’t.  Or they talk about them as if some great tragedy wasn’t being played out.  You couldn’t even call it genocide.  It was just killing anybody in the way. And along the way.

I think I understand why teachers focus more on the fairy tales, the castles, and the fictional characters.  The middle ages were without doubt the apotheosis of wildly violent behavior in European history.  As soon as you ask the question, “Why did castle walls have to be so damn thick?” you have fallen down a rabbit hole of bad behavior and bloodshed.  Explaining the arms race of the middle ages is explaining why the armor had to be stronger, and it ain’t because it was pretty.

Sometimes, I really envy my friends who are of Asian extraction.  They get Kong Fu Zi, and Daoism, and the Hundred Schools of Thought.  I know that much of these developments came out of a period of strife, but it seems that the Chinese didn’t seem to absolutely revel in breaking each others’ heads open.  Who have we got?  Charlemagne?  Richard the Lion Heart?  Pope Urban of Cluny?  Bastards to a man.  Especially William the Conqueror.  As a person with almost all Germanic and English ancestors, when I look at all of the bad behavior, I worry that it might be genetic.  (Nobody give me a broad sword, just to be safe!)

Still, it is so exciting.  So fascinating.   My word, there are some wonderful documentaries, and texts, and ballads, and images.  The most exciting part is doing the research to set the record straight.  For example, for Literature, we read one of the very first accounts of Robin Hood from the 1300’s.  It was amazing how different it was from the versions we know today.  Little John could be a better archer?  Little John and Much could murder in cold blood a little page-boy?  Huh?  And then to go back to the documentaries and take them to task.  The History Channel’s The Real Robin Hood states that Robin was put in an oubliette, but we read the story, and although it does say he was put in the deep dungeon, we know he would be expected to stand trial, which is a little difficult if you are forgotten down a hole.  In the words of Poirot, “Non, mon ami, non.”

I’m enjoying studying this unit with my students.  We read from the BBC history magazine about the Black Prince, and we read an article on Hildegard von Bingen from Fordham Universtity.  We are comparing historian Mike Loades’s “Going Medieval” to historian Terry Jones’s “Medieval Lives”.  We watch Brother Cadfael mysteries, and read ballads from the 1400’s.  We will be looking at an ancient Irish poem about a cat written by a monk.  We will look for truths peeking through pop fiction.  But more on that later…

Like all teachers, I’m trying to shield my students from the worst of the violence and mayhem.  But I do not believe that this is a reason to avoid the hard questions.  Questions like, “What’s up with the women wearing traffic cones on their heads!?  Seriously!”

Week 28 – A Good Day for Peeps!

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My students don’t need me anymore!

And that’s just how I like it.  Except for history lectures, at this point, students are working almost completely independently, keeping pace with each other, and helping each other out.  Occasionally, I answer a question, or I help them find where to get the information, or I intervene when two students are at loggerheads about how to move forward, but mostly, I let them lead.  In small groups, I hear questions like, “What do you think we should do?” directed at the quietest member of the group.  Or I hear, “I don’t mean to be rude, but can we move on?” in response to someone getting off track.  I’ve heard, “Go get the dictionary,” this week.  And I watch over it all, keeping an ear on each group and listening for the place where they might need me to step in.  I feel a little like a mother hen looking over my industrious little peeps.

Once, many, many years ago, a vice-principal asked me how my day was going.  I remember telling her how each class seemed to be on its game.  The time was flying, and I was really enjoying teaching.  She looked at me and said, “Mark this day in your memory because not all days are going to be like this one.  You may need it to help pull you through the days that aren’t like this one.”  I didn’t quite know how to take the comment.  I was only in my second year of teaching in the US, so I knew how precious these days were.  But I was also a little annoyed that the assumption was that most days would be crappy.  I began to wonder how to make each day more like that one.  It became clear to me that the more students were independent learners within the classroom, the more likely it was that we would all have a good day.

Right now the class is all abuzz because they are writing questions for their History game.  The game happens tomorrow, and if they do well, they don’t have to take the test.  It’s worth it to them to write good questions and to study them.  It is worth it to them to work together to find questions that are test worthy.

