Friday, April 29, 2016

Progressive Education Hits the Road

This is a story that is only tangentially about our students.

I had the great honor and privilege in early April to travel to the Friends School of Minnesota, an innovative and delightful school in St Paul, to facilitate a workshop I developed in the for two professional conferences: the Association of Independent Michigan Schools in suburban Detroit and the Independent School Association of the Central States in the Twin Cities. One of the members of our ISACS Visiting Team in the fall, Shane Zack, had been impressed enough with Summers-Knoll that he recommended my workshop to FSM's assistant head, Jeannette Lutter-Gardella, and she in turn invited me to come to Minnesota again to visit their school.

What I found there was delightful. The school speaks fluent Summers-Knoll, by which I mean that they are passionate about progressive education and adept at engaging it. They did their homework, looking over our school's website and reading many of our classroom blogs. This helped to make my visit wonderfully engaging! First thing in the morning, I attended their full-faculty meeting for my formal(ish) presentation, Progressive Education in Any Setting. After that, I met in turn, for about an hour apiece, with FSM's elementary teachers, specialists (music, Spanish etc), middle school teachers, and new Head of School.

The Head of the Kazoo School in Kalamazoo, Sally Read, also saw the presentation (at both conferences, actually), and came to SK this winter to see us in action. We hope to host teachers from the Friends School of Minnesota in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Here is a link to the presentation:

And here is a link to a description of, and rationale for, SK's philosophy of progressive education (from right here on this very blog):

And, yes, if you're a loyal reader, you've seen that Minnesota Twins* illustration of Minnie and Paul before:

*I love Minnesota's team names because they all reflect the location: Twins, Timberwolves, Vikings, even Wild, which is no North Stars, but it'll do.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Academic Disciplines

Much of the Summers-Knoll academic day is given over to what we call 'specials' class, each taught by a practitioner with disciplinary expertise: math, science, music, art, and languages.

The plurality of a student's time, however, is spent in homeroom. For the 7-8s, this time serves an advisory capacity, but also is the headquarters for several academic activities. In a conventional school, you might say that homeroom covers seven areas of a school day:
  1. English and language arts
  2. history and social studies (which I prefer to call 'history and society')
  3. physical education
  4. advisory
  5. project planning (not usually an explicit part of a conventional school day)
  6. health and sex education
  7. study hall
What follows is a brief report on each of these seven. This is a snapshot of the week of April 18-22, not an overview of the whole semester; for a pithy overview of that, try the Big Chart posts:

English. The 7-8s are working on two major prompts, the largest in scale of the year. One is a short story, inspired in part by our earlier reading of stories from Kurt Vonnegut's 'Welcome to the Monkey House'. The other is a 2-3 page history paper, about which more below. Together, we are reading Patricia Beatty's 'Jayhawker', a YA novel that takes place before and during the Civil War. Jayhawkers were abolitionist activists, who were fighting to have their territory admitted to the Union as a free state. The novel takes place during the time of 'Bleeding Kansas', a brief conflict between the Kansans and Bushwhackers, vigilantes from Missouri whose objective was to make Kansas a slave state, and to prevent raids to free sleeves in their own newly admitted state. In addition, the kids have been assigned, singly and in pairs, to read the following books.....
  • The Crucible, Arthur Miller
  • The World Beneath, Janice Warman
  • Code Talker, Joseph Bruchac
  • Boy Snow Bird, Helen Oyeyemi
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • George, Alex Gino
  • Stowaway, Karen Hesse
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson

History & Society. The major paper listed above requires the students to summarize the key actions and legacies of four abolitionists: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the chronically misunderstood John Brown. Of course, this complements our work with Jayhawker. the students are reading a thirty-page coursepack on the topic, including both primary and analytical sources, as well about ten pages from Joy Hakim's textbook A History of Us. In addition, students are working in pairs on their Civic Projects, involving the study of public libraries, power and electricity, snow removal, emergency medical systems, public art, and little free libraries. Students will identify the best location for these Exhibitions, scheduled for the first week in May, during which they will explain the system, explain their choice of location, and conduct or share interviews.

Physical Education. This week, we played two rounds of the newly christened 'jumbleball'. In this game, rules are more or less fluid, though all changes come from a centralized source (me) in order to minimize talking and maximize play time. In jumbleball, a large variety of balls are kept in a bin: soccer, little rubber ones, footballs, rugby, giant yoga spheres etc. The kids play soccer with one of these. Then I throw in another, then another, till the game culminates in a sort of free-for-all with all the balls in play. We also went for a hike at the Matthei Botanical Gardens in a light spring rain.

Advisory. I am currently at work on the April McJune Tutorials document, in which each student's weekly work is listed. This will be shared on Monday and reviewed individually with all of the kids, one at a time. I'm still collecting phones each morning, part of a policy we mutually developed. Whenever a student wants the phone for work purposes (e.g. voice-to-text, photographs of a project), I hand it over, and then collect it afterwards. Phones are returned at the end of the day.

Project Planning. In addition to the Civic Projects, which involve all of the kids, the eighth graders are making progress on their Legacy Projects. Each is designing a project that will improve SK life and last beyond their graduation. These comprise new playground equipment, community service (in this case, a drive to collect t-shirts, sew them into tote bags, and fill them with toiletries for refugees), the decoration of eight ceiling tiles by each of the homerooms, a K-7/8 buddy system, an SK anthem, an additional SK animal, and an SK costume shop.

Sex Ed. We never share particulars of the Our Whole Lives program, since those conversations are confidential. I can say that we are presently discussing interpersonal etiquette, bullying, and bystander intervention, in both real-life and online situations.

Study Hall. On most days, students have between thirty and forty-five minutes to address homework at school. The kids always appreciate this time and, generally speaking, they use it wisely.