Sunday, December 21, 2014


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a story that takes place in the mind of an eight-year-old. She is a remarkable eight-year-old, irrepressible and creative, but then we all know a lot of eight-year-olds who fit that description.

We know she created Wonderland because, when Alice is awoken from a nap by her older sister, she immediately recounts it as a dream. All of us dream. Every night we are out there in Wonderland, writing stories, building images, in dreamscapes, hellscapes, and fantasies of the mind.

All of us are there: chartered accountants in Edinburgh, cassava farmers outside Ibadan, fishermen in Melekeok, not to mention every child in the world. No matter how staid or straightforward we believe ourselves to be, we write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland every night.

 Welcome to your world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Half-Dozen Versions of Tag

For PE in the extreme cold, we kept moving by inventing and playing six different original versions of tag. Each pair of students had five minutes to come up with their rendition of the game. Then we walked across the street to County Farm Park. Once on the playground, we played them all in consecutive five-minute sessions.

In Rhino Tag, the person serving as It could only tag another person with his or her forehead. Once that happened, the tagee linked arms with It, forming a larger, if less mobile, tagging force. This was itself a variation on Blob Tag, in which the larger force emitted zombie-like groans as they stumbled around in pursuit of their nimbler, albeit increasingly freaked-out, quarry.

Two games employed both an It and an Unfreezer. In Vogue Tag, you had to strike a pose when tagged, in the manner of Madonna's Vogue video. You could be released from this pose when the Unfreezer sang an original verse or two about you. (Mike immediately volunteered for this role, and carried it off with vim, if not gusto.) Nutmeg Tag had Nik roaming the field and nutmegging* those who had been tagged. 

In Reverse Tag, everyone was It except one person, who was pursued by the rest: a 1-on-11 game. Hands Free Molten Lava Tag required everyone to stay on the big play structure, since the ground below was molten lava. The person playing It stayed on the structure too and was forbidden any use of the hands. That had nothing to do with the lava. It was just funny.

* That's when a person stands with legs apart, and the ball is passed between the feet, like a shot through tiny goalposts.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Elizabeth's Exhibition

Isobel shared her account and impressions of Elizabeth's first Exhibition.

Elizabeth’s exhibition question was ‘How does diaspora affect our everyday lives?’ She talked about how things are moved from one place to another, where things were made to where they were sold. She showed us her mural which has many people from different places, cultures and flags, representing immigrants to the United States.

For the activity we formed teams and went to look for labels that told us where that item came from. Then after about 5 to 10 minutes she called us back and gave us a set of brightly colored star stickers. Then we placed the star stickers on a large map of the world.

The exhibition was very interesting, the star stickers were one of my favorite parts. The activity was very hands-on. I thought the exhibition went very well and Elizabeth was very confident.

Science Projects

For the February round of Exhibitions, our fourteen students, with guidance from several adults, will design projects with a scientific focus. 

I have shared with them selected writings from two sources: longform.org, a website devoted to interesting articles of a certain length culled from print and the web; and the Best American series, specifically, the 2013 and 2014 editions of Best American Science and Nature Writing. These essays will make for challenging reading, but our kids can manage them, and because these pieces are mostly from general-reader publications (e.g. The Atlantic and The New York Times), they include sufficient background for lay readers.

Here are links to both:
Best American Science Writing 2014

Each student will read three essays and will be expected to create a hands-on project, preferably an experiment or engineering task, on the subject matter of any one of those. They may work alone or with a single partner. The articles run the gamut from medical research to genetics to climate change to agroforestry to environmental themes to astrophysics (and so on). They will choose something that they can relate to, that matters to them, and that they find compelling. 

For example, a student might read David Dobbs' Beautiful Brains, a National Geographic article describing recent neurological developments in the understanding of why teenagers make the decisions they do. (It starts out spicy: the author's 17-year-old son calls him from the police station, where he has been arrested for driving 113 miles an hour.) Dobbs explains what brain research has to say on this topic.

What kind of active project could be built from this? The student would need to choose a question to explore: say, Can I really plot behavior to the growth of the brain? Exploring the answer might involve studying the structure of the brain, and recreating it as a sequence of models or representations showing stages from infancy to adulthood. He or she might then conduct a behavioral survey of younger children, his/her classmates, and a group of adults, and compare them. The final version could head in any number of directions. 

Other projects on other topics could find a student measuring the pollutant content of water samples. Another might plant seeds. Another might pour Coca-Cola on rust stains. These activities should yield scientific understanding (and excitement) in physics, or biology, or chemistry, or genetics. Perhaps one will plan the regeneration of the SK patch of wetland by our playground. 

Projects begin with great questions.

To make these experiences more powerful, each student, or pair of students, will have a science advisor. In collaboration with me, this advisor would ensure that the student(s) have the right grasp of the key scientific concepts, are able to design a project that explores these central themes, and can execute it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Maya's Exhibition

Nik shared some impressions of Maya's Exhibition, which asked, 'How do diaspora become permanent?'