Just before, they were in PE.  It is a rare, beautiful day here in the Puget Sound.  It didn’t make sense for them to be in the gym, so they went out in the forest and played capture the flag.  They used the blue and the red Nintendo Toad stuffed critters of course, but it is the same concept.  Other than helping them vote on the game they wanted and splitting them into teams, I did little but walk out with them, and stand around in case anyone tripped on a tree root.  They defined the rules of play.

In writing class, we are reading My Path Leads to Tibet and writing out Reading Journals for each chapter.  Students work together to read through the chapter, brainstorm the synopsis, and find transitional words and phrases.  (We’re working on Organization.)  I sit here listening to them, putting all their game questions into a single document, and making sure that they are engaged.  But there is little worry about that.  They don’t want homework and they know that this activity can take only 20 minutes.  They also like turning their thoughts into coherent paragraphs which say what they want the world to know.

This might sound like I have achieved the impossible here, but, darn it, we’ve worked for it.  First of all, students had to learn how to be independent.  To be independent, they have to be clear on the tools they need.  They need to have the confidence to use a dictionary if they need one and to admit that they don’t know what a word means.  They need to have clear boundaries.  This allows them to stand up for the sacred space of learning and to be able to admit that they want it, no matter how dorky it might make them look to the others.

And all the work is paying off.  They know the how-t0-do-it-ive-ness of being a scholar.  They are independent learners and thinkers as proved by the risks they are willing to take in the reflections they write.  They make me proud and oddly nostalgic for the days when I was the center of their attention.

On the other hand, I have time to reflect on the progress they’ve made.  And to realize that today is a good day.

Week 25- Technology SNAFU, Part 1

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The next person who tells me that technology is the savior of education is risking a big fat dictionary aimed straight at his head.  Inevitably, this person is not in the classroom and yet, seems to think, they can make education better by chucking a laptop at each student.  They certainly haven’t been in my shoes over the past 16 years.  And the shenanigans that happened this morning would make any thinking person cringe.

There are the two main swimming pools of various bacteria and diseases that I see clouding up the issue of technology in the classroom.  I’ll stick to Pool A in this here post.

Pool A is an environment where every student has their own computer-like item (laptop, surface, tablet, whatever).  It makes sense.  The logic is simple: my household is predominantly Mac-born, I would want my child to have a Mac because I know how to use it.  Same goes for PCs.  Or, let’s say, in this Windows saturated Puget Sound, the newest Windows product.  This simple thought leads to hours and hours of wasted time in the classroom because everybody’s system is different.  I, personally, am fluent with five different word processing programs because of it.  Word, Pages, Google Drive, Open Office, Text Edit, and one other that I know the picture for but can’t remember what it’s called.  Oops, that’s six.

I have learned through trial and error that if I use my USB stick to move a file from the school’s Mac Mini to my MacBook Pro, the school’s photocopier, connected by wireless internet, won’t recognize it if at any point it had been in Pages (Mac’s answer to Word).  Why? I don’t know! Third Base!

So here is what happened this morning… Actually, we have to step back two days.  On Tuesday students were given the assignment of going through the notes they had taken in History class to make questions for the game we would be playing in preparation for a test.  (Cornell Notes are handwritten– always.)  I timed the three groups while they were making a decision about how best to gather the materials they needed.  Two of the three groups only had one computer among the members, and so they decided to have the fastest typist type the notes while the others gathered questions.

I love it when they take control like this.  And I love it that they want to use their computers.  It is much, much easier to make one document by cutting and pasting their questions and answers, than to re-type their handwritten questions into my computer.  Still, if nobody had brought their computer that day, and they needed to hand write them, that would be fine, too.

The final group to finish all had their computers.  All three had different types of computers: one Surface, one Macbook, and something I don’t recognize but it falls in the Windows Tablet market.  They all had different writing programs.  They wanted to split the work up and then collate their questions, but they couldn’t do it because their systems didn’t work together easily.  They finally decided to have one student type on his computer.   This discussion took 10 minutes by my clock.  Now, this may not seem like much to you, but any teacher knows that 10 minutes is a lifetime.  The group was significantly behind the others.

