Monday, November 5, 2018

Weekly overview - week of 10/29/18

It’s the week before the play and “the play’s the thing,” or so we’ve heard. This week, students designed and created the backdrop, got their costumes organized, made and collected props, and put the prop table together. They’ve also been rehearsing daily.

In English, after writing their first drafts of their essays on whose portrait should replace Shakespeare’s, they followed a peer editing protocol and worked in pairs to edit one another’s work. Then, today, they submitted their final drafts. The list of people they’ve chosen to replace Shakespeare’s portrait includes Banksy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mary Wollstonecraft, Barack Obama, Charles Dickens, Hedy Lamarr, Sun Tzu, Mario Andretti, Malala Yousafzai, Alan Turing, George Lucas, Marie Curie, Emperor Norton, and Aristotle.


Eighth graders collect friction data using a spring scale, paying extra attention to ensure that the scale is parallel to surface.

While it’s hard to believe that we’re almost done with our first project of the year, it’s true. We’re moving on to our second project, which is the Summers-Knoll Museum of Science and Technology. To kick off the project, students participated in a friction lab during class on Thursday morning. This project “officially” starts next week (when we’re not rehearsing for the play).

On Friday, the eighth graders visited Rudolf Steiner High School. Steiner was the fifth stop on our high school tour (before this, we visited WIHI, ECA, WTMC, and Greenhills). While the eighth graders were on their visit, the seventh graders worked on finishing props and completing the setup of the stage for the final performances.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October overview

week of October 15, 2018

While it was a short week, in theory, we made up for it by filling these four days with all sorts of activities.

In English, students started their first major essay of the year, inspired by a series of events at the University of Pennsylvania several years ago. In short, faculty at UPenn voted to replace a portrait of Shakespeare in order to demonstrate their commitment to a diversity of voices and the inclusion of multiple perspectives. However, time passed, and the portrait remained. In order to get the proverbial ball rolling, a group of students took down Shakespeare’s portrait and replaced it with one of Audre Lorde. After significant discussion, students were assigned the task of writing an essay about whose portrait they would choose to replace Shakespeare’s. If you see one of the 7-8s around, ask them about whose portrait should be hung instead. They’ll be working on these essays for the next two weeks.

On Thursday morning, we played a rousing game of “rhetorical devices in Julius Caesar” Jeopardy (linked here so you, too, can play along at home). The primarily eighth grade English class created the game for the primarily seventh grade English class to play. It was an adventure for all and now, the seventh graders want to make their own game for the eighth graders.  

On Tuesday, we had another visit from former SK teacher and Head of School (and veteran actor/director), Joanna Hastings. Joanna worked with students on their lines and helped them block scenes. On Wednesday, we welcomed Tyrone and Ash, professional actors from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, who joined us for acting lessons and games. On Thursday, we welcomed local actor/theater consultant Kelsea Kerkes, for additional work on blocking and rehearsing. We were also lucky enough to have both Clara Ashwood and Krista Dragun come in to help us with choreography and stage combat.

On Friday, the eighth graders spent the afternoon at Early College Alliance (ECA) at Eastern Michigan University, one of the local early college programs. This was the third school on our tour of high schools so far this year.

week of October 9, 2018

How is it already Friday? It’s been a wonderful week here in 7-8. We’re so deep into our Shakespeare studies that you’re likely to hear the 7-8s throwing the occasional “thou” or “whence” into their everyday speech. In English, we started the week with close readings of both funeral speeches (Antony and Brutus) and analysis of the different persuasive techniques employed by both. As the week progressed, we studied a variety of rhetorical devices and worked to both identify them in the text of the play and in other famous speeches, movies, or slogans throughout history. The English class of mostly eighth graders (early morning group) is busy preparing a Jeopardy-inspired game for the class of mostly seventh graders (later morning group) to play as a way to assess our understanding of the different rhetorical devices.

