Everyone knows about the magic that happens on the Nechita stage when the house lights go down and the curtain rises. But seeing backstage into the inner workings of Drama 3 – a class that prepares and equips students to thrive while on that stage – was an eye opening experience. 

Ms. Everhart toes the line between coach and teacher, wearing multiple hats as both a director of shows in the Nechita Center and a classroom teacher of four different classes: Drama 1, 2, 3, and Musical Theater (new to the school this year). Students in her Drama 3 course are juniors and seniors who have successfully completed the first two foundational drama courses and are eager for an additional challenge. Their faces are familiar to many, as they are the ones frequently seen on stage in plays and musicals, and a deep love of honing their craft is present in her room. Ms. Everhart works closely one on one with her students, helping them to break through barriers and become more confident in their acting abilities.

This week, they are working on monologues, perhaps the most challenging aspect of an actor’s career; they have to speak passionately and evoke an emotional response from the audience while speaking essentially to a wall. Ms. Everhart called student up to the front of the room to give their monologue to the class, and was able to offer immediate, targeted, and specific constructive criticism ranging from body posture tips to voice inflection. Seeing a master teacher like her at work was like watching a coach giving the nuanced suggestions that enables a player to rise to the championship level.

The next period, they had a chance to work on their monologues with a partner, switching off between giving the monologue and being the listener who could offer advice. Ms. Everhart had a series of specific tasks for them to be working on with their buddy, and it was clear from the intensity in the room that every student was highly motivated to improve their monologue before their had to give it to the class at large again.

Drama 3 seems to be one of the more “practical” classes on campus: the talent of speaking clearly and with confidence are the exact skills students will need to matter what future career path they choose. Look out for these fine actors actors on the Nechita Stage this coming spring during the musical Smile.


Sir Marty: More than a Comfort Dog

Last week, Mrs. Lark’s A.P. Psychology students hosted a very special guest as they explored effective principles of Operant Conditioning as part of their Learning chapter. Sir Marty, our 4-month old campus comfort dog, graciously stopped in to demonstrate his training regimen to the class, providing students with a fascinating real-world application of Operant Conditioning principles as well as some much-appreciated love and cuddles.

Specifically, Marty demonstrated the importance of behavior-consequence contingencies, the use of various primary and positive reinforcements to increase desired behaviors such as sitting, laying down, staying, and touching specific objects, the difference between continuous versus partial schedules of reinforcement, and the process of shaping complex behavior.

The students were able to see in action the very principles of Operant Conditioning they’d learned about, and it was a treat for everyone to get some Marty cuddles-a wonderful form of positive reinforcement provided right in the middle of the school day! Thanks, Marty!

You’re free! What’s your next move?

A HyFlex journey through the Civil War Reconstruction

 By OLu research partner, Brad Ermeling

Peter Lark has taught US history for 19 years, long enough to witness changes and additions to the latest chapter of our nation’s story. Throughout his career, Peter has consistently grappled with the challenge of covering this full breadth of expanding content while also constructing rich and memorable learning opportunities where students can discover, apply and transfer ideas about history to their everyday lives.

Peter views US History as a critical course for learning not only the storyline and content of our nation’s journey but also for helping students understand how actions and events of the past influence beliefs and issues we face today. It also helps them learn that people will hold diverse opinions about life and politics. These opinions, while different from their own, may be supported by equally good reason and rationale.

This year at Orange Lutheran, Peter is teaching his first HyFlex US history class. A HyFlex course blends face-to-face (f2f) learning with a flexible learning session (FLS) that is technology enhanced and primarily self-directed. It allows students to set the pace for a portion of their learning while still providing opportunities for face-to-face collaboration and guaranteeing access to individual or small group assistance from their teacher within the school day. Teachers can also use flex sessions to reduce class size and optimize facilitation of group work by bringing in one group or a smaller set of groups. Peter has been working to leverage the unique design of HyFlex to foster what he describes as a “US History Lab.” One insightful example is a recent lesson he planned on the Civil War Reconstruction.

More than a Series of Battles

When students first think of the Civil War they often think of generals and soldiers, guns and military strategy. They think of images so often captured in popular films or TV series about the North and South with men dressed in blue and grey uniforms, officers on horses, cannons and bayonets. Peter’s goal in teaching the Civil War, and particularly the reconstruction period following the war is to help students look beyond the military battles and victories and grapple with the deeper issues framing the period. Key questions Peter wants student to ponder include

  • What caused this war between North and South?
  • What was resolved and accomplished at the war’s conclusion?
  • What complexities did the nation face in bringing the South back into the Union?
  • What does this teach us about our government, society, and culture?
  • How do the outcomes of this war still affect our contemporary lives and government?
  • How do the failures of this reconstruction period linger on in the lives of African Americans today?

