Saturday, November 29, 2014

Topia Exhibitions

Here is our basic Exhibition schedule. Each of these will be chronicled on this site by a peer's post. If you're interested in attending one, feel free to send me an e-mail for details on times and places.

Tuesday, December 2
Jianmarco on genetic engineering.
Mike on failed utopias.

Wednesday, December 3
Trent on child soldiers.
Nico on the migration and differentiation of early humans.
Isobel on twins in different cultures.

Thursday, December 4
Matthew, Kaeli, and Lee's games on utopias, wonderlands, and broken worlds.
Aristea & Elizabeth's mural of movement between broken worlds and perfect ones.
Karenna's survey of different age groups on utopias, dystopias, and diasporas.

Friday, December 5
Nik's utopian graphic novella.
Margaret's house depicting four religions' versions of Heaven, Hell, and Earth.
Maya's family tree and disparate diasporas.

An Exhibition is a half-hour lesson, taught by the student, to a group of assembled peers, family members, and SK staff.

Terrestrial Quidditch

In keeping with the Magic theme, we've been playing Quidditch in PE.

For those of you not familiar with the Harry Potter series--yes, you, sir, and you over there, way back in the corner--it's just you two, is it?--Quidditch is an airborne sport that carries roughly the same weight in the wizarding world as soccer does with the rest of us. There's a quadrennial World Cup and everything; there's even an American sport that we prefer to Quidditch called 'Quodpot'.

In JK Rowling's imagination, there are seven players on a Quidditch team, each mounted on a broomstick. Three Chasers try to score goals by throwing a ball called the Quaffle through one of three high vertical hoops, protected by a single Keeper, at either end of the field. Two Beaters try to hit those Chasers with a hard little ball called a Bludger. And a Seeker tries to earn points by finding a tiny bird-like ball called the Golden Snitch.

We play a version I call Terrestrial Quidditch. Until jetpacks are perfected, we're stuck playing on the ground. The Quaffles must remain in the air, however, and the participants must stay on broomsticks, which slows their running and means the Quaffle and Bludgers must be handled with one hand. If a Quaffle hits the ground, possession changes. There are two hoops strung between trees at either end (thanks to Evan Williams, our Facilities Mastermind). Each team has one Bludger; if the opponent in possession of the Quaffle is hit with it, the other team gets the ball. The Golden Snitch, which can be found by any player, is hidden somewhere on the playing area--on the ground or in a tree.

There were many highlights in our blustery November Quidditch season. Maya, Trent and Nico proved star Keepers. Matthew, Isobel and Kaeli found several Snitches. Jianmarco and Nik were energetic and effective Chasers. And everyone wore themselves out, and looked hilarious, racing and hopping around on broomsticks, like four-year-olds with toy horsey sticks.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This is our third read-aloud of the year (not counting Alice, which Joanna and I took turns reading in Iowa, with an assist from a CD we listened to on the bus for a few chapters).

Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is told from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old boy who is incapable of inference. He can only think logically. He can't understand faces, idioms, metaphors, or lying. His name is Christopher John Francis Boone.

As a logician, he is an admirer of Sherlock Holmes--hence the book's title. When Christopher discovers that a neighbor's dog has been killed, he decides to find the perpetrator.

This book is unlike any I've ever read. The kids probably have plenty of thoughts to share. They are as lively and responsive during our sessions as ever. Reading aloud, of which Joanna is a tireless component, has probably been the most rewarding and lowest-tech innovation of my recent educational career.

Barring a barrage of snow days, we will finish The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time before the holiday break. Next up in January: Tracks by Louise Erdrich.

All of Our Alices

Every production is different, but if Alice herself described her namesake extravaganza-in-progress here at Summers-Knoll, she might describe it as O my, really so VERY different.

