Class Pacing Guide
If you would like to see a week-by-week overview of what I teach throughout the entire school year, email me. I detail the topics and state standards that go along with the specific units.
Social Studies Framework for Grade 8
Text Message Notifications
One of the most helpful things I do for students and parents is offer a text message notification system (which allows everyone to keep their privacy). By signing up, you'll be given updates for upcoming tests, homework, projects, activities, and more.
In order to register, you'll need to text the proper code to the number 81010:
8th grade History Classes, Periods 2, 4, 5, & 7: Text @MrCortez to 81010
8th grade Junior Scholars GATE History Class, Period 3: Text @GateClass to 81010
2023 East Coast Trip (for current 8th graders): Text @ECT2023 to 81010
2024 East Coast Trip (for current 7th graders): Text @ECT2024 to 81010
2025 East Coast Trip (for current 6th graders): Text @ECT2025 to 81010
Speech Meet: Text @oratorical to 81010
Bible Study: Text @LoveBible to 81010
Common Core Literary Standards for Grades 6-8
A little bit about me and 8th grade social studies ...
This school year, I am teaching five periods of 8th grade American history; one of these periods is a GATE class (Junior Scholars). In these classes, I will cover American history from its beginning as colonies through the start of the 20th century. (Email me if you'd like to see my Pacing Guide.) One easy way to view this class is to break it down into the history of two wars: The Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Generally, I teach the causes, major events, and effects of both wars, and almost everything in my course falls into one of those categories.
Another way that I like to break my courses down is into general thematic concepts: Power, Justice, Rights, Conflict, Diversity, and Technology. Everything we study - all year - will fall into all of these themes.
I have plenty of job duties at Vista Heights: I am an ASB co-coordinator, helping Ms. Hoffman whenever I can. ASB lets me work with the best kids in the school. Also, I am the History Department Chairman, which means I oversee the department's budget, etc. I have been a Team Lead for a number of years, setting up parent meetings and participating in leadership meetings. For the past six years, I have facilitated our school's Speech program. (We have been very successful in many oratorical competitions). Further, I am the site National History Day coordinator.
Furthermore, I am an Administrator Designee at Vista Heights, meaning I fill in for the Administrators when they are absent. Though I have an Administrative Credential, I don't plan on being a principal for a long time, since I love teaching too much.
I believe it is okay - and important - to develop a good rapport with students. I do this by being thoroughly concerned for their academic needs, having an on-going relationship with their parents, and even playing sports with them regularly. Lately, we have been having fun playing softball at lunchtime. I run a school-wide guitar workshop which allows me to meet other students who are not in my class. I coordinate the school's Talent Show, which is a yearly success and a lot of fun because it isn't too serious. I also facilitate the school's 2nd lunch Bible study group.
My students know that I am their ally, not their adversary. Of course, I try to use my rapport with students to lead them into a deeper appreciation and love for U.S. History.
Some have characterized my teaching style in two words: Structure and Standards. I suppose that is because my class runs in a crisp, organized manner, with standards-based lessons as a regularity. However, those two words do not fully describe how I teach. I am an energetic teacher and I try to utilize a wide variety of strategies. I use cooperative learning, technology, role-plays, humor, and my favorite strategy of all, competition. Furthermore, my lessons demand high expectations, combining creativity and relevance to make history come alive in a fresh and infectious way.
I learned long ago that in order to become a great teacher who produces life-long learning students, I would need to be a life-long learner myself. I am a dedicated student, always interested in learning historical content, additional approaches in lesson planning, and new strategies for capturing the hearts and minds of students. Furthermore, I try to be a pioneer at Vista Heights Middle School, willing to try new technological equipment, organize lesson studies with fellow staff, and implement new programs designed to raise scores. A few times a year, I videotape my lesson in order to analyze possible negative teaching habits. I understand that teaching is a profession where the more you put in, the more you get out.
Perhaps the most meaningful way that I reach out to students on a school-wide level is by being the coordinator of an East Coast Tour. Each year, I customize an itinerary that takes dozens of students to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., all of which compliments the Social Studies Standards. Among the many sites we visit are Plimoth Plantation, Harvard University, the Statue of Liberty, a Broadway Play, Independence Hall, the Smithsonian Museums, and Arlington National Cemetery. The trip is truly life-changing. (Click on "ECT Photos" above to see pictures from our various trips.)
