Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Working Together

The emphasis this week has been collaborative work in various forms. Chief among these was preparation for two separate formal debates regarding genetic modifications in salmon and mosquitoes. Students were divided into four teams and researched each topic before writing notes on arguments, counterarguments, and rebuttals. The class also spent time composing a list of good and bad habits in public speaking. The debates were held to great acclaim on Wednesday. In addition, students finished reading Nancy Farmer's House of the Scorpion and worked individually writing book reviews.

Collaboration was also key in our continued study of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this case, students were first given an assignment regarding a proposed classroom constitution. This work was completed individually. Next, each student brought a particular bit of expertise to bear on a full-class activity in which they exchanged information on a dozen debatable issues. The format of the activity requires that every student in the class get some information from every other student. This is sometimes referred to as a 'free market' activity, since the kids trade information and persuasive analysis with each other. The next step, after the holiday break, will be to pool opinions (just as in the American Constitutional Convention) and hammer out a finished product for the 7-8 homeroom.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Busy Week

Post-production week is always busy in the 7-8's domain. (We polished off this all-school project muscling the stage platforms back into the garage and filling out a reflective questionnaire.) In class, most of the truncated week was spent with reapplied attention to the US Constitution, but from a very different angle. This time, the kids were invited--independently--to create a proposed constitution for the class. The next step for this work will be to pool their proposals into a collective document on the whiteboard and begin to hash out a final version, using everyone's proposals as a starting point. The resultant debates should echo the clamorous and divided nature of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. We also looked at the long-term impacts of the Constitution as the document particularly pertained to slavery--an institution never mentioned by name in the document, but which is all over the place between the lines.

Speaking of debate, work in English and Language Arts focused on two formal debates to be held next week. The kids watched video of a middle school debate on a proposal to ban boxing. They picked apart arguments and differentiated between assertions and rebuttals. In coordination with thei work in science, the 7-8s worked in teams to prepare arguments and counterarguments regarding genetic engineering, salmon, and mosquitos. They also worked on written assignments pertaining to the public role of the Sonnet Bomber, an anonymous poet who has been leaving sonnets at various businesses around Ann Arbor. The 7-8s are writing sonnets and other formal poems to institutions and people they appreciate.

In math, we welcomed back Ed Feng, teaching probability and statistics through poker. The pre-algebra class continued their assignments and activities on inequalities. Most have moved forward to Chapter Four in our text. The algebra class kept up their studies of linear equations. Many of the 7-8s tested their mettle through timed assessments on the recently covered material. 

We wanted to go sledding in PE, but the weather was too cold, so we played babyball again upstairs--very raucous and delightful--and then did the opposite of raucous the next day: yoga.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The All-School Project: Myths of Everywhere

History & Society work at the 7-8 level continued to focus on three activities. 

Processing and analyzing the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights was our dominant conversation upstairs. Students looked at ways in which local civic institutions embody both the rights and responsibilities articulated in the document, with a particularly lively discussion on how the police force represents both. 

In addition, students reached the end of the Constitution and Bill of Rights anthology, completing their annotations and preparing for next week's activities. (For a deeper explanation of what annotations are, how they are used, and what students have actually written, keep an eye out for next week's classroom blog post.) 

Finally, we rehearsed the all-school play, Myths of Everywhere, four days out of five. Their sketch from Norse Mythology, Stolen Thunder, has been a source of great fun and growing stagecraft. The 7-8s also muscled the stage platforms into place, narrated two of the younger classes' scenes, supplied further scenes onstage, and came up with new comic ideas which we hope everyone will enjoy.

This week in math, the pre-algebra class began some lessons on inequalities. While many of the students are still focusing on perfecting previous work, many have moved forward to Chapter Four in our text. After learning about birthday lines last week, the algebra class continues their studies of linear equations.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Human Rights

It has been a busy week-plus in History and Society work in the seventh and eighth grade program. Our annotative work in the Constitution anthology has continued apace. The readings for the week have focused on the limitations of the Articles of Confederation, the work of Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and the struggle for compromise and ratification. We looked the concept of equality under the rule of law by examining a few sample cases pertinent to the Bill of Rights. Finally, we took some time to look at the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which later will form the basis for project work in the second semester. We also continued our work on mythology with rehearsals of tales from Canada, India, and Norway in advance of the performances of December 9 and 10.