Our afternoons have been consumed by rehearsals. We welcomed Joanna Hastings to our class this week to help students with strategies to memorize their lines. We also welcomed Kelsea Kerkes back for scene blocking and acting lessons. How lucky we all are to be supported by such generous and skilled actors. Next week, we’ll welcome a group of actors in residence from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, an opportunity about which we are super excited.

The eighth graders ended the week with our second high school visit of the year: Washtenaw Technical Middle College (WTMC). We were led around the campus by SK alumni and got to visit an English class. Meanwhile, while the 8s were on their visit, Sam took the 7s to the Scrap Box, Goodwill, and Salvation Army on a hunt for costumes and props. Students came back with a few items and a better vision of what we have and what we want. Stay tuned for prop/costume item requests in the next few weeks.

week of October 1, 2018

This week, we continued our work with Julius Caesar and are moving increasingly from the text to the proverbial stage. After learning the definition of iambic pentameter and practicing scanning text in order to identify the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line, students practiced writing their own ten syllable lines (with a bit of flexibility on the stress patterns). Once everyone had writing a few lines, we combined each person’s individual lines into two collective blank verse poem. As you can imagine, this was quite entertaining (although we’re not sure that Shakespeare would have found it has funny, although I’d like to think he would have appreciated it).

We returned to the characterization work that we started during the first week of school in order to reevaluate characteristics of the major characters in the play. In pairs or small groups, students came up with symbols to represent their characters (for example, Brutus as a kitchen knife, Caesar as a lion, and Cassius as a viper). It’s interesting to see how the students’ understanding of the characters has changed (and deepened) since we started reading the play.

We also focused on the concept of a motif in literature and set about to find and analyze different motifs from Julius Caesar. Examples included sickness, gender roles, blood, and the supernatural. After mapping out our own associations with the words, students then did some independent research to learn about the associations that Shakespeare’s original audience, in Elizabethan England, might have had with each of the motifs.

In rehearsal news, we welcomed three guest consultants to work with us this week. On Wednesday, Kelsea Kerkes (SK camp staff alum, EMU theater arts alum, all around awesome teacher/actor) joined us to work on how to express a character’s motivation and how to think about that which one’s character is bringing to the stage. Kelsea will join us weekly to work on the play. We were also delighted to welcome Clara Ashwood (of SK preschool fame) to work with two of our students on battle choreography. On Friday, SK alum and current WTMC ninth grader, Maddy Pritts, came back to help block scenes with our students. We are tremendously grateful for all of this community support and we’re getting excited to share our show with everyone.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Weekly overview - week of 9/24/18

What a week! It’s been a flurry of Julius Caesar work, Shakespeare explorations, and some eighth grade/preschool/kindergarten bonding.  In Caesar news, we held auditions for the largest roles, assigned parts, and distributed scripts this week. Actors are starting to learn their lines, the tech crew is mapping out lighting ideas, the costumers are brainstorming ideas, and the production artists are creating posters. Our prop manager is also putting together a list of all items we’ll need for our production. If you are a parent or community member and are interested in helping with props or costumes, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Sam or Rachel.

In English, to continue to work to answer our overarching question of why we still read Shakespeare, we learned about the First Folio and how Shakespeare’s work has endured over time. Thanks to the wonder of technology (and the Folger Shakespeare Library), we were able to “leaf through” a digitized First Folio and learn about the printing process that made such books possible. This also helped us to understand why there are slight differences in different publications of the same text (much to our collective frustration).

Students also tried their hand at scene writing as we imagined the conversation during which Brutus told Portia of the conspirators’ plans. Since this conversation takes place off-stage, we have to imagine, based on what we know of the characters and their relationships, how it would have transpired.

At the end of the week, as a continuation of our study of connotation and how our own emotional response to words helps us to make meaning of them, we examined the real-time captions of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings on three different news networks. Through close examination of the words, we were able to consider how much can be said in only a few words and how the words we use shape our understanding of events. For example, we talked about how Casca’s interpretation of Caesar’s crown offering would have been very different than that of someone who would have wanted Caesar to accept the crown. We ended the discussion with a journal entry on the ways in which Dr. Ford is similar to Brutus (and the theme of personal sacrifice for what one believes to be the greater good).