Part I: The US History Lab

To aid comprehension of these profound historical themes, Peter constructed a two-part lesson that guided students through the emotional journey and complex challenges of this critical period. Using the unique structure of his HyFlex class, he designed the first day as a US History Lab where students worked in teams of three to four and traveled through a series of stations focused on the reconstruction era. He divided the flex session into half (approximately 35 minutes each) and assigned a few teams to each half of the period. Click here to view a one minute introduction to the flex session and the station exercise Peter designed.

Students then spent seven to eight minutes in each of the stations described below.

Station 1: Setting the Stage: Who was Roger Taney? (7-8 minutes)

Station format: Students review a news clipping from the recent statue removal of Roger Taney and provide a written description of Taney’s decision about Dred Scott.

Reflection Questions: Who was Roger Taney? What did he decide in the famous Dred Scott Decision (1858)? When did the Civil War begin?

Station 2: The Civil War: What was won? (7-8 min)

Station format: Students watch a short documentary video describing the historical significance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Reflection Questions: What was won as an outcome of the Civil War? Watch the clip, review the images and think as a group. With your group, think about and rank the most important outcomes of the war? Why did you rank each this way?

Station 3: What did war leave behind? (7-8 min)

Station format: Students review assorted images: Newspaper headlines on Lincoln’s death, pictures of people with amputated limbs, burned path through Georgia, and bent rails on train tracks.

Reflection Questions: What was left behind by the war? Use the images to aid your thinking about what the war left behind. What was left behind in the North? What was left behind in the South?

Station 4: You’re free! What’s your next move? (7-8 min)

Station format: Students study contrasting images of a freed slave with a jubilant expression juxtaposed to the image of freed slave with a despondent expression.

Reflection Questions: The war is over and you are now a freed-slave. What would you choose to do next? How would you go about doing that?

Click below to watch two example student groups contemplating the images and reflection questions at Station 4 (You’re free! What’s your next move?”).

Group #1: “I think it would be scary.”

Group #2: “Slavery under a new name.”

Unlike his traditional class, the flex session enabled Peter to focus his attention on just three groups of students at a time (half of the class) and doubled the amount of energy and attention he could invest with each group as they progressed through the stations. In the clip from Group #1, for example, Peter was able to monitor the distribution of talk among team members and strategically draw out important insights from one girl in the group who had been quietly listening but not contributing much to the discussion. Similarly, in the clip from Group #2, he was able to listen-in during a pivotal moment, reinforce the group’s emerging insights about the South “reinventing slavery,” and build some anticipation for key terms and ideas they would discuss in the subsequent class period.

One of the goals of small group work is to help “make students’ thinking visible” so the teacher can better understand, probe, and nudge forward student thinking as they wrestle aloud with important questions. Peter believes these types of exchanges are critical opportunities for helping students make memorable connections with the content. Combining the HyFlex format with the station design increased the probability of those exchanges and removed the pressure Peter normally faces in managing the entire class while also circulating to facilitate deeper thinking. The result was deeper reflective discussions among groups at each station which prepared students for deeper analysis and study in the subsequent class period.

Click here to watch Peter wrap up the station work and build a bridge of anticipation for the upcoming f2f lesson.

Part II: Bringing it All Together

During the next regular class period following this flex lesson, Peter organized the classroom into groups based on notes they recorded in their station work. He strategically distributed students with classmates that were on different teams during the previous lesson so they might gain new insights and perspectives. He reframed and reintroduced the key questions from each station and facilitated a whole group discussion interspersed with opportunities for small group sharing and exchanges. Before and after reintroducing each question he elaborated on key events and themes from the period to deepen their understanding and insight and to aid students in making connections to the present day.

Click here to watch a video clip from Day 2 where Peter guides the class through a deeper analysis of the questions from Station 1: Roger Taney and the Dred Scott decision.

Using this same approach, Peter continued working through the key themes and ideas for each of the four stations. He wrapped up the exercise by asking students to ponder one additional question. “If you were an African American living at this time, what would you hope for?” Students talked about equality, mobility to get out of the South, more diversity within communities, and more help from the government. Peter pointed out that the government, up until this point, had applied a very strict interpretation of the constitution and had not played an active role as a change agent in society. The Civil War changed that, he explained, resulting in new funding and initiatives such as the transcontinental railroad, the homestead act which opened up the Western Territory for settlement, and the establishment of many state universities.

