Thursday, May 25, 2017

Exhibition Lessons

This was Exhibition Week in the 7-8s, as our students explained the issues they were addressing, how they addressed them, and what we could do to further each cause, both as a community and as individuals. Last week's blog outlined the thirteen topics and activities. Suffice to say that, without exception, the Exhibitions were informative, the activities engaging, and the attendees better educated at the end of each half-hour than we were at the beginning.

Next week, we will be on our class trip to Toronto, which will include the following activities: 
  • a picnic on forested bluffs overlooking Lake Erie
  • rowing a voyageurs' canoe out into Toronto harbor (harbour, if you're Canadian)
  • accommodations at the University of Toronto
  • time to frolic and swim on a beach just east of downtown
  • a tour of the Royal Ontario Museum
  • a visits to Kensington Market the former beginning with a guided tour
  • a haunted city walk in the evening
  • elevator rides and vertiginous views from the CN Tower;
  • a visit to the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto; 
  • attendance at a performance of Twelfth Night (hooray!) at the Stratford Festival

Friday, May 19, 2017

Middle School Justice

Our seventh and eighth graders are preparing for their Exhibitions on activism. Projects include.....
  • a work of art, comprised of plastic bottles, spelling out 'this will not decompose'
  • letters to Virginia politicians, including Senator Tim Kaine, as well as a petition, advocating for Civil War battlefield preservation
  • a garden built to attract bees
  • a donation drive for Safe House
  • a Public Service Announcement and interview opposing illegal deportation
  • another explaining the work of Freedom House and the refugee crisis
  • another opposing cyanide fishing
  • on the same topic, a petition signed by all SK students, complete with photographs
  • a podcast exploring sexism at the middle school level, with a focus on dress codes
  • a letter to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration calling for steps to address pilot fatigue
  • a visit to SK from a representative of the Spectrum Center for LGBTQ rights from U of M
  • a website familiarizing eighth grade families with high school options in Washtenaw County
  • letters to Michigan lawmakers opposing the hunting of wolves
We also had a visit from Mary Morgan, founder and director of CivCity, a non-profit devoted to combating civic apathy, particularly as it pertains to local issues. Finally, we travelled to the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing for the second time this year, this time to meet with local State Representative Yousef Rabhi, who represents the downtown district of Ann Arbor.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Off Campus

These days in the 7-8s it's all about planning and voyages. 

The kids' work on advocacy and justice continues apace. They are moving toward completion of their projects at the end of next week and showing them off the week after that at individual Exhibitions and a class-wide Open House on the afternoon of Friday, May 26, our last day of Ann Arbor school before we take the whole group on the road to Toronto, Ontario for four days.

Shorter voyages have included the following.....A visit to the Community Television Network on South Industrial (the shortest distance), where we toured the facilities and actually got in front of the cameras for a quick round of testimony about SK and a few lines from Twelfth Night, all of which was broadcast on CTN's education station(This could be our big break.) A few days later we went to Food Gatherers on the north side of town, where, again, we were shown round the facility, given some background of the organization's mission and method, and then were able to pitch in for an hour sorting through and distributing donations.

Farther afield, we visited the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, where our old friend Margaret Grace, the nonprofit's Education Director, gave us an informal tour of the project and the opportunity (once again) to pitch in and play in the neighborhood. Heidelberg is the brainchild of Tyree Guyton, an artist and resident who has been turning abandoned houses into works of art, using found materials, since 1987. 


Thursday, May 4, 2017

More Matter for a May Morning

Twelfth Night was performed three times to packed houses (i.e., the classroom was full) and was well-received by both adults and children. Both groups seemed to enjoy the drunken clowns best, but then, slapstick is slapstick. The student-actors--again, every member of the class--acquitted themselves beautifully, secure in speaking the words of Shakespeare and clearly, by all accounts, having a wonderful time. They were fully supportive of each others' performances, watching their peers even though they had seen the scenes a hundred times and responding again with every viewing.

The justice projects continued apace. Students have been researching different causes and actions and have each settled on a first choice topic. These include LGBTQ rights, pilot fatigue, battlefield preservation, architectural preservation, colony collapse disorder (bees), domestic violence, refugees, endangered species, cyanide fishing, littering, and deportation. Stay tuned for the next steps, as the students research different actions and make decisions about their trajectories. Some have begun this stage, writing letters to CEOs and planning donation drives.