In addition, this was a banner week in physical education. We played a variety of team games with a variety of balls (foursquare, soft little quaffles, soccer balls, and a giant yoga ball). The next day, we created games with stomp rockets and then played an original indoor game that the kids dubbed 'babyball'.

Monday, November 21, 2016


This week, the 7-8s continued their study of early America and the Constitution. We reviewed Haudenosaunee, an Iroquois confederacy from colonial times, noting its influence on John Rutledge, Benjamin Franklin, and other Framers. We delved deeper into the Bill of Rights by examining scenarios through the lens of the first ten amendments, figuring out which of the ten were most relevant in each case and debating the various decisions.

In addition, this was the week when we began working on the all-school play in earnest, reading through our Norse script, revising it, and beginning to plan movements. The kids have lots of good input on this. We also read through the myths that the kindergarteners and 1-2 classes will be performing, from Ghana, the Arctic, and India. The 7-8s will provide narration for these scenes in performance.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Constitution Past and Present

In this three-day week our focus was entirely on American government. Since many Americans were surprised by the results of Tuesday's election, we spent much of our time together on Wednesday processing the results. We discussed the logistics of a Presidential election. The Electoral College was a key element of this conversation. We also touched on the way the three branches of government interact, which was a useful transition into our work on the often excruciating, yet also amazing, process by which the US Constitution and Bill of Rights were drafted and ratified. Finally, the kids got their new sixty-page anthology built on this topic and began their now-habituated process of reading and annotating.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Place-Based Learning in Lansing and Ann Arbor

Our recent excursions into the wider world have taken us to several locations beyond Summers-Knoll.

  • We visited the Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, where we saw two exhibits. One was a large set of maps, old and new, related to the National Park System. Our students made interesting connection between this collection and the Americana I assignment, in which each student designed a trip to a different region of the United States, complete with itinerary, budget, and map. (One student was able to actually take the trip he had designed along with his family.)
  • Another exhibit at the library showed artifacts and information from a 1966 effort to restore and preserve ancient books in Florence, Italy, after a devastating flood. This exhibit substantiated our work in science class on climate change and flooding.
  • Two other trips followed up on this scientific and societal work. We travelled to the Broad Museum in Lansing, Michigan, to visit an exhibit of photographic and video work by Gideon Mendel called Drowning World. Mendel After a docent-led tour of the museum, students traipsed down to the banks of the Red Cedar River, possibly the most striking of all the photos. Here, two of Mendel's photos were mounted in the river itself, the height of the water matched to the height of the floodwater in the photograph.

  • We also went back to the University of Michigan, this time to the International Institute, to visit and review a exhibit of photographs and text called Sinking City, a portrait of Djakarta, Indonesia, a city whose metropolitan area comprises nearly 28 million people. The city's water table is rapidly becoming depleted as the population rises.
  • With an eye toward our work on American government in advance of next month's election, we embarked on a docent-led tour the State Capitol in Lansing. We previewed the tour by identifying the parameters of the three branches of our republic's government as they manifest at the state level. In Lansing, the students saw the headquarters of each, and asked many (great!) questions throughout the tour.
  • We visited the Pop X art exhibit in Liberty Square in downtown Ann Arbor. Here, artists each was able to produce a work steeped in social commentary in a small quasi-shack. Students wandered among the exhibits on a rainy day, adding comments and thoughts where invited to, and otherwise interacting with each artist's wor

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fall Overnight: Olney Friends School

Every autumn, the 7-8s embark upon an overnight trip. In recent years, we've gone to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to Iowa, and to Detroit. This year, we went to Olney Friends School, a Quaker institution founded in 1837, located in Barnesville, Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Like Summers-Knoll, Olney is a progressive school.

