Substantive Education

February 26, 2010

Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson

Filed under: American Government,Friday classes — kbagdanov @ 4:19 pm
Tags: ,

The following links are for my goverment students.  We will be having an impeachment trial re-enactment.   Each of you need to read the main article here, it is not short so give yourself time.  If you look on the sidebar of the site you will see that you can read the opinions of several of the senators and why they voted the way they did.  There are also political cartoons which give a unique assessment of the events so be sure to check them out.

I will be posting more information about the issues that you need to have a handle on.


February 25, 2010

Study list for the Middle Ages

Filed under: Friday classes — kbagdanov @ 5:35 pm

For my students.  Tomorrow we will be doing an assessment of how much you have been taking in recently.  Below are the topics that you will be expected to know something about.  You’ll have the topic, you will write what you remember about it.  (Yes Zach, you must write it out.)  I’m including some links to stories we have read in class and some post on the website.  Reminder, if you are still in elementary school basic definitions and understanding is great.  Jr. High…you should have some more details.  High School…besides a basic understanding you should be able to state why these things are significant historically, if you can show how they affected history that would be good. If you have been listening in class and reading your book this will be a snap.  If not…..

This website will have brief bios of some of the people to refresh your memory.  Just click on the name you want on the bottom of the page.


Attila the Hun


Coat of Arms

Cathedrals – include construction, their importance, what makes something a cathedral.  Include the ideas of sacred relics and pilgrims.

Castles – under this category include description of seige warfare, how castles were designed and defended, weapons of the era.

Constantinople and the Hagai Sophia  Include the some of the history of the city, it’s importance in the development of the Eastern church, what became of it.

Monks, monastaries, illuminated manuscripts and the role they played in preserving knowledge.

Explain the Feudal system, the role of knights, and the Code of Chivalry

The Crusades

Islam, the five pillars, Saldin

Mongols – Ghengis Khan

The Diaspora – The clever Jew

William the Conqueror

Alfred the Great

King John and the Magna Carta

February 10, 2010

Writing an Explication

Teaching students to write is to teach many subjects at once.  Writing an essay involves more than knowing how to spell and construct sentences.  Students have to develop logic and thinking skills so that they can make reasoned arguments.  They need to learn to do research and assimilate knowledge so that they have something meaningful to communicate.  For each student these blending of skills will result in a unique writing style and each student will struggle with different aspects of writing.

One method to help students work on all of these skills at once is to ask them to write an explication.  Due to the nature of an explication, students are asked to closely examine the writing of someone else, to pay attention to literary elements, images, and themes so that they can clarify them in a concise, clear manner.  In doing this they are not only learning about the passage of literature they are explicating, but they are also learning, by carefully observing writing, to be better writers themselves.  Generally explications are relatively short, so along with understanding a passage, students must also develop a sharp focus and be concise and clear.  These are skills that will carry over into other areas of writing.

I’ve asked my students to write a one page explication this week about any passage of literature they are currently reading.  I know that the idea is still fuzzy to many of them, and to many of their parents as well, so I hope that the following will help to clarify what is expected, along with the benefits of doing this type of essay.

An explication is one of the most important papers that students will be assigned in college literary classes. In short, an explication is to make the implicit…explicit.  In an explication the student slowly reveals the meaning of a poem, text, or passage by providing literary analysis.  Examining the literary elements used by an author, we can make the purpose and meaning of a story or poem clear.  A well done explication will help the reader gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the passage.

The first step is to choose a passage of literature, short story, or poem, (often these choices will be made for the student by the teacher) and to read it carefully.  Generally a passage will need to be read several times, along with taking notes.

Next the student should make note of the various literary devices used.  Note down the figurative language.  Does the author use similes or metaphors?  Are there any recurring words that suggest a theme?  What is the tone of the piece, the overall mood?  Who is speaking, whose point of view is prominent?   Do the authors words conjure up images in your mind that shed light on the passage.  What descriptive words are used?  How do they contribute to the overall message the author is conveying?  Consider the verbs carefully.  Does the authors word choice affect how you feel about the characters in the story?  Are the characters believable?

