Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Centurion Recruits For the Legion

What can I say?  I love Latin and all things ancient Roman, so what could be more fun than to dress up as a centurion and recruit for one of Caesar's legions?

In 2011 I was fortunate to receive the Lilly Endowment's Teacher Creativity Fellowship, which allowed me to research and purchase authentic reproduction Roman armor.  You can read more about that on my Roman Personas website, but the primary result was bringing to life Gaius Crastinus, first-rank centurion of Legion X, which fought under Julius Caesar.  Although he died at the battle of Pharsalus in 49 B.C., Crastinus has been recruiting at middle schools and high school throughout the Midwest for the past few years, and recently he spoke to a group of sixth graders at Scottsburg Middle School.

I met sixth grade social studies teacher Ken Bracey when I visited SMS in several months ago.  He had some ancient artifacts in his room that caught my eye, and I mentioned my work as a re-enactor. When I received an email invitation from him to speak to 200 sixth grade students, I passed the word on to Crastinus, who made immediate plans for the Roman army to visit Scott County, Indiana.

Caesar himself would have been proud that day.  The sixth graders of SMS were perhaps the most attentive audience I have ever seen.  Despite sitting on the floor for a 40-minute presentation, their attention was riveted on what was happening on stage.


After learning about the training regimen of the Roman army, the rewards and the pay, and how to utilize the weapons that conquered the known world, it was time for some practice.  Crastinus asked the students questions, and there was a flurry of hands to answer each one.  (One a side note, I must confess that without my glasses, I do not see much at all.  Calling on students in a setting like this mostly involves pointing in the general direction of motion and calling out, "Yes!  You there!")

Eight students were selected in all, and when they were on stage, Crastinus presented them with a spear, sword, helmet, or shield.  That's pilum, gladius, galea, or scutum for you Latin-speakers!  He then put them through the paces of forming a battle line and following basic directions.

When it all was over, Ken and his colleague Martha Clapp were brave enough to take a picture with Centurion Crastinus, who was a bit puzzled over what was happening.  Someone stood in front of them holding what looked like a wax tablet. In fact the device was even called a tablet, yet the person merely tapped it with her finger rather than using a bone stylus to scratch on its surface.

Ken later shared with me the single best comment I have ever received after a reenactment.  One of his students came up to him and asked, "Is he really a real soldier?"  I am glad that for one young man I seemed so, and it was truly a thrill for me to be among such excited and eager young learners.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Swimming In the Deep End

The deep end of the pool has many advantages.  You can usually dive in without breaking your neck.  You can float more easily.  You can do twists and turns and more easily let your imagination take you into the realms of Atlantis or whatever other fantasy you wish to play out.

It is the end of the semester for my A.P. Latin students, and while I am sure the activity we have pursued for the past three days has been useful in preparing for their final, it has, more importantly, given them a chance to swim in the deep end.  We have been exploring various translations of Vergil's epic poem, the Aeneid.  They range from the 17th century version of Dryden to the 2009 rendering by Sarah Ruden, the first complete translation made by a woman.  Some translations are prose, others are poetry.

On the first day of this exercise, the class picked a passage they had read from Book I, another from Book II, and a third from Book IV.  They chose translations from one of our shelves, or in the case of one young lady, on her Nook, and their task was to analyze each of the three passages for grammatical changes.  Was a word plural in the original, but singular in the translation?  They then shared their findings, and we discussed why a translator may have made those changes.

The second day saw them doing the same thing, but with the focus on content.  Had the translator added, subtracted, or changed anything of significance apart from the grammar?  This led to a discussion of what changes were legitimate and what effect they had on understanding the Aeneid.

Today was our final round of this work.  The students worked in small groups, and each group chose its own passage, one we had read in Latin but that had not been discussed the other two days.  The students then read the translations of their passages and shared the translations with each other so that each member of each group could read all the translations within the group.  Their task this time was more personal.  They simply had to pick the translation they liked best.

As their time of reading and reflection drew to a close, I put three questions on the board.  "Why do you prefer one translation and not another?"  "What criteria are you using to choose?"  "What are you looking for?"

I did not give these questions until the end because I wanted them to be free to engage with the texts however they chose and then to reflect on the process.  Not surprisingly, their answers were intriguing.

We began with the last question, and most said they were looking for a translation that was readable and understandable, one without archaic English.  As Matthias put it in his own inimitable way, "I want a median between the vulgate and what is dripping with exaggeration."  Another student said, "Yeah, what he said, only in normal language."

When we moved to discussing how they made their choice of favorite once they had read several different translations, the emphasis still seemed to be on readability, but Ayrrana said something different.  She said that she focused on word choice and whether or not a translator used a word that was too big or too small for the passage.  If the translator used "run" where "dashed" would have seemed better to her, she rejected the translation as being too small.

I will keep a secret the translations the students preferred and those they did not, although I will say that one made it on both lists!  What was important was how these young scholars grappled with the subtleties and art of professional translations.  They had a sufficient grasp of the original to be able to offer meaningful critiques.  This exploration opened them up to a wider range of work and also allowed them to put themselves into it, especially on the last day.

One student reads two handed!