What follows is a brief account of our trip.

At the Main Building, built over a hundred years ago.
The Bus Ride
We left on time--seven in the morning, an hour-and-a-half before a usual SK day begins. The kids were wonderful on the bus--no small feat, given that we spent eleven-plus hours in those cramped quarters between the long trip down and the mercifully shorter trip home.

Owen and Niko on the east side of the farm.

The Classes
The kids were attentive, proud, and participatory in every class: Japanese, Ecology, Statistics, Humanities, Chemistry, Visual Communications, and Spanish. Leonard the Ecology teacher passed out handwritten handouts and sent his six kids out with our three to observe different ecosystems: forest, meadow, and vernal pool, beginning with ten silent minutes, which strikes me as a quintessentially Quaker thing to do. Carrie the Spanish teacher helped the students write a story, building vocabulary as they went. The group of seventh graders were positively brazen in a Humanities class in which they conceived and designed an original early civilization (that kind of activity is right up Summers-Knoll's alley). The 7-8s got a taste of high school, and they found that it was good.

Cave painting, before we turned out the lights.
The Activities
In the evening, the kids frolicked on the school's central green. They participated wholeheartedly in a group sing, nominating songs and occasionally finding harmonies. Best of all, two teachers set the kids up with an activity whereby they painted pictures in the style of early humans. They used pigments and materials that would have been available to prehistoric humans (berries, turmeric, charcoal, sticks; candlelight to mimic the illumination of a cave). They painted wolves, arrows, giraffes (!), and other images, most of which called forth a successful hunt or fruitful collecting.

Oli and some of the goats he named.
The Farm and the Food
When we were arrived, Aaron, the Admissions director, led us downstairs to the cafeteria for fruit, water, bread, and a spicy Israeli stew called shakshouka. We ate pulled pork at other meals, bean & corn salads, hard-boiled eggs from the farm, soft tacos, produce from the garden. The kids observed a moment of collective silence before the meals (as well as collection with the entire school at other times). The food was wonderful, but the organic farm was even better, especially the chickens and the baby goats. Anyone will tell you that the baby goats were the highlight of the trip.
Hothouse flowers.
Facing the pond after classes.

Monday, June 20, 2016


We said good-bye to the seven members of SK's Class of 2016 in June.

Graduating students present or perform something at graduation. This year, Margaret & Karenna, with help from Kaeli & Lee, did an encore performance of their Founding Framers scene from our fall play, A Sort of Complete History of the United States of America (Abridged).

Lee offered advice for the returning SK students, pointing out, among other things, that teachers are allowed to make mistakes too, and that they deserved the benefit of the doubt from their students too.

Nik and Kaeli both gave impassioned, hilarious and tender speeches about their classmates and teachers.

Ada privately shared plans to add a corn snake to our menagerie of SK animals.

And Matthew tinkered with his valedictory soliloquy from the end of The Tempest to commemorate his departure from our particular island. It was a beautiful gesture of love and a poignant good-bye.

As is our tradition, the students each collected unique diplomas, each one featuring a different piece of artwork from a younger Summers-Knoll student. These diplomas are on display, framed and hung at the meeting point between the middle school commons and the atrium.

Each year, Joanna writes a poem for each graduate. Somehow, she managed a sonnet for each this year. She did this in honor of a sonnet the 7-8s wrote for her. As a last word on the 2015-2016 school year, here is that poem, our fondest of farewells for the great Joanna Hastings in her final year as Head of Summers-Knoll.

A SONNET by the 7-8s

The head of SK is named Joanna
She’s the best head of school we could ask for
She is pretty and strong like Diana
She will always be part of our school’s core
She likes to lead us through one hen two ducks
We all can recite it, even today
We know that her life is now in some flux
But she’ll still be home in hearts at SK
We hope that you like the sonnet we wrote
The 7-8s made this poem for you
We're trying to help you leave on the right note
We will all miss you that's certainly true
We all are very sad that you will leave
And we thank you for what we will achieve

The Big Chart

Here are the 180 boxes we said we'd fill this semester.

