Archive for the ‘Classroom’ Category

Mock Trial 2017– Jackson is NOT Guilty!

10:45AM   April 6th, 2017

On March 30, 2017, the Villa Academy 8th Grade U.S. History students traveled to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle to try former president Andrew Jackson for his alleged crimes against humanity, which occurred in the 1830’s as Americans moved west. The specific charges stated that “President Andrew Jackson, with premeditated intent, did conduct or authorize a widespread or systemic attack against a civilian population (herein, the Cherokee Nation), where the following methods were employed: murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, and other similar inhuman acts that caused great suffering and serious injury.”

The 8th grade students spent almost eight weeks preparing for this trial. Prep included learning the historical context of Native American removal, specifically, the idea of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion. Then, students digested almost thirty pages of primary source material, which ranged from speeches to letters, from first-hand accounts to Supreme Court decisions, and maps to formal portraits. After several discussions about trial strategy and then further research to support our strategies, students selected six witnesses for each the prosecution and the defense. Once students were given roles, they had to write a statement about how their role fit into the context of the trial, and what evidence from the source material packet –and another cache of additional materials– would assist them. Final preparations involved digging further into research for particular roles and strategies, drafting opening and closing statements and examination questions, learning about courtroom protocol, questioning techniques, voir dire, and practicing their testimonies.

Margaret(Prosecution) Opening Statements David N.(Defense)
Prosecution Witnesses
DX: Amelia Mr. Samuel CloudJulian CX: Claire K.
DX: Kaden Priv. John G. BurnettGarett CX: Greta
DX: Ryan P. Davy CrockettAnnaliese CX: Raven
DX: Kate M. MicanopyKelly CX: Sofie R.
DX: Linsey Justice John MarshallEthan CX: Eleanor
DX: Lily F. Chief John RossJenna CX: Aidan (Voir Dire)
Defense Witnesses
DX: Billy (Voir Dire) Gov. Wilson LumpkinTaylor C. CX: Ryan Y.
DX: Kate H. Mr. John MarstonLily S. CX: Alicia
DX: Nyssa Major RidgeGreyson CX: Ethan B.
DX: Hannah Mr. Elias Boudinot IIReilly CX: Sofia N.
DX: Me-lin Brig. Gen. Winfield ScottRyan J. CX: Owen
DX: Cameron Pres. Andrew JacksonMaya CX: Ella
Claire F.(Prosecution)Simon– Rebuttal Closing Arguments Marika(Defense)

The trial opened with jury selection. Facing a pool of 13 possible jurors, student attorneys began the voir dire process, asking questions of the jury pool to begin to shape their own side’s narrative. Both prosecution and defense identified favorable jurors and were able to strike jury pool members who hinted that they may not “buy into” the narrative of the case. This year, potential jurors were questioned about a number of topics including the president’s role and the story of Beauty and the Beast. Potential jurors were asked to focus only on the role and actions of the president in general, and to avoid discussing current, or recent, presidents. Further, jurors were asked to avoid topics such as healthcare, taxes, emails, Russia, golf, or Twitter, as none of those were relevant during the Trail of Tears and westward movement. Ultimately, four potential jurors were dismissed by the teams of defense and prosecution attorneys.

As opening statements began, members of both the jury and the gallery were quickly absorbed with stories of greed and corruption, hardship and confusion, and the threads that weave our diverse American history. Students battled back and forth between direct and cross examinations, showcasing both their exhaustive preparation and their abilities to think on their feet. The prosecution focused on the destruction of the Cherokee Nation and other native groups at the hands of greedy politicians. They compared the confinement and removal of the Cherokee to the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps. They showed the jury two competing maps: “The White Man’s Map, 1812,” and “The Indian Map, 1812,” which demonstrated that maps depend on perspective. One on map, the jury saw clearly delineated states. On the other, they saw the same land divided by five distinct native groups known as the “Civilized Tribes.”