Friday, September 21, 2018

Weekly overview - week of 9/17/18

During this busy week, we continued our study of Julius Caesar and looked more closely at elements of plot, including character motivations, types of obstacles, and types of conflict. Students are working in small groups to create “scenelets” in which they’ll act out different parts of Act I in order to identify these three elements of plot. On Wednesday and Thursday, Sam led discussions on the political climate of Shakespeare, including looking at classic historical literary criticism. We did this in order to put this play into a social, political, and historical context and emphasize what Shakespeare’s audience would have understood as the difference between regicide and tyrannicide. Students took a comprehension quiz on Act I as a way to assess learning and identify points in need of further study. Next week, we’ll continue with our study of Act II. At the end the week, we examined an article about a production of Caesar in New York City during the summer of 2017 that cast Caesar to resemble Trump. This led to class discussions about what it means to be “artistically risky” and the idea of the play as a cautionary tale. The students continue to be thoughtful and insightful in their interpretation of the play.

We will soon begin to work on our own production of Julius Caesar, which we’ll perform on November 8 (at 2pm for the school and 6pm for the larger community). Stay tuned for more details on that exciting aspect of this project.

In other news, on Thursday mornings, while our eighth graders meet with Rachel to discuss high school plans and upcoming visits, Sam has been taking the seventh graders to spend time with the preschoolers and the kindergarteners. This big kid/little kid buddy program is off to a great start and we’re looking forward to continuing it throughout the year (and getting the eighth graders in on the fun soon, too).

On the other end of the spectrum, our eighth graders went on their first high school visit this Friday. We spent the afternoon at WIHI (Washtenaw International High School), where we sat in on classes, took a brief tour, and met with the principal, Ms. Do, to talk about the school. We also got to meet with some of our beloved SK alumni and hear about their experiences in high school.  

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Welcome to the 2018-2019 school year

Is it already almost the end of our second week of the year? How is that possible? It simultaneously feels like we just started and also that we've already been together for a month.

We jumped right into our first project of the year: an in-depth study of William Shakespeare with a focus on Julius Caesar. As our schedule now includes an English class each day (in addition to math, specials, and our regular project time in the afternoon), this project will include a study of Shakespeare and language (rhyme, meter, and form, in particular) in addition to a close reading and class production of Julius Caesar (in mid to late November, exact dates TBD).

During week one, we introduced the plot and worked to develop an understanding of the four main characters (Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Cassius) in the play. In our characterization work, we focused on both what the characters do, say, think, and feel (direct characterization) as well as what other characters do to and say about them (indirect characterization).

After our brief introduction to the play, we took our fall trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. It was a whirlwind day that included an outstanding production of Julius Caesar (and some time on the playground outside the Festival Theatre, a lot of silly bus songs, and some delightful group bonding). We'll continue our study of the play during project time for the next several weeks.

We're looking forward to a wonderful year together. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Don't forget to subscribe to the blog (at the bottom of this page) and check out the class photo album (on the left sidebar).

To adventures,

Sam and Rachel

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Spring trip 2018: "Pittsburgh, my boy!"

"Pittsburgh, my boy!" (a favorite and oft-quoted line from Vonnegut's Player Piano)

Why Pittsburgh?

We chose Pittsburgh, in no small part, because it serves as a continued example of the ways in which people influence technology and the ways in which technology influences people. We started the year at Tillers International, a farm and learning center in Scotts, Michigan, where we took classes on traditional skills (such as woodworking, blacksmithing, and ploughing with draft animals). Through our study of Arduino robots and then our study of solar panels, we looked at modern tools that people are using to change the world. We’re finishing our last project, research about the history of Detroit, and learning about the ways in which industry has shaped the people in the city over time. Pittsburgh has a long history of industry and innovation and has continued to reinvent itself as a center of innovation through robotics, computer science, and art. As we finish our year, we’ll return to the conversation about people and tools and the interplay between them over time.

