Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Part I

An Effective Unit: (800 words)

Describe an assignment, unit, or lesson that was particularly effective. Why was it effective?

A unit that always makes me smile is the most serendipitous (and that’s saying something for me!) unit of the year. I awoke the morning after Christmas break and had some vague notion about what we’d do in school that day/week/month, but – per usual – I hadn’t thoroughly planned anything. Then, for a change, I showered. And I started singing Billy Joel’s ode to modern world history, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Granted, this project could’ve (probably should’ve) fallen flat on its ass, but my setup was good. It must’ve been. I mean, it really must’ve been because I was able to successfully teach “Goodnight Saigon” in our final week of the school year (during our war unit), cribbing entirely off student interest from “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” That said, there are definitely elements I’ll change for next year (mostly involving my preparedness to teach the lesson for maximum student benefit rather than for teacher survival).

I probably introduced the unit, thinking it’d be a quick one-off. Just something to occupy a 90-minute block and maybe some time as homework for the kids. Oh boy did that not happen!

In the first five minutes, I split the kids into groups of 4-5 and assigned each group a decade (40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s – something I’ll change for next year is more evenly splitting the work by decade and group, because the song is so light on the 70s and so heavy on the 60s, et cetera). I explained what I expected of them (“Use the internet; find the words to ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ [I didn’t say whether it was a song or a poem or whatnot.] Look up the terms from your decade. All of you are expected to do research. You will be graded for individual as well as group effort.” That sort of bullshit. Again, something I’ll more effectively prepare – say, in rubric form, next year plus, I could always prepare the lyrics for them in advance… naaahhh), then we were off to the library. Going to the library, as it always is, was clearly the worst part of the project. This was not my fault in the least. This was because our librarian is a insert alliterative expletives here. She screams (and I do mean screams) at people – students, teachers, parents – for insignificant minutiae. I hate being around her and in the library; of course, the students feel the same. Which is a shame because teaching kids to enjoy libraries is part of my mission. I am digressing.


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