The year ahead

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My initial intent when I sat down to write this was to reflect on the craziness that was my 2012.  But you can read my blog and take all that in.  For those of you who haven’t been reading it and are too time-strapped or lazy to go catch up, though, here’s a Readers Digest version of it: I started the year working for a college athletic department in Alabama, decided I hated it, got hired by my longtime friend for a second go-round as a history teacher, moved back to North Carolina, and built a World History curriculum and high school athletic department from scratch at a brand-new charter school.  And somewhere in there, I turned 30.

Got all that?  Good.  Let’s move forward.

As interesting and exciting as 2012 was, 2013 holds so much to be excited about, so I’ve decided to use this space to look forward to all the awesome things that will happen in the next year.

January 22-25: Teacher Scholars.  It’s my first business trip as an RTHS faculty member!  Lead English teacher Deb Brown and I will be heading to Cullowhee for four days for the Teacher Scholars in Residence program at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching.  We’ll be given the space and resources to work on our flipped videos and get a head start on the 2013-14 English and social studies curricula.  We’ll also be given top-flight food and accommodations.  Maybe I’ll even try skiing out while I’m up there – I’ll just make sure I get a Raptor green cast on whatever limb I shatter.

Spring 2013, date TBD: Bachelor party.  What do tigers dream of…

June 1-7: AP Reading.  I haven’t been officially invited back to Louisville yet, so this may be putting the cart before the horse, but the College Board sent me a sort of “save-the-date” notification in the fall, so I guess I’ll be going back to the AP U.S. History reading.  Chemistry and U.S. History are both in Louisville at the same time, so I’m hoping that my boss Eric gets invited back for Chemistry.  That’d be a pretty fun way to end our first school year.

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Aren’t we cute?!

June 22: Wedding bells.  As of June 22, my fiancee Jess and I will have been engaged for three years and three days.  We went to grad school and became way too poor to have the wedding we both wanted, so we stuck it out and finished our degrees – I think going through the difficult graduate-level work and grinding poverty together made us a stronger team.  Now we both have jobs in the Triangle and can afford to have a lovely wedding and a heck of a party.

June? July?  Honeymoon.  If anyone has any suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

July, date TBD: RTHS Camp 2.0.  Last year’s inaugural freshman orientation went a long way toward bringing such a diverse student body together, and gave the teachers an opportunity to meet our future charges.  This year, we’ll get to meet in the actual school building and have the full technological resources of the school, so it should be a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.

Soccer Shield Rays 1

Every soccer program needs a shield.

July 29: Fall sports practice opens.  The Research Triangle Raptors will be in the N.C. High School Athletic Association as an independent 1A member next year, and our first-ever boys’ soccer and girls’ volleyball teams will begin tryouts.  Our cross country team will also start its second season with high hopes after such a successful inaugural year.

August 12: Year two!  RTHS will welcome back 140 sophomores, enroll 105 new freshmen, break in a brand new wing of the building (including the new athletic directors’ office), and see numerous new teachers and staff members joining us in providing a top-notch education to our students.

August 31: Kickoff!  Being at Auburn for two years only heightened my excitement over the Charlotte 49ers FINALLY adding a football program.  I don’t know if I’ll get tickets to the Niners’ inaugural game against Campbell, but at the very least I plan to be on campus, tailgating and taking it all in, just so that years later I can tell my kids that I was there.

December 31: The second annual look ahead.  Hopefully I’ll get to spend 2013 writing about all the amazing experiences mentioned above – well, maybe not the bachelor party – and look ahead to all that 2014 will bring.

I’ve loved spending the last seven months creating this record of the experiences of me and my school, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I hope all of you have a healthy, productive, and rewarding 2013.

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Perseverance

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Many schools – the ones I’ve attended or worked at, at least – reward academic achievement, whether it’s an honor roll reception or a big year-end awards ceremony with accolades handed out for scholarships, straight A’s, or high test scores.