But first, Pittsburgh. We arrived on Monday afternoon and went straight to the Duquesne Incline. The incline was originally built to carry cargo up Mt Washington in the late nineteenth century. It’s still part of the Pittsburgh transit system and people still use it to commute to and from work. The view from the observation deck was breathtaking and it gave us a good sense of the layout of the city: the bridges, the rivers, and the recognizable monuments.

After the incline, we drove to our dorm at the University of Pittsburgh. Once we got settled, we took a city bus to Market Square, a lovely area downtown with restaurants surrounding a small square. Kids walked around and ate in small groups before we reconvened back in the square. Once everyone returned from dinner, we walked across the Roberto Clemente bridge and over to the Water Steps, an interactive sculpture on the bank of the Allegheny River. After a bit of wet frolicking, we took the bus back to the dorm.

On Tuesday, we started our day at the Mattress Factory, an interactive modern art installation museum in the Strip District. We broke into groups and explored a variety of thought-provoking and curious spaces throughout two of the museum’s buildings. Once we finished our visit, we met up with guides from City of Asylum, an incredibly fascinating and inspiring organization that supports writers in exile through several compelling programs. We walked through their writers’ residences and then stopped by their cafe/bookstore/event space, Alphabet City. At Alphabet City, we had the honor of listening to Tuhin Das, an exiled writer from Bangladesh, share some of his poems and talk with us about his experiences.

From Alphabet City, we walked to Randyland, a funky and colorful public art exhibit/installation/interactive space. From Randyland, we drove over to Sienna Mercato Emporia, a “meatball joint” with many non-meatball options for lunch. Post-meatballs (or other delicacies), we walked to the Senator John Heinz History Center, where we saw all sorts of fascinating exhibits and artifacts (notably, a fantastic interactive exhibit on Prohibition and the original set from “Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood," among all sorts of other treasures).

After an afternoon learning about the history of the Pittsburgh area, we walked to Condado Tacos for a delicious meal. Then, we went back to the dorm for a few minutes of down time before driving out to Trundle Manor. It’s easier to describe Trundle Manor by explaining what it isn’t instead of what it is. Trundle Manor is not an average museum. It’s not actually an official museum at all. It’s not empty. It’s not predictable. It’s not boring. What is it? It’s the private residence of the peculiar and delightful Velda and Mr. Arm, who welcomed us into their collection of specimens with warmth and charm. Highlights included tall flames, wonders of taxidermy, and the chance to talk about being true to yourself and bringing that which is uniquely yours -- whatever it may be -- into the world. For specific details, you’ll really have to talk with the children.

On Thursday, we woke up and went straight to the Carnegie Science Center. After some time in the Robot Hall of Fame, most of the students went to the “Sportsworks” complex, which included a high ropes course, a “human yo-yo,” a climbing wall, and a chance to run around a bit. Another highlight of the museum was the chance to walk through the USS Requin, a submarine originally set out days before the end of World War II and sent on many lengthy defense and scientific missions, some of which are still classified.

After the submarine stroll, we set off for Carnegie-Mellon University, where we visited the IDeATe space. IDeATe stands for “Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology” and it’s a cross-disciplinary program that connects people doing work in technology and art across the campus. We got to talk with a professor about his coursework, with students working in different spaces (fabrication, woodworking, and animation, among others), and with our outstanding guide. Students asked great questions, of course, and were invited back (as college students) by several of the adults with whom we spoke.

After CMU, we walked to Shadyside for some free time to stroll. Post-stroll, we went to a park for a final night pizza picnic. After soccer, swinging, and groundies, we returned to the dorm for time to hang out and pack.

On Thursday morning, we loaded the buses and set off for Moraine State Park. When we got to Lake Arthur, we met up with Ian and Ryan from Surfs Up Adventures for our paddle boarding eco-tour of the lake. From paddle boarding through small inlets between glacial rock formations to paddle board dodge ball, it was the perfect way to end a wonderful trip.