Now students may need to do a little research.  Is there background material that would be helpful to know?  Is the piece written in a different era with different vocabulary?  What is the historical context, if relevant?  Would understanding the authors background give clues as to the meaning?

Another line of thought and approach if a student is explicating a short passage or idea within a larger work, is to demonstrate how the crafting of the overall plot is illuminated and moved along by the selected passage.  How does this passage shed light on a conflict, a character, or a theme in the book?  Does it foreshadow or provide clarity about a characters motivation or actions?

An explication of a poem will probably involve moving line by line, because by it’s very nature, a poem is condensed speech and each word is important.  Breaking down a short passage within a larger work will require the student to ask different questions, showing how the selected passage is related to the whole.  As students are moving toward the actual writing process of their explication they should have a sharp focus on what they are trying to express.  Typically, students will not try to analyze the whole of Hamlet, instead they will pick a theme, an image, or a key passage to explicate that will provide the reader with valuable insights.

After all this initial work is done the student is ready to begin writing.  In an organized fashion, students should explain all that they have discovered so that the reader will have the necessary information to fully appreciate and understand the piece.  It may help to point out to students that often an explication is exactly what a good literature teacher has done for them.  Have they had someone explain a passage of Shakespeare to them providing vocabulary help, pointing out the use of images etc.  That is really all an explication is.

These types of writing exercises help students to hone a variety of skills necessary, not just in college literature courses, but in life.  Students must pay thoughtful attention to what they are reading, note details and connections, and present their findings in a logical, concise manner.   While students of a wide range of ages will find this type of writing challenging. it is also a great way to prep Juniors and Seniors in high school for  further studies.

February 9, 2010

Additional Middle Ages Readings

Filed under: Uncategorized — kbagdanov @ 5:22 am

In class we have covered some of the key characters in the Middle ages using Famous Men of the Middle Ages by John Henry Haaren.  This is augmenting the reading students are doing at home in their books.  I have found out that Haaren’s book is now public domain, and so I’m going to provide students with links so that you can review some of the material that we covered in class.  Just a reminder – There is additional information in the article on Alfred the Great, so be sure to read that one through on the blog.

Henry the Fowler

Canute The Great

El Cid

Edward the Confessor

Next we will be covering William the Conqueror…but I will be writing up additional information on William and on the Battle of Hastings.  I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Alfred The Great 871-901 A.D.

The following is information that my students who are studying the Middle Ages need for review.  I’ve put it here instead of on our homework page in hopes that it will be interesting to others as well.  I will also be posting information this week about William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings, Henry the Fowler, and Canute.  Hope you enjoy the stroll back in time.

During the Middle Ages the English Coast was constantly being invaded and plundered by the Vikings and the Danes.  For a while, large portions of England were ruled by Danish Kings.  The Saxons were able to keep some of England for themselves due to the courage of the great Saxon King, Alfred.  Alfred was the fourth son of King Ethelwulf.  All of his older brothers names begin with Ethel…which means ‘noble birth’.  Being the fourth son it seemed unlikely that Alfred would inherit the throne and so his name does not contain the common prefix of ‘ethel’.

As a boy Alfred’s parents taught him and his brothers to read.  There were not many books at this time, partially due to the difficulty and expense of paying skilled scribes to copy books by hand onto parchment, but also  due to the frequent Viking raids that England endured.  The Vikings would frequently burn villages, churches, and monasteries destroying many of the books that were in England.  During this uncertain time ‘book learning’ gave way to the more practical skills associated with war.  Rarely did a stretch of time go by without an invasion.

