Saturday, January 11, 2020

Project 1: Michigan Student Caucus, Indigenous people, and government

Our first project of the year involved an introduction to civics, participation in the Michigan Student Caucus project through the University of Michigan, and a study of Indigenous people, both in Michigan and in other parts of what is now called the United States. 

We began with an introduction to the concept of government and the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. We also explored the concept of “sovereignty,” which came up again later in our study of Indigenous nations. Students designed their own fictional sovereign state based on their answers to questions about how they would choose to govern.

We continued with a look into the Constitution with a focus on finding evidence of the main ideas embedded in the document (limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, and popular sovereignty). Students also focused on the Bill of Rights and other key amendments. 

Concurrently, students began participating in the Michigan Student Caucus online platform where they debated different ideas about issues of significance with other young people around the state. They created media artifacts (such as a slideshow, podcast, article, zine, board game, or animation, for example) to teach other participants about an issue that they felt worthy of consideration by the entire Caucus. After researching their issue, they also used the Michigan legislative database to review current bills related to their issue. Once they reviewed current bills, they used their research to construct their own policy proposal that aimed to address the issue they identified. Using the format of actual legislation, with preambulatory and operative clauses, students drafted their proposals and shared them with others on the MSC site. Participants gave one another feedback and then ranked their top proposals. The highest ranking proposals were compiled into the MSC party platform, which students presented to a group of legislators and agency heads during a special legislative meeting in Lansing in early December. Two of our eighth graders had proposals chosen, by their peers, to be included in the party platform.

Throughout this unit, our study aimed to recognize and amplify the voices and contributions of Indigenous people, both in Michigan and throughout what is now called the United States. After reflecting on what students knew and thought they knew about Indigenous people in Michigan and working to deconstruct stereotypes about Indigenous people, we met with Professor Matthew Fletcher, Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University, to learn about both the history of the Anishinaabek in Michigan but also to learn about current issues in Indian law. We also took a walking tour along the Huron River with local historian, Matt Siegfried, in order to more deeply understand the history of the place in which we live. Extending our study from there, we moved into a closer look at forced removal of Indigenous nations throughout American history. We then tied this history to present-day issues of land sovereignty related to pipelines on Indian land. Students took on the roles of different stakeholders and engaged in a fishbowl debate around the issue of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Closer to home, we read and listened to news about the recent court case involving the Bad River Bands of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Enbridge Line 5. We also welcomed Senator Jeff Irwin to our class (as well as one of the Michigan Student Caucus professors and one of the student topic coordinators) to talk with us about a bill that he’d recently introduced that would change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” statewide. 

We incorporated a study of Joy Harjo (Muskogee Creek; U.S. Poet Laureate) and her poetry into our unit in order to make sure that our learning space included not only Indigenous history, but also the voices of current Indigenous artists. In terms of Indigenous voices, we also read (and listened to) a book in Ojibwe: Ajijaak by Cecelia Rose LaPointe (Ojibew/Metis, Mashkiziibi and Kchiwiikwedong, or Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibew or LaPointe Band of Ojibwe and Keewenaw Bay Indian Community). We wanted to hear the sound and learn about the vocabulary and structure of one of the languages of Indigenous people in what is now called Michigan. We also read analyzed Encounter by Brittany Luby (Anishinaabe-kwe) which pushed us to think about how, upon meeting others, we have a choice about the way that our interaction transpires. The book reimagines a 16th century meeting between a French explorer (modeled after Jacques Cartier) and an Iroquoian man).

To end this unit, we researched Indigenous women who are serving in the United States Congress today (Representative Deb Haaland and Representative Sharice Davids) and learned about the influence of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Great Law of Peace on the U.S. Constitution.