Rewarding academic prowess is great, but at Research Triangle we’ve tried to reward other positive qualities we’ve seen our students exhibit in addition to doing great in class.  Once a month, we gather all of our students in the gallery (something we won’t be able to do next year when we add over 100 new freshmen) to recognize students for not only academic achievement, but other qualities they’ve exhibited such as zest, curiosity, gratitude, social intelligence, improved work ethic, and perseverance.

As the athletic director, I know that perseverance has been a quality that our student-athletes must have at a first-year high school.  Our cross country team was incredibly successful, but I knew that was probably going to end up being an anomaly; brand new high school sports teams just aren’t supposed to be good at much.  When I was at Robinson, it took some of the sports teams several years to get off the mat, and they had over 1,500 students to pull from.

Perseverance would definitely be needed as we began play in our first-ever holiday tournament yesterday – a tournament just for JV teams in Asheboro.  Since we only have freshmen, we thought this would be a good opportunity to play teams more on our level instead of getting drilled on a regular basis by varsity squads who have guards taller than our center.

The girls’ game got underway yesterday afternoon with our only five players on the court – everyone else was indisposed due to the holidays.  From the first minute, it was pretty apparent that things were going to go badly; among the missing players were virtually all the guards, so just getting the ball up the court was proving difficult.  We trailed 12-2 after the first quarter and 28-2 at the half.  A 16-point deficit at the half is not insurmountable in most cases, but everyone at the game – including the players – seemed to know that just making it to double digits would be an accomplishment.

It’s here that perseverance is really put to the test.  Sixteen more minutes of basketball to play, virtually no chance of winning, and no subs on the bench.  Packing it in and just running out the clock is easy.  But that’s not what most of our students do, and that’s not what the girls on the floor did.

Sierra Street, who also scored the team’s only bucket in the first half, added a basket in the 3rd quarter, but the scoreboard remained stuck there through the rest of the 3rd and into the 4th.  With two minutes remaining, we trailed 46-4.  I was sitting in the stands across from our bench, wondering how I was going to tweet this score to the people to whom I’d promised updates.  With about a minute and a half to go, Nikki Khoshnoodi got free with the ball near the top of the key and knocked down a three to pull us within 39 points – the comeback was on!  After a defensive stop, Katie Dixon knocked down another three pointer.  For the first time, the tens digit on the scoreboard lit up.  The final score: Chatham Central 46, Research Triangle 10.  That looks a hell of a lot better than 46-4, or even 46-7.  I can tweet 46-10.

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I intercepted Nikki and Katie as they were walking toward the locker room.  “Where was that the first 30 minutes of the game?” I joked as I high-fived them.  The Chatham Central coach was standing in the tunnel as we got there, and he was heaping on the praise.  “You guys played so hard,” he was telling our girls.  “It’s so tough to play an entire game, and you really kept after it.”  He went on to say that our girls did a lot of positive things and, if they keep working as hard as they did during the game, they’ll surely improve.

I doubt an athletic director has ever been as proud after a 36-point beating as I was at that moment.  Our girls worked hard and persevered, and other people noticed.  One of these days we’ll persevere and win, but I’ll take this for now.

These count

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For my five years teaching at my previous job, the grading and exam breakdown was pretty simple since we were on block scheduling:  First nine weeks, second nine weeks, exams.  Some teachers gave midterms, but I never did – I figured that was time I could spend teaching history on our very tight schedule instead of just putting the brakes on everything for three days to review and then test.

So, along with our students, I’m going through midterm exams for the first time.  We’re on a year-long traditional schedule, and each semester exam – the midterm in the fall and the final in the spring – counts for 20 percent of a student’s semester grade, with the two quarter grades making up the other 80.  Since it’s such a big chunk of their grades, we’ve spent the last three days stressing how important it is and reviewing in our classes.

The problem is that we can’t get the students to understand how important they are.

