Monday, October 29, 2012

Exhibitions of Learning

o f   l e a r n i n g

This project will demonstrate a sample of what you learned over the course of this academic quarter, and a sample of how you learned it. It is to be attended by your classmates, parents and teachers. Other invited guests may include other family and other SK students, especially fifth graders.

The first is a PORTFOLIO lesson, in which you recreate and/or demonstrate an assignment on a topic you enjoyed over the course of the autumn.

The second is a PROJECT lesson, in which you teach a brief lesson on your Farm-to-Table project.

dates: november 7-9
length: 30 minutes
exhibition schedule

Wednesday, November 7

Thursday, November 8

Friday, November 9

1:30-2:00: taylor

3:30-4:00: jonathan

1:30-2:00: mike

2:15-2:45: evan

5:00-5:30: jianmarco

2:15-2:45: isobel

3:00-3:30: denali

3:00-3:30: trent

4:00-4:30: saul

3:45-4:15: danny

Portfolio lesson

1.       Select a topic. Examples include, but are not limited to: work in math, science, French, Mandarin, Latin, art, music, Gilgamesh, The Red Pony, the discovery of farming..
2.       Show, or recreate, the assignment, explaining to the audience three elements: first, the 5-8 most important facts about the topic; second, the essential characteristics of the assignment you carried out; third, why you chose that particular topic to exhibit.
3.       Great portfolio pieces will include a paragraph of factual writing, a demonstration of the assignment, and a visual support piece (e.g., original art, photo, video, performance).

Project lesson
  1. Produce a two- to three-page paper answering the question posed in your Farm-to-Table topic.
  2. Create a new activity that engages the audience on this topic (examples: artwork, seminar, outdoor assignment, poem, game, dramatic scene, informal writing). No word searches or crossword puzzles.
  3. The activity will engage the most important facts about the topic. When completed, the audience will understand these key facts.
  4. Great lessons will include a brief outline of the 5-8 most important facts, lesson plan, and an audience activity. No word searches or crossword puzzles.

ExhIbItIon lesson plan

What do you want your audience to learn about this topic?
How will they learn it? 
What materials do you need? 
How will you know they learned it?



¨     selections made
¨     exhibition scheduled
¨     invitations issued


¨     portfolio topic selected
¨     first draft of paragraph
¨     second draft of paragraph
¨     copies made for audience
¨     demonstration of assignment (original or recreated)
¨     visual support piece
¨     timed rehearsal of portfolio piece
¨     another timed rehearsal of portfolio piece


¨     lesson topic selected
¨     outline written
¨     first draft of 2-3 page paper
¨     second draft of 2-3 page paper
¨     first draft of lesson plan
¨     second draft of lesson plan
¨     first draft of activity
¨     second draft of activity
¨     materials gathered and prepared for activity
¨     copies made for audience
¨     timed rehearsal of lesson
¨     another timed rehearsal of lesson

all done.

Dances and Faux Battles in 'Gilgamesh'

Our three scenes of physical conflict will be exciting and carefully crafted. The key term is choreography. These will be stylized scenes. One sequence will feature two characters wrestling; there will be no weapons brandished. The boys have already begun preparing this scene.

In another set piece, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, armed with swords and/or axes made from spray-painted Nerf material, will do battle with a bit of outsized art representing the monster Huwawa. This creature will either be played by half a dozen fifth graders inside a giant puppet produced in our Art classes, or by a shadow on a screen.

The final battle is planned to occur offstage. There will be sound effects, and soft objects like bundles of clothing may be tossed out onto the playing area, but no actual fight choreography will occur.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Open for Business

The library in our classroom has been organized, after a fashion.

The cart outside the room has a mixture of books reflecting the first-semester themes of Farm to Table and Ancient Civilizations. Inside the room, the monolithic northern wall of books includes a full bookcase on American Studies (literature, history, sociology) and another full bookcase on Schools and Learning (there's a lot of great research there, and a lot of Harry Potter too).

Smaller sections of one or two shelves include Asia, Africa, Europe, and Britain (all four comprising a combination of literature and history), Soccer and Other Sports, Science & Math, Young Adult Fiction, and Little Kids.

There's a sign-out sheet posted on the wall between the bookshelves and the closet. This is a lending library, so stop in anytime.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Keeping Track

With an eye toward the middle school portfolio, to be organized via digication.com, and the November exhibitions, we are tracking each child's progress more closely.

