Category Archives: Teaching 2016_2017

Defining democracy in nine minutes

My colleagues were brilliant. Here’s mine:

A system where all participants are committed to goals developed in common, where all participants are committed to civility and respect in encouraging and honoring all voices, where consensus is a goal but not a necessity, where authority emerges out of the work the group has done together, and where the work of the community is a constant, evolving process.

Technology always lets you down

Some truisms about any school project that involves technology other than paper and pencil:

  •  It will take a week to ten days longer then you think it will.
  • No software is intuitive.
  • If the last time you used the software was more than a month ago, you are starting from scratch.
  • Any hardware, from a camera to a computer, will need an update the moment you start working on it.
  • Tool location and condition precisely mirror the culture of the school at that moment, which means that some days you’ll find a well-organized shop with everything at your fingertips and some days you won’t be able to find a thing and what you do find is missing a critical part.    Or broken.
  • The folks most likely to help you with technology were available weeks ago and had much more free time then.    The time crunch you’re feeling everybody is feeling.   No expert wants to help someone whose project is due tomorrow and who has done none of the necessary legwork.
  • There is no source of power for any computer or device that cannot fail to function.  At the very least, it will be inconvenient, i.e., you’ve found the right power cable (shocking) but you need it in a space that requires an extension cord.


Alive with possibilities

This is a tough time of the year.  Things are almost done.   Then standardized testing took much of our momentum away.

What’s hard, though, is that you can feel how alive with possibilities and potential each student is.   With deadlines approaching, the spark of genius is visible all over the school.

That’s awesome.
And disheartening.

Awesome because the students are seizing hold of their own projects.

Disheartening because you can feel how awesome those projects would be if they had grabbed hold much earlier.

Philadelphia Young Playwright’s deadline is tomorrow.  We’ll have plays that could be truly amazing that will have their last scenes written late tonight.   The judges will start and get that sensation of hey I’m reading something awesome and then it will all fall apart because the play had not been workshopped nearly enough.   Similar things are happening with the individual projects as components of their projects that cannot be done overnight (building and maintaining a partnership with a community group) remain undone.

Two questions

Our evil genius program evaluator had the students complete a survey; responses from two questions below. (N=17, which is all but two of my advisees).

I thought the result from Column I was particularly interesting given that my advisory all passed Gateway and half of every day is taken up with a project they choose and that they design.   I would hope that the result from the first column would look more like the second column, i.e., I feel like I’m taking their input all the time but maybe I’m not.

Am I giving them enough space to design and work on their own? Is my understanding of the structure necessary to complete a project being mistaken for actually overwhelming what they want to do? Is it a question of students working hard and me not appreciating it?  Or is it a question of students misidentifying activity as actual work?  Are my expectations too high?

Given that feeling, I figured I had to build a circle activity to hear what the students thought.  Two writing questions:

How much freedom should an eleventh grader have in terms of their education?
Should there be any limits or restrictions?



Playwriting: Dialogue Drill

We’re in day four of converting our feature articles to short plays. Today I wanted them to start thinking about dialogue and how it fits the conflict of their play. I had them restate the conflict (I’ve done some version of this every day this week) and then we passed each other’s papers to write out lines that someone who was responding in a happy, sad, angry, or scared way might say.



We then had students work in groups of two and use these sheets to stage a scene. Each time they used a line from the page they had to make a specific gesture (waving the paper) to show that it was a line from the paper.

Playwriting: Turn up the heat

Turning up the heat in two parts (one take a movie, identify the central conflict, then explain the ways the director turned up the heat on the conflict, then identify the climax, and the resolution. We then took this frame and applied it to our plays.

Two examples:


(There are three plays on what happens to kids and communities when a school closes).


This is going to be a great play! Two characters played by the same actor, each dealing with standardized tests but in different settings, one urban, one suburban.

Wednesday Circle

Still working our way through the Power of Habit and I’m tying various circle activities to this text. Today I brought back the of visualization, asking them to draw/write their project as an immense success.

With the drawing concluded, we passed the paper to the next person who wrote out potential routines someone could build to reach this level of success.

Then we passed and asked some ways that the person will feel good when they finish the project.

Finally, we passed and asked them to list two things to think about to help them keep going.