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A Deep Dive into Orbiting Jupiter

February 28, 2020 | Brent Harris

In Language Arts this year, I have been trying something a little bit different. In previous years, I made it a priority for all students to accomplish assignments within a range of expectations.

Take, for example, a research paper. The assignment may call for five paragraphs, and between 1,000 and 1,200 words. This year, instead of having a range of requirements, I have tried to incorporate only a solid base and not limit student work.

Recently, 7th and 8th grade students read Orbiting Jupiter. Gary Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter is tremendously sad and beautiful, and it helped us think a lot about the importance of really getting to know the people around us and avoiding assumptions. At the end of the unit, students were asked to write an argumentative essay on the book. I gave them two options:

  1. Write a minimum 1,000 word essay arguing that Philia love is the most profound and beautiful type of love in Orbiting Jupiter. This tied in closely with what we focused on throughout the book, and it gave students who chose this approach a solid base.
  2. Write a minimum 1,000 word essay arguing for ANYTHING in Orbiting Jupiter. This allowed students to push themselves in many ways.

Here are some of the different ideas students came up with:

Dallas  — There are many characters in Orbiting Jupiter responsible for Maddie’s death. 

Anna and Leonor — In Orbiting Jupiter, each character displays their love and affection in very different ways.

Henry — Orbiting Jupiter is an allegory to the Gospel.

Hope — It would be best for both Jupiter and Joseph if they were separated. 

Students did wonderful work coming up with really interesting ideas and pushing themselves to write a lot more than what was required. It warms my heart to see students seeking ways to push themselves independently, and I hope to see the approach of incorporating only a solid base and not a limit continue to allow students to grow.

As an aside, if you haven’t read Orbiting Jupiter, you should read it. Email me if you’d like to borrow a copy!

—-Brent Harris


Brent Harris

Teacher, Grade 7; Language Arts, Seventh and Eighth Grades

Brent Harris has been teaching Middle School students since 2015. He loves teaching students how to understand the world through literature and writing. He teaches English Language Arts, but he likes to teach other things too! Both of Mr. Harris' parents are educators, and despite trying his hardest to avoid following in his parents’ footsteps, he graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in English Education and a Minor in Physical Education; as a result, Brent is a great argument piece for any “Nature versus Nurture” debate.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Harris enjoys playing guitar and drums, listening to music, spending time outside, playing sports, and hanging out with his kind and loving wife, Lauren. A native of Ontario, Canada, Mr. Harris stays true to all the Canadian stereotypes by being extremely kind and perpetually sorry. He has been a director and counselor at multiple children’s camps in Canada and Michigan, and he appreciates the idea of teaching students and campers in a place where there is freedom to entertain new ideas and try out new things. Mr. Harris has enjoyed coaching volleyball, soccer, and baseball, and while he loves nature, he is being slowly converted into a city boy.

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