The method we're using for that is to triangulate. There are three ways to track a given student's work. There is the weekly syllabus and the portfolio list, referred to in previous posts. These cover primarily the general, class-wide assignments.

Now, as the end of the quarter approaches, I have begun producing weekly individual assignment sheets. These are fairly simple, but have had a striking effect on the kids. When there is work time during the day, they carry these around and refer to them frequently.

The students' computers have at long last arrived, and are currently being prepared for distribution by Matt Berg. The integration of the kids' work into these miracles of the machine age will also simplify the tracking of their progress, beginning after our return from the long weekend on Tuesday.

Here's a sample:

history of the week
oct 10

revise and type
Why Mesopotamia?
oct 10

revise and type
consequences of farming
oct 10

complete chart:
project frame/pay-off
oct 10

Candy Chang TED talk
oct 10

prompts project
oct 10

revise and type
Mesopotamia lesson plan
oct 11

write on
Letters to Julia
oct 11

read Gilgamesh script;
write journal paragraph   
oct 12

list books for
personal library
oct 12

write on
The Red Pony
oct 12

songwriting project
oct 15

write on
Tortilla Flat
oct 15

Weekly Syllabus October 15-23

Syllabus                                                                                   superhero identity _____________
SK Performers
15 - 22 October 2012

mon 15 oct
approximately two hours of homeroom
Gilgamesh rehearsal: Jianmarco, Isobel, Trent & Taylor
exhibitions and portfolios
specials: math, music, french, mandarin       

tues 16 oct
approximately one-and-a-half hours of homeroom
binder care
Gilgamesh rehearsal: Jianmarco, Evan & Danny; Aristea & Taylor
portfolio work
specials: math, art, science, french, mandarin

wed 17 oct
approximately three hours of homeroom
Gilgamesh rehearsal: Jianmarco, Taylor, Denali, Aristea, Isobel, Melissa
lesson-planning the exhibitions
            specials: math, music

th 18 oct
approximately half an hour of homeroom
Gilgamesh rehearsal: Noah, Alexandra, Kaeli; city scenes (8-9, 11-13, 18-19, 31-34)
specials: math, art, phys ed, latin

fri 19 oct
            approximately four-and-a-half hours of homeroom
Gilgamesh rehearsal: city scenes (8-9, 11-13, 18-19, 31-34) with third & fourth graders
specials: french, mandarin

mon 22 oct
            no school: conferences

tues 23 oct
            HISTORY of the WEEK DUE
approximately two hours of homeroom
Gilgamesh rehearsal: Jianmarco, Isobel, Trent & Taylor
begin Polis Projects (classical Greece)
specials: music, french, mandarin

More Than a Play

'Gilgamesh', this year's Summers-Knoll middle school play, is underway. The middle school parts have been cast, the scripts handed out, the teachers are preparing for set design, special effects, and music, and the schedule is taking shape.

We chose 'Gilgamesh' for several reasons. 

First of all, it is the oldest surviving written story on earth, originating in Mesopotamia approximately four thousand years ago. This dovetails nicely with our theme on Ancient Civilizations theme.

Second, it also illuminates our opening Farm-to-Table theme. the middle schoolers have been exploring the connection between farming and civilization: the former enabled the latter to happen--one of the original acts of human genius.

Third, there is plenty of space for lots of SK kids, from kindergarten through eighth grade, to strut their stuff, whether onstage or in the technical and design aspects of the show. 

Fourth, it's a honking good yarn! It has adventures, gods, monsters, mamas, love, friendship, travel, disasters, marriage proposals, miracles, plenty of delicious food, and a twelve-year-old wielding a Nerf axe.

And fifth--there are plenty of opportunities for parent volunteers. We like to spread the wealth as broadly as we can. We already have parent volunteers stepping in to assist with choreography, lighting, and film. We can still use plenty of help, particularly with coordinating costumes and with set construction. Please let me know if you might be interested in taking part. Don't let the kids have all the fun.

