Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Journal #35

Make a personal connection to Book One of The Odyssey. Who is the Athena in your life—a person who inspires you, who gives you motivation to move on? Or, who are the suitors—the people who are dragging you down? Explain in a solid paragraph.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

reading The Odyssey

Introduction to The Odyssey
In the next few weeks, we’ll read sections of The Odyssey, the classic tale named after Odysseus, “The Man of Twists and Turns,” a fighter with a quick mind, sharp instincts, and an island-sized ego.

The story begins 20 years after the end of the Trojan War. Odysseus, one of its greatest heroes, is trapped on an island by the powerful sorceress Circe, unable to return home to Ithaca. Back at home, his palace is overrun by greedy suitors. They seek to marry his presumable widow, the regal and cunning Penelope. Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, who was born just before his father left for war, has grown fed up with the suitors, but isn’t sure what to do, as he’s greatly outnumbered.

The story picks up when Athena, the goddess who looks out for Odysseus, asks Zeus for assistance.

Why read The Odyssey?
The Odyssey is one of those stories that everybody is expected to know a little about—the Cyclops, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, the show-stopping “Slaughter in the Hall”—all are part of the collective imagination, and have influenced countless stories since.

Robert Fagles’ translation bring Odysseus’s story to life in powerful, vivid language. Learning to master its rhythms and style is a reward in itself. The story begs to be acted out—so be ready for some drama!

As the poem states, the Muse must “sing for our time too.” Exhorting us to be clever and brave, cunning and ruthless, loyal and true, The Odyssey resonates through the ages.

Monday, November 28, 2011

agendas, Nov. 28 - Dec. 2

Monday, 11/28
To understand the stages of the hero's journey

1. Who's a hero? Small groups / sharing out
2. Stages in the hero's journey
3. Journal #34: list the five steps
4. Exit Slip

Tuesday, 11/29
* To introduce The Odyssey
* To understand the stages of “The Mundane World” and “The Call to Adventure”

1. Small-group reading (25-30 min)
Out loud, spread throughout the pod, each group will read pp. 77-92, Book 1, “Athena Inspires the Prince.”
2. Small-group question / comment formation (as you read)
3. Whole class discussion / clarification led by the teacher
4. Reflection in Journal #35

Wednesday, 11/30
To understand the "call to adventure" in Book One of The Odyssey
To read for focus and fluency

1. Recap / clarification of Book One
2. Reading time
3. Calculating WPM / filling out reading records

Thursday, 12/1
To read for comprehension
To track our progress in the class
To set goals

1. In small groups: Book 4 of The Odyssey, pp. 135-151
2. In the lab: updating, goal-setting

Friday, 12/2

* To write with detail, for a purpose

1. Journal #36: Check-in
2. "Exit slip" - show journal to / chat with Mr. A.
3. Finish updating spreadsheets / folders

Journal #34

Watch the following video:

Jot down the five basic steps of the hero's journey.

For a more detailed list of steps, which you can incorporate into your basic list of five, view the following video, using examples from The Matrix:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Journal #33

Play Scrabble for at least a half hour. Use ten of the words from the game to write a story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Journal #32

Journal #32

We’ve read and discussed an article that describes the controversies surrounding “real-life superheroes” like Phoenix Jones. Now it’s your turn to write.

You have the rest of the period to choose ONE of the following options:

Write a fictional story about a superhero.
Here are some questions to get you started: Who is your superhero? What power(s) do they have (or tools / weapons, if they’re more of a “real-life superhero”)? What’s their weakness? Who or what is their nemesis? Where are they from?


Write an opinion-based piece about a superhero—real or fictional.
Here are some questions to get you started: Who’s your favorite superhero and why? Why are people so interested in superheroes? What do you think of vigilantes like Phoenix Jones? Would you ever consider taking the law into your own hands? Why or why not?

Whichever one you choose, make it interesting, detailed, and insightful. 300-500 words.

agendas, Nov. 21-23

Monday, 11/21 [Mr. A. out sick]

Today’s goals:
• To introduce the guiding question, What makes a hero?
• To enrich understanding through discussion
• To think and write creatively

Today’s tasks:
1. Actively reading the article, jotting down comments / questions (15 min or so)
2. Dividing into small groups (sub with facilitate)
3. Small group discussions (one person is the recorder; 10 min)
4. Written response: Journal #32 (30 min)

Tuesday, 11/22 [Mr. A. out sick]
Today’s goals:
• To introduce the guiding question, What makes a hero?
• To improve writing based on specific feedback
• To publish our work

