Monday, March 27, 2017

Tom Joad Speaks

Twelfth Night began to really grow into itself this week. More students set their scripts down and rehearsed scenes from memory--even those who weren't quite ready, a brave and beneficial act. We're finding new levels, building relationships amongst characters, and creating bits of comic business at every rehearsal. We closed out the week by running through the entire first half of the play (that's a week ahead of schedule).

This week the 7-8s continued their hard work on the Place Out of Time. Testimony on poverty and crime was posted by Tom Joad, protagonist of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (as it happens, Karl's favorite book). Students wrote comments on this testimony and communicated with each other about it. In addition, our selected justice, Alfred Hitchcock, began drafting a statement of legal philosophy to share with all of the students in schools across the region engaged in the activity.

Math found the kids working with absolute value and inequalities. Sam spent a lot of time with the algebra students working on the practice of substituting a complex expression with a simpler one in order to make problems easier to comprehend. The pre-algebra group concentrated on converting fractions into decimals, with a particular focus on repeating decimals. The group also welcomed Ed Feng back for some probability work.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sugar Sin Tax and Factory Farms

This week, the SK 7-8s spent much of their time researching, rehearsing, and conducting debates on two statements: The costs of factory farms outweigh the benefits and A tax on pop and sugary drinks would be socially beneficial. Having conducted similar debates in December, with considerable guidance from faculty, this time around, most of the responsibility for preparation was left as homework. The students came through with flying colors, proving themselves solid researchers, articulate speakers, nimble respondents. The format clearly resonates. They like to argue, and they do so thoughtfully and eloquently. 

One of our students was nominated as a justice in the Place Out of Time simulation. This particular student is presenting in the exercise as Alfred Hitchcock. Sir Alfred will next be writing up a legal philosophy and weighing in on the ins and outs of the Roman Ostriakov theft case. In addition to the usual array of prompts and ongoing conversations, all students will be viewing justices' posts closely in the weeks to come, commenting and offering 'votes of confidence' to the justices. 

Twelfth Night continues apace. More students have taken the admirable leap of rehearsing without scripts in hand. There are new discoveries in every rehearsal. The play seems to get funnier, and a little stranger, with each pass......

Math focused this week on assessments of last week's assessments. Students are revising their work in areas of struggle (and, of course, celebrating successes). We are at a point where the full trajectory of the year begins to be clearer. We are beginning to plan for specific June goals. Several students are preparing now to move up to the next level of content complexity.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Debates Regarding Food

Between our fabulous Thursday trip to the Livonia Rec Center and Friday conferences, this was a shortened week for the 7-8s. We continued our diligent work on the Place Out of Time simulation (until the windstorm temporarily knocked out U of M communications). Students across the region began the process of nominating justices, participants who have demonstrated both ability and enthusiasm for the project and who will take on larger responsibilities in the weeks to come. We spent some time writing and talking about the concepts of security and dignity, essential themes in our consideration of the Italian Ostriakov case.

We began preparing for two debates regarding food-related themes. One argues the merits of the following statement: The costs of factory farms outweigh the benefits. The other regards the following: A tax on pop and sugary drinks would be socially beneficial. Students were divided into pro-and-con teams for each topic and began their collaborative, online-based research.

We took a big step with Twelfth Night, rehearsing an early comic scene starring four of the kids, trying the scene in a variety of ways, and building in motivations and blocking. One young actor was even able to rehearse the scene without using his script. We mapped out our schedule through spring vacation: students are expected to be able to set down their scripts entirely by the time we come back from the break.

This was a big assessment week in math, even if we only had two sessions. Half the students in both the algebra and pre-algebra groups were getting a tested sense of where they stand--as well as building their abilities to succeed at conventional, sit-down tests. All of the students are at or near content transition points.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dignity, Security, Responsibility, and Citizenship

Though we were busiest this week preparing, conducting, and breaking down the fundraiser at Project 23, we also found time to make some advances in our work in social studies, and to get some new work underway. In the Place Out of Time simulation, we took some time to process a framework for examining and utilizing primary sources: specifically, describing them first; posing questions next; and then offering interpretations. We conducted an exercise in which we looked at a political cartoon showing masses of people in Mediterranean Europe with dozens of road signs pointing every which way in the central and northern part of the continent. The kids thought this was about immigration--thousands clamoring to get in and countries becoming increasingly hesitant to admit more refugees as their resources are stretched. 

