Welcome To Mr. Murphy’s Online Classroom

Thank you for visiting my online classroom! Please use this internet portal to find information about what we’re exploring in class, stay updated on assignments and class projects, and communicate with me. Learning never stops and now our classroom is at your fingertips!

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The Source

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The Rome writing project was, for many students, a daunting task. It was the first time they had encountered a substantive research paper/project in their schooling career. And this is something I recognized fully. For that reason, we completed it in stages and devoted significant class time to learning the process. And, overall, I am pleased with the outcome and feel we achieved our goals.

The writing project assignment was meant to be educative. Was I expecting a perfect paper? No. Rather, I expected students to hone and improve important skills in research, shaping arguments, understanding historical perspective, and expressing their opinion in writing. And I truly believe that a vast majority of students walked away from the assignment having improved those skills.

Another valuable lesson in the process–learned the difficult way by about a dozen students–was to make your work your own. Today’s technology makes it easier both for students to copy the work of others and for teachers to identify when that happens.

We spent much time discussing plagiarism and academic integrity as we completed this project. I know it is tempting for middle schoolers to “take the easy way out” and copy information for their assignment without proper analysis or attribution. It is critical that they learn this is not acceptable behavior in school now rather than later, where the consquences are more severe. If they rely on the ideas and words of others to make arguments, how can they acquire life-long skills they need to succeed in the 21st century world.

Was this a pervasive problem? No. But 12 students are 12 too many. I strongly encourage students and parents to have a discussion about academic integrity and honesty. As a teacher, I am not trying to play “gotcha” by screening papers for plagiarism. Rather, I am seeking to fulfill my educative mission to make my students better learners. And, as always, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

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When In Rome…

We are continuing our venture in Classical civilizations as we begin a unit on Ancient Rome. This civilization has been immortalized in literature, plays, and popular culture for centuries. And its impact on our world today is ever present.

As with all of our units of study, my priority is helping students see the multifaceted perspectives that come together to shape the history upon which we reflect today. Throughout this unit, students will explore history through the eyes of everyone from patricians to plebieians; from pagans to the persecuted, and everyone in between.

Included in this unit will be a comprehensive research assignment–completed in incremental stages–to help students understand these perspectives, the rise of the Roman Republic, and how Roman understanding of government shaped the opinions of Enlightenment philosophers and those who designed our own government.

We will also further assist the transition to 8th grade by focusing on more rigorous enagement with the content, honing note-taking and critical thinking skills, and developing better peer-peer relationships.

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We Are The Champions!

Bloomfield Middle School made history this weekend at the KAAC Region 11 Governor’s Cup Competition. Our talented students won overall Region Champions in addition to winning First Place in Future Problem Solving. This is a first for our school and our district since the competition began in 1986.

Two students–Clara Pozgay in Arts and Humanities & Nathan Fell in Science–took First Place in their testing categories. Luke Clements earned Third Place in Science while Jacob Hogan earned Fourth Place in Math. These students and our FPS team–Jade Coulter, Nathan Fell, Lizzie Marksbury, and Clara Pozgay–will advance to the State Governor’s Cup Competition in March.

As a coach, I’m very proud of our students. Considering this is the first year we’ve had an FPS team and these students have not competed before, coming in First Place in both the District and Region competitions is an extraordinary accomplishment. On Thursday, February 6th, we will take time to recognize all of our Academic Team students for their accomplishments. The recognition is well deserved!

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It’s All Greek

Please forgive the lack of updates recently. I’ve been having issues with accessing the platform we use for this site from the school’s network. We’ve been communicating and updating via Edmodo and Twitter. If you do not have a parent code for Edmodo, please email me. Hopefully, however, our issues with the site technology are resolved and I will have the time to make more regular updates.

We are finishing up our unit on Ancient Greece and, if Mother Nature will allow us, will take a test on Tuesday, February 5th (this is the second time it has been changed because of weather-related closings). The Snow Days are nice, but remember we do have to make them up.

