Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fun With The Bubonic Plague

The 7th graders and I are studying bacteria. My theme during this unit is the fact that most bacteria are beneficial and even vital to life on earth, but some are very, very bad. The black death is always popular with them because:
a) it's scary
b) it's icky
c) there's garbage,poop, rats, and mass destruction
Last Friday, as they pulled out their pencils and got ready for Mr. FC to tell them about the Plague, I acted like I needed something from the big walk in closet in the back of the room.
"Just a second, I'll be right back"
As soon as the door to the closet closed, I slipped on a monks robe (okay, really Jr.'s Jedi robe, but it looks monky). Then I banged around a bit, flashed the lights, and emerged from the closet as SALVATORE DOMENICI, ITALIAN MONK FROM 1347.
I came into the classroom, head down, cowl hiding my face, arms crossed. The happy chatter in the class began to change as I walked slowly between the desks with out uttering a word.
Eventually, I made it to the front of the room and in my best overdone, stern Italian accent, I raised my head and said,
"My name is Salvatore Domenici."
(a giggle from the audience)
I pointed at the giggler, grim reaper style,
"What I have to tell you is not funny"
(giggling stopped)
"My name is Salvatore, I survived the black death and I have come through time to tell you of it's horrors"
For the next 30 minutes, I had them in the palm of my hands as we covered the social, cultural, and biological reasons for the plague devastation. They'll never sing Ring Around The Rosie again and not think of the plague.
Later in the period, Salvatore went back into the closet time machine and a shaken, bedazzled Mr. FC stumbled back into the classroom.
He had been sent to fourteenth century Italy during Salvatore's visit.
It wasn't pretty.
The kids thanked me for the lesson as they dashed off to lunch.
Imagine that.
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Deb said...

Cladoceran. And, nice cloak.

debbie said...

Considering the cold snap that we're having right now, wearing your blanket to work sounds like a good idea. Looks warm.

Floridacracker said...

You two early birds got here before the post!

The MacBean Gene said...

Your kids are so lucky to have such an imaginative teacher. And you are so lucky to have a wayback machine in your closet. I guess you bought it used from Mr. Peabody.

pissed off patricia said...

I would say we could use about a zillion more teachers just like you. What a great way to make your point to the kids and I know they will never forget what you told them because of how you told them.

Good for you and here's a cyber pat on the back just for you. :)

Laura said...

Well that must have been a lot of fun for the kids! The best lessons are almost always hands-on and interactive.

You know, you should start a whole other career on the side, showing teachers how to use their imagination in the classroom. Seriously!

And I loved the pict of the developer on the screen. Or was that a Citizen's CEO? I can't tell the difference without my glasses. ;)

Mark said...

Aw man, can I come to your class?

Deb said...

Okay, now that I know the rest of the story, I guess it's more of a mite or flea or something. But I had the correct phylum.

Good teachin' FC!

Paintsmh said...

Would you please come be my science teacher? Please? It would be nice to have someone who actually was interesting enough to make class fun.

roger said...

i think you looked like the grim reaper. a chilling appearance in any case. tres bien salvatore.

robin andrea said...

Excellent lesson. What a way to grab their attention and hold it. The plague is such an interesting phenomenon. Did you talk about blood types? I wish I could have been there for that talk. You rock.

threecollie said...

Wonderful lesson and congratulations to you for it.
Your students must just love your class. I would have.
And I agree that they will remember it forever. We had a biology teacher who passed around beakers of stuff to test which kids could smell ketones and which couldn't. We also had to see if we could roll our tongues. As you can see I never forgot that lesson on genetics and I am older even than you. Older than dirt in fact.

Thunder Dave said...

Personally: If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times, you're the teacher that kids actually look forward to going to class. And my usual comment: Fermentation!

Professionally: We deal with microbes on a daily basis, unfrtunately it's mainly to irraticate them!

SophieMae said...

