Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Here's Science

Here's a list of what we're reading (and annotating) in science.
  • Life on Earth, David Attenborough
  • Full House, Stephen Jay Gould
  • Evolution 101, Judith Scotchmoor and 21 other authors (Cal-Berkeley)
  • Flanagan's Version, Dennis Flanagan
  • Why We Get Sick, Nesse & Williams
  • Gus, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond
  • Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman
  • Silent Spring & Environmentalism, Eliza Griswold
  • Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  • The Far Side, Gary Larson
Here's a sampling of what we're doing in science.
  • defining, conducting activities, writing, and developing projects on natural selection, adaptation, mutation, evolution, and genetics 
  • conducting experiments on symbiotic relationships
  • visiting the U of M drosophila lab
  • visiting the Food Forest
Here's a First XI of what we're asking in science.
  • What is the difference between evolution and adaptation?
  • What are the means by which natural selection occurs?
  • How do these concepts apply to fields other than science?
  • What is the difference between a mutation and a mutant?
  • What is symbiosis?
  • How does science drive social change?
  • Why do we get sick?
  • What is a hox gene, and why would anyone want a luminescent fruit fly?
  • What was the process by which corn was created in Aztlan?
  • What is the relationship between magic and science?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday in Iowa

7:30. Breakfast in the main building: scrambled eggs, granola, oatmeal, fruit from local orchards, potatoes with fiery hot sauce, orange juice and milk.

8:30. Half the SK kids went to US History class to discuss the Amana Colonies; the other half went to World History to look at the influence of the British Empire on the spread of the English language.

9:30. Six of the kids went into the pottery studio for a hands-on tutorial with Shunpei Yamaki, an exhibiting ceramic artist. The rest went on a guided prairie walk to explore the sweeping land east of the farm.

10:45. The kids were divided amongst four math-science classes: Chemistry in the lab; Geometry in the art building, designing pallet houses; Physics in the art building, where SK kids designed a series of linked pulleys to open a curtain; Ag Research, which took place over on the farm.

12:15. Lunch in the main building: spaghetti with marinara sauce, with vegetarian, beef, or pork-and-beef options, a massive salad bar, garlic bread, roast parsnips, much of the food, again, from the farm.

12:45. Work crews, SK students scattered about Scattergood assisting with half a dozen different groups--in the kitchen, on the farm, in the central square, and elsewhere.

1:45. Collection in the 1890 Hickory Meeting House. Most days, collection, a shared silent meditation that we have adapted at Summers-Knoll, lasts about ten minutes. On Thursday, it is a forty-five minute gathering.

2:30. The late-afternoon classes, which on Thursdays are in the humanities: Prairie Lights, Lost in Translation, Myths Retold, and Logic. We sent Matthew and Lee to Logic and four students to each of the others.

4:30. Everyone either played soccer or pitched in on the farm. The footballers held their own while the farmhands moved the sheep-pen fence, picked watermelons, and washed potatoes in a fabulous Rube Goldberg student-built barrel-washer. There was also some cuddling of piglets.

6:15. Dinner in the main building: this time Irving and the sous-chefs fixed up a bigger feast--brisket from the farm, potatoes and parsnip from the farm, three kinds of fresh-baked bread, that prairie-sized salad bar again, apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah.

7:00. While the Scattergood students hunkered down to study, we got on our bus and headed to the Pink Pony ice cream parlor in West Branch. Brenda remembered us, and pointed out the thank-you note we wrote in 2012, posted with other cards on the bathroom wall.

8:00. Another round of Hay Bale Tag over on the farm north of the academic campus--this one in darkness. We also held collection for awhile so we could look at the uncountable stars.

8:30. Returning, we once again colonized the art building, where we had gathered Wednesday evening. Joanna is reading from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as I write this, while the kids are sketching out four maps of the day's trajectories, activities, and discoveries.

10:00. Back to our respective domiciles--the boys with Karl to the Berquist Guest House, Joanna and the girls to the Webers' spacious home between campus and farm--to chat about the day for a few minutes before collapsing into bed.

Etiquette On Wheels

Periodically there is a buzz about 'character education'. This is taken to mean 'learning how to behave'.

On the bus to Iowa it occurred to me that how the SK 7-8 operates provides a steady series of opportunities for this type of learning, because we are constantly doing things together, and frequently on the road, moving about as a group in the public eye.

Before we left, I gave a short speech on the bus, as teachers do. I reminded the kids that we were in for a long drive and that three reminders might be useful: seats, screaming, and shushing.

A bus bombing down the freeway at sixty miles an hour is a noisy place. If you try to talk with someone who isn't sitting in one of the seats next to you, behind you, or just opposite, you're probably shouting just to be heard. Please don't.

Even if that joke was hilarious, or, no, you definitely do not like that boy, or if the song that just came on Pandora is, in fact, totes your jam, it is still not all right to respond by screaming. Screaming is not allowed on the bus.