The defense focused on the difficult decisions that Presidents and Heads of State are often required to make. They suggested that Jackson was forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. By deciding to move the Cherokee, they argued, Jackson made a difficult decision that he believed would cost the fewest lives while also providing the best option for long term security for both the country and Native American sovereignty. They conceded that while Jackson did, in fact, aim to help the Cherokee, his actions did not have the intended impact.

Ultimately, the jury returned a NOT GUILTY verdict after debating the charges and testimony. While the jury agreed that this was an inexcusable event in American history, they believed that Andrew Jackson could not shoulder the blame legally.

The students impressed everyone: the judge, court clerks, visiting parents, jurors, Mr. Guadagno, and both Ms. Brooks and Ms. May. One member of the court staff said that she’d been a middle school teacher for several years and was incredibly impressed with how poised and professional our students were.

Students reflected on their Mock Trial experience. One said, “I realize now, after the trial, that so many different powers and decisions led to the Trail of Tears, and it would be extremely difficult to blame any one person. Another extremely interesting thing about the trial was that it brought history closer to us. It made us see all of the points of view, all of the decisions, and all of the people involved. It made us think of the historical event as if it was recently, which throws an entirely new and exciting light on things… The trial made us envision and understand what it was like to live during this period of politics and change. This is extremely important if we want to be able to empathize in any way with the past.”

Another student reflected, “I think that mock trial is an amazing part of the 8th Grade History curriculum because it is a very good experience for us. Not only do we learn about history, we also have fun in the process… Mock trial allows us to think outside the box and do an interesting project. I also think it is really cool to go to a real courthouse, in front of a real judge and learn all at the same time. This project can be a valuable and fun lesson to all, even for students who do not plan to become lawyers. I think it’s important for students to see how their government works and to be a part of the process even in a scripted way. In today’s casual world it is valuable for youth to participate in a formal courtroom setting.”

Judge Coughenour was equally impressed with our students. He awarded four students with “Best Witness” and “Best Attorney” gavels: Greyson, Julian, David, and Raven. Judge Coughenour then invited the students to ask questions about his career, including his appointment by President Reagan and his most well-known cases. The students were able to tour Judge Coughenour’s office, library, and jury room.

Thank you so much to parent drivers and jury members, and especially to Mr. Guadagno for all of his time and effort!

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8A Protests Their History Textbook

12:07PM   April 29th, 2016

This year, we piloted an online textbook for 8th Grade History. The text connects to Common Core standards, the National Council of Social Studies standards, and 21st Century Skills. The online text provides a foundation of content from which we have further investigated topics like the Constitution and Bill of Rights, westward expansion, immigration, industrialization, reform efforts, and slavery.

Our study of slavery took an interesting turn! We read the text, took notes, and discussed the material together as a class. Students had many questions about slavery that either were not addressed by the text, or were addressed in ways that did not reconcile with what they already knew. Once we were confident in our fundamental understanding, we began to curate our slavery museum. The slavery museum is an opportunity for students to investigate a topic of their choice (family life, spirituality, law, abolition, Jim Crow, resistance, or labor) using designated materials such as diaries, maps, legal codes, letters, pictures, and secondary sources.

The museum was fascinating. The students demonstrated interest, engagement, empathy, and understanding with their artifacts, research, and responses. Perhaps what was most rewarding to me, was their criticism of their textbook in contrast to what they learned in the museum. I had noted these inconsistencies in the text when I reviewed the section, but decided to facilitate, rather than direct, further questioning. Once the students raised their own protestations, we went back to review the textbook. Though the text provided essential background, it did not tell the complete story honoring the experience of slavery. This provided the students with a critical learning opportunity to ask questions, weigh the consequences of the choices made by the textbook publisher, and advocate for a more authentic representation. After three days of investigation and discussion, the students considered their options: they could ignore the inconsistencies, or they could advocate for a change. The following letter, written to the authors of the textbook, is the result of our comparison between the text and our independent research. The students collaborated to create a goal and an outline for their letter. Then they broke into groups to tackle each section. Finally, the students came together again to join their sections, make suggestions, revise for clarity, and complete a final edit.


