Wednesday, August 26, 2009


In wh
ich we see Ms. Bradstreet navigate her way through a curricular block

The Maria Chronicles, #7

"Damn! This traffic jam/How I hate to be late/Hurts my motor to go so slow . . . ."

Maria is stuck on the parkway. She thinks of the James Taylor song she loves because the radio is playing "You've Got a Friend," which she hates: too maudlin. She punches the radio off. It's 7:49. Under normal conditions she'd be at school in about 15 minutes. Still time before the first class at 8:30, but this will cut into her zone to set up, adjust, and generally decompress.

She thinks about other things that are irritating her.
Her hair. The fact that she didn't stop at Dunkin' Donuts, which means she's marooned without coffee. The fact that she hasn't heard from her son Evan.

And then
there's her ongoing inability to resolve her assessment problem in the colonial history unit in her survey class. It's a long stretch, about four weeks. At the end of it, Maria intends for the students to compare empires and/or colonies in the Americas. The problem is what comes in between. She needs time for them to get information, from her and from the readings. The question then becomes what to get them to do with it. Maria hates assigning busy work -- worksheets, mini-essays, and the like. The kids resent it, and it loads her up with grading when she's trying to juggle all her other courses. A quiz doesn't really make sense to her, either. The colonial era isn't like, say, the sequence of events leading up the American Revolution, where keeping facts straight matters. It's a big stretch of time, and the point is to sketch broad themes that will stick. Maria herself loves the period, but she also knows it's the most likely to seem remote to the students. Back at Derry High, there was a map assignment that was pretty good, but Maria is restless with it. Still, she may just have to go back to it.

Maria crawls past the exit for the convention center. It's now 7:52. She decides she will panic in eight minutes. Then, coming around a bend, she sees the problem. Accident up ahead
in the left lane. Thank God. The end is in sight.

Hmmm. Convention center. Maybe she could do some kind of convention? A colonial meeting of some kind. Maria begins imagining a character. She'll call him Nicolo Pragmatica, a Jesuit priest. Father Pragmatica has distinctly ambiguous relations with the Vatican, as Jesuits so often do. Let's say it's 1650, right after the Treaty of Westphalia, which has finally brought stability to Europe. It's Fr. Pragmatica's idea -- his motives are murky -- to finally do something comparable for America. To that end, he's invited Spanish, French, Dutch, an
d English teams in an unofficial capacity (though these will be people hoping to have influence with their governments) to his estate in Tuscany. As a result of some intense back-room jockeying, representatives from the Huron and Iroquois have also been invited to the parley. Father Pragmatica will host an elegant dinner, with spaghetti and his best Chianti, and ask members of the teams just what their long-term goals in America are. The Spanish will no doubt talk about security for their southern possessions, the Dutch their trading interests in New Amsterdam, the Huron their friendship with the French and skepticism about the English, and so on.

The traffic is beginning to pick up momentum. CRV ditched by the side of the road. Police, two passengers milling around on cell phones.

Maria resumes her train of thought: This will kill a lot of birds with one stone. Simulations are fun. It will get the kids to do group work. Some light research -- she'll expect them to rely on the textbook and whatever they can pick up on Google as homework. They can IM if they can't get together. She'll tell them she's giving them group grades, and she will. But this will also allow her to identify class leaders, as well as who's passive. Depending on how it goes, she might prod a student or two, or purposely sow dissension in a particular delegation (maybe she can use her cap and gown from her master's degree to play Fr. Pragmatica). Be a tight squeeze; she can't make it more than a night's homework or give more than a class session to it, or maybe a class and a half, which might be a problem. But maybe she'll drop that draggy DVD on King Philip's War she used last year.

The scenario will need work, and Maria isn't certain she'll be able to fit it in. But it's worth a try. Maybe something to tinker with tonight. For now, though, there are more immediate issues -- here's her exit. She just hopes to God she can make the Smart Board work.