Friday, April 28, 2017

If This Were Played Upon a Stage, Now, I Could Condemn It as an Improbable Fiction

Our justice projects are beginning to take shape. The students identified issues that are important to them and are moving on to take the next steps: determining which action to undertake. They may film a public service announcement. They may write letters to CEOs, ombudsmen, Congresswomen. The sky is more or less the limit. The rule is: no 'toy advocacy', meaning a mere gesture. They must determine an action that may be impactful and then undertake that.

In other news, TWELFTH NIGHT! 

In preparing for our performances, we have the following items in our classroom: elf shoes and hat; candy canes both massive and regular size; green tights; a Santa suit; strings of lights, tinsel, and crepe paper in red and green; three giant pairs of sunglasses; gold-plated shoes; a stack of green solo cups; a bright red bow tie; two Santa hats; a green felt porkpie hat; an apron reading 'Kiss the Cook'; a ukulele; and a parrot. 

We're enjoying ourselves, which is the right way to learn Shakespeare.

Friday, April 21, 2017

I Am Malala

This has been a very big week for both of our current major 7-8 projects. In the fledgling social justice unit, only in its second week, we delved deeper into the incredible story of nineteen-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai's life story. Together, we are reading her autobiography (written at age fifteen), I Am Malala. We've read about her native land, the Pashtun region of northern Pakistan, as well as her early family life, parents' history, and historical and sociological background of her people. We also introduced a few movements--including the Tea Party--and planned for four additional trips off campus, about which more later.

Twelfth Night rockets toward its performances. We have been polishing our plans for each scene and inventing new business and ideas for every single scene. We've also continued to acquire ring pops, elf shoes, and other props, costumes, and accoutrements for the production. Twelfth Night will be performed for all SK students at 2:00 on Friday, April 28, and for the wider community at 7:00 on Friday, April 28, and at 3:00 on Saturday, April 29. The play will be presented free of charge.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ai Wei Wei: Art Is Activism

Life in the 7-8 empire recommenced at a breakneck pace upon our return from spring vacation. We launched our lengthy social justice unit with a documentary about the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei. Ai's work--and life!--renders the line between art and activism very hazy indeed. After watching the filmNever Sorry, we discussed the ways in which Ai's actions advocated for the people of China even as he put himself in danger over and over again. On Thursday, we travelled to Grand Rapids for a guided tour of Ai's exhibit Natural State at Meijer Gardens--his first installation in the American Midwest.

We continued rehearsing Twelfth Night and began putting costumes together. We have chosen a holiday theme for the production's look. One character will be in a sloppy Santa suit, another will dress as an elf; there will be plenty of red and green; and we will make use of tinsel, Christmas lights, candy canes, and other detritus of the commercial season. Twelfth Night will be performed at the end of the month, on April 27 and 28, in the 7-8 space.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock Is Bald

Place Out of Time advanced toward its culmination, a gathering at the University of Michigan's School of Education scheduled for Monday, April 10, the day we return from break. At that time, all of the participants will convene for activity and reflection at the Alhambra, where, in the simulation, the judgments and follow-up take place. (It's also called a banquet, because there is pizza.)

We spent some time on Tuesday in the SK costume shop (organized by Margaret Keillor '16 for her Legacy Project). The kids looking for items to wear to the banquet. Michelle Obama found a fabulous inauguration dress and Joan of Arc found some sturdy peasant gear. 

Students wrote comments on new testimony this week and communicated with each other about it. Justice Alfred Hitchcock's legal philosophy was shared with all other participants in the simulation, and was hailed by the facilitators as a strong example of the craft. (Mr. Hitchcock also located a bald wig in the costume shop.)

Last week we rehearsed the entire first half of Twelfth Night. This week we made it through the second half. Oliver is a memorably awkward Aguecheek; Maddy an active and poignant Antonio; Ellie an assertive and vulnerable Olivia. Miel's burgeoning onstage rivalry with Eva is another highlight. The kids are really finding their own way in each role. We will polish, polish, and polish some more when we return in anticipation of performances at the end of April.