One aspect of Ancient Greek history I have tried to emphasize throughout this weighty unit—and the same will apply to Rome—is the impact of the Greeks on our own society. Greece was, essentially, the first western civilization and be it from literature to politics; math to art; and medicine to architecture, it is difficult to find a corner of our society not influenced in some way by our Greek counterparts over two millennia ago.

And, as we prepare to study Ancient Rome, I hope the students see how Greece lays the groundwork for the emergence of one of the world’s largest and most powerful empires.

As always, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to email me. In addition, our issues should be resolved and regular updates here will resume. And feel free to join our lesson discussions on Edmodo!

And good luck to our Region Champion Future Problem Solving team! We competed this past Tuesday and should find out results tommorrow. I will post updates here. This was our first year at competition and taking first place at Districts was a great accomplishment. If we make it to the top 2 at Regions, we advance to the State Governor’s Cup competition in Louisville.

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The Big Test

No, I have not felt any sharp,  stabbing pains this week. So if my students have made Mr. Murphy voodoo dolls, they’re not working. After 5 weeks in Ancient Egypt, we are ready for the “big test.” Tests, for me, are not “gotcha” moments for us teachers. Rather, they are an opportunity for students to demonstrate their skills and understanding of the material we have been studying.

Students received a study guide on Monday and have been working on that at home (hopefully) and in class. As I told them, they may email me questions or post them on Edmodo. Most students have taken advantage of these resources.

This is a “big test” because of the importance on length of this unit of study. But students will be fine if they focus, face themselves, and come to class Friday prepared to apply their knowledge in a variety of ways. I’m always here if you have any questions or need help.

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The End is Near…Or Is It? Your Guide to Election Night

No, this is not a post about Mayan calendar prophesies (we’ll get to that eventually from a historical perspective). If you live in Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, or Nevada, you know what I’m talking about–the whirlwind 2012 Presidential election is drawing to a close. And voters in those states will decide this election. By all accounts, Governor Mitt Romney’s momentum–be it real or concocted by a media eager for a horse race–after the first debate has slowed and President Obama’s campaign heads into Election Day with a small but persistent lead in most state level polling.

Of course no one will know for certain the outcome of the Presidential election until actual votes are counted tomorrow. And, with both sides acknowledging the closeness of this election, it may be well past tomorrow before we know the final outcome. Some 1-2% of ballots in Ohio, a state which, as I noted in my previous post, could very well decide the presidency, will be cast provisionally. These ballots are not counted until 10 days after the election. New voter identification laws in Virginia–another toss-up–allow voters until Friday to show proof of identification in order for their ballots to count. In Florida and Colorado, military absentee ballots may not be counted for several days after the election.

The potential closeness of this election alone may produce recounts and lawsuits that will drag the certainty of the race into Wednesday or even next week. Already both sides have nearly 3,000 lawyers on the ground in Ohio, prepared to file motions and junctions in state and federal courts favoring their side. Remember Florida 2000? Our students are too young to remember, but the election was not decided until 36 days after ballots were cast–when the U.S. Supreme Court halted a recount and handed George W. Bush the presidency.

Why all the focus on a narrow group of states? As we discussed in class, the national polling matters little because of the Electoral College. No, that is not an educational institution. It is a collection of 538 electors who will cast their ballots for President and Vice President on behalf of the millions of citizens who vote tomorrow. CNN has a nice video summarizing how the Electoral College works. The Electoral College math has been a consistent challenge to Governor Romney’s presidential hopes. Quite simply, President Obama has more ways to reach the magic number needed to win–270–than Mitt Romney.

I’ve encouraged all of my students to watch the election returns tomorrow. Even though we have school on Wednesday, hopefully you will have some idea how things are shaping up before bed time. Below is your guide to when polls close where and which bellwethers to watch. Remember a bellwether is a small area that we can use to predict what happens in a larger area.