The next day, when they sat down to work, they discovered that the computer in question had been left at home.  All of their work had been on it.  The natural consequence was for the students to start over because I needed their work that night so I could put review their questions before I used them as a game.  They chose another member of the group to type on his computer.  At the end of class, I handed each group my USB stick to put their work on.  Two of the three groups did this flawlessly.  The third group, predictably by now, had trouble.  The typist told me that the USB stick didn’t work with his new device.  I was trying to get the class wrapped up and out the door, and so I foolishly believed him when he said he would email it to me.  He didn’t.

When he came in this morning I asked him to bring me his computer.  Fortunately, he had it with him.  I asked him where the USB port was.  And here is one of the biggest problems with technology: education.  A lot of my time in English and History class is spent teaching my students technology.  It amazes me that we assume that students come in knowing what a USB stick, or thumb drive, is.  They don’t know how to add an attachment, double space their work, or add a header to their papers. Some don’t even know if they have an email account.  Sure, some students are so technologically savvy that we worry, but my experience is that students have great knowledge of computer games, but not of how to use the machine for work.

It makes some sense not to have “computers class” like I had when I was their age.  Again, (if you read my last post) it’s about authenticity.  I had a great professor of Library Studies at my college named Evan Farber, and he as adamant about the fact that students learn when they need something.  Still, I sometimes think that taking time to make sure that we all have similar knowledge cuts down on frustration and general faffing about.  We would need curricula and a teacher and more time in the day.

So, I nailed the student to the wall about his knowledge of his computer.  I discovered that he was so embarrassed about not knowing how to use it that he chose to tell me that my USB was the wrong size rather than asking if he had the right port and if it was the right way up.  He also told me that he had emailed me a document, but there was no document in my inbox.  He told me I was wrong.  I looked again at my inbox.  Nope.  Then, I discovered that he did not know how to email.  I also discovered that he had deleted the classwork when he cut and pasted his work into an email document that he could not now find.  He was ready to give up at every turn.

So, I asked him to call up the original document that the group had worked on yesterday.  He showed me a document which had clearly been cut from.  I asked him to use control Z to undo his work.  He told me that he had already hit the “undo” button.  I said, “use control Z.” Amazingly, all the work from yesterday magically appeared on the document.  At this point, the rest of class was busily quizzing each other on the Barbarians connected with Rome, but I was reminding myself to breathe because I understand that infanticide is wrong.

So, I taught the student where his USB port was, I taught him how to put a document on it, and how to eject it. I taught him how to cut and paste without loosing his document.  I taught him to ask for help instead of simply assume that I will buy the fact that a USB stick is the wrong size.  What I taught the rest of the class was that if someone has computer issues, they get to faff about for half an hour while we try to fix it.

I finally got all the documents together and was able to check them.  So, except for the time lost, it isn’t a tragedy.  I might have lost a few years from my life, but that’s what we teachers sacrifice.

You may be wondering if I am trying to make a case for the school requiring everyone to have the same equipment.  Reading this, I would think that.  But that is Pool B into which we will dive later.  Bring your nose plug and goggles.

Week 24- A Superlative Letter to National Geographic (IMO)

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The biggest!  Really?

The most powerful!!  Prove it.

The most important!!!  Please stop it.  Now.  No, I’m not kidding. 

This is the letter I am about to send the National Geographic, The History Channel, PBS, and the BBC. 

Dear National Geographic,

As much as I appreciate your dedication to history and your willingness to create documentaries on issues that may go overlooked by, say, A&E, I grow more and more frustrated by your egregious abuse of superlatives.

My class has benefited from at least two of your documentaries this year, and for that we are very grateful.  However, my students and I were appalled by the sheer number of “best”s, and “biggest”s, and “most influential”s  that we were regaled with.  It is also galling because we are educated.  We know that, say, the port in Carthage and the port in Syracuse, compared with the port at Caesarea, also used tufa rock (which your video doesn’t seem to think we need to know) to make amazing defense works.  Archimedes’ port easily rivals the work of Herod the Great’s.