Finally, Peter transitioned from this discussion to a more detailed explanation of the key terms and historical milestones of the era, elaborating on the political, social, and economic factors Americans faced as they struggled to reunify the nation.

Student Interviews

Observations of students during station work and throughout the f2f lesson on Day 2 revealed a significant level of reflection, introspection, and empathy for the challenges Americans, and specifically African Americans, faced during this time period. The excerpts from two students interviewed below provide additional evidence of that introspection and insight. Both students (Avery Seagren and Kyle Hill) were members of Group 2 featured in the previous video clip.

I: As you traveled through the stations during that first lesson, what were some of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions?

A: I thought it was interesting the way we went about it. I like that we got to hear other people’s opinions…I thought it was nice to have the small groups…just to condense it…you feel like there is more discussion going on between you and the teacher.

K: I found the Roger Taney article very interesting…I saw how a guy was just following the trends of that time and technically making the right decisions became a villain for that one thing he did. He was not at the forefront of racism…but because of that one trial, he became this figure that people had painted to be a huge racist.

I: As you worked through the station about “What was won?” what were some of your impressions?

A: I think there were split opinions…back then…I think it was fantastic…especially the 13th Amendment. It was interesting to think about the Emancipation Proclamation. I didn’t know it was only the rebelling states’ slaves that were freed…

K: Out of all the war and violence what was born was the hope that all types of people might be treated equally without the fear of being targeted by bigotry and racism…the end of the Civil War is a start of a new beginning…what was won was hope that everyone might dwell together in unity.

I: What else did you realize about the time period and circumstances as you also reflected on “What was lost?” And “You’re free. What’s your next move?”

A: Definitely there was a lot more lost in the South than the North. It was interesting to learn that one of the Northern tactics was burning everything in their wake when they were sweeping through the South…it was sad to see all the destruction, because that was their economy.

K: I’m sure most of the slaves were excited to be free, but I’m sure many were also feeling pessimistic about leaving the plantation where they had shelter, food, and clothing. Now they are thrown into a world that doesn’t see them on the level of the rest of society. So what are they going to do? How are they going to survive? I’m sure some of them still felt enslaved…I think fear was a huge thing.

I: How does this lesson about the Civil War Reconstruction relate to the way you think about life in America today?

A: I think all of the violence over racism today…I feel like we should have learned from history. I definitely reflects the same pattern.

K: During the [second] class period, Mr. Lark talked about how the churches were segregated. I think it’s interesting how that has translated over time…kept that same thing with one race being predominant in a church. I think we have that time period to blame. There is still a separation of races.

I: One of the things you learned in these lessons was that the Civil War Reconstruction Era was a time period that was focused on change. What can we learn from this time period about how change happens in society?

A: Mr. Lark had said that change sometimes takes people dying, a generation that has a certain opinion to go away…I definitely agree with that. People just are so firm in their belief that they aren’t open to another opinion…those people are the ones blocking progress.

K: Well…it takes forever. I think that’s something Mr. Lark was also making clear…that change doesn’t happen in a few years. It takes…decades.


As Peter reflected on the lesson, he shared his own observations of students’ journey through the lesson content. He was gratified to see how students connected with the emotions of the period, how they stepped out of their own world view to consider the complexities from multiple perspectives. He was excited to see their level of reflection on the questions he posed as they made connections between the challenges of the Reconstruction era and the pressing issues in society today. A week later, after looking at their essay responses on a Civil War test, he was thrilled to see the highest class average he has ever experienced in this course.

Peter also reflected on his new “Lab” experiment with the HyFlex model and the opportunity this afforded for more focused interaction with a smaller number of students. He is looking forward to adapting that design for future units throughout the year as he continues to balance presentation of key facts and content with rich and memorable learning opportunities for discovery and application.

Football and US History

The following post was written by Humanites Intern and OLu junior, Max Krusiewicz.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The deafening sound of Mr. Spors slamming his imaginary drums to marching band music draws us in and stamps smiles on our faces. On the screen at the front of the room  is a slide projecting an unlikely pair: a patriot with a bayonet standing alongside a football with a sign reading, “The Revolutionary War as a Football Game!”

Mr. Robert Spors is known for his enthusiasm in teaching. When you think about it, studying history is like reading a never ending story. And without an inspiring narrator, learning would be futile.