In math, the students spent some time on Monday setting goals for themselves in advance of spring vacation. Sam facilitated this process, but the kids did their own planning. Each posted an individual plan, some reviewing material they found challenging, others pushing ahead to new assessments.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tom Joad Speaks

Twelfth Night began to really grow into itself this week. More students set their scripts down and rehearsed scenes from memory--even those who weren't quite ready, a brave and beneficial act. We're finding new levels, building relationships amongst characters, and creating bits of comic business at every rehearsal. We closed out the week by running through the entire first half of the play (that's a week ahead of schedule).

This week the 7-8s continued their hard work on the Place Out of Time. Testimony on poverty and crime was posted by Tom Joad, protagonist of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (as it happens, Karl's favorite book). Students wrote comments on this testimony and communicated with each other about it. In addition, our selected justice, Alfred Hitchcock, began drafting a statement of legal philosophy to share with all of the students in schools across the region engaged in the activity.

Math found the kids working with absolute value and inequalities. Sam spent a lot of time with the algebra students working on the practice of substituting a complex expression with a simpler one in order to make problems easier to comprehend. The pre-algebra group concentrated on converting fractions into decimals, with a particular focus on repeating decimals. The group also welcomed Ed Feng back for some probability work.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sugar Sin Tax and Factory Farms

This week, the SK 7-8s spent much of their time researching, rehearsing, and conducting debates on two statements: The costs of factory farms outweigh the benefits and A tax on pop and sugary drinks would be socially beneficial. Having conducted similar debates in December, with considerable guidance from faculty, this time around, most of the responsibility for preparation was left as homework. The students came through with flying colors, proving themselves solid researchers, articulate speakers, nimble respondents. The format clearly resonates. They like to argue, and they do so thoughtfully and eloquently. 

One of our students was nominated as a justice in the Place Out of Time simulation. This particular student is presenting in the exercise as Alfred Hitchcock. Sir Alfred will next be writing up a legal philosophy and weighing in on the ins and outs of the Roman Ostriakov theft case. In addition to the usual array of prompts and ongoing conversations, all students will be viewing justices' posts closely in the weeks to come, commenting and offering 'votes of confidence' to the justices. 

Twelfth Night continues apace. More students have taken the admirable leap of rehearsing without scripts in hand. There are new discoveries in every rehearsal. The play seems to get funnier, and a little stranger, with each pass......

Math focused this week on assessments of last week's assessments. Students are revising their work in areas of struggle (and, of course, celebrating successes). We are at a point where the full trajectory of the year begins to be clearer. We are beginning to plan for specific June goals. Several students are preparing now to move up to the next level of content complexity.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Debates Regarding Food

Between our fabulous Thursday trip to the Livonia Rec Center and Friday conferences, this was a shortened week for the 7-8s. We continued our diligent work on the Place Out of Time simulation (until the windstorm temporarily knocked out U of M communications). Students across the region began the process of nominating justices, participants who have demonstrated both ability and enthusiasm for the project and who will take on larger responsibilities in the weeks to come. We spent some time writing and talking about the concepts of security and dignity, essential themes in our consideration of the Italian Ostriakov case.

We began preparing for two debates regarding food-related themes. One argues the merits of the following statement: The costs of factory farms outweigh the benefits. The other regards the following: A tax on pop and sugary drinks would be socially beneficial. Students were divided into pro-and-con teams for each topic and began their collaborative, online-based research.

We took a big step with Twelfth Night, rehearsing an early comic scene starring four of the kids, trying the scene in a variety of ways, and building in motivations and blocking. One young actor was even able to rehearse the scene without using his script. We mapped out our schedule through spring vacation: students are expected to be able to set down their scripts entirely by the time we come back from the break.

This was a big assessment week in math, even if we only had two sessions. Half the students in both the algebra and pre-algebra groups were getting a tested sense of where they stand--as well as building their abilities to succeed at conventional, sit-down tests. All of the students are at or near content transition points.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dignity, Security, Responsibility, and Citizenship

Though we were busiest this week preparing, conducting, and breaking down the fundraiser at Project 23, we also found time to make some advances in our work in social studies, and to get some new work underway. In the Place Out of Time simulation, we took some time to process a framework for examining and utilizing primary sources: specifically, describing them first; posing questions next; and then offering interpretations. We conducted an exercise in which we looked at a political cartoon showing masses of people in Mediterranean Europe with dozens of road signs pointing every which way in the central and northern part of the continent. The kids thought this was about immigration--thousands clamoring to get in and countries becoming increasingly hesitant to admit more refugees as their resources are stretched. 