Every December and April, I get a huge charge out of the exams-related Facebook posts from my former students; “OMG OMG OMG EXAMS ARE KILLING MEEEEEEEEE!” is one of the more recent meltdowns I saw come across my timeline.  Then again, they’ve been through tons of finals in high school and college.  It’s a little hard to forget that our students have never really taken a big test that counts before.  As far as I know, the end-of-grade tests in middle school don’t impact students’ grades.  Middle school grades don’t really count at all, if you think about it – colleges aren’t going to see those grades.  But starting in ninth grade, the meter is running – these grades impact athletic eligibility, the ability to keep a driver’s license, college applications, you name it.

So it was a little unsettling when I heard students discussing the midterms with a pretty cavalier attitude as recently as two days ago.  I guess they thought that we’d do three days of intensive review and alter the schedule for two-hour-long periods for four days to give a 25-question test or something.  Yesterday, I stood up in front of all of my classes and did the best I could to scare the crap out of them.

“It’s a little troubling,” I began, “that there doesn’t seem to a healthy amount of panic, or at least a sense of urgency, about these midterms.”  The kids idly sat there for the most part; a few were goofing off on their computers.  Time to turn up the heat, Drake.

“These exams cover everything you’ve done so far this year.  I know the English Department’s midterm is 100 questions.”

Some eyes got bigger as I got ready to throw down the gauntlet.

“…and the World Civ midterm is 125.”

At this point, the room sounded like the angry crowds in a South Park episode.  You could see it in their eyes now.  A HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE QUESTIONS?!  HOLY SHIT!!!  Not that I took pleasure in their newfound horror – okay, so I took a little pleasure in it – but it was a relief to see the gravity of what they were about to embark on finally fall on them.

So today, every kid – even the ones who are usually the hardest to get to focus – was locked in.  Doing our sample multiple choice questions online, helping each other with their study guides, asking me questions, and trying.  I’m hoping it continues tomorrow as we wrap up review, and carries over into Thursday when our freshmen take the first tests in their lives that actually count.

And hopefully, we as teachers will be able to grade them and realize that they learned something this year – that all the hard work has paid off.

Getting my AP fix

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The very first time I spoke to my friend-turned-boss Eric about the possibility of teaching at Research Triangle High School, he was quick to point something out.

“We’ll only have freshmen the first year, so no U.S. History or AP.  But in a couple of years…”

Anyone who knows me knows that my passion in teaching truly lies in American history.  I especially love teaching AP U.S. History.  I love it enough, in fact, to go grade essays eight hours a day for seven days every June.  So the thought of having to wait until 2014-15 to teach it at my new job was a bit of a bummer, but since the rest of the gig seemed so awesome, it was far from being a deal-breaker.

As I’ve previously shared in this space, since we only have freshmen, every student at the school is taking World Civilizations, a very broad overview of the scope of global history from ancient times to the present.  As we’ve gotten further along in the course (we’re currently wrapping up the Middle Ages), I’ve come to enjoy it a little bit more; for the most part, though, I care very little for the content of the course.  Teaching ninth graders is also not historically my forte, but as with teaching the course, I think I’m probably getting better at it.

Still, I missed teaching AP.  I miss the more in-depth discussions, the writing, the rigor of it.  Then one day while working at my desk after school, I overheard Lara Pacifici, our lead biology teacher, talking to another colleague about setting up some of her brightest students to work on AP Biology as an independent study.

I sat there for a second, dumbfounded.  How did I not think of that?  At Robinson, we had a few students over the years study on their own for AP World History, and they always talked about how easy it was and they usually scored well.  The thought that I could do that at RTHS, for whatever reason, had never even crossed my mind.  I had also begun to notice a core of strong students who were quite obviously bored and not being challenged in our mixed-level, differentiated classrooms, try as we might.  An opportunity to give them some AP-level coursework might be good for all parties involved!