Yet, Alfred’s mother sought to teach her sons.  The story is told that Alfred’s mother showed Alfred and his brothers a beautifully illustrated volume.  She told the boys that at the end of one week she would award the book to the boy who could read it the best.  Up to this point Alfred had struggled with reading, but upon seeing the book he applied himself to his studies.  His brothers, thinking he didn’t stand a chance, spent their days hunting, riding, and taunting Alfred.  At the end of the week it was Alfred who proved to be the best reader and won the book. A love of learning and emphasis on the importance of education will later become a hallmark of Alfred’s reign.

Alfred’s early life also included trips to Rome where he met the Pope and studied.  It was a long difficult journey.  Some accounts report that Alfred’s father had made a commitment to make the pilgrimage, but was not able to and sent Alfred in his stead.  At that time Alfred was anointed by the Pope, in later years biographers would claim this was an anointing to be King, but as he was just a young boy with many older brothers this is unlikely.

In various fights Alfred’s brothers were killed, and in 871, when Alfred was 22 years old, the Danes again invaded and Alfred’s brother, King Ethelred was killed.  Alfred was now king.  The Saxons continued to fight, but the Danes had taken the northern and eastern parts of England and were continuing their pirating of the English coast.  Due to this, and the constant state of alarm that his people were living with Alfred decided to meet the enemy before they could land.  He began to build and equip a navy.  In 875 he gained the first naval victory by the English.  (Is it just me, or is it odd that a nation on a small  island didn’t have a navy???)

This tree fungi is named 'Alfred's cakes" after this story.

The victory was not sufficient to hold off the Danes however and eventually they poured into Saxon lands and Alfred was forced to flee.  At this point a story is repeated about Alfred that demonstrates both his humility and his desperate situation.  He was forced to wander the countryside, finding work where he could.  He didn’t reveal that he was the king.  One account says that he was very hungry and entered the house of a farmer and his wife.  She was baking some cakes and told him to watch them and not let them burn while she went outside to care for the animals.  When she returned the cakes were burning.  Alfred had been lost in thought trying to think how he could save England and hadn’t noticed them.  The woman yelled at him, “You lazy, good for nothing.  You would have eaten the cakes but you couldn’t help make them.  Get out.”  He never told her who he was, and he left…still hungry.

As time passed some of Alfred’s friends discovered where he was and they began to join him.  They began to organize and build a fort.  One day he was out wandering the countryside singing and Guthrum, the commander of the Danes heard him.  He sent for the minstrel, not knowing his true identity and asked him to sing for him.  Alfred did, and when he left that day he had some payment for his songs, along with information he could use to attack.

A week later Alfred attacked the Danish forces and defeated them.  Alfred took Guthrum as his prisoner, and then took up the harp and played for him.  Guthrum was amazed that the wandering minstrel was the King.  Alfred then offered to let Guthrum and his men live if they would convert to Christianity, be baptized and be allies.  Guthrum agreed.

England was still split into a Danish kingdom and a Saxon kingdom, but years of peace and prosperity came after Alfred’s victory.  With some relief from invaders Alfred looked to building up his kingdom so that it would be safe from attacks.  He immediately began building and fortifying a system of forts throughout his kingdom that were roughly one days ride apart.  In this way, if any part of the kingdom were attacked reinforcements could arrive swiftly.  He also rebuilt the Roman roads and constructed other roads that increased travel and commerce.  In a new move, Alfred decided to have a standing, mobile army.  At that time soldiers were only called up for service when they were needed, in times of peace they saw to their own lands and wealth.  Having a standing army meant that Alfred was always ready to repel an invasion.

Alfred also created a Royal navy.  The ships that he built were larger than those used by the Vikings and were modeled after the warships of Rome.  The ships were made to be tied to the boat being attacked so that they could board the vessel and fight.  Unfortunately, this created some problems, most battles were fought in rivers and estuaries and the large ships were to easily stuck in mud when the tide went out.

