Romeo & Juliet in Five Minutes
By scaffolding a robust set of encode-decode experiences for students as they distilled the text of Shakespeare into constituent plot elements, students process of recreating the play in a brief film helped them achieve extraordinary skill mastery on the Drama VDOE standards for Language Arts.
Romeo & Julie in 5 Minutes (YouTube)
Action Research and Mastery Objectives
Action research I conducted during 2010 revealed that only about 25% of students consider printed objectives on the board at the start of each class to be beneficial to learning. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a role to play in the learning environment, but it has become an obsession for many supervising administrators, distracting from more important priorities. I collaborated with my colleague Jessica Sine to develop a low-overhead, high-impact, student-accessible set of Mastery Objective resources for Biology.
Driving Simulator for All Sophomores
When Prince William County eliminated the road & range program of the Driver Education program, my Health & Physical Education colleague Margaret Power approached me about the possibility of simulating the experience. Her commitment to the process and my background in simulation in the classroom led to a $100 total bottom line for building two driving simulators, creating an excellent control/experiment model for putting students through both impaired and unimpaired experiences, and generated excellent data showing that students truly understood, experientially, the hazards associated with drinking and distracted driving.
Government Wargame and Simcity 4
My Social Studies colleague Lauren Miles approached me looking for a more innovative and engaging way to instruct the standards on the Executive branch. She worked diligently with her content expertise to help me develop a roleplaying simulation in which students played the roles of the Cabinet amidst an escalating international crisis, a thriller we called “Battlefield: Arctic Circle.”
The following year, after a very successful and highly energetic experience, we tried a new approach, this time expanding the unit to include the Legislative branch and used SimCity 4 as the simulator engine, forcing students to grapple with the endless natural conflict between the desire to build and do with the need to pay for it all with taxes.
History Podcast: “Changing America”
Students in this cotaught class, instructed with my colleagues Ryan Ferrera and Joy Hill, divided into groups and carefully researched, authored, scripted, created, and edited a thirty-episode podcast series called “Changing America,” which documented six aspects of the United States changing over time around the turn of the last century.
Introductory Video (YouTube)
From Stars and Stripes Forever to What’d I Say? to musical theatre… what makes music “American?” Critical listening is a difficult and essential skill to aesthetic education, and using that skill, students had to carefully select three and only three descriptors for each piece we listened to. We collected them together, and then used Wordle to develop a visual representation of the American Identity through a national heritage of music.
Pythagoras: Religion, Symbology, and Music Theory
Pythagoran music theory was founded on basic ratios creating basic intervals. This fundamental study was irrevocably linked to and interwoven with religion and the symbols of the Pythagoran schools. Dawn Moulen and I have worked together for years to teach this annual seminar studying world religions and their symbols in parallel to the fundamentals of the natural world and music, culminating in every student learning to play The Epitaph of Seikilos, the oldest complete composition known to man. It is always a remarkable and emotional experience for some of the school’s brighest students.
Gustav Holst’s legendary movement from The Planets was a particularly rewarding challenge for the students of Southern Cayuga High School’s band. However, rather than studying the work in a traditional fashion, we held band “in the round,” placing students in nontraditional seatings. Because Mars is effectively a representation of the God of War, we were able to play with the ideas of sound as weapons and shields, forcing sections to listen to the ensemble from different angles and configurations, rapidly fostering their critical listening and active balancing skills. The resulting homogenization of focus yielded truly exceptional improvements in musical performance and technical accuracy.
Pronounced “four minutes and thirty three seconds,” to say that the legendary John Cage piece 4’33″ is rarely studied at the high school level is a gross understatement. The work, which consists of “silence” (that is to say, there are no notes), was derided at its premiere but has since become one of the most important and innovative works in music history. We studied the work not for its history, but for its role in helping students understand intention, purpose, and contrast in sound. Whereas many of my colleagues feared the piece would be too esoteric for teenagers to take seriously. the band rose to the occasion and invested themselves wholeheartedly in the study of the work and an appropriate, professional performance approach.