I ask you, Where is your evidence?  I teach my students to defend their arguments.  I require that they do not take anybody’s word at face value.  I expect them to question authority, mine, yours, especially the text’s.  Is it that you feel that the information isn’t interesting enough?  If it isn’t, maybe you aren’t telling the story correctly.  Because, the story of history is far more interesting than any throbbing soundtrack or abundant list of superlatives can make it.  And if you are going to make comparisons, please don’t assume that I don’t know anything about any other place on the planet.  It’s offensive.  Maybe it was the best thing in Judea.  Maybe it was the best thing on the planet, at that time, that we know of.  But after a series of documentaries all saying that whatever it is they are presenting is the best, it rings hollow; sounds false.  Teeters dangerously close to propaganda.  The bad sort.

Again, I thank you for the work you do in bringing this information to the screen.  But I will ask the same of you that I ask of my students when they present me with research: prove it or don’t say it.

Thank you,

A History Teacher

If anybody wants to help me put together videos that show how big, say, Alexander’s Empire (at its fullest) was to the size of, say, the Roman Empire (at its fullest), please contact me.  Or, if you know of someone already doing this, please let me know.  I want to start the Intelligent Society of People Who Bust Superlatives.  Represent.

Week 14 – Dodge Wii? Dodge What?

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Yoshi

My Senators of Toad have created a new game.  They call it “Dodge Wii”.  Those of you who read the post Senators of Toad will know how I feel about dodge ball as an activity in general.

They will also know that I categorically refuse to allow students to play it.  However, the absolute need to throw something at another student is so strong among my yahoots that we are always looking for a safe way to meet their precipitative desires.

Then last week, one of my students decided we needed a Yoshi to add to our Toads.  Yoshi is another delightful critter from the Nintendo pantheon.  It is a cute, green, little dinosaur/lizard guy who helps Mario beat the bad guy, Bowzer.  It just so happened that my husband also thought I needed one, and he bought me one at his office.  Like the Toads, they are about six inches high and have no hard parts that might put an eye out.bowzer

The kids were delighted to discover that they now had four critters to use as projectiles.  And at just the moment when they were getting tired of Three Step Toad.  Serendipity!  Immediately, all thoughts turned to how they might be allowed throw them at each other.  The students shyly asked if they could use the four critters to play dodge ball.  What could I do?  They’ve been throwing one at each other all this year and last.  I couldn’t say no.

Students immediately knew that the rules had to be different because there would be only four projectiles in play (as opposed to the usual ten balls or so when they play dodge ball).  This is what they came up with:

1) No throwing the critters too hard.  If you can hear the beans in the stuffed animal hit the wall, it’s too hard.

2) No head shots.

3) No tug of war with the critters.  (They rip.)

4) You must be behind the line to throw.

5) If you catch the critter, the thrower is out.

6) You can’t hoard projectiles.  One critter per thrower.

Which led us to an interesting problem.  The object of PE is to run around.  With only four “balls” most of the class would be standing around in “jail” for the whole time.  Yuck.  This led us to rule #6.

6) There is no jail.  If you are hit, you simply proceed to the opposite side’s team and start playing for them.

I thought this was genius.  It means that the students are in motion at all times.  It is chaotic, but it works.  They rarely stop moving.  In fact, last Wednesday, when we first played, the kids were rushing from side to side, and the critters were flying.  When I called time, all the kids sagged and exclaimed about how fast the time went.  I’ve never seen them so tired.  They’ve been playing it with their regular PE teacher since that time, and so the novelty is a little worn off, but even today, with the addition of a rule about not throwing at a student crossing the line, they were hustling.

And the winner?  I still haven’t figured out how to tell who won.  Today, I thought that the last student standing on one side would be the winner, and I called it as such.  But, the students told me that, in fact, the winners were the side with all the people on it.  Which is pretty darned impossible.  It also means that everybody, including the last man standing, wins.  Brilliant! Talk about inclusive.