There also appears to have been an extensive beacon system that was instituted so that messages could be communicated rapidly from one fort to another.  I’m picturing something along the lines of the beacons used in the Lord of the Rings…but I don’t really know if it was like that.  Regardless, with the improved roads and regularly spaced forts communication was greatly increased, giving the Saxon’s a greater measure of security.

The King’s thought and planning paid off when the Vikings tried to attack.  The Vikings depended on surprise and mobility to come in quickly and gain the upper hand.  With all of Alfred’s changes this was no longer possible, it was to easy for the Saxons to respond to threats swiftly, even on the sea before the Vikings hit land.

Alfred also reformed the justice system.  He is sometimes credited with creating many new laws.  It would be more accurate to say that he collected all of the laws into a book and saw that they were enforced.  He insisted that all the judges in his realm be literate so that they could study and possess wisdom.  This was not an easy feat to accomplish as education had suffer-

Copy of Alfred's translation of Pastoral Care.

ed greatly during the years of invasion by the Danes and Vikings.  To be sure his judges were fair and doing their jobs Alfred would  frequently review their decisions.

The first fifth of the book of laws that was complied was an introduction written by Alfred.  In it he makes the case for the value of having Christian law and quotes Exodus and the book of Acts.  He traces the history of God’s law given to Moses through history to the development of the laws that the Saxons would have.  He divided the book into 120 chapters to reinforce this connection to God’s laws.  In Medieval exegesis numbers were symbolically important.  120 was the number for ‘law’ because the great ‘law giver’ Moses was 120 when he died.

Following the reasoning presented in Alfred’s introduction he also emphasized  that the king of a nation had been placed there by God and his subjects were doing their Christian duty by being loyal subjects.  This was not a case of using religion to manipulate his subjects.  The idea that God had entrusted him with the spiritual as well as physical well-being of his subjects was an intrinsic part of his worldview.  He felt that if the Christian faith fell into ruin in his kingdom, either because he was indifferent or because there were too few clergy who were educated, he would be held responsible by God.  He had examples of Kings in the Old Testament who did not protect their people, or their people’s spiritual health, and God judged them.

This led to another set of reforms…educational reforms.  Albert knew that without educated judges, priests, and other leaders his country would suffer.  He was concerned that the monasteries were empty and the clergy too ignorant to understand the Latin words they spoke in their liturgies.  He established court schools where his children, the sons of nobles, and those common children who showed an aptitude could receive an education.  Alfred made a list of books that ‘all men should know’ and he had all of the manuscripts translated into their language.  He brought in scholars from other parts of the world to teach in his school.  He believed that without Christian wisdom there could be no prosperity or success, and that wisdom would be gained through education.

“Therefore he seems to me a very foolish man, and truly wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.” (Alfred the Great)

He translated Pope Gregor’s work, Pastoral Care, and provided a copy to each of his Bishops for their study.  He also created beautiful pointers that

Alfred's jewel

were used to follow the line that was being read on the parchment.  One of these has been found and is referred to as Alfred’s jewel, as there is an inscription on it that says it was made by order of Alfred.  Alfred also worked on a book of his own when he had free time…which couldn’t have been often.

Alfred’s military, judicial, and educational reforms were all intertwined.  Restoring religion and learning was as instrumental in the defense of Saxony as building forts.  In Alfred’s preface to the English translation of Gregory’s Pastoral Care he comments that if kings fail to obey their divine duty to promote learning they can expect earthly punishments to befall them, and their people.  He assured his readers that wisdom was the surest path to power.  “Study Wisdom, then, and when you have learned it, condemn it not, for I tell you that by its means you may without fail attain to power, yes, even though not desiring it.”  (Alfred the Great)

After his death Alfred was made a saint by both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church.  In an aside that I find very important…his Feast Day is Oct. 26th.  (My birthday).  He is now known to the English as Alfred the Great, and during difficult times people remembered his reign as one of peace ruled by a wise and just king.

