Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Weight and Lightness of 7/8.3 Students

Milan Kundera used the title of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" to articulate a condition where individuals are poised between equally painful modes of being. The notion of weight is where we are bound to our reality which crushes under its grind and its sense of gravity. Our daily existence is bound by weight as we as humans struggle to make sense of it and provide a moment of respite from its grinding and intense nature. Its opposite is a feeling of lightness, where weight disappears. Yet, at the same time, this particular condition is not rooted in reality and exists outside of it. Simply put, the world of lightness is not real and in order for us to find enjoyment, we are bound by the constraints of reality. Hence, Kundera, and other thinkers like him, poise human beings in the world trapped between the crushing weight of being with the liberating "unreality" of lightness. Somewhere in this dynamic, this dialectic far more powerful than Marx's, is where human beings reside.
Indeed, I could see some of our students poised in the same predicament. For seventh graders, the promises of the Constitution possess a sense of lightness. Its hopes for political liberation out of bondage through its articulated vision of self- determination, political and personal autonomy, and the notions of power coming from the top down provide a sense of hope and eternal optimism. Within its confines of First Amendment expression, individual responsibilities of citizenship, and the Baron's vision of separated government, lightness is offered in exchange of the weight of King George and Shays' Rebellion. Students might not see it this way, as they could very well feel crushed under the weight of studying this experience in lightness. On a nightly basis, students should be feeling a bit of gravity relating to studying the principles and goals of the document, as well as ensuring that they are clear on the system of checks and balances, as well as the different functions of the various branches of government. 2 Friday check ins have come and gone and students should be feeling some level of pressure in terms of coming to obtain the work assigned and completing it. Finally, the severe weight of an exam on the Constitution is forthcoming, as students seek to try, but to no avail, to achieve lightness against a crushingly intense assessment scheduled for the week of 2.22.
Our 8th graders are experiencing the same reality, but are doing so in an opposite manner. As they commence the study of World War I, they enter the domain of weight, crushing and brutalizing as it can be. 8th grade students are beginning to understand how the weight of nationalism, imperialism, industry, and competing notions of the good helped to create a setting where individuals were pinned underneath the weight of history and all that went with it. The battle between Eros and Thanatos played itself out in a war where the death toll went into the millions, little remain unresolved after its conclusion, and the seeds of a more menacing future appeared on the horizon "slouching towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born." Within such a weight driven conception, students will have to find their own voice of lightness in identifying with the voices of dissent such as Millay, Keller, and dos Passos. Perhaps, our own prospective scholars can find an air of lightness in the writings of Debs and Cummings, seeking to articulate a space where human freedom and all that it encompasses could present itself. They begin this journey on Monday, all the while understanding that the mantle of historical scholarship and personal voice that the great American thinkers like Zinn and Sallinger developed must now be carried on with their departures this week.
We are rapidly approaching the point in the year in both curriculum where character will be forged, identities created, and the notion of the Academic self will be revealed. As our students wrestle with the demons and angels of weight and lightness, we all will await to see which side will be victorious and to what extent new voices will be heard.
All best and happy hunting.
Mr. Kannan

Monday, January 25, 2010

Technology Tasks for 8th Grade: 1/27 and 1/28

Attention all 8th graders! Your Digital Portfolios will be checked on February 25! This gives you about a month to finalize them, so let's get to it! You know what will be examined for your portfolio, so please get moving on completing them!

*If you are continuing to work on your blogs, please make sure that you are linking your posts to Social Studies Content/ Ideas/ Themes. Don't hesitate to incorporate your voice into this dialogue. This is what will make your blogs work.
* Make sure your blog has the look and feel of a blog with gadgets, personal touches. Here's an idea for today: Compose a blog entry and then wordle it. Take a snapshot of it and use that as a graphic on your blog entry! Here is a link on how to make a snapshot on a Mac!