That night, emboldened, I went to the bookstore and grabbed one of those test prep books – most people get them for the GRE or LSAT or ACT or whatever, but they also exist for every AP course – for AP World History.  I got home and leafed through it, and decided that it was totally doable for some of our top students.  I then went through my class rosters and decided who I thought had demonstrated the necessary chops to potentially pull this thing off – out of 105 students I teach, I emailed about 15 – and decided to talk up the possibility to them.  A few students came to me after that and asked to be included.

So yesterday, after setting up a Moodle page for the AP stuff and giving the kids some of our famous flipped videos to watch in advance, we had our first meeting with 14 students.  We’re only going to meet for about an hour once a week until after spring break, when we’ll increase two two days a week (the exam is May 16).  The good news is that I apparently covered the right stuff in our regular World Civ class, because yesterday all we had to do was review the ancient civilizations and societies, going into a little more detail on each one.  The way we did it, though, was so refreshing for me.  I divided up the kids into groups of 2 or 3, assigned each of them one of six ancient civilizations that the College Board says that AP World History students should be expected to know, and set them loose on a Google Docs presentation to create one slide each about their assigned civilization.  And they actually got into it!  They started adding tidbits of knowledge that weren’t really required, they added pictures, they explained their slides to the class afterwards without just reading their stuff verbatim, and at the end of the hour, they had a wonderful presentation that they can use to review this stuff before the test.

Eric and I have often mused during conversations in his office about missing “the nerds”; we’re both former AP teachers and quiz bowl coaches, after all.  It’s been probably the hardest part of adjusting to the new job – not having the older kids around that you can joke with and have adult-like conversations.  But yesterday was a small taste of it for me, and I think it’s going to be mutually beneficial.  The students get the opportunity to be pushed and possibly earn some college credit, and I get to teach some high-level stuff and be intellectually stimulated myself.

Everybody wins.

Undefeated, Pt. 2

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Back in August, Research Triangle High School’s first-ever athletics competition ended in victory when our cross country team smoked the field at the East Wake Early Bird Invitational.  At the time, I joked that even though it may not last, we were undefeated for the moment.

A trend seems to be developing.

Our boys’ basketball team has had a bit of a rough existence since practices began in October.  Since we have no gym, we have to practice off campus (the team also gets in some time during lunch in our parking lot where we have two portable goals set up).  Since we only have about 145 students, the pool from which to draw players is pretty small and made smaller still by the fact that many people who wanted to play didn’t end up making the requisite grades.  Even still, the eight players on the team worked hard during the preseason and were looking forward to playing some real competition.

Since most athletics scheduling is done in January and February and we didn’t even exist until March, we took what we could get in terms of getting games.  Richard Jowers, our P.E. teacher and basketball coach, was incredibly aggressive and persistent in trying to get Triangle-area charter and private schools to play us, usually to no avail.  A lot of schools told us they didn’t have any space for us in the regular season but that we could play them in a scrimmage; as a result, we played in three scrimmages (teams typically play in one or two).  We were outmatched in all of them, but the team did appear to be improving as they encountered some game-like situations.

Today was Opening Day, the first day of the regular season.  We played Triangle Collaborative School, a school in Cary that’s just one year older than we are, at a gym in nearby Morrisville.  Since the game started at 4:00 and school isn’t out at Research Triangle until 3:55, I missed the first quarter, but when I arrived at the gym, we were tied 8-8 early in the second.  Both teams were clearly young, inexperienced, and not accustomed to playing together, and many of the possessions ended in turnovers.  At halftime we trailed 15-12, and the made baskets remained few and far between in the second half.  We couldn’t seem to use the backboard on wide-open layups; the Flyers seemingly had every other shot it took swatted by Raptor post player Josh Bynum, who sent a few shots back with Olajuwon-like authority.

The Raptors took the lead near the end of the 3rd quarter and held it throughout the 4th; a few defensive stops in the final minutes preserved a 28-24 victory.