The first place to watch is Virginia--voting ends at 7:00 PM EST, the earliest among the toss-up states. If President Obama performs well in the Washington, DC suburbs in Northern Virginia enough to offset the military-oriented Norfolk/Hampton Roads area as well as rural areas of Western Virginia, it may be a bad night for Romney. Each candidate’s performance in Prince William County outside of DC could be an important indication as well. Virginia is a necessary ingredient for Romney’s road to the White House. If early returns show him under-performing in these must-win regions, it could be a rough night for him and his supporters.

At 7:30 PM EST, polls close in the crucial states of Ohio and North Carolina. Obama won North Carolina narrowly in 2008. Polls and trends suggest this should be a relatively safe bet for Romney in 2012, but if results show Romney struggling here, it could portend problems throughout the night. Obama must rely on the “Research Triangle” to perform well in North Carolina–the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region that includes large campus communities, pivotal to Obama’s 2008 success. Romney must run strong in Forsyth County (Winston-Salem) and rural areas to hang on to his lead.

And then there’s Ohio. Stark County is traditional considered a bellwether for the state, although John Kerry won it narrowly in 2004 while losing the state. Obama must perform strongly in Cleveland and Romney must mirror Obama’s surprising 2008 performance in the traditionally Republican Cincinnati metropolitan area. Both candidates have poured millions of dollars in advertising in Columbus (the capital) and its suburbs, which could decide the election. Romney is also banking on big turnout in rural areas, including Southeastern Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. A loss in Ohio would require Romney to win nearly all remaining toss-up states, a feat that if not impossible is improbable.

At 8:00 PM EST, polls close in two more crucial swing states: Florida and New Hampshire. Florida was THE state in 2000. Bush carried it in 2004 and Obama won it relatively comfortably in 2008. While Romney has showed a consistent lead in Florida, polls have tightened to a dead heat. Without Florida’s 29 electoral votes, Romney’s path to the presidency is extraordinarily difficult. The I-4 corridor, which cuts the state in half from Orlando to Tampa, is seen as an important bellwether. Hillsborough County (Tampa) will be especially important to watch–can Romney perform well enough in the suburbs to dampen Obama’s performance in the more urban areas? A poor showing by Romney in the suburbs and the traditionally Republican panhandle will signal bad news for the Romney campaign.

New Hampshire’s 4 electoral votes may not seem like much, but if Al Gore had won New Hampshire in 2000, Florida wouldn’t have mattered. Obama, as in 2008, is relying on heavy turnout in and around Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire. Romney has to rely on the Republican suburbs and towns along the border with Massachusetts–a blue state where Romney served as Governor for four years. Merrimack County, in the south-central portion of the state, could be an important barometer as you watch results come in. It is home to the state capital of Concord and state employees there are reliably Democratic. But Romney needs to offset this with strong turnout in the Republican suburbs if he wants to win the state.

At 9:00 PM EST, polls close in Wisconsin and Colorado. Wisconsin, the center of the Progressive movement (more on that in our seminar course) has been a reliably Democratic state for the past six presidential elections. A wave of Republican enthusiasm last year prevented the recall of Governor Scott Walker and Romney hopes to benefit from this level of organization at the state-level. Wisconsin is also home to Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan. But Obama has led consistently in the state and, despite late moves by Romney, it is not expected to be overly competitive. If it is, then Romney will be having a good night. Wisconsin represents part of Obama’s “firewall” that affords him the chance to sacrifice Ohio while winning the election. Watch for turnout in the Democratic areas of Milwaukee and Madison as well as traditionally Republican areas farther north in Green Bay and Appleton. Romney must also perform strongly in the Milwaukee suburbs, driving up turnout, if he has any hopes of carrying the state. Still, it’s a long-shot.

Colorado, on the other hand, has been tight throughout the election. An economy rooted in the defense-industry may be compelled to support Romney in light of his pledge to increase military spending. The Hispanic vote will be key here, as it helped fuel Obama’s 2008 win in the state. Should he lose Ohio, Colorado’s 9 electoral votes are must-haves for Romney.