Traveling with this group of young people is a pleasure. We are particularly grateful to all of our hosts at the University of Pittsburgh, the Duquesne Incline, the Mattress Factory, City of Asylum, the Heinz History Center, Trundle Manor, the Carnegie Science Center, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Surfs Up Adventures. Tremendous, tremendous, thank you to Pamela Bogart and Chris Swinko, who gave up their own lives for four days to join us on this epic voyage. We so appreciate all you did to help make this trip so much fun.

Find all of our photos in the class album. In the mean time, here are a few highlights...

The Duquesne Incline

The Water Steps along the bank of the Allegheny River

Eighth graders looking cool

More cool eighth graders - when did they get so big?

Hanging out in Market Square

Mattress Factory

City of Asylum

Prohibition exhibit at the Heinz History Center

Sportsworks at the Carnegie Science Center

More Sportsworks

A beautiful day (and really neat sculpture) at Carnegie-Mellon University

Three Rivers

Playing at/in the Water Steps

More City of Asylum

Mr. Arm at Trundle Manor

Interesting specimens at Trundle Manor

Velda opening the gifts we made for the musem

These children are absolutely the creators of tomorrow's breakthroughs. 

Inside the USS Requin at the Carnegie Science Center

Learning about Arduino + laser engraver tools designed to improve the lives of senior citizens made by students in a class at Carnegie-Mellon

The animation room at IDeATe (at CMU)

Pizza picnic at the park

Paddle boarding

Learning how to pivot turn on the board

Paddling under part of the North Country Trail, which winds through the park

You can't hear the frogs in the photo, but they were there. 

To continued adventures...

Friday, June 8, 2018

End of April and all of May (except for one very eventful week in May during which we took to the streets of Pittsburgh)

Yet again, I have belated weekly updates. Below, you'll find the end of April through all of May, minus the spring trip, which will get its own post in due time...

week of 4/30/18

Where did the week go? Between work on individual research projects, a trip to Detroit, and music rehearsals, it’s hard to believe that it’s already Friday afternoon. That being said, we usually feel like this on Fridays.

On Tuesday, we visited the house of Dr. Ossian Sweet, the physician about whose trial we’ve been studying for the last several weeks. The house is a private residence but it is a Michigan historic landmark and has a placard on the front lawn. It was powerful to stand in the space where the events of that fateful night in 1925 unfolded and to think about the world then and the world now.

After a few minutes there, we drove to the Artist Village in the Old Redford neighborhood to learn about neighborhood revitalization efforts there and to think about the idea of “revitalization” more broadly. Next week, we’ll continue this discussion with a focus on the work and writings of Grace Lee Boggs.

In their individual research, students are working on moving from notecards to outlines (or other graphic organizers). After they complete their outlines, they’ll be ready to begin writing their research papers. When you next see the 7-8s, ask them to tell you about their Detroit research paper. You’ll be dazzled

week of 5/7/18

It’s been a busy week of work on individual Detroit research projects. While we’ve missed Sam this week, we’ve been delighted (and fortunate) to welcome Ed Feng to do math with us every day. Ed and the students are working on data visualizations using data sets related to their Detroit research topics. Speaking of Detroit, we spent a rainy afternoon on a walking tour of downtown today. Highlights included a ride on the People Mover, a stroll through the Guardian Building, stops at various landmarks (Spirit of Detroit, Monument to Joe Louis, Labor Legacy Monument, Gateway to Freedom Monument), and a walk through Campus Martius (including a stop at Point Zero).

Students have been hard at work on their individual research projects and are ready to start writing their papers next week. All are welcome to join us for a sharing session next Friday, May 18, at 2:30pm.

week of 5/28/18

We spent last week in the thriving metropolis of Pittsburgh, the city to which Paul Proteus (protagonist from Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, which we read earlier this year) may have aspired to work (although, to be honest, despite the pressures of those around him, he never really “wanted” to get the job in Pittsburgh, but you’ll have to find a 7th or 8th grader to explain that tension to you).

I promise (again) to write a comprehensive overview of our trip in the next few days. In the meantime, we spent this short week finishing research papers, writing graduation speeches (8th graders), and working on a special surprise project (7th graders). All will be revealed in due time…