And just like that, the Raptor basketball team is 1-0.  Once again, we’re undefeated.

Of course, the cross country’s team undefeated streak didn’t last as the level of competition picked up.  The basketball team will undoubtedly encounter similar luck.  Our next game is against a 4A school in Robeson County.  And remember how I said that most schools weren’t able to schedule us and we had to take what we could get?  Well, Mount Zion – yeah, that Mount Zion – had an opening on the schedule and we’re playing them in January.  Are we gonna be cannon fodder?  Probably.  But the team can use it as an opportunity to improve.

Right now, though, we’re 1-0 and the school is proud of the team and the win.  The next game is tomorrow, so there’s not much time to enjoy the win, but I hope that tonight the boys on the team are feeling pretty good about themselves.

Go to the vote!

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In many ways, my first two experiences voting are my most memorable.

In 1986, just after my 4th birthday, my parents took me with them as they cast their votes in the midterm elections at the elementary school in my mountain hometown of Spruce Pine.  My mom even let me take the little stylus and punch the holes on the ballot – don’t worry, she told me which ones to punch – and I had a blast doing so, since that’s about the funnest thing you can ever hope to do as a 4-year-old in Spruce Pine.  Throughout the rest of the day I expressed my excitement about “the vote” to anyone who would listen, and begged my parents to let me “go back to the vote tomorrow.”

The only Republican presidential ticket I ever voted for.

Two years later, as a kindergartner, I voted in my first presidential election.  I looked at the two names on the ballot, and recognized one. I had no idea who Michael Dukakis was, but I had been introduced to George Bush when I watched his Republican National Convention speech that summer along with my parents.  “Who’s that man talking?” I asked them as we watched the speech on CNN.

“That’s George Bush,” Dad explained.  “He’s the vice president.”

“Why are all these people cheering?  This is serious!”  I guess I hadn’t yet grasped the concept of “firing up the base.”

But because of that speech, I did understand “name recognition.”  I circled George Bush’s name on my ballot and turned it in.  Bush carried Mrs. Sossamon’s classroom by a narrow margin of 14 votes to 12, meaning that Governor Dukakis polled five points higher in our classroom than he had in the state of North Carolina.  I guess we were a Democratic stronghold.

Anyway, when I got home, Mom met me at the door.  “What did you do at school today, Alex”

“We voted!!!”

“That’s great,” Mom said, smiling.  “Who did you vote for?”

“Bush!!” I excitedly replied.

Mom’s smile disappeared.  “Alex… go to your room.”  Four years later, not wanting to be grounded again, I voted for Bill Clinton.

So maybe voting isn’t as fun now as it was when I was a kid.  But I still get a little excited every time I go to the polls.  Since I turned 18 about a week before the 2000 election, my first ballot that counted was actually cast in the 2000 Democratic primary when I was a 17-year-old high school junior.  I got up super early that morning and went to the precinct at about 6:30 a.m., an hour before school started.

Between primaries and general elections I’ve voted at least a dozen times now, but that excitement is still there.  This year was a first for me – I voted early.  For years I always had the funny feeling that my vote wasn’t real unless I did it on Election Day, but I decided to take care of it early this year since my precinct is one of the biggest in Durham County and I didn’t feel like standing in line for two hours on Tuesday.  All the same, it was an exciting experience to know that I had a say, however minuscule, in who gets to shape public policy going forward.  And as I drove home, I called my mom to let her know that I had just “gone to the vote” – that’s what we still call it in my family.  Voting may not be fun to you, but it’s still a privilege and a right that many people the world over don’t get.  Cherish it.

So on Tuesday, regardless of who you’re supporting, make your voice heard.  Take your right to be heard seriously.  And go to the vote.