And if your seatmate has not absorbed the first two messages and shouts or screams anyway, then politely shushing him is fine, but if you yell 'Shut UP!' at the top of your lungs, you are not actually helping matters.

At Summers-Knoll, we are always doing things together, and especially travelling together: to the university labs, to Detroit, to the Upper Peninsula, to museums, or, in this case, to Iowa. We are together about half the time over the course of a normal school day. There is a constant, hopefully subtle, corrective stream of talk regarding behavior: these are the expectations, and this is why. If you are late, enter like a ninja. If you lucked out and got a seat in the shade, offer it to someone who's been in the sun for two hours. Yes, you may do that, but not yet. We become accustomed both to the norms and to their explanations.

After that initial set of reminders, how many times did I shush the busload of middle schoolers in the trip across Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and into Iowa? Not once.

Utopia, Dystopia, Diaspora

As we wrap up September and move into October, the students are readings seven different books, a mix of novels and memoirs, that explore the linked themes of utopia, dystopia, and diaspora.

In planning the year, I thought a lot over the summer about journeys, a theme that was difficult to narrow. There is so much. Diaspora suggested itself: not a mere trek from one place to another, but a mass movement, a sweep across the globe of an entire people. This in turn suggested the twinned concepts of utopia, a perfect world, and dystopia, an entirely broken one.

Diaspora is often the movement from a broken world to a perfect one.

It is not that simple.

The kids are learning and communicating this by reading this series of books. Each will read at least one of the following. Some have already moved on to a second book. My hope is that, over the course of the year, a handful will read all seven.

A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
1984, George Orwell
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
The Holder of the World, Bharati Mukherjee
Utopia, Sir Thomas More
When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka

Which of these is about utopia, which concerns dystopia, and which examines diaspora?

Some answers will seem obvious. I'll learn what the kids think over the next two weeks, when they will write and talk on all three of the following questions:
  • Defend this statement: This book engages the theme of utopia.
  • Defend this statement: This book engages the theme of dystopia.
  • Defend this statement: This book engages the theme of diaspora.
In October, we'll be planning projects and exhibitions on these themes, if not these books. Those will come to fruition in November.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Icarus Girl

We have been reading Helen Oyeyemi's Icarus Girl together since the first day of school. We're a little over halfway through. The protagonist is a precocious eight-year-old girl called Jessamy, prone to tantrums and to obsessions like writing haiku and rewriting sad scenes in books like Little Women (her favorite).

Jess has an English father and a Nigerian mother. The novel takes place in England and Nigeria. The theme of pairs--duality--dichotomy--twins--phrase it how you will, but it's like Noah's Ark in there, there are twos everywhere you look. Our first writing prompts on Icarus Girl concerned the number (and identity) of pairs in the novel--thus far, the kids have identified about thirty--and the nature of Jessamy's mysterious friend, TillyTilly.

Icarus Girl explores our twinned themes of Magic and Journeys. Jess' travels between Europe and Africa inform her identity and illuminate the characters of her parents, her relations, and her new friend. TillyTilly's identity is grounded in Nigerian mythology, aspects of which were introduced to half this group last spring in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

We'll finish Icarus Girl in October. In the meantime, have the kids remind you why someone keeps leaving notes all over the Summers-Knoll second floor that read HEllO JEssY.

Interscholastic Athletic Schedule

Our six-a-side soccer team, the Summers-Knoll Dragons, will play a four-game season.

Wednesday, October 8: @ Friends School of Detroit.
Wednesday, October 15: @ Upland Hills School, in Oxford.
Wednesday, October 22: we host Friends School of Detroit.
Wednesday, October 29: we host Upland Hills School.

The co-ed roster will be drawn from our sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

Times and specific locations will be announced by Wednesday, October 1. We will probably play our home games at Lillie Park, and we will probably play at around 1:00, after lunch and before electives. All of that is still being finalized, however. 

It is also possible that we will play a fifth match against Clonlara School of Ann Arbor.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September to December

Here is what we have up on the east-wall whiteboard. This is, more or less, our program for the fall.

Utopia Projectsbegin booksdetermine projectsExhibitions--
Utopia Exhibitions--rehearsefirst week--
Utopia Booksbegin booksbegin reading in pairscomplete readingproject & show-off
Athletics & PEsix-a-side practicesix-a-side matchesfour-school gathering?--
Work Crewsfirst rotationcontinue; shadow daysecond rotationcontinue
Sciencegenetics & biologyevolution & biologyhow magic becomes scienceschedule Exhibitions (Jan)
Lit Publications4-6 prompts4-6 promptscurate for first LP; revisionspublish
DetroitCity FC & EarthworksFriends SchoolHeidelberg?Friends to Alice?
Americans--connect to diaspora----
Student Governmentlame duck sessions; set goalselectionsrevisit and revise goalspursue goals
Journeys Idefine 'journey'; plan US tripsproject & show-off----
Journeys IIbegin maps in arthistorical research--show-off
Aliceget copies; read; composeaudition & rehearserehearseperform
Legacy Projectsbrainstormconsiderdecide and begincontinue work
Tripsvisit Iowasay thanksbrainstorm spring tripdetermine spring trip
High School 101contact alumnipoll eighth gradersshadow daysshadow days
Icarus Girlread aloudfinish----
Keeper----read aloudfinish
Magic Projectsdefine 'magic'--identify projectsset deadlines
Magic Exhibitions------schedule Exhibitions (Jan)
Accreditation--welcome letters & visitthank-you notes--