February 8, 2010

Writing Exercise Number 5

Filed under: Homeschooling,writing — kbagdanov @ 5:22 am
Tags: ,

Here is a fun writing exercise that I did with some of my writing students last week.  This exercise can be adapted for elementary through high school students.   I brought a bag full of a variety of knick-knacks to class.  Collect a mismatched group of things you have lying around the house.   My bag included: an old TV remote, the jaw of a shark, a key, a guitar pic, a stuffed animal, a tiera, a bottle of nail polish, a paint brush…you get the idea.    Now, I had a class full of kids so we drew numbers to decide who got what to avoid squabbles.  If you are doing this with just a few children you could let them choose.

Once the students were staring at their new treasure I told them they were going to write a one page story from the perspective of their item.  This can be a difficult concept, especially for younger students so take some time to explain.  Being able to tell a story from a different perspective is a useful tool for  children to develop.  Beyond the fact that it’s fun to pretend to be a quarter traveling around experiencing the world, writing from another perspective encourages students to think outside of themselves.  This is a non-threatening assignment that they can have fun with…but it is also a lesson in  viewing events and problems from another’s eyes…even if the other eyes are a TV remote.

My high school kids were coming off a longer, more intense assignment so I gave them a break and we did this the same week as the younger students.  For your more advanced students this would be a great warm up to having them try their hand at a more serious topic.  If you are studying WWII maybe you could have them tell about the war as if they were a German soldier, or a Jewish child.  Perhaps writing a diary entry of a mother trying to help her child deal with peer pressure, or a disabled student starting at a new school.  There are so many ways to incorporate this idea into your school day, that will not only improve writing skills, but expand your students understanding and compassion for people with different life experiences.

From this exercise I got a couple great stories.  The student who had the TV remote told the sad tale of being poked all day long, lost in couch cushions, yelled out and banged for not working properly and then (sigh) being replaced by a younger, newer model.  Oh, the unfairness of it all.   The Guitar Pick had the fabulous story to tell of being used by a famous Rock star, going to concerts, flying across strings to produce outstanding guitar solos…and then…being tossed into the crowd to become the souvenir of a some sweaty fisted teenager with dreams of being the next music sensation.   Our paintbrush had a celebrated life in the studio of Picasso, and so it went.  Each everyday item had stories to tell and once the kids got started the ideas started flowing.

One aside to this story…sometimes when we are asking our students to work we want them to be quiet and ‘concentrate’.  While I understand that that will be necessary I tend to allow some chatter as students are beginning these types of assignments.  They need to brainstorm, toss out a few ideas, hear a friends flippant comment back that sparks another idea.  All of this chatter is not meaningless, it’s part of the process.  I find if I let it go for 5-10 minutes it dies away as students begin to get into their stories, then things quiet down.  You’ll have to decide in your own situation how much of the ‘chatter’ is helpful and how much is a ploy to avoid writing.

February 5, 2010

Book Fair

Grace Prep will be hosting a Book Faire on March 26th.

Details are still being nailed down, but I wanted to give parents a heads up.  We will be doing some projects for the Faire during Friday classes.  Students will be writing up some reviews, making posters about favorite authors, and taking surveys of friends and family on their reading habits.

In two of our Friday classes we are focusing on writing skills.  We all know that one of the best ways to become a good writer is to….READ!!!  So, for the next two months we will be focusing on developing a love of reading amongst our students.  Students will be encouraged to read a wide range of materials, including but not limited to: biographies, autobiographies, collections of short stories, poetry,  non-fiction works, how-to books, newspapers, magazines, and of course, novels.  I’ll be asking students to keep a reading log and their homework assignments for writing will involve interacting with what they have been reading.

I’ll continue to post details, and our progress right here.  To kick things off I’ll be posting several student written book reviews over the next two weeks.  Two are already in and just need a little proofreading and then I’ll put them up.  In the mean time…get reading.

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