How to suck at cheating

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It appears that the University of North Carolina football program has taken another hit in terms of the team’s academic integrity.  Reports are now surfacing that standout wide receiver Erik Highsmith was caught plagiarizing an eleven-year-old’s writing in a communications class last semester.  Now, you might think that he would get caught, called on it, and change his ways, but he apparently also copied and pasted something from a GRE preparation site in the same class, and got caught again.

A lot of plagiarism is unintentional and not malicious.  I’ve had talks with students over the years – many of them extremely bright – explaining that they can’t simply use another historian’s ideas without citing them, or paraphrase too closely.  On the first offense I try to talk to them about why what they did is academically dishonest, and those students are usually horrified and go back and fix their work.  In isolated incidents, I don’t really have much of a problem with that, especially when they’re still learning about historiography.

I have zero sympathy, however, for students who have been taught since they were in elementary school that copying something word-for-word is wrong and still try to do it.  I can attest to the fact that students will copy and paste just about anything, try to pass it off as their own, and then believe they’ll get away with it.  In my teaching career I’ve seen more than my share of it.  Regardless of the students’ age or academic aptitude, many of them try to pull it off on a regular basis.  And they almost always get caught.  I don’t know why, but students always think they’re the first person to ever copy and paste an entire assignment, and the teacher just won’t care enough to check the material, or will simply think that on this particular task, they pulled off a feat of brilliance.

Kids, let me just knock that assumption out of the park now:  Don’t even bother trying.  We’ve seen it all.

The rote copy-and-paste plagiarism I’ve seen come across my desk over the years would put some of the best “world’s dumbest criminals” stories to shame.  Everyone makes the exact same mistakes, and nearly always gets caught.  So, if you’re an amateur academic thief and are considering going pro, here are some tips for how to make your poorly-thought-out cheating schemes truly amazing.

1) Leave hyperlinks in.  In my AP U.S. History classes  I assign a list of several dozen vocabulary terms at the beginning of each unit, and the students have to write a paragraph about each term that are due on the day of the unit test.  During my first year at Robinson I was checking my students’ terms when I came across something that, on paper, looked like this:

Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis KG (31 December 1738 – 5 October 1805), styled Viscount Brome between 1753 and 1762 and known as The Earl Cornwallis between 1762 and 1792, was a British Army officer and colonial administrator. In the United States and the United Kingdom he is best remembered as one of the leading British generals in the American War of Independence. His surrender in 1781 to a combined American and French force at the Siege of Yorktown ended significant hostilities in North America.[4]

This was, obviously, so blatant that it was just sad.  Here’s how the conversation with the girl went:

Me: Kate, why are there random underlined words in your IDs?
Kate: I thought they were important terms to remember, so I underlined them so I’d study them.
Me: “Colonial administrator” is an important term?
Kate: I mean, it has to do with the Colonies, so yeah.
Me: Interesting.  Do you also underline numbers that link to footnotes that aren’t actually on your paper?
Kate: Um… yeah?
Me: Kate, I know you copied and pasted this from Wikipedia, so just let it go.
Kate: I don’t even know what Wikipedia is, Mr. Drake!  I didn’t copy this!

You’re a high school student and you don’t know what Wikipedia is?  Wow, and I thought you were full of shit before.  Idiot.

2) Outkick your coverage.  I caught a lot of APUSH students plagiarizing their take-home essays because they ran afoul of one important concept to remember when cheating: the teacher knows that your writing didn’t go from being a cluster to being textbook-ready overnight.  This can be easy or hard to catch based on the ability and smarts of the student who may or may not have perpetrated it; since most essays available to be copied from the internet are good or at least serviceable, there may have been some upper-level students of mine who got away with it over the years.  My last year at Robinson I graded a take-home document-based essay from our student body president that was literally the best APUSH essay I’ve ever seen.  I was disappointed, though, because I was afraid he’d plagiarized it.  It’s not that I thought this guy would copy an essay, but I also thought it was too good to be true.  I spent probably an hour scouring the internet trying to find that essay somewhere, but never did.  It was just that amazing.