I am happy to report that we got through everything.

Science Projectsconductcomplete & exhibitstate fair------
Science Exhibitionsschedule; prepconduct--------
Polis ProjectsGreek poleisoriginal poleis--------
Einstein's Dreamsread----------
Innovation & Systemsbegin readingfinish reading--identitiesidentities--
Storm Projectbegin tendcomplete------
DetroitDIA----HeidelbergEarthworksCity FC
Lit Publicationrevise fall prompts4-6 prompts4-6 promptsbig paperfinal promptsrevise & publish
Athletics & PEwinter sportstournament?spring hikesMile WeekSK 5Kfield day
Student Governmentnew goalspursueHHF weeknew goalspursue--
High School 101shadow dayslotteries--adviceadvicegraduate
Our Whole Livesgenderrelationshipsmediabehaviordangerscommunication
Work Crewssecond rotationsecond rotationsecond rotationthird rotationthird rotationthird rotation
Monkey House----read------
AmericansslaveryreconstructionDouglassbig paper----
The Tempestrehearserehearseperform------
Civic Projectconceivenarrowselectconductexhibit--
Civic Exhibitions----schedulerehearseconduct--
Place out of Time--assignengagecomplete----
Assessmentportfoliosprepare goalsconferences--complete portfoliosreflect
Frederick Douglass----readfinish----
Retro Projects------planconductexhibit
Retro Exhibitions------schedulerehearseconduct
Whale & Shorts--------readfinish
Spring Tripplancommunicatepreparepacktravel--
Legacy Projectsdeterminepursuepursuepursuecompleteexhibit
Legacy Exhibitions------schedulerehearseconduct

Legacy Projects

By the end of every year, the eighth graders have completed Legacy Projects, which can take many forms: an event, a system, an installation; something that is left behind, or continues a tradition, at Summers-Knoll.

Margaret took on the Herculean task of clearing hundreds of costumes off the floor of the attic, organizing them by era and type, and hanging them up on spanking-new costume racks.

Kaeli followed on last year's community service project by setting up a relief effort for Syrian refugees. She contacted a local charity for advice on what was needed and then set up a middle school assembly line to make tote bags out of reused t-shirts and then fill them with a long list of useful sundries. These were then delivered to the charity's headquarters.

Nik built a spiral labyrinth out of inset stones in the little forest on the north side of our playground.

Matthew composed a Summers-Knoll anthem! Here it is:

Leander thought it would be fun if each homeroom decorated a ceiling tile. He scheduled meetings with each homeroom teacher, then with the classes; worked with each on design; gave them the supplies to carry them out; collected the completed tiles; and installed them in the art room.

Karenna met with Valerie Tibbs-Wynne to set up a Kinderbuddies program. She partnered each kindergartener with one of our 7-8 students and scheduled regular times from us to come down to Val's playground for spend time getting chased around by Summers-Knoll's littlest kids.

Retro Projects

At the end of every year, the seventh graders are tasked with revisiting a topic they encountered earlier in their academic career and then designing and executing a project that deepens and/or broadens their understanding of that topic. Once the project is completed, they conduct an Exhibition, which, as is conventional for that session, includes an explanation of the project and a lesson for attendees, adults and kids, that addresses the subject matter. Here is this year's crop.

Evan took a look back at Chinua Achebe's classic Nigerian novel, Things Fall Apart, by exploring three of that country's 521 different languages: Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa. Evan taught us a few words in each language and then represented the difficulty of cross-communication by tasking partners with building a popsicle-stick house. The catch was that the partners had to work from vocabulary lists: one in Yoruba and one in Ibo.

Emma & Ellie followed up on their Civic Project on Little Free Libraries in Ypsilanti by working on a Summers-Knoll version. They whitewashed the little cabinet, attached the doors, put together a pile of books, and designed a final paint job featuring dragons and ivy. Our LFL will be installed outside the school in the fall.