*If you are continuing to work on your glogs, please make sure your glog has the look and feel of a glog. Have it connect to the content and your ideas on it.
* One idea for today: Type a small paragraph on Microsoft Word about your glog, what it features, why it is important. Wordle that paragraph, and take a snapshot of it and use it as a graphic for your glog! Here is a link on how to make a snapshot on a Mac!

*This week's posts are all a reflection of our Institute Day from Monday. The topics raised tie into student achievement and what you, as students, perceive about your life in the classroom. I have incorporated a comic strip approach to each of the walls for this week, given how many of you are working on comic strips for your Chapter 20 Assessments, due this Friday! Here are the two walls for this week:

The Eternal Battle Between Students and Teachers

Reflections on Standardized Testing

As always, some new options are opened regarding the Chapter 20 Assessment and the original threads from last week are up with new comments made.

Please remember that all of you will be submitting a Chapter 20 Assessment on Friday. On to World War I after that!

All best.
Mr. Kannan

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Constitutions and World Wars

Right now, both sets of students on 7.8/3 are immersed in fairly compelling courses of study. The 7th graders are battling through the Constitution. Memorization of goals, principles, Preamble, and responsibilities of different branches of government will be defining their state of being. Students should be devoting nightly amounts of study to the Constitution in preparation for their Final Exam which is going to be in about a month. Keeping pace with the demands of the Curriculum as well as investigating the various extra credit options would be quite useful for all seventh grade students. The 8th graders are finalizing their assessments this week on chapter 20, the United States' foreign policy before World War I. This will set up their study of the First World War from a thematic point of view. Students will be asked to devote much in terms of reading, thought, and challenging work. This will culminate in a two day exam on World War I. In addition to all of this, eighth grade students should be making strides in their digital portfolios, which will be due at the end of the trimester.
With conferences soon approaching, please make sure you have returned your conference preference back to your child's conferencing teacher. If I can be of any help or further assistance in this process or in helping your student achieve their maximum in potential while they wage battle with some of the most difficult of content in American History, please do not hesitate to contact me at school or at my home.
Happy hunting and all best.
Mr. Kannan

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Technology Tasks for 8th Grade: 1/20 and 1/21

You have some technology tasks in front of you for today, 1/20 and 1/21. Your goals would be to make progress on one or more of the tasks.


* Post comments on any of the discussion threads offered in the 8th grade Moodle Site.
* Post comments on any of the Current Events discussion threads offered in the Current Events Moodle Site. Consider making at least three posts on each site. A moodle conversation or dialogue with someone else could make for very interesting reading.

* Social Studies Blog- For those who are continuing their blog from Progressivism, some general topics for blogging are offered:
1) Discuss how Progressivists would view specific individuals from chapter 20.
2) Explain how Progressivists might see the actions of the United States Government in foreign expansion.
3) What seems to define the American sense of character and identity in Chapter 20?
4) How is this sense of character and identity different than what is featured in Chapter 20?
5) How does Chapter 20 seems to add on to the idea of political power being a pendulum swinging from one side to another?
6) Howard Zinn is quite fond of saying that "War is necessary for the health of the state." How might this be true in chapter 20?
7) Where have been some moments where Roosevelt's idea of "speak soft and carry a big stick" was a good plan to follow? Where might it be not such a hot idea?

For those of you starting a blog, your first entry should be focused on the differences between blogging and writing through traditional pen and paper. Your next couple of entries could be on identifications from chapter 20 and then you can address some of the above questions.
For all bloggers, do not forget images that can help to illuminate the meaning of your blogs as well as the design elements that help to enhance "the look and feel" of a blog.


Examine some of the glogs I identified in the Chapter 19 Assessment. Some topics upon which to "glog":
* American Foreign Policy as outlined in Chapter 20
* Images of Imperialism
* Teddy Roosevelt's idea of "speak softly and carry a big stick" towards foreign policy.
* Create a glog on "the faces of war" in which you discuss the wars America has been from the Revolution to the conflicts identified in Chapter 20.