Our simulation revolves around a court case in which a homeless immigrant in Italy was convicted of petty theft for stealing a small amount of food, a conviction that was overturned in the Italian Supreme Court. The themes in the foreground for this simulation are dignity, security, responsibility, and citizenship. We watched screencasts on these topics, answered a few questions, and began to work on writing assignments for each of the four.

We outlined and did some preliminary research on four pro-and-con debate topics related to the food project: a 'sin tax' on pop and sweet drinks; a ban on plastic bags; factory farms; and agricultural subsidies. Students looked up basic both-sides-of-the-question sites from Forbes, the Washington Post, theEconomist, and other sources. After outlining and sharing material from these sources, we'll vote the four options down to two and begin preparing for the debates, three weeks hence.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gathering at the Alhambra

Place Out of Time dominated our work this week in social studies. All of the students got their autobiographical profiles posted on the interactive site, which is based at the University of Michigan's School of Education. (We were among the first schools to do so.) Part of the game's conceit is that all the participants gather for the trial at the Alhambra in Spain--which will be embodied at the end of the simulation in April with an actual gathering at the School of Ed. Students responded to two prompts from the facilitators. If you had to choose one item, what would you bring with you to our collective gathering at the Alhambra? What was the turning point in your life? The kids also wrote posts of their own as well as responding to other characters' posts, including many from other schools.

We also continued our work with Twelfth Night. Students added to their accounts of key events and quotations from all five acts on butcher block paper, which we posted in order on the way up the stairs to our 7-8 space. In addition, the kids imagined what might happen in an Act VI, and posted that too--a sequel called, inevitably, Thirteenth Night. One student began writing this play. And we began to rehearse Act I. Finally, we began to summarize each act in six lines or fewer.

Math class saw algebra students all reviewing for upcoming assessments, while pre-algebra focused on exponents and scientific notation. One of our days was devoted to math-related board and role-play games. That was a big hit.

In PE, we ran a series of backwards relays and spent another day playing soccer, team handball, and a kind of chaotic goals-based game with a yoga ball. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thirteenth Night

Much of our time was occupied with work on the Place Out of Time simulation. Students posted their completed and revised autobiographies online, began touring the site. posted a few thoughts and responses, and put up timelines in the middle school commons corresponding to their characters' lifespans. Our history and society work this week also included some follow-up on our conversations on the recent executive order issuing a travel ban on travellers from seven countries. We looked at the implications of the ban's suspension and looked into the arguments presented to federal judges in California. Finally, we finished our initial reading of Twelfth Night and put together giant sheets, posted in the stairwell, reviewing the plot of each of the five acts (and imaging what might happen in a sequel, called, perhaps, Thirteenth Night.)

In math, many of the kids participated in the national AMC exam. Some students in both groups were working toward assessments, while others began taking them. Algebra continued to work on graphing, standard equations, and slope-intercept work. Pre-algebra concentrated on exponents. As always, students divided time between book work, instruction from Sam, and Khan Academy.

PE found us walking through County Farm Park on icy trails and then smashing giant chunks of ice on the concrete, like twelve Incredible Hulks. We followed this up with snow relays in which the students raced to pass on a variety of items, including deflated basketballs and ice skates.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Spices & Silk

This week in the study of history and society, we leaned a little more into the food project by looking at the global effects of the spice trade. In addition to spreading European culture and beliefs to Asia and, to a lesser degree, to Africa, the trade created exchanges throughout the world, cross-pollinating ideas, knowledge, and technologies over routes that were many thousands of miles long. We used readings from UNESCO and an unusual lesson framework in which students (like spice traders) exchanged information with every single classmate, trading new knowledge in a style we call 'free market'. With an eye toward the social justice project, we began to frame connections to art and math within Summers-Knoll, as well as identifying adults with whom to consult from outside the school. 

And we kept reading Twelfth Night!

In math, the algebra group moved toward chapter tests on the standard form of equations (ax + by = c) and ongoing slope-intercept work. They also looked at Rene Descartes' contributions in connecting geometry to algebra in making equations visible. The pre-algebra kids worked with scientific notation, exponents, and fractions, especially simplification and common denominators.