Oh, man! You're a genius! So much of what kids 'learn' in school goes in one ear and out the other. If it even makes it in the one. A+ for innovative instructional ingenuity. And for remembering what it's like to be 13 (or thereabouts).

Breezey375 said...

you don't happen to want to teach college level bio in upstate new york do you? 'cause I'd love to have a prof that interesting...

Cathy S. said...

Have you ever thought about switching careers? I have a job opening in one of my history museums for an educator. Long commute though.

vicki said...

If I had had you for science instead of Mr. Thurston I might have gotten interested in it before I turned 40.

The plague is right up there with Big Weather on the list of fascinating subjects. Did I mention that there are a lot of fleas down here in Florida?

Floridacracker said...

I LOVE the Bullwinkle show! That's comedy!

Thanks! Just another "government teacher" at a government school.

I own the domain, It's parked now, but that may be my summer project.
Beats remodeling all summer :)

I don't know... are you 12?
If not, you could always become a teacher!

Yes, a flea. One slide in a PowerPoint about the plague. Don't ask me how Salvatore learned PowerPoint...

Um ... it's kind of cold up there. I'm a fairly subtropical guy.
Thanks for the compliment!

graci. it was fun. this is linnaeus's 300th anniversary. i was thinking ...

Getting their attention is the first step. I think every good teacher I ever had was part actor/actress.

We just finished a genetics section and we divided the class into the tongue rollers and the nontongue rollers. It was a great example of dominance.

That's job security. They can adapt as fast as you can invent.

I'm lucky, I get reminded daily of what it's like to be 12-13. Keeps you young ... at heart.

Welcome to Pure Florida!
It's ironic to me that most college teachers just "stand and deliver" lectures when they are supposedly the upper echelon of teaching. It's sad.
I'm pretty well rooted down here, so I have to pass on the NY gig.
Thanks for the vote of confidence!

Cathy S,
Yeah, my commute is just about as long as I can stand now. I appreciate the thought tho :)

I had boring science teachers too until college. Well, except for 8th grade, but Mrs. Chase was just beautiful.

I had a literature teacher, Mrs. Simpson at St. Augustine High School that did similar stunts and we loved her class. When she taught us Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil" she came to school wearing a black veil over her face and taught in silence the entire day.
Talk about peaking our interest.
I think even my buddy Kevin paid attention that day :)

ImagineMel said...

You had a literature teacher who actually got to teach LITERATURE?? Wow. So, anyway...I'd love to see the pics and if I could borrow the wonder ladder this weekend, that'd be super too! I told them to take pics for me and I got some very interesting shots of people I don't know!

Hurricane Teen said...

Wow, I will say it again...I wish I was in your class. I would be the kid that was always the last out the door to luch and still wanted to talk :-D

Floridacracker said...

It was all PreFCAT when we actually got to teach enriching things.
Ladder is yours anytime. It is heavy.

That kid is why we teach.

benning said...

I've seen that slide before!

Very nice! I like the way you grabbed them and held them. They learned, FC, and that's not something every teacher accomplishes. Well done, Teach!

Alan said...

A teach with imagination and the willingness to use it is priceless.

My seventh grade English teacher looked like the young Lincoln and every year on Lincoln's birthday he'd come dressed as he appeared in the old tin types and read the Gettysburg Address. EVERYONE paid attention that day.

The rest of the year I'd hide a real book inside of my grammar textbook. He caught me at it one day and snatched my book out of the textbook. The expression on his face when he saw it was Huckleberry Finn was priceless.

Science beats grammar any day!


Floridacracker said...

Thanks Benning!

This fits with my theory of good teacher = part actor.
I love your Hucklebery story.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but what of the FCAT?

You have rebelliously gone beyond the call and are no longer simply teaching the test. This sort of resistance to enforced mediocrity cannot be supported by the Administration.

Report to your supervisor immediately, sir.

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

Just as I suspected...
You are one of the very interesting teachers and your 7th graders are very lucky to have you as their teacher. You make school a blast.

Floridacracker said...


We have some fun once in a while :)