Villa Academy 8th Grade History

5001 N. 50th St.

Seattle, WA 98105


Mr. Davidson and Mr. Stoff

Pearson Education, Inc.

1900 E. Lake Ave

Glenview, IL 60025

Dear Mr. Davidson and Mr. Stoff,

We are 8th grade students at Villa Academy in Seattle, Washington. We are writing because you have omitted important information on the topic of slavery in your online textbook, American History. We found it difficult to fully understand both the horrors and the long-term impact of slavery by reading the textbook alone. We feel we were deprived of the opportunity of understanding the aspect of slavery in America’s past. The sense of the chapter was that slavery just wasn’t that bad. After studying the lesson, we still did not know how awful the slaves were treated and how gruesome their situation was. The pictures you used made slavery look happy and joyful. The colors were bright and their clothes were never dirty. The slaves were always standing up straight, rather than bending over, laboring. These images made us think that the slaves’ work was easy. The pictures did not capture the grittiness and cruelty of slavery. For example, the photo of a slave’s house that you used looks like a nice cabin that you could rent for a camping trip. If you were to go to a different source, you would see that the houses were built poorly. They had holes in the roofs, they were tiny and ramshackle, and many families had to be crammed into them. The barns for plantation animals were better built than the slave cabins.

When you write things like, “Even the kindest slave owners insisted that their enslaved workers work long, hard days” (Lesson 7.2.4), you imply that some slave owners were kind. We understand that there were some who were kinder than others, but really, they were still slave owners and they still owned slaves. This sentence implied that we could ignore all of the horrible things that the slaves had to go through. Slave owners didn’t just insist that slaves do their work. They whipped, killed, raped, tortured, hung, starved, and abused the slaves if they didn’t do their work. We noted that your word choice was also questionable. Of 19th century territorial advance, you wrote, “In 1848, the Mexican War added vast western lands to the United States.” This implies a passive gift-giving, rather than a bloody war aimed at expansionism (Lesson 8.1.2). Finally, by underscoring Harriet Tubman’s lack of direct experience with slavery (Lesson 8.1.6), you undermine the value of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

You left out details regarding some very important topics. You failed to represent the cruelty and poor working conditions that the slaves lived in. Another thing you forgot to mention is the perspective and experience of the slaves. You could have included oral histories, diaries, and letters in your “primary documents” sections. Without these details, you paint an image of slaves who barely faced discrimination and lived healthy lives, and this isn’t the truth. The truth is that slavery was one of the darkest periods in U.S. history, and it needs to be represented as such. We would rather be informed that the era of slavery was terrible time in our history, than be given the impression that the slaves had easy work, were well-clothed, and lived generally happy lives despite being enslaved. These details made us wonder why the slaves rebelled in the ways that they did. The texts raise questions about why slavery was abolished if it helped the U.S. economy.

We think that you should rewrite the chapter to include all of the information that was missing. We think that you should add information about the slave trade and slave punishments, instead of briefly bringing up the punishments that the slaves endured. We think that you should talk about how slaves were lynched, whipped to death, and assaulted. We would appreciate it if you went into the fact that babies weren’t expected to live because of the poor medical conditions. We would like you to write about how before the cotton gin was invented, slaves would have to work at home after their long hours of labor on the plantation to clean the cotton. We also think that you should use more liberal language to honor the majority of students who truly desire to understand slavery’s legacy.

While we plan to investigate alternative texts for next year, we  also look forward to hearing your thoughts on our critiques of the online version of American History.


8A History

Villa Academy


Europe World Fair Photos

10:38AM   March 3rd, 2016

7th Graders completed their Europe World Fair last week. Check out all the amazing projects, below! Also, save the date for our 2016 Villa Academy World Expo in the Rainbow Theater, on June 7 from 9:00 am to 10:10 am.