Today’s tasks:
1. Sharing your hero story / essay with a partner
2. Getting specific written feedback from the partner (15 min)
3. Revising and publishing your story / essay on the class blog (log into
4. Reading / commenting on others’ finished work

Wednesday, 11/23

To practice working in groups
To build vocabulary
To write creatively

1. Check-in (folders, etc.)
2. Scrabble!
3. Journal #33: Scrabble stories!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Journal #31

In a solid paragraph, using specific details, describe what you took away from today's reading.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

debate self-evaluation

For the 100 points the debate assignment is worth, I will base your grade on your self-evaluation, as compared with my observations of your participation and effort throughout the process and your casework.

Write a self-evaluation of your role in the debate process, on Google Docs, titled "Firstname Lastname Debate Eval." (Don't forget to share it with me, jvahomework AT gmail DOT com)

Copy these guiding questions into your Google Doc. The document, including questions, will be anywhere from 300-400 words total.

Print the document when you're finished, as it will go in your folder when I've assessed it.

You may use these questions to guide your thinking.

Individual Preparation
How well prepared were you? Why?
Did you spend enough time preparing? Why or why not?
How well did the debate result reflect your preparation?

Group Process
How effective was your group? Why?
Did everyone in the group "pull equal weight?" Why or why not?
If we were to do this again, what might you do differently?

Individual Performance
How did you do? Why?
Did you enjoy the debate? Why or why not?
What do you need to work on?

Were you able to judge fairly and impartially? Why or why not?
How well did you follow the debate?
How effective were your notes?

Overall, I earned a ______ out of 100 for my role in the debate project

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Journal #30

After the debate, write about how you did, while the memories are fresh in your mind. (Bullet points are fine.)

Journal #29

Things to remember about the debate:

1. ABC: Always Be Confident. You never know--even if you think you're losing, you might be winning!
2. Speak politely, clearly, and loudly.
3. Remember to end by calling for the vote. "For all these reasons, vote [affirmative / negative]."

1. Judge independently. Do not confer with other judges.
2. You are not a participant in the debate.
3. On your ballot, provide a constructive comment or two about the speakers' delivery.
4. One judge must keep time and give time signals.
5. Take notes on the back of your ballot.
6. On the ballot, in your Reason For Decision (RFD), don't just write "points were stronger" or "arguments were more logical." Which points, and why?

agendas, Nov. 14-18

Monday, 11/14

* prepare for the debate

1. Debate preparation
- Speaking responsibilities
- Judging responsibilities
- Previewing the ballots
2. Journal #29: things to remember
3. Lab Time: printing final drafts of cases
Note: if you wish to print a fresh copy tomorrow or Wednesday, you may--but on your own time!

Tuesday, 11/15
* To display our research, critical thinking, and public speaking skills
* To debate!

1. Debating
2. Judging
Journal #30: How did you do?

Wednesday, 11/16
* To display our research, critical thinking, and public speaking skills
* To debate!

1. Debating
2. Judging
Journal #30: How did you do?

Thursday, 11/17
* To reflect on our learning

1. Debate self-evaluation (printed out and on Google Docs)

Friday, 11/18
* To read for focus, fluency, and enjoyment

1. Reading Time
2. Journal #32: reflect on today's reading

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Journal #27

Watch the first 13 minutes of the sample public forum debate.

By the end of the 1st crossfire, who's winning the debate, and why?

Which seems most important in your choice?

Arguments / Evidence?
Style / Delivery?
Something else?

watch a sample public forum debate!

This debate is on the resolution, "Resolved: That, when a choice is required for public high schools in the United States, government funding should prioritize vocational education over college preparatory education."

In your opinion, who wins?

You can also use this link.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Journal #26

Choose one of the questions from the list of debate FAQs. Put yourself in the mind of a teacher, and answer it!

agendas, Nov. 7-10

Monday, 11/7
To compile our research and create an effective debate case

1. Journal #26: Frequently Asked Questions - answered!
2. Lab Time
3. Printing a copy of your case
4. Folder updates

Don't forget to share your Google Doc with Mr. A (

Tomorrow, Mr. Sparks' class arrives!

Tuesday, 11/8
To receive effective feedback
To improve our cases based on that feedback

1. Quick Check-in
2. Small Groups, working with students from Mr. Sparks' class
3. Reflection / Survey of Feedback

Wednesday, 11/9
To understand the structure of the debate
To see crossfire in action

1. Video / Journal #27
2. Discussion
3. Lab Time: improving cases; getting feedback from Mr. A.

Thursday, 11/10

To learn rebuttal techniques
To see rebuttal in action

1. Video
2. Journal #28: rebuttal techniques
3. Lab Time: improving cases; preparing "blocks"

Debates begin Tuesday, November 15!

debate - frequently asked questions

Thanks for posting questions to the survey. I've answered them here.