One of my favorite characteristics of this production is the nature of the collaboration amongst faculty, families, and students. It should come as no surprise that eighth graders, most of them veterans of three SK plays, have taken on great responsibilities. Isobel made costumes happen for The Odyssey, and, with contributions from Sarah Kingham, Christine Moellering and others, is doing a great deal of that work on Alice (including some fabulous surprises for Tweedledum and Tweedledee, our only import from Through the Looking Glass). Mike is directing one of the play's eleven scenes. Josh Grekin is King of Music, but Maya and Elizabeth are composing and arranging much of it, and helping to oversee all of it. Nico is anchoring a couple of those songs on the cello, and Matthew, a seventh grader, has composed incidental music, which he will also perform. Aristea wrote one of the songs. As he did for The Odyssey, Jianmarco is masterminding props, including their acquisition, design, and organization.

What really differentiates Alice is the degree to which younger students have been part of the creative process. Some of the 5-6s participated in writing lyrics for the croquet opus. The 3-4s have written music too, and a crack team of 3-4 visionaries, designers, and carpenters under Andaiye Spencer's direction are building the set pieces. Josh worked with the earliest elementary students, the kids in kindergarten, first and second grade, to write three of the play's nine songs. And an eager Face Paint Battalion comprised of students in grades 3-8, parents, staff, and Megan Dooley, will be adorning fifty faces with hypoallergenic glittery paint.

Fill up on tea and cucumber sandwiches! The rabbit-hole beckons. Alice will be performed on the evening of Friday, December 12, and the afternoon and evening of Saturday, December 13.

Topia Projects

From day to day, amidst a raft of deadlines and many competing agendas, it can be hard to track what's actually getting done. Stepping back for a look is often surprising, usually in a positive way.

The SK 7-8s' thinking on the early theme of Utopia, Dystopia, and Diaspora was generated by literature, individual research, and conversation in class. In September and October, each of them read between three and five of the following books:

A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
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
Icarus Girl, Helen Oyeyemi

Below are the projects our students designed. 
  • Aristea and Elizabeth are painting a four-wall mural depicting utopia, dystopia, and diaspora--Aristea's perfect and broken worlds are at either end and Elizabeth's people are moving from one to the other
  • Isobel wrote a paper comparing the status of twins in China, Nigeria and the United States
  • Jianmarco is showing different visions of genetic engineering, including that of Huxley's Brave New World
  • Kaeli designed an online game that engages the experience of Japanese-Americans in California during World War II, as depicted in a novel, Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine
  • Karenna polled different age groups on their versions of a perfect world and a broken one
  • Lee designed a board game that tracks four literary characters through magical journeys (Alice, Gilgamesh, Odysseus, and Jessamy from Icarus Girl)
  • Margaret is building a house with floors for Heaven, Hell, and Earth, using material on those topics from Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and--wait for it--Zoroastrianism
  • Matthew designed a card game through which players try to build a utopia, or prevent opponents from doing so
  • Maya built a detailed family tree with related research on the subject of diaspora
  • Michael wrote a paper on failed utopias, comparing and connecting their downfalls
  • Nico built a map and a presentation on mankind's trek out of Africa, and the evolution of different species over the course of that journey
  • Nik is writing a comic about the rise and fall of a perfect society
  • Trent is writing a paper on child soldiers in different parts of the world, with a focus on humanitarian efforts to help victims and prevent the practice in future
These projects will be the subject of Exhibitions in the week of December 2-5.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

High School 101

I am barnstorming my way through high school visits, sixteen in all: Clonlara, Community, Dexter, Early College, Greenhills, Huron, New Tech, Olney, Pioneer, Saline, Scattergood, Skyline, Steiner, WiHi, WTMC, and Ypsilanti. 

When my head reattaches to my body I'll put together an information sheet for everyone with basic parameters, web addresses, and deadlines. I can tell you that Steiner runs regular tours twice a month and that the first heavy-duty deadline is Greenhills' application in mid-January.

We have a middle school information session coming up on November 13. This gathering runs from 5:00 to 6:00. I will follow it up with a High School 101 session, so those of you who might be attending the middle school event can just stick around for the high school gathering. 

Here, then, is the official time:

High School 101
Thursday, November 13
6:00-7:00 pm