Foundations of the Constitution

One day in May 1787 James Madison woke up and decided to write the Constitution. Likely story! Madison actually studied many different forms of government before he went to Philadelphia with a plan of government. The lesson below demonstrates some of the ideas that Madison used to create our current form of government. Click on the link below to see the lesson using the Smartboard.


The Thirteen Colonies

As we close the unit on the establishment of 13 English colonies, I begin to think about the various learning strategies we have utilized in the last month. We began by analyzing text by identifying time and sequence markers found in the book. Included in the text analysis was the identification of action phrases and participants. Using the five key academic words of culture, society, hierarchy, economy, and government students pinpointed the application of the words to the building of the colonies. In addition the use of a variety of thinking maps were incorporated into the lessons. The combination of these strategies made the material more accessible for the students.

Looking forward to our unit on the movement to American independence, I will be experimenting with having students post blog questions for each periods blogs as well as introducing students to podcasts. I also hope to utilize live blogging in the form of CoveritLive. I used the application last year with success as students who were relatively quiet in class were able to contribute significantly to class discussions.

Below is an example of words used in our colonization unit from the Wordle application.


Winding Down

What can I say, but another year is coming to an end. This year has been a most enjoyable year despite the all of the negative news surrounding education. I am honored teaching students who for the most part have put forth a total effort to learn about history. The work that has been produced, the creativity, and the willingness to try new things has been refreshing. My hope is that this year’s students will demonstrate the same attitude in the years to come.

I have tried a variety of new learning approaches inspired by innovative teachers from around the world and from colleagues at my site. The use of Google Docs to track runaway slaves was one such project that shows promise for the upcoming years with a little tweaking. The Coveritlive blogging was another leap of faith into the world of Web 2.0, but it worked well and as mentioned in previous entries engaged even the students who normally do not speak up. As one student mentioned “it was nice to see the opinions of other people in the class that don’t usually speak.”

The writing process continues to evolve as the students made considerable progress from the first prompt which was a basic summary prompt to the final writing assignment which incorporated the use of multiple primary sources. I can say without hesitation that most of my students will be able to respond to prompts in their history classes in the upcoming years.

There were some specific memorable moments in our classes that I would like to revive. The reading of the breakup letter to all of the classes was one such moment in which I was able to captivate the students with a pseudo breakup letter that was in actuality the colonies breaking away from Great Britain. The re-creation of a factory with students tying strings together was one moment. Another such moment was Eric from 7th period breaking into a spontaneous rap when District personnel arrived to notify me of the Teacher of the Year Award. Other memories including the podcast raps and videocasts that were created and who could forget Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton Rap.

Within the next week the walls will be empty as well as a part of me when the students are promoted. The pictures and video below are a tribute to a great bunch of students who will sorely missed.

2009-2010 Wow Wall Excellent Student Work

2009-2010 Wow Wall Excellent Student Work

Final Projects

Final Projects

Student Work: The Mexican-American War

Student Work: The Mexican-American War

Civil War Reenactors Visit Mendez

On Thursday the 22nd and Friday the 23rd our school was visited by Civil War reenactors from the Virginia 33rd regiment. This visit facilitated by Corporal Dave Tibbs was extremely informative for the students as they learned about the life of a soldier and also the life of women during the war. Student learned that  although it was our nation’s  deadliest war , there came many contributions. The idea of the modern day sewer system and Red Cross derived from this great conflict.

Students were provided with a demonstration on how long it took to load a musket and how much a typical soldier would carry on their daily trek to battle. They also learned about that the lack of advances in medicine caused thousands of deaths with the crude surgical techniques and lack of sterilization.

On Friday students were provided with a demonstration on dress for women. For both male and female students their was a sense of surprise when they were told that it typically would take a women over an hour to ready themselves with the various garments that were worn by females of the time period. This particular presentation allowed students to see the war from a feminine perspective; the traveling with men while tending to children, the food preparation, and most of all the hardships that women endured on a daily basis.

Corporal Tibbs and his partners Private Sauter and Federal Soldier Sergeant Brown explained to the students the battle formations and how loud and smokey and battlefield would be. The students were also provided with a valuable insight on how many battles were fought with terms of a “Gentleman’s War” much different from the techniques used today. The idea the fathers fought against sons, mothers against sons (over 3000 women perished during the war) cousins verses cousins, was shocking for the students. All in all they gained valuable perspectives from the presentation, something that could not have been replicated in the classroom or from a textbook.

