Week in Class: Unit Two 2014


Clock Number II

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an update. In that I time I’ve started new units (plans here), and I’m finishing up the first group of topics (expressions and equations) in mathematics.

This is one of my favorite units for a number of reasons. The part on human rights is near and dear to my heart. Before I even considered a career in teaching, I was an Amnesty International member. The small group I belonged to in Oakland, included a middle school teacher from Berkeley (Willard), who had students write Urgent Actions on behalf of prisoners of conscience as part of the writing grade (California curriculum is supposed to include human rights). My approach came from a lesson that I heard about here, but I use the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, rather, that UN Declaration of the Human Rights. I’ve taught about the UNDRC before, but combining it with a fiction text, Esperazna Rising, adds a lot of depth and complexity. We can talk about the rights document itself, how they relate to the student reader, and how they relate to the character of Esperanza. Because the story takes place in the 1930s in Mexico and the farms of Central California, they can also compare the historical, racial, and class issues the story brings up. When I first taught this legal document, it was to classes with large numbers of immigrants and refugees. Now that I’m not teaching in that environment, this story provides excellent context and background for students who haven’t been exposed to these experiences.

How is it going? Last year I blogged about the controversy around using the original legalese version, versus the plain language English version. This year I started with the first section of the legal version, and the plain language version, and just had them look at what they recognized between the two. Last year, there was a lot of attention by the students to the idea of whether Esperanza had citizenship. This time students seem more focused on the illness of her mother (Valley Fever), which is not as good for discussing the rights of children (children are less likely than adults to get it — read prior link for more), but it’s interesting, and worth talking about the issues of geographic disparity that have led to this being a problem down to this day (once again, see prior link for more on that). That’s a human rights issue.

This is the time of year when we get to studying ancient Egypt in social studies. Normally this proves engaging for both me and the students, but I’ve missed a lot of the lessons this time around, and I just don’t feel the kids have connected to the subject like they have in the past. In addition, I usually have them starting on research projects, but I’ve gotten behind on that. On the other hand, I have started them doing our weekly writing/comprehension assessments on our class wiki, and they’ve taken pretty well to that. We’ll start the research projects when we return from the week off for Thanksgiving.

Also at this time we learn about heat energy in science. Once again, I’d describe this as a “meh” unit. I have one regret with my science instruction this year and that is we haven’t done enough hands on and lab activities. The regular trips out to our native plant habitat filled things on our first unit on ecosystems, but we haven’t been out as much in November which is a chopped up month. Labs are always a lot of work to set up, etc. but I really, really need to make this a priority.

In general, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I can pretty clearly see what I’ll need to do to get there. Looking forward to that when I’m back after Thanksgiving!

Image Credit: Clock Number II by Leo Reynolds, on Flickr

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