Thursday, May 25, 2017

Exhibition Lessons

This was Exhibition Week in the 7-8s, as our students explained the issues they were addressing, how they addressed them, and what we could do to further each cause, both as a community and as individuals. Last week's blog outlined the thirteen topics and activities. Suffice to say that, without exception, the Exhibitions were informative, the activities engaging, and the attendees better educated at the end of each half-hour than we were at the beginning.

Next week, we will be on our class trip to Toronto, which will include the following activities: 
  • a picnic on forested bluffs overlooking Lake Erie
  • rowing a voyageurs' canoe out into Toronto harbor (harbour, if you're Canadian)
  • accommodations at the University of Toronto
  • time to frolic and swim on a beach just east of downtown
  • a tour of the Royal Ontario Museum
  • a visits to Kensington Market the former beginning with a guided tour
  • a haunted city walk in the evening
  • elevator rides and vertiginous views from the CN Tower;
  • a visit to the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto; 
  • attendance at a performance of Twelfth Night (hooray!) at the Stratford Festival

Friday, May 19, 2017

Middle School Justice

Our seventh and eighth graders are preparing for their Exhibitions on activism. Projects include.....
  • a work of art, comprised of plastic bottles, spelling out 'this will not decompose'
  • letters to Virginia politicians, including Senator Tim Kaine, as well as a petition, advocating for Civil War battlefield preservation
  • a garden built to attract bees
  • a donation drive for Safe House
  • a Public Service Announcement and interview opposing illegal deportation
  • another explaining the work of Freedom House and the refugee crisis
  • another opposing cyanide fishing
  • on the same topic, a petition signed by all SK students, complete with photographs
  • a podcast exploring sexism at the middle school level, with a focus on dress codes
  • a letter to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration calling for steps to address pilot fatigue
  • a visit to SK from a representative of the Spectrum Center for LGBTQ rights from U of M
  • a website familiarizing eighth grade families with high school options in Washtenaw County
  • letters to Michigan lawmakers opposing the hunting of wolves
We also had a visit from Mary Morgan, founder and director of CivCity, a non-profit devoted to combating civic apathy, particularly as it pertains to local issues. Finally, we travelled to the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing for the second time this year, this time to meet with local State Representative Yousef Rabhi, who represents the downtown district of Ann Arbor.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Off Campus

These days in the 7-8s it's all about planning and voyages. 

The kids' work on advocacy and justice continues apace. They are moving toward completion of their projects at the end of next week and showing them off the week after that at individual Exhibitions and a class-wide Open House on the afternoon of Friday, May 26, our last day of Ann Arbor school before we take the whole group on the road to Toronto, Ontario for four days.

Shorter voyages have included the following.....A visit to the Community Television Network on South Industrial (the shortest distance), where we toured the facilities and actually got in front of the cameras for a quick round of testimony about SK and a few lines from Twelfth Night, all of which was broadcast on CTN's education station(This could be our big break.) A few days later we went to Food Gatherers on the north side of town, where, again, we were shown round the facility, given some background of the organization's mission and method, and then were able to pitch in for an hour sorting through and distributing donations.

Farther afield, we visited the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, where our old friend Margaret Grace, the nonprofit's Education Director, gave us an informal tour of the project and the opportunity (once again) to pitch in and play in the neighborhood. Heidelberg is the brainchild of Tyree Guyton, an artist and resident who has been turning abandoned houses into works of art, using found materials, since 1987. 


Thursday, May 4, 2017

More Matter for a May Morning

Twelfth Night was performed three times to packed houses (i.e., the classroom was full) and was well-received by both adults and children. Both groups seemed to enjoy the drunken clowns best, but then, slapstick is slapstick. The student-actors--again, every member of the class--acquitted themselves beautifully, secure in speaking the words of Shakespeare and clearly, by all accounts, having a wonderful time. They were fully supportive of each others' performances, watching their peers even though they had seen the scenes a hundred times and responding again with every viewing.

The justice projects continued apace. Students have been researching different causes and actions and have each settled on a first choice topic. These include LGBTQ rights, pilot fatigue, battlefield preservation, architectural preservation, colony collapse disorder (bees), domestic violence, refugees, endangered species, cyanide fishing, littering, and deportation. Stay tuned for the next steps, as the students research different actions and make decisions about their trajectories. Some have begun this stage, writing letters to CEOs and planning donation drives.

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.