We plan to perform 'Gilgamesh' at Summers-Knoll on the evenings of December 13, 14, and 15. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Syllabus: October 1-15

mon 1 oct
            SAUL’S HISTORY of the WEEK
approximately two hours of homeroom
Gilgamesh audition preparation
            exhibitions & portfolios: the next stage of the research project—planning for pay-offs
specials: math, music, french, mandarin                                           

tues 2 oct
approximately one-and-a-half hours of homeroom
migrant worker tales from Hidden America
specials: math, art, science, french, mandarin

wed 3 oct
approximately three hours of homeroom
            specials: math, music

th 4 oct
            JOURNALS DUE
approximately half an hour of homeroom
specials: math, art, phys ed, latin

fri 5 oct
no school

mon 8 oct
            HANNAH’S HISTORY of the WEEK DUE
approximately two hours of homeroom
exhibitions and portfolios
specials: math, music, french, mandarin       

tues 9 oct
approximately one-and-a-half hours of homeroom
binder care
specials: math, art, science, french, mandarin

wed 10 oct
approximately three hours of homeroom
Gilgamesh read-through
            specials: math, music

th 11 oct
            JOURNALS DUE
approximately half an hour of homeroom
specials: math, art, phys ed, latin

fri 12 oct
            approximately four-and-a-half hours of homeroom
specials: french, mandarin

mon 15 oct
            HISTORY of the WEEK DUE
approximately two hours of homeroom
            exhibitions & portfolios: the next stage of the research project—planning for pay-offs
            specials: music, french, mandarin

Portfolios and Pay-Offs


The Q1 Portfolio will be a collection of work from the first quarter of the academic year (roughly September and October). The work done thus far is the bedrock of the portfolio, but there is a lot of work to be done to shape it into the right condition. This will be the focus of our work over the next two weeks: taking the work we have begun and honing it. 

Over the week of October 8-12, that will mean deepening and formalizing six key elements:
1)      the Farm-to-Table project
2)      the earlier writing on Mesopotamia and the Neolithic Revolution
3)   the assembly of a personal library (books read independently, such as Salt)
4)      reflections on The Red Pony and Gilgamesh
5)      work with Dr. George on nutrition
6)   math projects, Singapore and Khan work, and/or games

Monday's work comprises our next steps in organizing the work we’ve already done, identifying what will be required to make it portfolio-worthy, and planning our schedule for the next two weeks in order to get this done.

A distinction will be made between the steamer trunk, collected in the Digication site--i.e., everything we've done--and the lovely best-of assemblage that will be featured in the end-of-quarter Autumn Pay-Off.

Speaking of which . . . . . 


The Autumn Pay-Off will be the demonstration of a sampling of student work to a panel of peers and adults. These will occur in the first Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of November. (Another, similar event will occur in the spring.)

Here, each student will display your portfolio and teach two lessons.


I think the very best social outcome of the trip has been Collection, the period of silence that is observed every day at Scattergood and other Quaker schools. First thing Monday morning, when we reconvened after the trip, I opened up a conversation about Collection. One of the students immediately suggested that we bring that tradition to SK. Since then we've had a little silence together every day, usually three or four minutes.

George joined us one day when it was particularly raucous out in the commons area. He commented afterward that, amidst the noise, there was a genuine quiet in our room. It felt like an oasis.


Something about the trip to Iowa clearly brought out the rabbit in all of us. While there, we ate pounds and pounds of vegetables right out of the ground. Carrots were our particular obsession, but we also sampled chard, radishes, and peppers; there was also some raspberry and basil consumption. (I think a couple of the kids took bites out of raw sweet potatoes and eggplants too, but that didn't work out so well.)

I thought that would prove to be a passing fancy, particularly given the incredible sweetness of those personally harvested fresh vegetables. I was mistaken. We ordinarily have fruit on Monday mornings, but today we were blessed with a tray full of vegetables from Eileen Weiser. There are still a few stalks of celery and hunks of cauliflower left, but the snap peas and carrots have been entirely ravaged.

I can't even credit the ranch dressing, either, though life with three little daughters has convinced me that kids will eat anything associated with ranch dressing, including gravel and arsenic. Most of the dressing on this tray is still there. Maybe someone will drink it all down this afternoon. In the meantime, it's a healthy day.

Silver Linings

The play has been cast, with the usual array of ecstasy and heartbreak.

Auditions last week comprised both improv exercises and readings from the script. Before we began, I told the middle schoolers this story. Once I auditioned for a play and was bitterly disappointed to receive a secondary role. It was a good part, but not the one I wanted. I was so angry that, for the only time in my life up to that point, I nearly declined the play altogether. In the end, I accepted the role.

The show was a disaster. It was a highly anticipated production that won an award from our college newspaper for the biggest build-up with the worst payoff. The director grew up to be an aerobics instructor.

However, I've never regretted taking that role in that play, because that's how I met my wife Abby.

That story probably didn't resonate with fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders, but I like it.

Our first read-through of Gilgamesh will occur during the school day on this Wednesday, October 10. Be sure to ask your kids about it when they come home.