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8th Grade Goes to Law School (in a day!)

10:43AM   November 30th, 2015

Michael Guadagno and Joe Shaeffer are here today, providing the 8th grade students a crash-course in the law. This fun-filled day of learning introduces students to courtroom procedure and terminology, the ins and outs of legal roles, and allows them to apply their understanding of the Constitution to the law and legal process. They examine cases – some serious, others funny – as they discover precedent applying to their own cases, and begin to establish their own legal strategies. They leave this day with a firm understanding of their own role, and the role of each person involved in a case, from crime to sentencing. Feel free to ask your student questions about the day, as I’m sure they’ll have lots to share.

Law School officially kicks off our Mock Trial “season” and we’ll be moving quickly toward trial on December 15. Tuesday and Wednesday of this week will certainly be exciting, as we’ll have Officer Lang and Detective Biggs visiting from the Seattle Police Department. Wednesday will be partially spent outside at 8A’s crime scene; please remind your student to have a coat, and possibly extra shoes, for this day.

Stay tuned for more updates!



7th Grade

11:29AM   October 10th, 2014

7th Grade Humanities is off to a great start!

In World Geography, students have reviewed the Five Themes of Geography. We’ll spend the year investigating the world through the lens of this framework. Our focus is on becoming geographers as we learn about global cultures and conflict. To wrap up our unit on the Five Themes, students worked in groups to create a poster for each theme. Then the worked individually to craft beautiful mobiles that decorate our ceilings. Click to enlarge the pics below.

mobile 2mobile 1


World Fair Starts! On Thursday, Ms. Rez and Ms. Brooks introduced the students to the World Fair. We reviewed the purpose and learning objectives, so that students understand that by choosing a topic and directing their own learning, they are more likely to invest, engage, and produce. Students may choose any topic of interest focused on a country or specific place in the continent we are studying (currently, Latin America). Topics must have an inherent conflict, but students needn’t worry; Ms. Brooks and Ms. Brooks can help them make just about any topic work. Students received their World Fair planning packets on Thursday, which will help guide them through the process and provide specific benchmarks and due dates.

In English, we’ve been reading Queen of Water, by Virginia Faranango. It’s her true story about growing up as an indigenous girl in Ecuador. Ask your son or daughter about Virginia’s story!

We’ve also been writing. Our focus in October is characterization, and the way authors create round characters through the characters’ words, actions, and relationships with other characters. We’ve analyzed several characters in Queen of Water, and students have used magazine pictures as inspiration to create their own characters. Next week, students will write a Halloween-themed story using their magazine character as the protagonist. Stay tuned!



Former President Andrew Jackson Found Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

9:52AM   February 20th, 2013


On February 14, 2013, the Villa Academy 8th Grade U.S. History students traveled to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle to try former president Andrew Jackson for his alleged crimes against humanity, which occurred in the 1830’s as Americans moved west. The specific charges stated that “President Andrew Jackson, with premeditated intent, did conduct or authorize a widespread or systemic attack against a civilian population (herein, the Cherokee Nation), where the following methods were employed: murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, and other similar inhuman acts that caused great suffering and serious injury.”

Students spent almost six weeks preparing for this trial. Prep included learning the historical context of Native American removal, specifically, the ideas of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion. Then, students digested almost thirty pages of primary source material, which ranged from speeches to letters, and from first-hand accounts to Supreme Court decisions. Students selected witnesses, and were given roles; they had to write an essay about how their role fit into the context of the trial, and what evidence from the source material packet would assist them. Once the students were familiar with the historical context, the source material, and their roles, they had to get ready for the trial. This involved drafting opening and closing statements and examination questions, learning about courtroom protocol, questioning techniques, and objection rules, and practicing their testimonies.

Judge John C. Coughenour presided over the trial.