Our simulation revolves around a court case in which a homeless immigrant in Italy was convicted of petty theft for stealing a small amount of food, a conviction that was overturned in the Italian Supreme Court. The themes in the foreground for this simulation are dignity, security, responsibility, and citizenship. We watched screencasts on these topics, answered a few questions, and began to work on writing assignments for each of the four.

We outlined and did some preliminary research on four pro-and-con debate topics related to the food project: a 'sin tax' on pop and sweet drinks; a ban on plastic bags; factory farms; and agricultural subsidies. Students looked up basic both-sides-of-the-question sites from Forbes, the Washington Post, theEconomist, and other sources. After outlining and sharing material from these sources, we'll vote the four options down to two and begin preparing for the debates, three weeks hence.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gathering at the Alhambra

Place Out of Time dominated our work this week in social studies. All of the students got their autobiographical profiles posted on the interactive site, which is based at the University of Michigan's School of Education. (We were among the first schools to do so.) Part of the game's conceit is that all the participants gather for the trial at the Alhambra in Spain--which will be embodied at the end of the simulation in April with an actual gathering at the School of Ed. Students responded to two prompts from the facilitators. If you had to choose one item, what would you bring with you to our collective gathering at the Alhambra? What was the turning point in your life? The kids also wrote posts of their own as well as responding to other characters' posts, including many from other schools.

We also continued our work with Twelfth Night. Students added to their accounts of key events and quotations from all five acts on butcher block paper, which we posted in order on the way up the stairs to our 7-8 space. In addition, the kids imagined what might happen in an Act VI, and posted that too--a sequel called, inevitably, Thirteenth Night. One student began writing this play. And we began to rehearse Act I. Finally, we began to summarize each act in six lines or fewer.

Math class saw algebra students all reviewing for upcoming assessments, while pre-algebra focused on exponents and scientific notation. One of our days was devoted to math-related board and role-play games. That was a big hit.

In PE, we ran a series of backwards relays and spent another day playing soccer, team handball, and a kind of chaotic goals-based game with a yoga ball. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thirteenth Night

Much of our time was occupied with work on the Place Out of Time simulation. Students posted their completed and revised autobiographies online, began touring the site. posted a few thoughts and responses, and put up timelines in the middle school commons corresponding to their characters' lifespans. Our history and society work this week also included some follow-up on our conversations on the recent executive order issuing a travel ban on travellers from seven countries. We looked at the implications of the ban's suspension and looked into the arguments presented to federal judges in California. Finally, we finished our initial reading of Twelfth Night and put together giant sheets, posted in the stairwell, reviewing the plot of each of the five acts (and imaging what might happen in a sequel, called, perhaps, Thirteenth Night.)

In math, many of the kids participated in the national AMC exam. Some students in both groups were working toward assessments, while others began taking them. Algebra continued to work on graphing, standard equations, and slope-intercept work. Pre-algebra concentrated on exponents. As always, students divided time between book work, instruction from Sam, and Khan Academy.

PE found us walking through County Farm Park on icy trails and then smashing giant chunks of ice on the concrete, like twelve Incredible Hulks. We followed this up with snow relays in which the students raced to pass on a variety of items, including deflated basketballs and ice skates.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Spices & Silk

This week in the study of history and society, we leaned a little more into the food project by looking at the global effects of the spice trade. In addition to spreading European culture and beliefs to Asia and, to a lesser degree, to Africa, the trade created exchanges throughout the world, cross-pollinating ideas, knowledge, and technologies over routes that were many thousands of miles long. We used readings from UNESCO and an unusual lesson framework in which students (like spice traders) exchanged information with every single classmate, trading new knowledge in a style we call 'free market'. With an eye toward the social justice project, we began to frame connections to art and math within Summers-Knoll, as well as identifying adults with whom to consult from outside the school. 

And we kept reading Twelfth Night!

In math, the algebra group moved toward chapter tests on the standard form of equations (ax + by = c) and ongoing slope-intercept work. They also looked at Rene Descartes' contributions in connecting geometry to algebra in making equations visible. The pre-algebra kids worked with scientific notation, exponents, and fractions, especially simplification and common denominators.

In PE, we ran the Arctic Mile (six laps around the school in freezing temperatures) and went skating at the Ice Cube.