I'll be happy to discuss this anytime, because there is so much that is so exciting here. We will certainly make it a topic of conversation on Curriculum Night, scheduled for 6:30 pm on Thursday, September 18.

Domestic Retreat

On Friday, September 5, while the rest of SK was exploring the Howell Nature Center, the seventh and eighth graders had some adventures of their own in the school building.

We spent a couple of hours previewing the year--see the results of that in our next post. We spent a couple of hours in an intensive writing workshop with Joanna--watch for the results of that ongoing project in the weeks to come. We spent an hour, give or take, playing capture the flag and hide-and-seek in the nearly empty building. (That was fun. Usually the big kids have to be so careful around the little kids. For a little while on Friday they got to just run around like the delightful maniacs they are.)

We spent a couple of hours preparing and consuming a fabulous feast reflecting regional cuisines, an exercise that reflected our current work on the Americana on the Road project. We made jambalaya, a spicy Louisiana dish with rice, beans, chicken and vegetables. We simmered a Maine cod chowder. We imported a little korma sabzi from India (actually from Earthen Jar)--OK, there are Indian communities all over the United States; let's say this one was from Michigan, since it was. We roasted potatoes with light spices--that's Idaho, of course. We had Hawaiian pineapple and Florida Key lime pie for dessert. (The pie was more like pudding, but it was magically delicious.)

This was a big task, cooking for 15 (plus the staff members on hand, Joanna, Dayna, Megan and Jenna). All I asked of the kids was that they help, and keep helping, however long and complicated the cooking was. I can't remember any of them ever standing around waiting for someone to tell them what to do, or shirking any task. It was a continuous, merry, productive buzz of activity.

There was plenty left over, too, and I sent an e-mail to the faculty saying that there would be lunch ready for everyone on Monday. It's too bad the power went out and we had to pitch all the leftovers.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Genetics and Drosophila

On Wednesday, September 3, the second day of school, we travelled to the Barolo Lab at the University of Michigan for our first look at genetics and natural selection.

The Barolo Lab looks at genetics in fruit flies, aka drosophila melanogaster.
Their ten-day life span is convenient: it means that you can track the development of introduced genes from birth to death.

Fruit flies are also handy because most of their genetic information is the same as humans'.
For example, 75% of the genes that cause disease are common between them and us.

Dr. Lisa Johnson, our teacher and guide,
shows off one of the means of tracking individual genes in fruit flies: radiation.

Here, many variations of flies are labelled and stored. To look at them, you knock them out with carbon dioxide. We did not see a single fruit fly buzzing around the lab.

You manipulate the flies with a paintbrush.

Another way to track particular genes is to inject the fly with a gene that manifests luminescence. We get it from fluorescent jellyfish. It comes in green and red, like Christmas.

Before our next visit, we will bone up on gene expression--in particular, enhancers, promoters, and hox genes. We'll put this in the context of natural selection. And then we will inject genetic material into flies, rather than simply looking at them.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Begin Again

This year is so, so, so promising.

I welcome the fourteen seventh and eighth grade students and their families to 2014-15 at Summers-Knoll. For the seven of you who are new to the second floor (first floor, if you're English), this blog is updated roughly twice a week. Please feel free to read anything in it going back to its first posts in September of 2012.

Tuesday will bring our first major assignment--it involves maps, gasoline, and science, among other matters--as well as our first math class, our first upstairs French and Mandarin sessions, the debut of the Coat Room in the Clouds, our first reading from Helen Oyeyemi's Icarus Girl, our first collection, and who knows what other bits of magic and/or insanity.

Wednesday will be our first PE session, precisely five weeks in advance of the first interscholastic athletic competition in the history of Summers-Knoll. That's also the day of the first of dozens of steps onto the SK bus. We'll be headed over to this working lab at the University of Michigan to talk mutations.

Thursday we will continue to build our wall-sized spreadsheet mapping out our plans for the next four months. There will be twenty-plus rows. Ask your kids about each and every one of them. This will also be the first day of Work Crews and the new beginnings of Art and Music class.

Friday we will have an internal retreat while the younger students are at Howell. Among many other topics, we will finish off the leviathan spreadsheet, pass out Chromebook computers, plan our September 22-24 trip to Iowa, get in touch with our many friends in Detroit, and polish off our plot for world domination.

Speaking of Iowa, here's one of those old posts . . . . . 

Let's get started.