In PE, we ran the Arctic Mile (six laps around the school in freezing temperatures) and went skating at the Ice Cube.

Friday, January 27, 2017

I Think, Therefore I.....Ah.....I Forget

This week's work included ongoing progress in the Place Out of Time simulation. The U of M facilitators assigned identities to our kids, ranging from Dian Fossey to Eva Peron to Richard Dawkins. It's a rich and original collection. The next step is for the kids to build on their character request essays and write extensive autobiographies, which are called 'resumes' in the lingo of the program. We also read our way into Act III of Twelfth Night, a highlight of our days. We returned to the classroom constitution activity. Each student selected an element of the proposed constitution about which they were particularly passionate and argued the case to the rest of the group. Next up: the art of compromise.

Math tasks for the pre-algebra students featured the continuation of work on scientific notation and exponents, the latter moving into the realm of negatives. Ed Feng came in as usual to work with the kids on probability and statistics. Algebra students carried on their work with the slope-intercept form, part of which you will remember as 'rise over run'. They also had a lesson on Rene Descartes and the origin of the Cartesian coordinate system.

In PE, we took advantage of the lousy weather to go over to County Farm Park--since the sky was grey and the air was cold, there was no one else on the playground. We played a game called 'fetch' and three invented ball games, then played soccer through the obstacles of playground equipment.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What You Will

This week, Place Out of Time moved into its second stage. Place Out of Time is a University of Michigan program in which students from several different schools interact online as different figures from history. Each of our 7-8 students completed a three-paragraph proposal for each of three different historical personages. Their range was impressive, from scientists to authors to admirals to mathematicians. Those proposals were then reviewed here and submitted to the program's directors at U of M. (Summers-Knoll turned in its selections early.) Next week, the students will be assigned their characters from the initial three choices.

In the context of the food project, we read and analyzed nutritional guidelines from five countries across the world. Then, we looked at them in the context of Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio's remarkable book, Hungry Planet, in which families were photographed all over the world with all the food they consume in a typical week. The kids assessed some of these photographs in terms of expense, nutritional value, and the stated guidelines from various governments.

We also began our work on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which will be our 7-8 play this spring. First, the kids learned which parts they would be playing. (Every student in the 7-8 takes on a role.) We watched a funny summary of the play and enjoyed a five-minute account of how each character interacts with the others, and the many ways in which they are deluded and confused (so many). The kids were very entertained. Then we passed out scripts and began reading the play aloud.

Math met twice this week, on Thursday and Friday. On the former day, Sam previewed the AMC national math exam, which most of the kids will take next month, and students completed registration forms. With the sixth graders visiting, the kids discussed differences in content and approach between the 5-6 and 7-8 programs, and went through content from both the pre-algebra and algebra curricula. On Friday, Ed Feng continued his ongoing work (and play) on probability and statistics, and Karl taught a lesson on Thales, Pythagoras, and the classical Greek influence on the deductive origins of modern mathematics.

Friday, January 13, 2017

People Throughout History

The first week back from the holiday break is always notable in the middle school because this is when we kick off our participation in the University of Michigan's Place Out of Time project. This online forum requires students to take on the character of a historical figure (some schools permit literary characters; in the interest of historical research, SK does not). Hundreds of students from schools in Michigan and Ohio debate a topic posed by the U of M staff. This year's question, in its simplest form, is Does poverty excuse theft? Online participation is monitored, facilitated, and discussed by a staff of faculty and graduate students at the university. This week, our students began the process of selecting characters, a protocol that requires selecting three candidates, researching them, and writing brief biographies of each. 

It is notable that, when launched about a decade ago, Place Out of Time was originally slated to be a high school project only. It was Summers-Knoll's relationship with the project's founders that convinced them to include fifth through eighth graders.

We also are returning to our work, inspired by human rights documents, in proposing a homeroom constitution. We use a December assignment prioritizing various rights and responsibilities and will advance next week to another simulation--that of the American Constitutional Convention.

Finally, we are beginning our reading and production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, this year's 7-8 play. Hooray! This students (cast) watched a plot summary and began reading the script aloud. Twelfth Night will be performed three times, once during the school day and twice in the evening. The dates are April 28-29.