Today was a good day – one of the times I really felt I was making some headway with my classes.
It began with the first physics lab of the year – determining the density of a brass cylinder using linear measurement and water displacement methods. Good old Archimedes! Everything went extremely well with two groups completing the lab and all the supplemental material withing the class period. They even came to within .5 percent error on their math tables! Now, some students did get carried away the water-filled graduated cylinders, and one learned an early lesson on weak vacuum seals and centrifugal force. Good thing 50 mL of water is easy to clean, right?
It continued in my World History section, where we were completing our section on Egypt. I wanted to jump up and down when students asked questions like
You mean Egypt was attacked by Assyria and Persia? You mean like Sennacherib and Cyrus and Xerxes? I remember those guys!
You said that Hatshepsut’s successor tried to remove her from living memory. Was that because he wanted to destroy her in the afterlife, too?
Wait. If the Greeks conquered Egypt, and Cleopatra is decidedly non-Egyptian, does that mean Cleopatra was Greek?
This class is going to love the Egypt section of Engineering an Empire, an excellent look at ancient civilizations narrated by Peter Weller – yes, that Peter Weller – and produced by the History Channel back when the History Channel was actually about history and not, well, whatever it is now.
Now, two good classes is one day is rare, but three is unheard of. At least, it is in my experience. Nevertheless, it happened. I taught a double American Government section wherein we discussed the Mayflower Compact and the Great Awakening. I was beaten to the punch on one of my class discussion questions when one of my students asked “Wait a minute. If the Great Awakening had such a positive impact in America, then how did people reconcile slavery?” I kid you not, I just about fainted. This is the class that getting any class-related interaction is like convincing me that e-books are a good idea. But that question set things in motion. We were able to discuss concepts of equality and the roots of slavery. We compared the slavery of the ancient and medieval world with American slavery. We talked about how things weren’t necessarily as bad as Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin but neither were they afforded basic human dignity. I didn’t teach much of what I had planned to, but this was enrichment time!
As class was winding down, I asked them what caused the change. Turns out most of them were actually paying attention to the supplemental material I’d been providing. Some of them even read it! One of them put it this way: “I figured if you were going to take the time to find extra stuff to help us understand, I’d at least make the effort to participate.”
No lie, that’s gonna keep me going for a while, even if they don’t make it through Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England or Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution.