Sunday, December 7, 2008

...for your entertainment... Check this out!

Here is a video of a precision Swiss drum team. There's music, but there's also math, athleticism, discipline, a color guard...and even some juggling!
...and Hollywood, using college drummers, does a good job too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving: My favorite holiday!

I'm off to spend time with my family. Here we are last summer. ...we're getting old! Ha!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Slavery Today?!!!

Weekends, usually Sunday mornings, are a time for me to get into my recliner, sit back with my laptop and watch a few hours of TV. My program of choice is C-Span's "Book TV." Every weekend, for 48 hours, C-Span presents non-fiction books by their authors. I watch the program and then "google" the topic to find out more about it. I have added many books to my library, and I have gained much knowledge as a result of this program. This Sunday, an organization known as Free the Slaves was featured. At a time when we are studying the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement, you may find this interesting. I did.
...the "Story of Stuff" helps one understand why this happens...
...and here is a short eye-opener on the "institutionalized racism" that exists in America today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A message from Mr. Filzen

I am extremely impressed with the level of learning that is taking place in all of our classes this year, but I would especially like to commend the 8th graders at this point in time for demonstrating incredible academic maturity, thoughtfulness, and critical thinking. You are encouraging me as a teacher, and I am enjoying your company each day. The unit we begin studying this next week may "blow you away!..." Hold on!!!
I would also like to thank my students, past and present, who have been visiting our blog and leaving comments.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Our 8th Grade Students Share their Views on the Election of 2008.

On Election Day (11/04/08), Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America. Click here for the national results, including those from New York State, and click here for the results from Tompkins County. Groton, which was the only town in Tompkins County where John McCain received the most votes, voted for McCain by a narrow margin (3 votes-McCain 1,192/Obama 1,189).

My 8th graders (33 students) also voted last Tuesday in a mock election which followed 7 days of research and debate. I think you will find our results interesting, and the comments from our students profound.

Obama-13 votes
Nadar-10 votes
McCain-8 votes
McKinney-1 vote
Barr-1 vote
Baldwin-0 votes

Here are some comments from our future voters...
"...but after reading what the candidates had to say, I changed my mind. I found it very surprising that some adults thought that McCain and Obama were the only two running." S.P.

"Many things meant a lot to me, but one thing was religion and how it effects almost all decisions the candidates make." H.G.

"I learned that the two major parties aren't always your best choice." E.H.

"I think that its great that we have an African-American President. I think that because of that people will have a different outlook on life..." S.C.

"One thing that meant the most to me researching these candidates was how they, and I felt about the war. It is a very important issue to me and I really wanted a candidate that agreed with me." K.H.

"It makes me mad that the main candidates, that are the only ones who got to be on the debates, aren't supporting gay rights." J.C.

"The most important thing I learned was to look at what everyone else had to say and to not just focus on my own opinion. I learned this in this lesson because we had to research different candidates." S.H.

"The one specific lesson I learned is that our country as a whole has come a long way from slavery and discriminating against blacks." B.L.

"...I changed my mind. ... _______ believed in more stuff that I do so I became a _________ supporter." KB

"I felt that finding out that there were more than two candidates meant the most to me." L.C.

"I think its a shame that third party candidates are always ignored in the media. I'm glad that I know about them now, because I believe that they deserve the same amount of coverage." A.C.

"...that Obama wants prayers in public schools. We don't need one. That's what churches are for." M.S.

"We need a system where everyone's vote means something, rather than there being an electoral college. It's that simple! It shouldn't take too much thought. There's all these people encouraging others to vote while a lot of their votes won't count anyway." J.T.

"...I never really knew that there were more than two people running for President. It was surprising to me to find out that only the Democrat and Republican were shown on TV..." A.C.

"One thing that means a lot is that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party really agree on a lot of subjects. I always heard that those two parties are so different, but really they are not." D.B.

" meant a lot to me to be able to learn what the issue was, what different people said about it, and how I thought about the issue afterwards." A.M

"Why can't they limit the amount of time that each candidate gets? To me it's not fair that Obama and McCain get more advertisements." A.J.

I think it is wonderful that Barack Obama won because now black kids are inspired. Yes they can. This is obviously history..." B.B.

"The most important perspective changing thing I learned is that many people are religious." N.C.

"How are the smaller parties supposed to get their ideas out when they get no publicity?" Anonymous

"Glassbooth changed my way of thinking a lot. Even though _______ is a good candidate I now think _______ is a better one." S.Y.

"Before I got on this site I would easily have voted for _________, but now after I looked over several issues and candidates positions, such as abortion, immigration, gun control, education, and science, I can easily say that I would vote for ______ (a different candidate)." J.O.

"I think some of the not so popular candidates had better opinions and outlooks on things rather than the popular." S.T.

"One thing from this lesson that meant the most to me was that a lot of people opposed gay marriage. The reason this is the thing from the lesson that meant the most to me is because I have a lot of gay people around me and they are no different than you and me." N.C.

"A lot of things have changed the way I think about the candidates. Especially the issue of abortion and birth control. The reason why I changed my thinking is because the people that don't agree with abortion are mostly males. ...They are not the ones that have to carry a baby for nine months. They are not the ones who have to go through the very painful birthing process." J.D.

"When I seen John McCain's losing speech it was really good. ...he talked about how Obama would be such a great President. He really got into my heart..." D.E.

"But I actually researched, and learned a lot about ________ before I picked who I wanted to be the President of the U.S." Z.D.

"The thing that meant the most is abortion. The reason it changed my thinking is because it's a woman's issue, but men are telling us that it's not ok..." C.S.

"I was surprised on how much I did not know. I didn't know how many issues there were. I didn't know about the issues or about what the candidates thought about them. Now I know about the issues that we studied. I know what each candidates thinks about the issues. ...and when I can vote, I will take them all into consideration and look up each candidate." B.S.

"The issue on gay marriage. I know people that are gay and I don't mind. I met them at my mom's B-Day party. ...when I found out he was gay, I didn't care he is still my friend." B. H. C.

"It was so hard to find which candidate to pick President of the United States of America." Z.D.

"I didn't even know there was a girl running still and there was Cynthia McKinney. She also had some good things to say. She probably would have been good at being a President. She also is African-American..." K.W.

"I don't know about you, but I like the way our future voters think." J.F.

Finally-I sent the following e-mail to the glassbooth site director:

To Whom This May Concern,

Our 8th grade Social Studies Classes used Glassbooth to research the candidates. We found the site helpful, and we were very glad you included the third party candidates. I was wondering if you plan to include follow up information now that the election is over (ie. How each candidate did? Demographic information/charts/graphs, or voter turn out etc.).

Thank you,


...I received this back from him promptly:

Thanks John,

We are currently discussing what we will do with the site. We may present some data on how people used the site. We may do a project which compares President Elect Obama's presidency to his campaign promises. We will do a blog that highlights cool sites like ours at the cross section of innovation and democracy.


Our students and I thought this was an awesome way to bring closure to this phase of the unit, and we thought that it spoke highly of the people at glassbooth to respond in such a fashion.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Our 7th grade explores the Vikings settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows

5oo years before Columbus, the Vikings arrived at North America. Historians, primarily Scandinavian immigrants(1830'3)who knew of the Norse sagas, and who refuted the claim that Columbus was the first European to reach the Western Hemisphere, explored and eventually discovered a Viking site in 1960. ...Check it out! Click on the links at the bottom of the homepage to explore this settlement further.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Americans have spoken.

Yesterday, 11/04/08, Americans elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. Our 8th grade classes spent a week in the library (LMC-Library Media Center)researching six of the candidates who were on ballots across America. Our primary tool for this research was, a site that included most of the candidates and their positions on the issues, and other internet sites. The class was divided into six groups and each candidate received equal coverage. Part of the lesson was to see if our classroom activity, which gave equal attention to non-mainstream parties, would result in a different election outcome than would occur in America 11/04/08. What do you think? President-elect Obama's victory speech is interesting and worth listening to, as is John McCain's concession speech. I hope you visit each.

...and why is so hard to find video on the third party candidates...?! This short video helps to shed light on that issue... Click here for another perspective...

Friday, October 31, 2008

"The Age of Exploration and Discovery" Pre-Evaluation

This pre-evaluation is intended to test what you already know about the Age of Exploration and Discovery." Click here to open the test. Answer the questions to the best of your ability (If you want to go on line to find the correct answer, bye-all-means, please do!). Click here for the answers after you have completed the pre-test.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Some comments from Mr. Filzen...

First of all, I am encouraged by the number of you who have visited our blog site recently. That’s great because it gives us an opportunity to continue learning outside of the classroom, and it motivates me to put more cool “stuff” on the blog.

Sergey, use jfilzen as your sign in to the video and Groton as the password when trying to access a video. This should resolve the problem! Please let me know if it doesn’t. To those of you who do not sign your name at the end of your entry... I have no way of knowing who you are, so I cannot respond personally to your comments. Sheldon, I am glad you are enjoying our current unit of study. I have enjoyed your comments in class as well. Ms. Bassett, thank you for your participation in this “conversation. I will ask my “southern friend (Floyd lives in Virginia. You met him at the Glennwood...) if he knows of any books on the Civil War that are written from a southern perspective. I’m sure he does. To any parents, friends, etc. who have visited our blog... Thank you and feel free to post a comment.

This blog is a new endeavor for me, and I am learning as I go. I am trying to disprove the saying that “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks...”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

This entry is primarily, but not exclusively, for our 8th grade classes. I hope you enjoy your time spent here!

We have been studying the American Civil War (1861-1865). There are many complicated issues surrounding this war. The casualties resulting from this epic war exceed 660,000. This, to me, is a staggering figure. It makes me ask “What issues were so important to government leaders and citizens of that time that they would allocate so many human and material resources to that struggle?” As residents of a Northern state, a state that was also on the “winning” side of this conflict, it is not uncommon for our students to align themselves with the Union cause while criticizing the Confederate cause in the process. After all, the Southern states seceded and fired on Ft. Sumter (Charleston, SC), and Lincoln was only fulfilling his oath to “...preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution....” ...oh yea! ...and the South had slaves! A closer look at some of these issues may, however, reveal some information to get you questioning where you stand on the issue of southern secession and the Civil War in general. I hope so.

When South Carolina and the other southern states seceded following Lincoln’s election, they based their actions on the belief that their “states rights” were being lost to the more populous, and soon to be more numerous Northern states. They were concerned that the North was controlling legislation in Congress and using this power to enhance northern interests at the expense of the “South.” If things continued as they were, the northern states would not only control Congress, but it would be almost impossible for a southern candidate to be elected to the Presidency. Given that, Supreme Court judges would all be Republican appointees, thus jeopardizing the system of “Checks and Balances” that was so carefully integrated into the U.S. Constitution by the “Founding Fathers.”

The North denied these southern accusations, and, eventually, the wealthy men who controlled southern politics convinced southern citizens to secede. The Confederate States of America was formed with Jefferson Davis elected as the first President.

The following links (Morill Act,Homestead Act 1862, Contract Labor Law )contain information concerning some of the legislation that was passed during the Civil War and shortly after. There was no longer any southern opposition in Congress, so these laws were passed without much resistance. Read through them. Think about what you are reading and ask yourself if the South had legitimate reasons to withdraw from the Union.

Also, read this site on the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. ...I thought northerners were for emancipation and granting civil rights to all people regardless of color?!! Once you have done this, please answer the "Secession-Draft Riots" survey that is found in my Wikispaces folder.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"People who are anxious to bring on war don't know what they are bargaining for; they don't see all the horrors that must accompany such an event."

--Lt. General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson

"Captain Smith sprang to his side, and as he raised his head a bright beam of moonlight made its way through the thick foliage and rested upon the pale face of the sufferer. The captain was startled by its great pallor and stillness, and cried out: "Oh! General, are you seriously hurt?"

"No," he answered, "don't trouble yourself, my friend, about me;" [17]

"Death of Stonewall Jackson",
Dr. Hunter McGuire, Medical Director of Jackson's Corps.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Civil War Photos by Matthew Brady

Matthew Brady photographed the American Civil War. Click here to see his work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mayan Ruins as Seen From Space

Mayan ruins were spotted in the dense forest from space.

Urban design

North Acropolis, Tikal, Guatemala
North Acropolis, Tikal, Guatemala

As Maya cities spread throughout the varied geography of Mesoamerica, site planning appears to have been minimal. Maya architecture tended to integrate a great degree of natural features, and their cities were built somewhat haphazardly as dictated by the topography of each independent location. For instance, some cities on the flat limestone plains of the northern Yucat√°n grew into great sprawling municipalities, while others built in the hills of Usumacinta utilized the natural loft of the topography to raise their towers and temples to impressive heights. However, some semblance of order, as required by any large city, still prevailed.

Classic Era Maya urban design could easily be described as the division of space by great monuments and causeways. Open public plazas were the gathering places for people and the focus of urban design, while interior space was entirely secondary. Only in the Late Post-Classic era did the great Maya cities develop into more fortress-like defensive structures that lacked, for the most part, the large and numerous plazas of the Classic.

At the onset of large-scale construction during the Classic Era, a predetermined axis was typically established in a cardinal direction. Depending on the location of natural resources such as fresh-water wells, or cenotes, the city grew by using sacbeob (causeways) to connect great plazas with the numerous platforms that created the sub-structure for nearly all Maya buildings. As more structures were added and existing structures re-built or remodeled, the great Maya cities seemed to take on an almost random identity that contrasted sharply with other great Mesoamerican cities such as Teotihuacan and its rigid grid-like construction.

Ballcourt at Tikal, Guatemala
Ballcourt at Tikal, Guatemala

At the heart of the Maya city were large plazas surrounded by the most important governmental and religious buildings, such as the royal acropolis, great pyramid temples and occasionally ball-courts. Though city layouts evolved as nature dictated, careful attention was placed on the directional orientation of temples and observatories so that they were constructed in accordance with Maya interpretation of the orbits of the heavenly bodies. Immediately outside of this ritual center were the structures of lesser nobles, smaller temples, and individual shrines; the less sacred and less important structures had a greater degree of privacy. Outside of the constantly evolving urban core were the less permanent and more modest homes of the common people.

Building materials

A surprising aspect of the great Maya structures is their lack of many advanced technologies seemingly necessary for such constructions. Lacking draft animals necessary for wheel-based modes of transportation, metal tools and even pulleys, Maya architecture required abundant manpower. Yet, beyond this enormous requirement, the remaining materials seem to have been readily available. All stone for Maya structures appears to have been taken from local quarries. They most often used limestone which remained pliable enough to be worked with stone tools while being quarried and only hardened once removed from its bed. In addition to the structural use of limestone, much of their mortar consisted of crushed, burnt and mixed limestone that mimicked the properties of cement and was used as widely for stucco finishing as it was for mortar. Later improvements in quarrying techniques reduced the necessity for this limestone-stucco as the stones began to fit quite perfectly, yet it remained a crucial element in some post and lintel roofs. In the case of the common Maya houses, wooden poles, adobe and thatch were the primary materials; however, instances of what appear to be common houses of limestone have been discovered as well. Also notable throughout Maya architecture is the corbel arch (also known as a "false arch"), whose limitations kept their structures generally weighty rather than airy.