Polls in Minnesota also close at 9:00 PM and Republicans started make late moves. A Republican-leaning organization even put out a poll showing the race tied. Obama’s campaign dispatched President Bill Clinton to the state to rally Democrats in this traditionally blue state. If Romney wants to “expand the map” here, he must perform strongly among white voters. No Republican has won the state in 40 years.

At 10:00 PM EST, polls close in the last two toss-up states: Iowa and Nevada. President Obama has the advantage in both heading into the election. These states, along with Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Florida, are must-wins for Romney should he lose Ohio and defy history by being the first Republican to win the White House without winning Ohio. Note that if Romney loses Ohio and wins all the above states minus New Hampshire, the election would be tied 269-269 (more on that below). To win Iowa, Romney must perform strongly in eastern Iowa, particularly the Quad Cities area, where he thinks his economic message will resonate with blue-collar voters. Sioux County in northwestern Iowa is traditionally seen as a bellwether. And Romney must do well in the Des Moines suburbs to offset the urban vote. Finally, the small county of Cedar County has historically picked the winner of Iowa in recent Presidential elections.

As for Nevada, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and this is the area where most of the votes are concentrated. Driving up turn out in Clark County (Las Vegas) area will be important for Democrats. The Hispanic vote will be critical for an Obama victory here. Also keep an eye on Washoe County (Reno) in the northwestern part of the state. Bush carried it in 2004, Obama in 2008. A strong performance in Reno and its suburbs will be important for Romney to offset Democratic performance in Clark County.

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Is your head spinning yet? Clearly there is much to watch for even before 10:00 PM tomorrow night. But, by all accounts, the election may very well not be decided tomorrow night. Regardless, we should have a general idea where things are headed by keeping an eye on these key areas as the night progresses.

Both campaigns are now focused on targeting these areas and getting their people out to vote. Could Mitt Romney win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College? It is certainly possible. The last time that happened was in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but fell short in the Electoral College. If Republican turnout in the South and rural parts of red state is high in proportion to urban areas on the East and West coast, Romney’s overall popular vote numbers could be inflated. But the Electoral College math remains difficult for Romney. He must win Florida and, without Ohio, the path is very difficult. What happens if there is a 269-269 tie? The newly elected House of Representatives elects the President (casting one vote per state) and the newly elected Senate elects the Vice President (Romney-Biden?). But the chances of that happening are relatively slim.

Follow me on Twitter for updates on the election results @MrMurphyBMS and join the conversation!

Come to class on Wednesday prepared to dissect the election–maybe we’ll know a winner.

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President of Ohio

With the debates out of the way, President Obama and Governor Romney are sprinting to the finish line. In just two weeks, voters will go to the polls in what is shaping up to be an exceptionally tight contest. As with the 2000 and 2004 elections, it appears this year’s Presidential election could be decided by one state among the collection of “swing states”–tossup’s that change party preference from election-to-election.

As Romney pulls ahead in Florida–the quintessential swing state that served as the center of controversy 12 years ago–and Obama breaks wind in must-wins such as Pennslyvania, Michigan, and Wisconisn, all eyes turn to Ohio. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio and Ohio has picked the winner of every Presidential election since 1964.

President Obama clearly had the upper hand in last night’s foreign policy-focused debate. But how much will that debate–and the previous two–influence the decisions of that narrowing and exclusive group of swing voters in those key states? What will ensue over the next two weeks is a complex game of chess by both campaigns as they assess where to spend time, money, and other limited resources to close the deal with voters in the remaining battleground states. For Governor Romney, does that mean reduce your efforts in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan–slipping out of reach–and focus instead on Ohio? For Pesident Obama, does it mean cut your potential losses in North Carolina and turn up the heat in Ohio and Virginia?

As we discussed today in class, president’s are elected through the Electoral College. And regardless of the tightness of national polls, Romney’s Electoral College math has long been difficult. Given the trend since the first debate in some crucial states, however, it is somewhat less daunting now than it was a month ago. But, as it stands, Romney has more “must-wins” among the swing states than Obama.