As I mentioned yesterday, has become a new and interesting item for me. I have started some "walls" where more could be added, so feel free to click on the links below and post away!
Themes of Chapter 20
Chapter 20 Assessments
Technology in the Classroom

Happy Technology Hunting!
Mr. Kannan

P.S. Please don't forget to check your grade online! Go to the District Website in order to log in and check your academic standing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Source and Its Implications

One of the distinct advantages in teaching both seventh and eighth grades is that I am able to examine the arc of American History. From its beginnings with the seventh graders to its development with the eighth graders, I find myself bringing one group forward and another group to acknowledge its roots. I think that this makes for a very fascinating dynamic for both them and me. The seventh graders begin their journey to "the source" with their study of the Constitution. All students received a very length packet which will help to guide them throughout their study. This will be the last unit before the Final Exam in February, and my hope is for students to do the best that they can in order to ensure that nightly and incremental study is devoted to this difficult topic. Please encourage your student to commence in the first "Friday Extra Credit Pick Up" which will be this Friday for the first five minutes of fourth period.
For the eighth graders, many of them deserve a special commendation for their diligent work on their CPU Assessment of chapter 19. There are some excellent examples of glogs, and blogs, as well as powerpoint presentations and Wordles which help to identify student work. Some very strong work samples were created throughout this unit and this should be commended for many of them. Next week's blog will have examples of student work featured. At the same time, we now focus our attention on Imperialism in American History prior to World War I. For this unit, students will be able to conduct a very direct manner of analysis. However, some interesting secondary source reading of History will be available with thinkers such as Zinn, Salman Rushdie, and James Loewen. This might allow students greater familiarity with scholars, the very individuals to whom our students should intellectually aspire.
Naturally, students should be focused on their work. However, it would be naive for me to not mention the recent calamity in Haiti. Julian will be doing their part to assist those in need. As these opportunities present themselves, please encourage your student to do what they can to help others in this immense time of need. The themes of Progressivism and civic virtue that guided America can also help others right here and right now.
Best wishes to you all as we honor the legacy of Dr. King and the beliefs that helped make this country one of the most fascinating in terms of study.
Mr. Kannan

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tales from the Bottom: A New Approach to History

The narrative of American History is a complex one. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. Although I have spent years immersed in its study, I still find myself reflecting on it and engaged in a consistently agonizing battle between what American History is, what it should be, how it should be told, and how it is told. In terms of where I am now, I would say that my emphasis is attempting to articulate a more complete vision of it that emphasizes the story told from the top down holds equal value, if not a bit less, than the one narrated from the bottom up. I think that one of the major challenges in American History, and in teaching it, is this idea that the approach from "top down" outranks all else. The notion of American exceptionalism becomes as valid as British exceptionalism, or Greek exceptionalism, or Indian exceptionalism. That is to say that it holds its own with others, but the notion of "top down" exceptionalism is a moot one. I think that our students in the upcoming weeks are going to have to wrestle with this same collision between these two paradigms of American History.
The seventh graders have started this process. In analyzing the Constitutional Convention, we have begun the discussion of how slavery was addressed, how representation was proposed, and how warring sides of Federalists and Anti- Federalists stood in opposition to one another and then in arms with one another. Students have had to make critical decisions such as what they personally agree with and what they personally oppose. In this light, we begin to see the seeds planted of top down versus bottom up. Such a start will set us up quite nicely for the study of the Constitution which officially starts this Friday.
The eighth graders have been active agents in this process for some time now. The battles of Howard Zinn and the textbook have been duplicated in the study of Progressivism. Students will be working on identifications at home and completing their Chapter 19 Assessments in class. Both will require students to critically analyze ideas from the chapter and configure their findings in multiple and varied forms. If students require more time with the computers, I will be in the First Floor Computer Lab this week during lunch. Engage your eighth grader in a discussion of how they feel power is constructed- from top down through government and legislation or bottom up through social mobilization and protest. That'll be interesting.
As we approach the half way point of the year, please do not hesitate me through email or at my home if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do to make your emerging scholar move multiple steps closer to the pantheon of scholarship and academic glory.
All best.
Mr. Kannan