Question:  What does swimming in the deep end look like in your subject?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blackhawks Soaring

My visits to Indiana schools continued on Friday, December 6, with a stop at Sheridan Elementary School.  With me were Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections at Indiana University School of Education, and Jeremy Moore, my good friend, North Central High School colleague, and thinking partner in all things educational. Our plan was to visit the second grade class of Nikki Davis, and we did, but we experienced so much more.

With me, L to R: Supt. Dr. Dave Mundy, Andy Bosk, Jeremy Moore, Principal Dean Welbaum, Nikki Davis

We were greeted by Dr. Dave Mundy, Sheridan Superintendent, who happened to be in the building; Mr. Dean Welbaum, SES principal; and Ms. Davis.  Naturally, we wanted a picture, and there was no one better to take it than one of our tour guides, 4th grader Brent and 5th grader Hannah.

With our tour guides Brent and Hannah

We were not expecting such hospitality!  These two extraordinary young people took us on a tour of their school, pointing out special areas and evidence of all the life and creativity that take place within the home of the Blackhawks.

We also had the opportunity to see the breadth of this great school district as French students from the high school led some of the students in an exploration of what Christmas means in France.

When we finally made it to Ms. Davis's class, we were in for the highlight of the day.  Her students were among the most enthusiastic learners I have ever seen, eager both to answer her questions and to involve us in their learning.

2nd graders show us their geoboards.

"Call me!  I know the answer!"

I am sometimes asked what I would teach if I could teach something other than Latin.  Usually that is a difficult question, for there is not much I enjoy more than the language and culture of the ancient Romans.  Yet if you had asked me that question on Friday, I think I would said I would like to teach at an elementary school.  The life, the enthusiasm, the curiosity, the desire to learn...this is the true heart of education.

One young man asked me to listen to him read one of his favorite books.  It was about wolves.

Students explain to me what is about to happen in their reading time.
For these and other pictures from our trips around central Indiana, please visit http://stevenrperkins.weebly.com/pictures.html.  

Rockin' Advanced Science

I continued my visits of Hoosier schools on Friday, December 6, by stopping in on Eric Rauch's A.P. Biology class at Westfield High School.  I was joined by Director of Career Connections at the Indiana University School of Education, Andy Bosk, and by my good friend, colleague, and thinking partner in all things educational, Jeremy Moore of North Central High School.  Where do I begin?

Mr. Rauch leads the class in a discussion before they start their lab.
Mr. Rauch started the class with a high-energy discussion to precede lab work, and at once it was clear we were in no ordinary class.  The students asked deep, meaningful questions, and within a few more minutes it became clear why.  They were embarking on lab work of their own design.  Their questions were inspired by things they truly wanted to know.

 And what did Mr. Rauch do during all this?  In addition to sharing enthusiastically the activities of his students (he was more a proud parent than a detached instructor), he made himself available to his students as a resource.

He did not need to hover over these students, micromanaging their every move.  He had already instructed them in what they needed, created an atmosphere of self-motivated learning, and was then able to observe and participate as the students needed.

The Westfield mascot is the shamrock, or the Rocks, as they like to be called.  It was clear to all of us that these students are already rockin' the world of science.  I can't wait to see what they will do next!

With me, L to R:  Jeremy Moore, Eric Rauch, Andy Bosk
For these and other pictures from our visits around central Indiana, please visit http://stevenrperkins.weebly.com/pictures.html.

A Noble Endeavor

On Friday, December 5, I visited three more Hoosier schools and was glad to be joined by Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections for Indiana University School of Education.  Also joining me was my good friend, colleague, and thinking partner on all things educational, Jeremy Moore of North Central High School.

Our first stop was Noblesville High School to see the U.S. History class of Eric Gundersen.  A senior named Lauren, who is the daughter of friends of ours, had recommended I visit one of his classes.  I was eager to see the teacher who had inspired this young lady to pursue a political science major with a possible career in government.

A student in Mr. Gundersen's class shows us his presentation.
We arrived on the day when students in several U.S. History classes were presenting a project they had worked on throughout the semester.  Their task was to create a virtual museum on their school-issued iPads.  Exhibits in these museums included text, pictures, and animation.  In some of the rooms, such as Mr. Gundersen's and Ms. Leslie Ringle's, the students presented their work in a gallery walk that not only allowed the students in a given class to see the work of their peers, but also provided an opportunity for the students of the other history classes to visit as well.

Student in Ms. Ringle's class uses Aurasma to bring a presentation to life
Andy Bosk joins in the gallery walk

At the end of the block-schedule period, Mr. Gundersen's class spent some time debriefing and discussing the project.  The students offered suggestions for next year, since this was the first time these teachers had run this particular project.

Debriefing with Mr. Gundersen
This project brought together so many great aspects of education.  Students worked in groups with few guidelines. They were free to explore aspects of American history that were of interest to them and they had the opportunity to present their findings in a tech-savvy way.  Incorporating the gallery walk enabled everyone both to serve as curator and visitor in these virtual museums.  I can see why my young friend said I should visit this Mr. Gundersen's class.  Thanks, Lauren!

Next to me, L to R:  Eric Gundersen, Andy Bosk, Jeremy Moore

For more pictures from our visit, see http://stevenrperkins.weebly.com/pictures.html.