When I heard this last bit, I almost challenged them on it.  But the god or goddess of teaching smacked me upside the head just in time.  I’m going to ask children who are being kind and community-minded to stop and be competitive?  No.  Either they have already figured out that there is little chance of a win, or they haven’t.  At this point, it seems they are simply enjoying running around and throwing Toads and a Yoshi at each other.  Which is really what it’s all about, isn’t it?  I hope it lasts for a long, long time.

super-mario-64-ds-yoshi

Week 12 – Toga! Toga! Toga!

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As I’ve said before, we like to watch documentaries in my History class.  There are two very unlikely texts that go together so well.  One is a series of bombastic thrill rides from the History Channel, and the other is a few chapters from an old book by an old fart.  I love them both.

First we watch Cities of the Underworld: Rome, the Rise.  The idea is that you can dig down a few feet and see the actual structures of the Roman world.  It is fascinating!  I got to do a very little bit of that on a trip to Jerusalem, and man, it brings the history home.  And, for my students who have read Terry Pratchett, there is the connection with Ankh-Morpork and the underground chases in Men at Arms.

There are a few issues I have with these films.  The music just about knocks you over.  It’s loud, sometimes so much so that my students complain that they can’t hear the historians, and my copies do not have Closed Captioning for some reason.  (Grrr.)  And there is always the perennial problem of superlative abuse.  My students have gotten to the point that they shout out when they hear them.  Also, hosts Erik Geller and Don Wildman in their individual shows both have something of a potty mouth (tsk, tsk, tsk).  Thank goodness for bleeps.

But you get to see the old architecture, the building materials, left over bones, and artifacts.  You get to walk with them where the old Romans were.  Students can see CGI reproductions of the buildings and how they changed over time.  The directors and writers picked well in terms of showing the different elements of Roman architecture as well as finding historians who are very interesting.

Students take Cornell Notes on the information learned and will later study them for the test.

The text I pair with this video is The Greek and Roman World, chapter 7, by W.G. Hardy, published in 1960.*  Woo-hoo, is this man nerdy!  But he wrote great essays.  His word choice is fantastic.  Almost every paragraph has either a hook or a transition, and almost all paragraphs have a clear topic sentence.  In groups of three, students look up any words they don’t know as they read the chapter together, highlighting topic sentences, which they will later transfer into their notes.

Hardy puts the entirety of the Roman world in perspective, and helps students to see the big picture.  He clothes the world for students in a way that helps them to see it in color.  Even more so after they view the videos.

We will then turn back to the videos, this time watching Cities of the Underworld: Hidden Empire.  This installment has more on the major constructions and a real look at the Roman arch.  This one is also with Erik Geller.

Then we turn to chapter 8 of Hardy, “The Romans at Work and Play.”  This essay is probably my favorite.  It takes the students inside the homes and workplaces of the Romans.  It gives rules for behavior and walks you down the street.  A great companion for the videos.

Finally, we will watch Gladiators: Blood Sport.  This one is with Wildman (an alumnus of my alma mater, Earlham College.  Hee!).  He takes you under the Coliseum for a look at the sport from the competitors’ point of view.  It takes a little editing because of some sexual content, but there are so many questions from students about the sport and this video answers a lot of them.

And so we turn back to Hardy and his chapter 9, an essay on the excesses of the Roman world.  After seeing the gladiator video, students are primed to take in this text.

By the time we are done, students have a pretty clear picture of the depth and breadth of the lives lived by the ancients.  Gone are the cardboard cutouts and marble busts of the history books, and in walk the rich, the poor, the women, the children, the gladiators (both men and women) and slaves in the neighborhoods, the necropolises, the palaces, and the communal spaces they inhabited.

I’m so excited that I can hardly wait for them to finish the first chapter!

* Special thanks go to my mentor teacher for History, Jeff Day.  He introduced me to awesome history texts that have helped me up my teaching game!  Thanks, Yoda!