Notable constructions

  • Ceremonial platforms were commonly limestone platforms of typically less than four meters in height where public ceremonies and religious rites were performed. Constructed in the fashion of a typical foundation platform, these were often accented by carved figures, altars and perhaps tzompantli, a stake used to display the heads of victims or defeated Mesoamerican ballgame opponents.
  • Palaces were large and often highly decorated, and usually sat close to the center of a city and housed the population's elite. Any exceedingly large royal palace, or one consisting of many chambers on different levels might be referred to as an acropolis. However, often these were one-story and consisted of many small chambers and typically at least one interior courtyard; these structures appear to take into account the needed functionality required of a residence, as well as the decoration required for their inhabitants stature.
  • E-Groups are specific structural configurations present at a number of centers in the Maya area. These complexes are oriented and aligned according to specific astronomical events (primarily the sun’s solstices and equinoxes) and are thought to have been observatories. These structures are usually accompanied by iconographic reliefs that tie astronomical observation into general Maya mythology. The structural complex is named for Group E at Uaxactun, the first documented in Mesoamerica.
Temple of the Cross at Palenque.  Note the intricate roof comb and corbeled arch.
Temple of the Cross at Palenque. Note the intricate roof comb and corbeled arch.
  • Pyramids and temples. Often the most important religious temples sat atop the towering Maya pyramids, presumably as the closest place to the heavens. While recent discoveries point toward the extensive use of pyramids as tombs, the temples themselves seem to rarely, if ever, contain burials. Residing atop the pyramids, some of over two-hundred feet, such as that at El Mirador, the temples were impressive and decorated structures themselves. Commonly topped with a roof comb, or superficial grandiose wall, these temples might have served as a type of propaganda. As they were often the only structure in a Maya city to exceed the height of the surrounding jungle, the roof combs atop the temples were often carved with representations of rulers that could be seen from vast distances.
  • Observatories. The Maya were keen astronomers and had mapped out the phases of celestial objects, especially the Moon and Venus. Many temples have doorways and other features aligning to celestial events. Round temples, often dedicated to Kukulcan, are perhaps those most often described as "observatories" by modern ruin tour-guides, but there is no evidence that they were so used exclusively, and temple pyramids of other shapes may well have been used for observation as well.
  • Ball courts. As an integral aspect of the Mesoamerican lifestyle, the courts for their ritual ball-game were constructed throughout the Maya realm and often on a grand scale. Enclosed on two sides by stepped ramps that led to ceremonial platforms or small temples, the ball court itself was of a capital "I" shape and could be found in all but the smallest of Maya cities.

16th century Missionary burns Mayan Texts (This is a fairly advanced read)

When Diego de Landa burned the books of the Maya in the 16th century, the Spanish Roman Catholic inquisitor thought he could wipe out Indigenous memory. By destroying long sheets of bark paper, he thought he could destroy knowledge conveyed in signs and images that spoke of dreams and wars and people born before Christ, of the movements of stars and frequency of eclipses, of the respect for God in nature necessary to call for timely rain and good corn harvests.

Yet Diego de Landa, in his zeal to destroy what he deemed idolatry, was mistaken. The faith of the Maya wasn't bound in those primitive codices he turned to ash.

Evidence that he ultimately failed can be found every morning throughout the Indigenous highlands of Guatemala and southern Mexico, where Maya farmers rise from their sleep to thank father sun and mother earth for another day.

Though Diego de Landa failed in his campaign against paganism, he shouldn't be forgotten. To write about interfaith relations in Guatemala today leads back to the first encounter between two worlds -- the violence and ethnocide that followed quickly upon Christopher Columbus' journeys to what Europeans called the New World.

Although Diego de Landa, a Franciscan priest, was a fanatic who had his share of Spanish critics, his naming as a bishop shortly after his book-burning rampage indicates he carried out imperial and ecclesiastical policy. It was clearly a period of history marked by fear and arrogance, European sins for which millions of Maya paid with their lives.

By tearing down Maya altars or building their Roman Catholic churches on top of the Indians' sacred sites, and forcing the Maya to convert to Christianity or perish, the Spanish engaged in what some historians call a sacramentalization of Indigenous culture, as opposed to an authentic process of evangelization that seeks to express Gospel values within a culture.

Imposing Christian beliefs produced generations of Maya who became Christians to survive, who went to mass but in their hearts still felt the presence of the sacred altars below the cathedral floor, who practiced what became a syncretic faith mixing their ancestors' faith with elements of the colonial master's religion.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Maya, the Inca, and the Aztec Civilizations

This week we are studying three interesting civilizations. Check out the sites on my web page for an introduction...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

...some contributions of Native Americans to our culture.

7th graders drawing pictures of Native American contributions...

10 minutes of almost silent reading...

There is a new practice being implemented here at Groton M.S. The first 10 minutes of study hall is dedicated to silent reading. Here's a peek...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New York's salt mines. Check out this site if you want to know about Cargill Salt mines and others.

Our 7th grade classes are currently studying glaciers and how they effected the settlement of the Americas. In 8th grade, we are studying the sectional differences between the North and the South that led to the American Civil War. Check my website for more information on these topics.

This link takes you to a site where you can quickly determine your learning style. Let us know what you discovered!