The trial lasted for two and a half hours, though a few jurors were in tears within minutes of the Prosecution’s opening statement. Students battled back and forth between direct- and cross-examinations, showcasing both their exhaustive preparation and their abilities to think on their feet. 8B, the prosecution, focused on Jackson’s threat of “utter annihilation” during their opening and closing statements, while 8A rested their defense on the choices given to the Cherokees, and the consequences of those choices. Ultimately, the jury returned a GUILTY verdict after debating the charges and testimony.

The students were incredibly well-prepared. While we script the trial as much as possible, some of the students were ready for a fight. They were able to go off-script when necessary and proved time and again that they knew the case materials inside and out. We witnessed an excellent showdown between Chief John Ross (CJ Rogers) and his cross-examiner (Ben Capeloto). The kids were able to convey an incredible amount of information through the trial format. Even Judge Coughenour mentioned that he learned quite a bit from our trial.  This year, students were able to convey emotion and drama as well as compelling — and complex!– political arguments in a way that suggested they have a clear understanding of both the moral implications of the move as well as the legal arguments that might have protected Jackson. We have never seen a defense team dig so deeply into the material. Even Mr. Guadagno and I learned something new this year!

8A and 8B impressed everyone: Judge Coughenour, court clerks, visiting parents, jurors, Mr. Guadagno, andVilla administrators James Joseph and Joan Hudson. In fact, the court staff has since said that the kids were incredibly professional, poised, and confident. Judge Coughenour remarked that this trial was one of the best examples of “real-life” learning he had ever seen.

The jurors, all parents of Villa students, played a pivotal role in our trial. Angela Finney, mother of children in P4 and 1st grade, said, “I was simply blown away by their preparation, depth of knowledge, poise and enthusiasm.  It was an entertaining and informative morning.   I love that throughout the trial I was taken through twists and turns in the story.  And I found it difficult to stop thinking about the debate long into the evening.  What an amazing way to learn and, most importantly, critically think about our country’s history.  It made me proud to be a Villa parent and excited for my kids’ futures at our school.”

Lisa Reisch, also on the jury, said, “The 8th graders were giddy with excitement on the car ride home from the courthouse!!  They wanted to know exactly what the jury thought of the witnesses and case details, in addition to what factors played most heavily into the jury deliberations and ultimate verict.  I was really impressed with the research the 8th graders put into the characters involved with the Treaty of Hopewell, Treaty of Echota, and Indian Removal Act. For me, it was a highly informative crash course on this important piece of our American history.”

Barbara Pearson told me, “I was amazed by how ‘real’ the trial felt in every way – I was engaged from from the first moment, fascinated by the procedure, riveted by the arguments.”

Another juror, Annie Duffy, had this to say: “What was especially impressive to me was the amount of buy-in that the 8th graders had to this trial and their characters. They were able to weave a detailed account of a slice of our country’s history in to a short amount of time and even with the brief time allotment, give all jurors a lot to think about and, for most, struggle over.”

We are so grateful to Michael Guadagno for all of the ways he supported the 8th Graders during this experience. He put forth an incredible amount of effort and time, and his guidance was invaluable.

Please view the photos, below!



World Fair 2012-2013

2:39PM   December 7th, 2012

7A completed the first cycle of the World Fair on November 20th, celebrating South and Central American geography.  Please check out the pictures!

Mock Trial 2012-2013

2:48PM   December 6th, 2012

Mock Trial is here!

To culminate our unit on the United States Constitution, 8A and 8B are taking what they’ve learned about Constitutional law and the Bill of Rights to put Angelo Calfo on trial for Kidnapping in the First Degree.  Students have worked for two weeks to pour through the case materials and witness statements to craft their speeches and examinations. They have worked through the forensic evidence in science class, lifting fingerprints, testing DNA, classifying a mysterious white powder, and determining blood type. We invited Officer Lang and CSI Biggs from the Seattle Police Department to speak with us about crime scene investigation, investigative procedures, and testifying in court.

Check out the pictures from Officer Lang’s and Detective Biggs’ visit!