Hidden Figures Challenge

One day in class, several students commented on how great the movie Hidden Figures  is.  I admitted that I had never seen it.  One student’s level of shock and dismay would lead one to believe that I had just admitted to clubbing baby seals or drowning puppies.  To appease her I agreed to watch the movie IF she could be on time to class every day for two weeks.  I thought it was an easy challenge to win because this girl hadn’t gone two days straight without being tardy, much less two weeks.

Two weeks after the challenge was made, she managed to be on time every day.  The good news for her was she won the challenge and I have to write a 300 word response to the movie.  The bad news for her is she now has to be on time every day because she proved she could do it.

Here is my response to the movie:

My gut reaction to the movie was that I enjoyed it.  I wouldn’t say it changed my life and it may not make my top ten list of greatest movies of all time.  But is is definitely a movie that every American should watch at least once.

The plot revolves around a group of African-American women who were mathematicians for NASA before the age of the digital computer.  These brilliant women were responsible for all the computations that would put a man in Earth’s orbit and eventually put a man on the moon.  Spoiler alert: John Glenn goes into orbit and these ladies are the heroes.  Since it is based on a true story, I kind of saw it coming.

Regardless, it was a triumphant story.  A story that racked up a few Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.  For years, I have not agreed with the Academy’s choice for Best Picture, so I don’t put a lot of stock in their nominations; but this film deserved the nomination.

I have not seen any of the director’s other movies, so he is not a household name (at least, not in my household).  The cast is superb.  Each actor did an amazing job. Admittedly, I was afraid there was bad news coming for one of the characters when she married the man portrayed by Mahershala Ali.  He is a phenomenal actor, but I have only seen him play bad guys.  Spoiler alert: he plays a great guy.

Kevin Costner is one of my favorite actors and he does a great job playing the man who is responsible for the success or failure of America’s place in the space race.

Kirsten Dunst was not right for the job.  She is too young-looking and doesn’t come across as someone calling the shots.  Spider-Man’s girlfriend, sure.  NASA? Nerp.

Huge shout out to Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe.  These three women made me feel their sadness, their triumphs, and their joys.  I had all the feels watching these three performances.

The cinematography made this a beautiful movie to watch.  The use of actual NASA footage made the whole film feel like a step back in time.

Hans Zimmer’s music does not disappoint.  He always does a great job.

Bottom line: this will not be a film that I watch more than once, but I am certainly glad that I lost the challenge.


Student Blogging Challenge: Week Two

The Student Blogging Challenge is underway, and the students of awesomeness are learning the art of thoughtful expression and connecting with new people.

Not My First Rodeo

This is the second year that my classes have participated in the Student Blogging Challenge.  Each week we are challenged to a series of tasks.  Some tasks are a bit more challenging than others.  I have been using Edublogs since 2007.  It has not been a consistent journey.  I have had some lean years in making progress with students, but this year seems to have gotten some traction.  Maybe I am betting better at teaching blogging after all!

The Challenge This Week

This week, we are challenged to make quality comments.  In a world of “swiping up,” students are used to passive commenting that requires minimal thought and time.  Quality commenting takes some brain power.  Students have to find a post, read the content, and find a connection with the post strong enough to warrant a comment.  It isn’t easy, but those students who are up to the challenge are usually rewarded with a thoughtful response from the post’s author.

Student Blogging Challenge

This is the first year my classes will participate in the annual Student Blogging Challenge.  The goal is to start online conversations with students of the same age and interests around the world.  We have worked for the past six weeks getting ready for the challenge.  It is finally here and we are learning how to use the blogs we have worked so hard to build.

New tasks are posted every Sunday.  Students can select one or all of the tasks to complete.  They submit links to their finished works on the Student Blogging Challenge website for other students to find and comment on their completed tasks.  The goal is to have global conversations that are meaningful and constructive while learning how to live in a digital world.


Check out my students’ blogs on the right hand side of this page.

Hello, 2018-2019!

We are well on our way to achieving awesome things in Room 140.  Three weeks into the new year and I cannot wait to see what becomes of this batch of 7th grade students.

This website is where you can get news about my (Mr. James) class as well as connect to my students in the US and even students around the world!

Be sure and subscribe (it’s a painless process) over on the right so you can get all the latest updates about what’s going on in class.

Things to look forward to:

  1. Knowsys quizzes (Pre AP classes only) – Knowsys is a SAT vocabulary preparation program that is used in JH and HS English classes
  2. Blogging – Every student has their own blog and will use it to connect with me, each other, and students from around the world.
  3. Novels – We will be reading some novels in class this year (don’t worry, I have plenty of copies for everyone so no need to spend any money)
  4. Classcraft – If your student has mentioned Classcraft, ask them about it.  It is a system I use to help engage students in learning and help encourage positive behaviors in the classroom.  You can find out more about it here.

Christmas Traditions Around the World

The city of Riga, Latvia holds the claim as home to history’s first decorated Christmas tree, back in 1510.

In Argentina, Christmas is a blend of American, European, and Hispanic traditions. Their celebrations typically include the boots of Father Christmas, red and white flowers, and putting cotton on Xmas trees to simulate snow. But most family gatherings take place on Christmas Eve, with huge feasts, gifts exchanged at midnight, and children going to sleep to the sound of fireworks.

In spite of Ethiopia’s Christian heritage, Christmas is not an important holiday there. Most people actually call the holiday Ganna or Genna after a hockey-like ball game played only once a year, on Christmas afternoon.

On Christmas Day, tradition allows Lebanese children to go up to any adult and say, “Editi ‘aleik!” (“You have a gift for me!”). If the adult has a present to spare, the kids add this to their Christmas morning haul.

Winning the award for longest preparation time, Greenland’s traditional Christmas dish, kiviak, takes a full seven months to prepare. It begins with hollowing out a seal skin and stuffing it with 500 auks– a sea bird (feathers and all)– to ferment. When the holiday rolls around, it’s served straight from the seal.

How’s this for a weird Christmas food? South Africa is home to some of the world’s most unusual holiday food fare. Every December locals feast on a seasonal delicacy– the deep-fried caterpillars of Emperor Moths!

The tradition of tinsel, which was invented in Germany in 1610, is based on a legend about spiders whose web turned into silver when they were spun in a Christmas tree.

Information from:


Interesting Facts About Germany

I will be traveling to Germany this summer.  Germany is an amazing country for many reasons.  Here are just a few that I found most interesting:

  1. Germany was the first country in the world to adopt Daylight saving time.
  2. Prison escape is not punishable by law in Germany.
  3. Germany has legal say on what babies can be named.
  4. College education in Germany is free even for internationals.
  5. Germany is one of the world’s leading book nations.
  6. It’s illegal to run out of fuel in the German Autobahn.
  7. Germany has over 400 zoos, the most in the world.
  8. There are over 2100 castles in Germany.
  9. One third of the country is still covered in forests and woodlands.
  10. Berlin has the largest train station in Europe.


Facts found at


Poetry Friday


by Terry Webb Harshman


Some houses look scary,


and bleak,





with windowpanes broken

and shutters

that creak,




with lawns unattended,

and porches

in shambles,




and overgrown gardens

of thistles

and brambles.





But don’t look upon them

with fear

or disdain;

they just need the love of

a family