Overall Questions

Why do we have to do this? 
Not only does it help us learn all kinds of important skills and techniques, and promote intellectual growth, but a research project is required in the 9th grade year. I choose to employ a debate format because it is usually more interesting than reading random research papers--the "clash" of debate can be much more fun. Your mileage may vary, but I can guarantee that regardless of how you feel about it, you'll learn a lot.

Why couldn't we do pairs instead of threes?
Because the number of students in the class isn't divisible by 4.  Sorry!

When are the note cards and the debate case due?
The notecards are due Thursday the 10th. (Check in with Mrs. Bonds.)

The debates will take place NEXT WEEK.

Why did we have such a short time period to work on this?
To keep things moving, so we wouldn't have to wait forever until actually debating. Longer deadlines typically result in more wasted time--but don't worry, since we'll have part of this week to finish up.

Are we going to have more debates?
That depends on how well this goes, and whether we decide as a group to have more.  

Case Questions

Does the information we have, have to be in essay format when presenting the case? Can we put it in bullet proof form?
You want it to be all the way written out like an essay, so you have prepared the strongest possible words and don't have to "wing it."  Also, so the students from Mr. Sparks' class will be able to provide better feedback.

May we use quotes from our sources within in our cases? 
Absolutely! Sometimes the direct quote is worded the strongest, with emotionally resonant facts.  Other times, a paraphrase is best. It's your choice.

Do we need to put all of our information and research into the case or are we trying to limit the amount of research we put into the case and save some for the actual debate?
You have only 4 minutes to make your original case, so if you have extra material, that's great--you can save it for the later debate. Also, you can save your defensive arguments as "blocks."

How do you build a strong argument for your contentions?
Choose the best available evidence, and explain what it means and why it's important.  Also, get feedback!  Find out how effective your arguments are by running them past someone else. (We'll do that tomorrow for certain.)

How long should the individual contentions be?
Around 150-200 words, depending on how many you have.

How will we know if we are affirmative or negative?
You should already know which side you're on. We'll check in today.

How many times will the first person speak?
Once or twice, depending on the size of the group.

Why do we need notecards? Shouldn't we just need info on our topic and not have to paraphrase?
The paraphrase has two purposes: first, to show your teacher whether you actually understand the evidence (in some cases, people posted evidence that actually contradicted their point!), and second, in some instances it might actually be better to use the paraphrase rather than the direct quote (especially if the quote is long or confusing).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Debate project check-in survey

Thursday, November 3, 2011

sample debate case: replacing the electoral college

Because we believe in the American people, we affirm today’s resolution, “Direct popular vote should replace electoral vote in presidential elections.”

Contention 1- The Electoral College over represents states with small populations.
Because the number of electoral votes of a state is equal to its number of United States congressmen, and all states have two senators regardless of their population, small states have more representation relative to their population than larger states. For instance, in Wyoming, each electoral vote represents 181,000 people, but in California, each electoral vote represents up to 615,000 people--making the vote of a Wyoming resident over three times more important. The value of a vote should be equal for every individual: one person, one vote.

Contention 2- Electoral College doesn’t focus on individual citizens of the country.

Sub Point A- The winner takes all system incorporated with the Electoral College is unfair.
In the electoral college, if a candidate receives 50.1% of the votes in California, then they get all 55 of those electoral votes. However, in that state, only 0.2% more people voted for that candidate, disregarding and discounting the voices and opinions of the 49.9% of the people. In the direct popular vote, those votes would actually mean something.

Sub Point B- Citizens are discouraged to vote because their vote might not count if their state already leans towards one party.
As a democratic society, it is important for the United States to encourage citizens to have a voice in the democratic process so that more people are satisfied with their government. It is a proven fact that when a voter knows his or her vote makes a difference, they are more encouraged to cast a ballot. According to, in 2004, the presidential candidates mostly visited the different battleground states such as Michigan, Ohio and Florida and seven others, but basically neglected the other states. According to Nate Silver of the New York Times, “Relative to their number of electoral votes, turnout is about 25 percent higher in swing states than in Democratic or Republican base states.” This shows that because people know that their vote counts, they will vote. Because their votes matter directly, direct popular vote will lead to greater voter participation, resulting in a more effective government.