Maya’s exhibition was about the African American and Jewish diaspora.

In her exhibition, Maya talked about her family tree, and the connections between her family tree,
utopia, dystopia, and diaspora. It was very absorbing because she gave real life examples from her family of global movements. These included examples of the African American side of her family moving to areas surrounding Michigan. She also kept people involved by having an interesting activity planned for the end. 

I think the music she played also drew people in and started conversations. Her music choices, which traced the development of both diaspora as they became Americans, definitely showed and made obvious the change of pace transitioning between homelands. She wrapped this up by playing music from her own family, representing the present state of the two groups she had researched.

All went very well up until the point in which she presented her activity. I think people might have been distracted by all of the candy that was used in this particular demonstration, as groups placed different types of candy on different states to represent the Jewish and African American populations.

Otherwise her exhibition was a success.

Isobel's Exhibition

Maya shared some thoughts on Isobel's Exhibition.

Isobel’s exhibition was intriguing in many different ways, but the most interesting thing about it was that her lesson was on a topic that you would think is very simple: twins. 

When you think of twins you basically just think of two siblings that were born at the same time. Sometimes, you think of fraternal or identical twins as well. Before I attended Isobel’s exhibition I was excited to find out what Isobel would talk about in her exhibition since it was on such a 'simple' topic. I wasn't disappointed, because Isobel took the topic of twins to another level. She named and explained varieties of twins that I never knew existed. 

The one that I found most interesting was mirror twins. They are the exact opposite from each other. An example that Isobel gave was if one twin had a birthmark on her left cheek the other would have a birthmark on their right. This was also an unfortunate situation, because one twin would have their heart and organs on the right side and the other twin would have their heart and organs on the wrong side. 

Isobel also compared the way twins are viewed in different parts of the world: China, with its 'one child' policy; Nigeria, where traditional beliefs mingle with modern views; and the US, where she focused on the story of two girls whose bodies are combined (conjoined twins).

Another thing I liked about it was that, sometimes in exhibitions, it's not really obvious that I’ve learned something. After I left Isobel’s exhibition, I knew that I had.

Trent's Exhibition

Nico attended Trent's Exhibition. Here are a few notes.

The topic of Trent's exhibition was child soldiers. He wrote a two-page paper with details about child soldiers around the world. He read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, a memoir about the life of a child soldier. 

As an activity, he handed out slips of paper, numbered 1-8, with a different fact on each. He handed those out and had us read the facts in numerical order. This exhibition informed us on how many child soldiers there are approximately in the world at the time. That number is over 500,000 in 133 countries, over 250,000 of whom are in Africa. 

This was an extremely interesting topic for Trent to look into. I don’t know how many other students here would have chosen to go deeper into that topic.  

Kaeli's Exhibition

Aristea came in early for Kaeli's first Exhibition.

Kaeli’s exhibition found a entertaining way to explain Japanese Internment that made me WANT to learn, using the Gamestar Mechanic website. (For all of you that don't know, Gamestar Mechanic is a fun website where you can create and play video games.) The game traced a Japanese-American’s journey from home to an internment camp and back at the time of World War II.

Each of the seven levels was accompanied by a historical description, so that we knew what was going on in the video game and how it connected with what actually happened. I thought this was a very cool and unique way of teaching that made everyone interested and ready to learn more.

I thoroughly suggest that you check out her game: Japanese Internment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jianmarco's Exhibition

Kaeli attended Jianmarco's early-morning Exhibition. Here is her report.

Jianmarco's exhibition was about fictional 'test-tube babies' and real-life genetic engineering. He had some slides explaining what both his topics were. Then he explained how prenatal genetic planning starting to happen in real life, and why. After that, he explained more of what genetic engineering is--working with the existing genetic material that parents pass on naturally, but eliminating genes for things like sensitivity to disease. You can even plan eye color. 

He also showed us a clip from a movie called Gattaca where the parents were telling the doctor what they did or didn’t want their baby to have. Did they want their baby to have no lung cancer? Did they not want her to like flowers? (That is a reference to early training in Brave New World.) After that, Jianmarco divided us into two groups. One group argued that it’s good to have genetically modified people. The other group argued against that. It was an interesting conversation.

Lee's Exhibition

Matthew wrote a little report on Lee’s Exhibition.

Lee did an exhibition on a game he made, based on the three school plays and a class book. The three plays were Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and Alice in Wonderland. The book was Icarus Girl. He made a player for each main character, and invented the game rules and abilities. The cards helped players, as characters, maneuver through each other’s worlds, working together to collect treasures.

Lee did a good job running the exhibition, and ran over all the rules before the game. What was going to be the hard part of his exhibition was helping people play the game. We played the game, and although exhibition times didn’t allow us to finish, we all got the hang of the rules by that time. Lee had made the game board himself. For the cards, he had taken a normal deck of cards and written the names of the cards on them.

