Thursday, March 28, 2013

Literacy Redux

In the long wake of the lit circles, the remaining weeks of the year will be a renewed emphasis on reading and writing. Each student has chosen a book for independent spring break reading. Many students are reading more than one book, and some books are being read by more than one student.

Here is a partial list of the books selected, mostly from our classroom library:

Marjane Satrapi
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Scott O’Dell
Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
Anne Brashares
Letters from a Slave Girl
Mary Lyons
Tiger Rising
Kate diCamillo
The Dead and the Gone
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Life of Pi
Yann Martel
Fermat’s Enigma
Simon Singh
Life As We Knew It
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Boys Adrift
Leonard Sax
Art Spiegelman
A Higher Call
Adam Makos

We will return to journal writing to close out the year, with daily prompts building into lengthier assignments of varying stripes. More to come on this topic when we return in April.

What a Show!

Our Lit Circles Show-Off was a hit. Attendance was strong--beginning with the entire kindergarten class--and the projects were well-presented and thoughtfully articulated. In an open house format, guests noshed on oranges and chocolate while visiting the six exhibits representing the half-dozen books read in lit circles.

Blue Dolphins and Part-Time Indians drew lengthy and poignant graphic treatments of key chapters and scenes in their novels. The Fahrenheit 451 crew displayed a photo essay featuring the actual image of a burning (phone) book.

Life As We Knew It explained the science and pseudo-science of Susan Pfeffer's dystopian novel. The quartet examining My Brother Sam Is Dead produced two projects: an alternate diary from a Loyalist soldier's perspective and an animated tour of colonial-era housing.

Particular praise goes to the Red Scarf Girl gang of four, who produced a sophisticated board game exploring the key themes and events of China's Cultural Revolution. The game is interesting, instructive, playable, and winnable--no small feat.

Visitors commented on the quality of the project displays, which also included a dozen short writing and artistic assignments per book and the Google doc assembled over the past weeks by each group. Beyond the work laid out on the tables, several guests praised the students' ability to articulate the elements of the books and the process by which they chose and executed the major projects described above.

Legislative, Judicial, Executive

. . . . . Two of our sixth graders made a plan for an SK student government, and that plan is taking off.

Earlier this week, we polled all of our fifth through eighth graders. Every student was listed on the ballot, and each was asked to vote for two students apiece in fifth, sixth and seventh grade. 

Here are the results:

1. Every single student received votes.
2. Alexandra Montgomery and Melissa LoCicero were chosen to represent the fifth grade.
3. Mike Paskus and Jianmarco Barbeau were voted in as sixth grade representatives.
4. Lily Willatt and Saul Vielmetti were selected from the seventh grade.
5. Taylor Baughman ran unopposed.
6. More students voted for Mike than any other candidate.

The group met for the first time on Thursday, March 28. We discussed the groups's responsibilities: legislative (what programs should we create?); executive (how should we implement them?); and judiciary (how will we gauge how well they're working?). Saul took notes and will post these on a shared document for the SK community. For now, our goals are to create an SK constitution and bill of rights, establish a judiciary board, facilitate input from the younger grades, and outline the responsibilities of the governmental body. We will be meeting weekly to pursue these objectives.


A couple of our service projects have taken wing lately.

We have been spending a little time with the kindergarteners every week since the beginning of the school year. In recent days we've had exceptional experiences with some of SK's little ones. First, Dominique Theophilus, a yoga instructor, worked her meditative magic with our kids and Val's. Pictures to follow--just imagine Claude mirroring Taylor, or Denali and Sana back to back, and you'll get some sense of the astronomical cuteness.

Last Friday, Isobel and Aristea led a complex charm-bottle-making activity with Susan Carpenter's first and second graders. They brought freshly scrubbed Izze bottles (outside and in) to Mrs. Carpenter's classroom and led our entire class in helping the younger children fill them up with raw rice and little charms. Then, the older kids labelled the bottoms of the bottles with a list of charms inside, and the little ones spent time turning the clear, corked bottles this way and that, looking for the charms.

Isobel and Aristea are preparing a culinary activity next for the Buddies project. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, in the halls of power . . . . .