Contention 3- Elections determined by electoral vote are put in the hands of electors, who are not required to vote the same way as the majority of citizens in their state.
Electoral vote ultimately places the decision of who is elected president in a handful of electors rather than the country’s citizens. Electors are not required to vote fo
r the candidates they pledged to vote for. According to, there have been over 150 faithless electors in the history of the Electoral College, and “21 states still do not require their members of the Electoral College to vote for their party’s designated candidate” and “the 29 states (including the District of Columbia), that do require faithfulness issue a small variety of rarely enforced punishments for faithless electors, including fines and misdemeanors.” In the 1836 election, Virginia’s 23 electors pledged to vote for Van Buren and his running mate, Richard M. Johnson. However, all 23 of them became faithless electors and did not vote for Johnson. This incident left Johnson one vote short of the 148-vote majority that required for him to get elected. In the end, the Senate had to make the decision of who would become the Vice President. There have been many incidents of faithless electors making an impact on an election and because many states don’t have punishments for this wrongdoing, this practice could continue to break down the legitimacy of the electoral system.

It's time for a change. To give power to the people, vote to replace the electoral college with a direct popular vote. Vote affirmative. Thank you.

the structure of a debate

Pro Case (4 min) -- Speaker 1 from Pro Team
Con Case (4 min) -- Speaker 1 from Con Team
Speaker 1 Crossfire (3 min)

Pro Rebuild / Rebuttal (4 min) -- Speaker 2
Con Rebuild / Rebuttal (4 min) -- Speaker 2
Speaker 2 Crossfire (3 min)

Pro Summary / Rebuild / Rebuttal (2 min) -- Speaker 1 OR 3
Con Summary / Rebuild / Rebuttal (2 min) -- Speaker 1 OR 3

GRAND CROSSFIRE (3 min, all speakers)

Pro Closing (2 min) -- Speaker 2 OR 3
Con Closing (2 min) -- Speaker 2 OR 3

Journal #25

Writing a case
* Time Range: 3-4 minutes (500-700 words)
* Clear organization
* Main points are called contentions
* Evidence / Sources

Responsibilities in the debate
* Presenting the case
* Crossfire
* Rebuttal / Rebuilding
* Taking Notes


Have we made the strongest overall case for our side?
* How many contentions should we have? (3-5 is ideal)
* What are the strongest possible arguments for our side?
* How fast will we have to read the case to fit the time limit?
* How might we best organize our case for maximum impact?
* Have we anticipated the opposition's arguments? Do we have a separate list of "defensive" arguments, or blocks?
* Have we used the strongest possible words, ideas, and examples to convey our arguments?
* Does our case have emotional resonance?

Dividing up roles: How will everyone on the team participate?
* Who reads the case?
* Who is the second / third speaker?
* How do we match skills / experience with our roles?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

debate project overview and task list

Check here for daily updates.

We're working on a Debate / Research Project this month, to focus on argumentation, research, and presentation skills.

A packet full of debate information is available for download as a PDF using this link. Enjoy!

1. Day One - 10/24
Library. Introduction to the research process. Creating Essential Question document. Informed about source requirements.

2. Day Two - 10/25
Library. Topics chosen / recorded. Introduction to "BDW" - books, databases, websites. Yellow BDW sheet begun.

3. Day Three - 10/26
Library. BDW work continued. Yellow sheets due Thursday (tomorrow). Introduction to NoodleTools.

4. Day Four - 10/27
Yellow BDW sheets due. Beginning citations and 6 notecards (from various sources) on NoodleTools.

5. Day Five - 10/28
Continuing citations and 6 notecards (from various sources) on NoodleTools. Evidence assessment survey.

6. Day 6 - 11/1
Continuing citations and 6 notecards (from various sources) on NoodleTools. Assessment criteria discussed.

7. Day 7 - 11/2
Citations / notecards due.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

how the notecards and sources are graded

Notecards are due at the end of class Wednesday, 11/2.

* 6 Notecards @ 1/2 point each ____ / 3 pts
* 6 paraphrases @ 1 pt each ____ / 6 pts
* 6 "my ideas" tied to your essential question @ 1 pt each ____ / 6 pts

* Book, website, periodical, database @2.5 pts each ____ / 10 pts
* Correct formatting, proper capitalization and spelling in citations @ 2.5 pts ____ / 2.5 pts
* One citation annotated @ 2.5 pts ____ / 2.5 pts

Total ____ / 30 pts possible