Check out the photo gallery of the presentation below.


Sergeant Brown Federal soldier and Corporal Tibbs Virginia 33rd Regiment

women of the civil war

Civil War Women

Antebellum Unit

As we enter into the Antebellum unit my classes and my colleague Mr. Montero’s classes are embarking on an ambitious project of tracking runaway slaves. We invite other classes from other schools around the nation to the collaboration effort as students complete real life historical work. Our goal is to have the students ask questions much like historians, research and enter data and to draw conclusions about runaway slave advertisements. We will be utilizing Google Docs spreadsheets to enter and disaggregate data. From there we will look for any patterns from the advertisements.  If you are interested in collaboration contact me at

The sites we will be using have posted a variety of runaway slave ads ranging from the late 1700’s to the 1850’s. Below is the list of sites.


The Geography of Slavery

Runaway Slave Ads

The steps for accessing the Geography of Slavery site are as follows: once you have accessed the site you will click on one of the year links found in the site below.

Geography of slavery

Next you will then click on one of the links with the date as seen below.

geoof slavery stp2

Westward We Go

As we begin this new semester and unit one of the key questions I would like each of you to consider is how the westward expansion of the 1800’s has affected you as a person living in California in 2010. Perhaps being of Hispanic, Asian, or even Native American descent where you are now was an effect of what a series of events that began with Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian society. As each event is studied consider the following questions:
1. Which group of people is being directly affected by the expansion?
2. How are these people affected?
3. Which group of people stands to gain from the expansion?
4. How was this event caused by previous events?

So that you know that I’m still working with you I have provided a brief podcast which details my past week. I shall return on 2/8.

Westward Movement

Building a Political Party Platform

The Assignment

Since the late 1790’s political parties have dominated our election process.  The two most popular parties today are the Democrats and the Republicans.  Each party has a platform, or a way of thought about certain issues. Each member of the class will be assigned a political party and with a small group will develop a party platform.

As you work on building your groups political platform you will make daily journal entries.  Your daily journal for this unit should include  a summary for the political issue, the stand of the political party you represent, a quote about the issue (use the quotes below) a slogan,  and a symbol or an image that represents your political parties opinion on the issue. A sample of a journal entry can be seen below.  Once the instructional part of the unit your group will compose a party poster or create a blog that addresses four of the five issues below.

Sample Journal of Party Platform

Sample Journal of Party Platform

Issue #1 The Public Debt

Alexander Hamilton (Federalist)

…To justify and preserve their confidence; to promote the encreasing respectability of the American name; to answer the calls of justice; to restore landed property to its due value; to furnish new resources both to agriculture and commerce; to cement more closely the union of the states; to add to their security against foreign attack; to establish public order on the basis of an upright and liberal policy. These are the great and invaluable ends to be secured, by a proper and adequate provision, at the present period, for the support of public credit.

“A national debt, if it is not excessive, shall be for us a national blessing.”

Thomas Jefferson, Democratic-Republican

yet we are already obliged to strain the impost(taxes) till it produces clamour, and will produce evasion, & war on our own citizens to collect it: and even to resort to an Excise law, of odious character with the people…

But if the debt should once more be swelled to a formidable size, its entire discharge will be despaired of, and we shall be committed to the English career of debt, corruption and rottenness, closing with revolution. The discharge of public debt, therefore, is vital to the destinies of our government.” –Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1809.

Issue #2 National Bank

Alexander Hamilton on the National Bank

…It remains to show, that the incorporation of a bank is within… the provision which authorizes Congress to make all needful rules and regulations concerning the property of the United States.

…The support of a government, the support of troops for the common defense, the payment of the public debt, are the true final causes for raising money…

…The constitutional test of a right application must always be, whether it be for a purpose of general or local nature. If the former, there can be no want of constitutional power. … the bank has a natural relation to the power of collecting taxes; to that of regulating trade; to that of providing for the common defense

In times of war, and in so many other instances, a national bank is essential to the country.

Thomas Jefferson  on the National Bank

The incorporation of a bank, and the powers assumed by this bill, have not, in my opinion, been delegated to the United States, by the Constitution.

…I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “ all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.”