Lindsay revisited her Fish Tank sessions by creating a document for future Fish Tankers giving clear, specific, and thorough step-by-step instructions on how to set up a tank. She showed us how to siphon water out of a tank, a crucial step in cleaning tanks, and we did so, not spilling too much water in the process.

Gabe looked back on his commercial shoot from fifth grade by showing and critiquing a series of short clips from Apple presentations in which the words amazing and incredible and such were repeated a hundred times or more. He then scripted and shot a parody iPhone commercial in which the features were greatly exaggerated in a technically honest fashion. Finally, Gabe invited us to invent a new product and concoct and advertising scheme to convince consumers that they desperately needed a product they had never heard of.

Marcellin revisited the days of Mars Out of Time by conceiving, designing, and building (in clay) a drone, or, in this case, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, that could function as a photography satellite on the planet Mars. Marcellin gave us instructions on requirements for such a vehicle and invited his attendees to design their own versions of the aircraft.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Appalachia and Washington DC

At our first stop, we visited several Underground Railroad stops in Mt Pleasant, Ohio. Members of the local Historical Society opened our visit with a tour of the largest Quaker Meeting House I had ever seen. This building, roughly the size of a high school gymnasium, can seat 2,000 people.

This restored log cabin dates back to 1803, the year of Ohio's statehood. While we toured it and the other buildings in Mt Pleasant, we were serenaded by millions upon billions of cicadas, out for their 17-year joyride.

That evening, we reached our cabins, located in a campground on the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. 

The next morning, we went river rafting on the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers; no photos of that, though--phones are not a good idea in Class III rapids. In the afternoon, we toured Harpers Ferry (above and below), including some information from a guide in 19th century garb and a tour of the outstanding little John Brown Museum.

John Brown is on the left.

Here we are atop Jefferson's Rock (above and below), with a view of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia
at the convergence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah.

We closed the trip with a day in Washington, where we ate Native American food for lunch and Ethiopian food for dinner.
In between, we walked the length of the National Mall from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.

We visited the Museum of the American Indian, the Air & Space Museum, and the Vietnam Memorial,
with the Lincoln Memorial serving as a capstone to our study of abolition.

We read through the Gettysburg Address and the conclusion of the Second Inaugural Address, noting in particular Lincoln's generosity of spirit toward all of those, black and white, North and South, soldier and family, who suffered in the Civil War. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Civic Systems: First Responders

Margaret and Lindsay, with help from Ada, turned their interest in emergency medical response into an examination of a non-profit company whose representatives every driver in Ann Arbor has seen: Huron Valley Ambulance. One of their public relations officers, a former EMT named Chad French, was incredibly generous with his time, coming to Summers-Knoll for an interview with the girls, showing us around their facility on the south side of town, and even providing snacks. HVA has a fleet of over 700 vehicles in southeastern Michigan; in the second installment of Awesome Vehicles, we looked through both the front and back of an HVA ambulance (below). Chad tested out a diagnostic machine (worth several thousand dollars) used in all ambulances on Gabe, finding him in good health. We also saw the call center where 911 calls are routed to stations all over the region.

Civic Systems: Power

Power corrupts.                                   
Absolute power is kind of neat.         
                            --Donald Regan

Karenna and Marcellin took us to the University of Michigan Central Power Plant for their exploration of power in Ann Arbor. One of the directors of the operation, Jim Watterson, handed over the conference room for the students' explanation of how the steam-based turbines of the plant work (Jim was duly impressed). They also spent some time discussing the plant's transition from coal to steam in 1966, an environmentally based change that was years ahead of its time. After Marcellin and Karenna led a debate on the pros and cons of coal power, Jim took us into the control room of the whole enterprise (below). The next time you pass that huge plant where Huron turns into Washtenaw, you'll know why nothing ever comes out of that smokestack. It's been obsolete for fifty years.