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Full House

Since January, we've grown. We now have fourteen students, which, by SK protocol, is an entirely full class. This group is comprised of six sixth graders, seven seventh graders, and Taylor, who, like other SK kids in the past, will carry the SK banner to Community High School as a high school freshman.

We are the biggest kids in the school's smallest room. Some of our attention these days is beginning to turn toward our digs for 2013-2014 and beyond: the second floor at the north end of the building, temporarily occupied this past year by Wild Swan Theater. Wild Swan is in the process of moving into its newfound permanent home, and we have taken advantage of this transition to begin exploring the upstairs space and make plans for how we will make use of its wide open spaces. Matt Berg and Shan Cook are advance scouts--their offices have been relocated to that space.

There is a large gathering space where we will convene every morning, and eleven small office and classroom spaces that open on that commons. How will we kit those rooms? Two libraries, five work spaces, three quiet rooms, two offices? A music room, an art room, a lounge, a restaurant, an inventing room, a spa?

If you haven't yet toured the space, please stop and and we'll show you around. Suggestions are permanently welcome.

Music Is Powerful

We've had two excursions off campus in the past few weeks to be edified by the universal language of music. In February we travelled to Orchestra Hall in Detroit to hear the national finalists in the Sphinx competition, a contest for African American and Latino string players.

Here are the finalists whose performance we attended:


When we watched the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra at Hill Auditorium, they brought in a soloist from the Sphinx competition. Here's a link to the AASO Youth Concert series:


We are in the process of mapping out music for the middle school future. There is considerable interest in a student-run SK band.

Voyage to the Center of the Earth

We had a spirited series of explorations in considering two possible destinations for the middle school spring trip. One option was Pictured Rocks, Mackinac Island, and other sites in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The other possibility was Mammoth Cave National Park in western Kentucky, with a likely route that would take us through Louisville, Cincinnati, or both.

After plenty of research, conversation, and mild campaigning, we've decided to head south to Mammoth Cave. We plan to leave at the crack of dawn (or thereabouts) on Wednesday, May 22, and to return around lunchtime on Saturday, May 25. The trip will engage the themes of Ancient Civilizations and Circle of Life in particular. The caves have been used for millennia by earlier residents of Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley.

En route, we have some tentative ideas for adventures in southern Ohio and central Kentucky, both in the natural world and in more urban environments. More information on these as we firm up the plans in the coming days. Many students are clamoring for camping, others for hotel stays; the final plan will likely be a combination of these.

Come by with questions any time. We welcome chaperone support, of course. What could be better than a set of Summers-Knoll adventures in the crucial border state of the Civil War?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lit Circles Show-Off

Our six literature circles have all finished up their books, are in the process of completing three short writing assignments on characters, plot, setting and theme, and now are focusing their energies on final projects.

For My Brother Sam Is Dead, Lev, Mike, Evan and Henry are building a model house from the American colonial era as well as writing a piece from the perspective of a Loyalist soldier. Joanna is advising them.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins group, Aristea, Margaret, Isobel, and Denali, is creating a graphic novel, covering some chapters of the text. Imogen is consulting with this group. Alexandra, Danny, Jonathan and Jianmarco are undertaking a similar project for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, with advice from Tracy.

Red Scarf Girl will see an ambitious project: a board game exploring the themes and events of the book. the game's objective, as articulated by Saul, Lily, Kaeli and Noah, is to survive the Cultural Revolution of Mao's China.

Life As We Knew It tells the story of a disastrous event in which a large asteroid rams into the moon, knocking it out of orbit and resulting in drastic changes in weather on the Earth, With support from George, this circle, consisting of Melissa, Matthew, Taylor and Ryan, is demonstrating two key scientific questions on which the book's events are predicated.

Finally, Fahrenheit 451's readers, Trent, Henry, Laurea and Lee, are assembling a photo essay illustrating the key events of the book. Val, an accomplished photographer, is working with them.

These projects will be on exhibit on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 27, our penultimate school day before spring break. We will set up a display in the middle school commons and share our work from 3:00 to 3:30 on that day. Families and interested parties are welcome to join us.

More on this event as the day approached.