Many years ago, I decided to tackle something challenging: National History Day. I spent the summer of 2012 studying how History Day works, meeting with knowledgeable teachers and coordinators from various school Districts. I introduced History Day to my GATE class in late August, and then took them on a field trip to Riverside City College to learn some tips and tricks regarding research. My class demonstrated tremendous success with History Day. 13 students won at the District level and moved on to the County contest. Then, seven students won there and moved to the State level. Two of these kids won 1st place at State and moved on to Nationals! (Watch Sam and Maddison win the State championship here.) In fact, Maddison placed 2nd at the National competition! It was an unforgettable experience to travel to the University of Maryland with two of my students and their families. Since then, a number of my students have succeeded at high levels of National History Day.
My philosophy of education is clear and concise: Reach ALL students because ALL students can learn.
Lately, I have been involved in as much professional development as possible, including attending the AVID Summer Institute (for the fourth time) and the California League of Schools Conference in Sacramento. I plan on presenting at the next C.L.S. Conference as well as a National Council for Social Studies Conference later this year. My presentations would be on "Technology in the Social Studies Classroom" and "How to Successfully Implement an East Coast Tour."
I regularly implement technology into my teaching. From surround sound in my classroom, to using social media to keep parents involved, I believe that technology helps keep my class fresh. I just purchased a class set of VRs, and plan to use them to show Revolutinary and Civil War videos in virtual reality. A few years ago, using the iPad, the Apple TV unit, an LCD Projector, and a SMART Board, I was able to show my classes 3-D images from the Civil War. I had purchased 50 pair of 3-D glasses off of eBay for about 10 bucks. Email me if you want some advice on using the iPad in the classroom.
Applications such as Doceri, PollEverywhere, Educreations, and dozens of others, make teaching enjoyable for all content areas. Further, each student has access to a Chromebook, which proves useful when doing history webquests and webinars, or using Google Scholar to find scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.
Hopefully the above has given you a clearer understanding of my teaching style, strategies, and successes.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
State Test Questions
Go to the following website to see over a hundred questions from the old CST - the state test that all 8th grades used to take at the end of the school year. If you can master these questions, you are on your way to being an "Advanced" student.
My Philosophy of Education
I believe that all students can learn. It is this proposition that guides me in the pursuit of excellence in teaching and forms my philosophy of education. Because I believe that every student can learn, I do whatever it takes to create an environment where the learning process functions best. The most effective classroom atmosphere is standard-centered, managed effectively, and reaches out to various student modalities of learning. It is this environment that produces life-long learners.
Having students learn is not enough for me. Actually, it is not enough for the state of California, either. Students must learn the state standards. I am a teacher that is standard-centered. Ensuring that students learn the state standards for history at their given grade level is paramount to me. While utilizing various learning modalities is critical to being an effective teacher, activities and assignments need to be standard-centered. I look forward every day to the challenge of instructing my students in a creative – yet relevant – manner. I get great pleasure in the fact that my lessons are helping to make my students life-long learners – learners who grasp the importance, joy, and relevance of the social sciences.
Good class management is a critical aspect to being an effective teacher. Quality teaching and meaningful learning will not take place in a poorly managed classroom. Moreover, students need to know that I am fair, consistent, and trustworthy, and see that I am their ally, not their adversary. Central to my smoothly managed classroom are specific procedures and routines that students must follow on a daily basis.
Successful teachers reach out to various learning modalities throughout their instruction. Just as every teacher’s teaching style varies, each student’s learning style differs, too. Because of that fact, I see it as my responsibility to improve in the areas of instructional strategy in which I am weak. Through study, practice, and regular implementation of proven instructional techniques, I plan on always refining my teaching skills in order to reach more students.
A healthy balance of all learning styles should be interwoven throughout instruction and assessment; this is critical in order to reach all students.
In conclusion, I believe that all students can learn, and my primary goals are to ensure that my students learn the state standards and become lifelong learners. Continually refining and maintaining solid classroom management and utilizing various learning styles throughout instruction will help me achieve these goals – in other words, by being a life-long learner myself.