Civic Systems: Snow Removal

Matthew and Gabe ushered in the Awesome Vehicles portion of our Civic Exhibitions with their tour around the Field Operations unit of Ann Arbor's city services, a few minutes south of Summers-Knoll off Ellsworth Road. First, our host Kirk Frederickson explained the priority system of snow removal in Ann Arbor: how much snow brings out the trucks; who gets service first, and why; how long it takes; how use of sand and salt has reduced the environmental impact of this city service; and the reduction in wintertime accidents that can be attributed to salt and plowing. Then, the good stuff. First, Kirk showed us around one of the city's six $160,000 snow trucks. (It was Matthew's father who figured out where the air horn was.) Then, we got to look inside the salt dome, where thousands of tons of salt are stored for use every winter. Some climbing and salt-sliding followed.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Civic Systems: Little Free Libraries

Ellie and Emma led us on a charming pedestrian tour of Emma's neighborhood in Ypsilanti, where no fewer than three neighbors have constructed Little Free Libraries. The girls explained that an LFL is a small, raised cabinet, usually with two shelves filled with books. Anyone who walks by can take or leave a book--or both. Most LFL creators are private homeowners who set them out on a front lawn, though others, like the Ann Arbor YMCA, may set them out on street corners or in public spaces.

The girls shared a lengthy interview with one of the LFL owners and brought a stack of books with them for us to exchange as we saw fit. (I made exchanges at two of the three libraries and ended up with a hardcover copy of Jared Diamond's outstanding Guns, Germs & Steel.)
As civic systems go, Little Free Libraries are a splendid example of an informal, grass-roots system, with no overseeing body--a sort of crowdsourcing.

Summers-Knoll hopes to set out a Little Free Library of its own in the 2016-17 academic year.

Here are a couple of worthwhile links:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Civic Systems: Public Libraries

Lee and Evan welcomed us to the downtown branch of the Ypsilanti Library. In preparation for our visit and their Exhibition, the boys conducted a formal interview with Lee's mother, Jenny Hannibal, who works at the library.

First, they showed us around the facility, both the larger collections upstairs and the children's and young adult sections and computer stations downstairs. Then they convened the group in one of the conference rooms for some background on how the library functions and its role in public life.

Finally, Evan and Lee set us up with an activity. They divided the attendees into several groups. Each group received a list of ten items to find in the library. The clever aspect of the activity was that we weren't given simple clues such a a dictionary or a novel. Rather, the boys gave more complex lists that considered different audiences, with items such as a biography that might appeal to a ten-year-old or one of Jane Austen's lesser-known novels. This gave the activity more complexity and proved an interesting challenge.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Civic Systems: Public Art

Loyal readers will remember that our Civic Systems Projects & Exhibitions began to take shape way back in the winter, when Friend of SK Mary Morgan, founder and director of the Civ City Initiative (http://www.civcity.org/), joined us for a bus tour of the area, during which the kids identified a few dozen systems, both formal and informal: our trip is at http://sikkenga.blogspot.com/2016_01_01_archive.html. Later, they requested systems for their Projects, which required them to research the system well enough to explain it, identify someone with expertise on that system, and conduct at least one interview in preparation for an Exhibition.

Kaeli and Nik were the first to prepare and present their Exhibition. Mary joined us. The topic was public art, an informal system. They chose to conduct it at the Cube behind the Michigan Union, a well-known example of commissioned art. They interviewed David Zinn, a renowned chalk artist, who works both independently and through commissions. (David's wonderful work is here: http://zinnart.com/.)

The interview was terrific--both questions & answers. In addition to exploring the ins and outs of commissioned art, they asked David his thoughts about graffiti. He replied that he always wants his art to make people feel good, and that graffiti makes at least one person feel bad --the owner of the space. That's why he sticks to an impermanent medium, private commissions, workshops, and public spaces, mostly sidewalks. After the explanation and interview review, and a few spins of the Cube, Nik and Kaeli provided their classmates with chalk, and they went to work.