Mr. Spors has mastered his trade over thirty-two years of working at Orange Lutheran. Being able to inform the students about US history has become second nature to him. Incredibly, many of the stories that have withstood the test of time are the battles taken place on American soil. The United States started as a feeble nation that barely survived as a country, but grew to become the biggest powerhouse in the world. Mr. Spors decides to to narrate the battles taken on US grounds in a fun and captivating way, and ends up engaging his students in the process.

Being a big fan of sports, Mr. Spors decides to incorporate the two things he loves most: teaching and football. So as a result, Mr. Spors awards us with a lecture on the Revolutionary War as a football game. Two sides line up, ready for battle, and BAM! The whistle blows and the countries engage.

History is hard for some students because it is all dates and details that seem to jumble up all over. However, if a sport is molded into the lecture, students (especially at OLu) are suddenly hooked and the important dates and details start to come to life.

Mr. Spors uses his huge personality to help his students to enjoy learning about history. The stories are not just words from our books anymore, brilliantly, Mr. Spors is kickstarting our brains to imagine what the wars were like in real life.


About the Author:

Max Krusiewicz is a Junior at Orange Lutheran. Max attended Foothill High School until his second semester of Sophomore year. When he transferred to OLu, Max fell in love with the school and writing. He became part of the Humanities and serves as the Champions of Teaching and Learning Student Intern. He also enjoys surfing and hanging out with his family and friends.

Press Conference

The following post is written by OLu Junior Humanities Academy intern Max Krusiewisz

Mr. Medina paces the room. His students are wide eyed and eager. He pauses and looks up. He smiles. His eyes twinkle. Then he opens his mouth.

“And… now.”

Immediately, the class room erupts with bursting questions.

Hold up. Let me back up a minute to explain.


It’s the first day back at Orange Lutheran, the start of the new year. As the students pile in to 8th period Journalism class they find their new teacher standing at the front of the room. It’s Mr. Medina, the Honors English 3 teacher and experienced journalist.


Most classes receive a syllabus on their first day back at school. The syllabus is designed to inform the class of the curriculum and rules of the classroom. However, Mr. Medina has a different idea in store today. He quickly introduces himself and assigns us our first mission as journalists. We are to brainstorm for five minutes on questions about our future class. When the allotted is up we will hold our first press conference on Mr. Medina about the year.


Excitedly, every student brainstorms and soon the press conference begins. Mr. Medina answers firing questions from each student, concerning grades, assignments, rules, and of course, Orange Lutheran’s school magazine, The Cornerstone.


Most classes on the first day are boring. There is a syllabus handed out, there are rules enforced, and everyone relaxes into the school year. Mr. Medina cleverly incorporated his own class into a boring thing like a syllabus and engaged his class. AND, it was fun. It geared up his journalists for the new year immediately.


As we left class that day Mr. Medina inspired us: As journalists, we are “history’s first author!”

What a way to start the school year!

Socratic Circles

Using Socratic Circles to facilitate discussion is a common teaching strategy employed by several departments on our campus. In a Socratic Circle, students are given the opportunity to voice their opinions about literature or a given topic in a more conversational setting: half the class has their desks together in a small circle at a time, students don’t have to raise their hands, and they are responding directly to their peers rather than just their teacher. Often the whole group is given a grade for the overall quality of their discussion rather than individuals being graded, which helps foster a true collaborative learning community focused on the “team effort” of learning and growing together. To find out more about how Mrs. Parsons and Mr. Mabry use Socratic Circles in their classrooms, click here.



What is that Smell?

May at OLu means AP testing, senior activities, busy spring sports and a smell that begins to permeate the science hallways. The source of the smell?  Cat and pig dissections.  In the Anatomy classes all students dissect a cat.  As they explore the different anatomical features they are answering one question: What parts are involved in a simple movement such as hitting a baseball? They start off thinking that it is just the muscles but quickly learn that the lungs have to get oxygen to send to the muscles, the heart has to pump the blood that carries the oxygen, the brain has to send a signal to the muscles, there has to be fuel from the digestive system to power the muscles…. quickly students realize that all parts are involved.  Their cat dissection will culminate with a final presentation that includes many pictures of the structures in the cat.

In all of the Biology classes, students are dissecting a fetal pig.  Just like in the Anatomy courses, this exposes students to all the features of the body.  One students said, “I had no idea the liver was that big! I didn’t even know what it did until today!”  From another, “Did you know the diaphragm separates the cavities of the body?” There is many “lightbulb” moments happening in the Biology rooms!