Issue #3 Manufacturing vs Agriculture

Alexander Hamilton on manufacturing and agriculture

Since the revolution, the States, in which manufactures have most increased, have recovered fastest from the injuries of the late War, and abound most in pecuniary resources….

These circumstances are–the great use which can be made of women and children…–the vast extension given by late improvements to the employment of machines, ………. has prodigiously lessened the necessity for manual labor.

There seems to be a moral certainty, that the trade of a country which is both manufacturing and Agricultural will be more lucrative and prosperous, that of a Country, which is, merely Agricultural…. The importation of manufactured supplies seem invariably to drain the merely Agricultural people of their wealth..

Thomas Jefferson on manufacturing and agriculture

“Too little reliance is to be had on a steady and certain course of commerce with the countries of Europe to permit us to depend more on that than we cannot avoid. Our best interest would be to employ our principal labor in agriculture, because to the profits of labor, which is dear, this adds the profits of our lands, which are cheap.”

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds. As long, therefore, as they can find employment in this line, I would not convert them into mariners, artisans, or anything else.”

Issue #4 Foreign Affairs

Hamilton on the French Revolution

The passions of a revolution are apt to hurry even good men into excesses.

John Jay to William North June 25, 1798

Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry’s remaining in France [continuing to negotiate with the French government] is an unfortunate circumstance, it tends to prolong vain hopes–and to cherish old divisions and to create new ones.

James Madison

The conclusion with me, is, that Great Britain, above all other nations, ought to be dreaded and watched, as most likely to gain an undue and pernicious ascendency in our country.

Thomas Jefferson

To these I will add, that I was a sincere well-wisher to the success of the French revolution, and still wish it may end in the establishment of a free & well-ordered republic; but I have not been insensible under the atrocious depredations they have committed on our commerce.

“I hope we may still keep clear of [the broils of Europe],… and that time may be given us to… find some means of shielding ourselves in future from foreign influence, political, commercial, or in whatever other form it may be attempted.

Issue #5 Alien and Sedition Acts


That committee should make a report exhibiting… the reasons which support the constitutionality and expediency of those laws (that is, the Alien and Sedition Acts) (and) the tendency of the doctrines advanced by Virginia and Kentucky to destroy the Constitution of the United States… The government must not merely defend itself but must attack… its enemies.

Alexander Addison

“Liberty without limit…is the worst kind of tyranny”

Thomas Jefferson

They have brought into the lower House a sedition bill, which, among other enormities, undertakes to make printing certain matters criminal, though one of the amendments to the Constitution has so expressly taken religion, printing presses, &c. out of their coercion. Indeed this bill, and the [Col 2] alien bill are both so palpably in the teeth of the Constitution as to show they mean to pay no respect to it.

I consider those laws as merely an experiment on the American mind, to see how far it will bear an avowed violation of the constitution. If this goes down we shall immediately see attempted another act of Congress, declaring that the President shall continue in office during life……….

More of the Constitution

The students did an excellent job of putting their ideas together on a concept map (see below) as they were able to connect the various vocabulary terms with the word constitution. Connections were made with the three branches, federalism, bill of rights, documents and many more. This activity was two-fold. One it demonstrated that the students knew more than what they thought and it enabled them to apply their knowledge of the concepts instead of memorizing the terms.

Students work from a Constitution concept map.

Students work from a Constitution concept map.

Video Conference and Constitution Unit

My Fourth Period class completed a 20 minute video chat with Jesse Gauthier’s  ( 8th grade class in Newport Maine yesterday.  It was a good experience for the students to compare and contrast their experiences with students across the country.  They spoke of climate, clothing, what sports they play and what fast food they like.  We will continue to work out the sessions so that they will be more content based, but for right now getting to know each other is paramount.  I had some tech glitches, what a surprise,  as my computer froze and the video locked up.  I am exploring ideas for a camera that is able to better pan the classroom though.

As for the upcoming weeks, the students will continue the  study the Constitution which consists of looking at the debates of the Constitutional Convention and the basic principles of the Constitution.  The three branches of government will be studied indepth as well as the Bill of Rights.  For eighth graders this is a particular important unit as they must take the district-mandated Constitution test in December. Next week we will look at the separation of powers, the Preamble, and parts of the Constitution.  Finally we will culminate with a intense review of the Bill of Rights and amendments application to the student’s lives.