Based upon current trends, I think it is apparent Ohio’s 18 electoral votes could decide the next President, tipping the scales to a 270 majority for either candidate. So if you get the feeling that President Obama and Governor Romney are running for President of Ohio over the next two weeks, do not be surprised.

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The Third & Final Debate

Tonight President Obama and Governor Romney will meet in the third and final Presidential debate hosted on the campus of Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. We have been talking about each of the debates in our classes, especially the seminar course.

The impact of debates like these has varied in recent history. In a tight contest between a young Senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy, and Vice President Richard Nixon, television viewers believed overwhelming Kennedy won the debate–his youthful appearance and confident mannerisms contrasted sharply with Nixon’s unkempt, nervous image. Kennedy benefited immensely from the emerging age of television.

Many historians consider the debates in 1980 a defining moment of the election between embattled incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. It was in the debate setting Reagan’s lines “There you go again” and “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” debuted. And, four years later, after a poor debate performance that left many questioning Reagan’s capacity to lead, he was able to regain ground in the final debates and won in a landslide.

In 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton showcased his characteric ability to empathize with middle class Americans in the debate setting, particularly a town hall debate where incumbent President George H. W. Bush was caught checking his watch. While Clinton lagged behind the polls much of that summer, his strong performance during the debates helped propel him to the Presidency.

And in 2000, Vice President Al Gore was harangued for his negative body language and excessive sighs during then-Governor Bush’s debate responses. Some argue that this negative image may have been enough to tip the scales in an extremely close contest that ended with a Supreme Court decision.

Not all debates decide an election’s final outcome. In 2004, most pundits felt Democratic nominee John Kerry bested incumbent President George W. Bush in each of the three debates but Bush went on to win re-election. And in 2008, the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy on September 15th sent shockwaves through the economy and deepened the recession, all but assuring Barack Obama’s election. At the same time, then-Senator Obama performed strongly during the debates with Senator John McCain, whose numerous missteps in the wake of the economic disaster led voters concerned about the economy convinced he was ill-equipped to address the crisis. 

At the end of the day, a narrow portion of undecided voters who are making up their minds as you read this will tip the scales in this election. The debates are certainly a component of that decision-making process but the exact size of their impact is difficult to measure. There is no question that the first debate of this election cycle shifted the dynamics of an election that was trending in President Obama’s favor. Now, locked in such a tight contest, every move matters and can make a significant difference. That’s why tonight’s debate–and what happens over the next two weeks–is important.

Please watch the debate tonight, discuss it with your son/daughter, and I look forward to our classroom discussion about it tomorrow.

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Chicken or the Egg

We are off to a great post-fall break start as students (and us teachers) are getting back into the groove of things after our time off. We resumed our unit on Ancient Egypt Monday disuccsing the Egyptian creation story, in which the sun god Ra was born out of an egg floating in the ocean. The Ancient Egyptian answer to the timeless question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is, then, the egg.

Students were fascinated to learn that the Ancient Egyptians worshipped over 2,000 gods. Among them, one of the most important gods involved in the creation story was Osiris, the favorite grandson of Ra. That’s why Ra made him the first pharaoh (king) of Egypt. Osiris’ brother, Set, was jealous of these turn of events (as is common with siblings) and killed his brother.

Osiris’ widow, Isis, is said to mourn the death of her husband once each year along the banks of the all-important Nile River. These tears, the Ancient Egyptians believed, resulted in the annual flooding of the Nile. This flooding cycle and the river itself, as we learned a couple of weeks ago, made life in the Nile River Valley possible.

Today, I gave students access codes to Edmodo. As I told them, Edmodo will be an extension of our in-class work so that students can participate in class discussions beyond the walls of the classroom, access online resources to help them engage in the content we are exploring in class, and communicate with me and their classmates about these topics. Any parents who are interested in joining Edmodo–where you can oversee the work your child does in our group–should contact me. I hope you and the students will find this a valuable resource.

Our journey in Egypt will continue over the next few weeks and, throughout this week, we will explore more deeply the culture, government, and beleifs of this fascinating society.

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