Friday, April 28, 2017

If This Were Played Upon a Stage, Now, I Could Condemn It as an Improbable Fiction

Our justice projects are beginning to take shape. The students identified issues that are important to them and are moving on to take the next steps: determining which action to undertake. They may film a public service announcement. They may write letters to CEOs, ombudsmen, Congresswomen. The sky is more or less the limit. The rule is: no 'toy advocacy', meaning a mere gesture. They must determine an action that may be impactful and then undertake that.

In other news, TWELFTH NIGHT! 

In preparing for our performances, we have the following items in our classroom: elf shoes and hat; candy canes both massive and regular size; green tights; a Santa suit; strings of lights, tinsel, and crepe paper in red and green; three giant pairs of sunglasses; gold-plated shoes; a stack of green solo cups; a bright red bow tie; two Santa hats; a green felt porkpie hat; an apron reading 'Kiss the Cook'; a ukulele; and a parrot. 

We're enjoying ourselves, which is the right way to learn Shakespeare.

Friday, April 21, 2017

I Am Malala

This has been a very big week for both of our current major 7-8 projects. In the fledgling social justice unit, only in its second week, we delved deeper into the incredible story of nineteen-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai's life story. Together, we are reading her autobiography (written at age fifteen), I Am Malala. We've read about her native land, the Pashtun region of northern Pakistan, as well as her early family life, parents' history, and historical and sociological background of her people. We also introduced a few movements--including the Tea Party--and planned for four additional trips off campus, about which more later.

Twelfth Night rockets toward its performances. We have been polishing our plans for each scene and inventing new business and ideas for every single scene. We've also continued to acquire ring pops, elf shoes, and other props, costumes, and accoutrements for the production. Twelfth Night will be performed for all SK students at 2:00 on Friday, April 28, and for the wider community at 7:00 on Friday, April 28, and at 3:00 on Saturday, April 29. The play will be presented free of charge.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ai Wei Wei: Art Is Activism

Life in the 7-8 empire recommenced at a breakneck pace upon our return from spring vacation. We launched our lengthy social justice unit with a documentary about the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei. Ai's work--and life!--renders the line between art and activism very hazy indeed. After watching the filmNever Sorry, we discussed the ways in which Ai's actions advocated for the people of China even as he put himself in danger over and over again. On Thursday, we travelled to Grand Rapids for a guided tour of Ai's exhibit Natural State at Meijer Gardens--his first installation in the American Midwest.

We continued rehearsing Twelfth Night and began putting costumes together. We have chosen a holiday theme for the production's look. One character will be in a sloppy Santa suit, another will dress as an elf; there will be plenty of red and green; and we will make use of tinsel, Christmas lights, candy canes, and other detritus of the commercial season. Twelfth Night will be performed at the end of the month, on April 27 and 28, in the 7-8 space.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock Is Bald

Place Out of Time advanced toward its culmination, a gathering at the University of Michigan's School of Education scheduled for Monday, April 10, the day we return from break. At that time, all of the participants will convene for activity and reflection at the Alhambra, where, in the simulation, the judgments and follow-up take place. (It's also called a banquet, because there is pizza.)

We spent some time on Tuesday in the SK costume shop (organized by Margaret Keillor '16 for her Legacy Project). The kids looking for items to wear to the banquet. Michelle Obama found a fabulous inauguration dress and Joan of Arc found some sturdy peasant gear. 

Students wrote comments on new testimony this week and communicated with each other about it. Justice Alfred Hitchcock's legal philosophy was shared with all other participants in the simulation, and was hailed by the facilitators as a strong example of the craft. (Mr. Hitchcock also located a bald wig in the costume shop.)

Last week we rehearsed the entire first half of Twelfth Night. This week we made it through the second half. Oliver is a memorably awkward Aguecheek; Maddy an active and poignant Antonio; Ellie an assertive and vulnerable Olivia. Miel's burgeoning onstage rivalry with Eva is another highlight. The kids are really finding their own way in each role. We will polish, polish, and polish some more when we return in anticipation of performances at the end of April.

In math, the students spent some time on Monday setting goals for themselves in advance of spring vacation. Sam facilitated this process, but the kids did their own planning. Each posted an individual plan, some reviewing material they found challenging, others pushing ahead to new assessments.

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.