Lee’s game was well made. I thought he might have included two other characters from books which we had read this year. Although it was too long for the exhibition, that doesn’t make his game any worse. In fact, he could create new versions of the game with different characters, using the same format.

Aristea's Exhibition

Lee was one of many who attended Aristea's Exhibition. Here's what he has to say about it.

Along with Elizabeth, Aristea is painting a Utopia-Diaspora-Dystopia mural in our common room. In her exhibition, Aristea showed her sketches of Utopia and Dystopia, pointed out where the mural is being prepared, and explained the process from sketch to mural. She gave us both the dictionary definitions and her definitions of both. As the activity, she has us paint our versions of Utopia or Dystopia. 
She said: In my dystopia, there has to be enough good so that the bad hurts, and in my utopia, there has to be enough bad so that the good matters.
In some versions of a Utopia, nothing ever happens or changes. That would be a Dystopia for me, though, so I drew a face like this for both.

       O               O

Nothing happening. Most people agreed with me. My second option was a polar bear eating a marshmallow in a snowstorm, or blank paper. But most people agreed that this was better. The exhibition was fun, and well-taught.

Nikolas' Exhibition

Here are a few notes from Mike on Nik's first exhibition, which was attended by fifteen people.

Nik started by explaining what his project was: a graphic novella, without dialogue, created by Nik himself. After reviewing the story arc of his work, Nik then moved to declare that a utopia is specific to a person: one person’s utopia will be different than anyone else’s. The activity was drawing our vision of a utopia. This worked well for the more artistically inclined, but for the regular old Joes (mostly me), it didn't work as well.

Margaret's Exhibition

Karenna was part of the audience for Margaret's first Exhibition.

Margaret's theme was Utopia House, where she built a miniature house with the floors Hell, Earth, and Heaven. To go with the house, Margaret made a presentation about four different religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Their representations of the three realms showed the differences. She had a lot of material from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible for Judaism and Christianity, represented on the house by a staircase and beautiful vistas. Zoroastrianism, which came before those, was the first monotheistic religion. Buddhism has more fluid and open ideas, especially reincarnation. We looked at the house, which featured black-red-and-orange fires in the basement, and saw common elements of all four religions.

Mike's Exhibition

Elizabeth attended Mike's Exhibition, which he titled 'U and Dys'. Here is her report.

Mike’s exhibition was on failed utopias, specifically, how quickly a utopia can become a dystopia. He talked about how everyone has their own versions of a utopia and how fast things can change, even between the generations. Mike gave an example of one failed utopia called the Amana Colonies in Iowa. After a couple of generations the people found that what their ancestors had thought was a utopia was actually dystopia and many of them moved away. Mike also gave an example of a utopia in Indiana that built in its own end: they knew that eventually the later generations would move away, so they didn’t have kids. It was called the Harmony colony and after all the people who had founded it had died the colony was empty. Mike also gave an example of a utopia that is still being built, called Arcosanti in Arizona. He talked about how they are making all the architecture very similar to nature.
Mike’s activity was breaking the group into groups of threes and having them write about how their utopias would be run and what things it would contain by answering these questions, What government would your utopia have and your Utopias view on many things including equality, currency and religion. After we had finished writing out answers down we switched with another group and assessed whether their utopia would be successful or not. We then switched back and had a discussion about other groups utopia and why or why not the utopias would succeed.
Mike's exhibition was the first one I had ever been to and was very excited! Mike's exhibition was very informative and interesting. It was engaging and really made me think about how much work would need to go into making a utopia. The examples he gave were very interesting and I enjoyed learning about them. I enjoyed doing the worksheet, but my group was very invested, and so we did not have enough time to finish. Switching with the others groups was a good idea and it was interesting to compare what a kids’ version of a utopia to what a grown-ups’ version. Overall I found the exhibition interesting and engaging, and a great start to my 8th grade exhibition year!


Nicolas' Exhibition

Margaret attended Nico's lesson on the migration and evolution of proto-humans. 
Here are a few of her observations.

Nico’s exhibition was about evolution and the early humans. He said this was the first diaspora: humans moving out of Africa. During that era we evolved into four different species: Homo Erectus, Homo Floresiensis, Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Sapiens (modern humans). At one point during the exhibition he gave out paper and had us draw the skulls of Homo Sapiens and Homo Erectus and point out the differences we saw, which was fun. Since I had been at one of Nico’s earlier exhibitions about Neanderthals, seeing another exhibition relating to that topic was intriguing. Overall, I think Nico’s most recent exhibition was well-prepared.

Karenna's Exhibition

Here are some notes from Trent on Karenna's Exhibition.

Karenna’s exhibition was great. She made a spreadsheet about how age has something to do with opinions on utopia, dystopia, and diaspora. The spreadsheet she made on google docs showed grades K - 8 and the most popular thoughts on each subject at each age. She also collected illustrations, including a crazy utopian marshmallow man. For the activity, we all created lists of things that we thought would go into the three different categories. At the very end we all shared our thoughts out loud on the subject. I noticed as the age group got older the topic became more serious.