Another student on that same assignment, though, completely outkicked her coverage.  Her introductory paragraph was something that would’ve made renowned historian and alleged fellow plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin bow down in praise.  Then, something happened that was just weird.  After the copied introduction, she did her own work on the rest of the essay.  Maybe she thought it was less of a sin to copy only a portion of it, but the stark difference in writing style and quality between the introduction and the rest of it was so night-and-day that it would’ve been obvious cheating even to someone who didn’t know a damn thing about AP history writing.

To this girl’s credit, she didn’t try some ham-handed denial like the aforementioned case.  She readily admitted to it, and I called her mother, who is a teacher.  I think she was grounded for a long time.   That’s something else to keep in mind, kids.  This ain’t Vegas; what happens at school will make its way home.

I really hope this isn’t the method that the UNC communications professor used to catch Erik Highsmith.  Who knows, maybe those 5th graders he copied are future Pulitzer winners, but more than likely, it’s just unimaginably sad.

3) Completely ignore the assignment’s parameters.  This one happened the other day in our World Civ class.  We had our students create “trading cards” of famous figures from Roman history.  They were supposed to put a picture on the front along with the person’s name and “position” (senator, general, emperor, whatever), and then put “statistics” (birth/death dates, accomplishments, interesting facts) on the back.  The stuff on the back was supposed to be little blurbs of a few words – not complete sentences, and not incredibly detailed.  We even gave them samples to use as a template of sorts.

One student who has not turned in much work on time gave me his card, and initially I was excited because he did something.  Upon further review, however, he had turned in a card on which the front was done more or less correctly, and then the back was full of paragraphs detailing Emperor Diocletian’s life in exhaustive detail, and they even had the hyperlinks included!  The paragraphs had a lot of information, but in addition to being obviously copied, they did nothing towards fulfilling the clearly-laid-out requirements of the project.  This damn-the-torpedoes approach has gotten countless students caught over the years, and is by far among the easiest methods to catch.

4) Copy your fellow mediocrity-dwellers.  This isn’t from-the-internet plagiarism, but it’s still half-baked and it’s still hilarious every time I catch some kid who thinks they’re being clever do this.  Three of my students left the classroom during the last test to take it in our special programs classroom.  Upon grading them, I discovered that these three students missed the exact same questions, and had the exact same wrong answers.  With the assistance of our math teacher, I was able to calculate that there was a 0.000000095 percent chance of this happening by chance.  When I confronted one of the students, holding up 0.000000095% printed on a piece of paper in 100-point font, he admitted to it.

Emporer Trojan

The identical test alone wasn’t why this was so easy to catch, though.  It was sad because they worked together and still only managed a 79.  Since I was feeling snarky that day, I split a 79 three ways and gave all three of them a 27 instead of a 0 to kind of prove a point.

The same thing happens on regular assignments that students turn in; they’ll get the same answers wrong, misspell the same words – no, the Roman Empire did not reach its peak under “Emporer Trojan” – and turn in identical papers at the same time so they’re back-to-back in the grading so that I see them literally 30 seconds apart, and expect to get away with it.  You really thought that one through, Danny Ocean.

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I’m aware that many of my students over the years may not have been properly educated on what constitutes plagiarism, as I mentioned above when talking about the more unintentional forms of it.  In addition to just being sad, though, copying and pasting work does nothing to help you learn.  You’re in school for a reason, kids!  Don’t waste it by copying stuff off the internet, not even bothering to read it or tailor it to fit the assignment, then turn it in.  What do you get out of that?  Even if you’re cheating because you’re afraid to get a ‘0’ for not turning anything in, don’t you think the 50 or whatever that you’d get for mediocre work will still carry with it more rewards than copying something that’s going to get a ‘0’ anyway because we’re going to catch you???

Just do your own work, people.  I’ll miss being able to tell the hilarious stories of how I caught you red-handed, but at least you’ll be learning something.

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