Presenting the project to the SK community during a Friday morning meeting

Discussing Indigenous Peoples Day with visitors in our class, including Senator Jeff Irwin, Prof. Michael Fahy (one of the directors of the MSC project), and Devin McIntyre (one of the UM student topic coordinators of the MSC project)

Presenting fictional sovereign states as we developed our understanding of the role of government

Sharing our fictional states with one another

Reading and responding to Joy Harjo's poetry outside

More Joy Harjo outside

Book that Professor Matthew Fletcher created and shared with students about his own family story and broader stories of the Anishinaabek in what we now call Michigan

Sharing media artifacts that students created to share with other MSC participants on the site

Fish bowl discussion on the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline (done in character as different stakeholders, including Standing Rock Sioux leaders, farmers, construction workers, and representatives from the Our Children's Trust lawsuit about climate change)

Walking tour of the Huron River with local historian, Matt Siegfried

Close examination of waterways maps along the Huron

Eighth grader presenting her work in front of high school students, UM students, state legislators, and various agency heads (topic: the case for more school counselors in K-12 schools)

Another eighth grader presenting their work in front of high school students, UM students, state legislators, and various agency heads (topic: the case for inclusive, comprehensive sex education in K-12 schools)

On the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives with Rep. Yousef Rabhi and Sen. Jeff Irwin

Miigwetch (thank you) to all of the visitors who shared knowledge with us, hosted us on trips, and thoughtfully answered our questions. We sincerely appreciate your time and energy. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Arduino Robots -- the Beginning

We had an extremely busy week on the projects. Monday we spent the entire afternoon thinking about group norms for note-keeping, performance, and communication; on Tuesday our mentors joined the class and the students had their first opportunities to meet with their Robot Build team. The adults facilitated the discussion while the students established their group norms and then, if they had time, the teams got to start unpacking, researching and building their actual ‘bots. (More pictures of teams working are in the google photo album.)

Getting a first look at the parts with mentor, Jean-Marie.

Starting assembly with mentor, Sarah.

At the MDP Design Expo, looking at an obstacle avoiding color sensing robot.

Also at the Design Expo, an enhanced cane for the visually impaired.

A mostly complete chassis.

Adding motors to the chassis.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Getting Into Arduinos

November 8

We had our first experiences with the Arduino kits this week. The class are working with a partner in the role of builder or documenter to build sketches from the SIK 101 kit. As one student builds, the other student records everything that happens; after they get the basic sketch working--often after many times checking to see if everything was wired properly--they try changing small pieces of the code and documenting the result. 
On Tuesday, the engineering mentors came and discussed what it’s like to do engineering, how they do documentation, pitfalls, troubleshooting (find the semicolon, etc). 
On Thursday they worked on an assignment called “What is a Robot?” that gets them thinking about the modern realities of robotics.

November 15

This week we’ve continued to work with the Arduino 101 kits, moving on to more advanced sketches; along the way we’ve done a lot of troubleshooting--”Where is this wire supposed to be?” and “Oh, wow, that was in backwards!” 
We also discussed the applications of robots and the ramifications thereof. (fire control for predator drones, Roomba’s sweeping up pet droppings, etc.)
Students also began working on the “Arduino Component Assignment” that asks them to research in depth one or a related set of components to develop broad expertise throughout the class with different components before they try to build their own robots.

November 22
This week the students wrapped up their work with the Arduino 101 kits and prepared and gave informal “info-dump” style presentations on a variety of components that they have been working with. There are many more good photos of the students working with these components on the Google Photo album.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Fall Trip to Tillers International

The 7-8s kicked off the year with a whirlwind day at Tillers International, a nonprofit working farm in Scotts, Michigan, "dedicated to teaching woodworking, metal working, animal handling, and other skills that can be used for personal fulfillment, professional growth, or international development." One of our main questions for our first project (the Michigan Student Caucus, more on that in another post) is related to how we approach complex social problems. As such, one of our overarching questions for this project is: How can young people affect positive social change? Our visit to Tillers helped us to learn about the way that they approach the problem of global food insecurity and also helped to broaden our thinking about this topic. We also got to visit with adorable oxen (and challenge them in relay races); visit the blacksmith shop for a demo; use some woodworking tools ourselves; drink molasses pressed from sorghum growing in the fields in front of us; and have a pizza picnic in the park on our way home.

Huge thanks to all of the awesome humans and oxen at Tillers for a wonderful day.

For more photos, check out the link to our class Google photo album on the right hand side bar of this page.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Welcome to the 2019-2020 school year

Dear readers,

We're very excited for the coming year. We're writing with a logistical note about our shared blog for 7-8 at SK. Even though we have two homeroom classes, we'll continue to use this blog together. You'll notice separate "Math" and "English" tabs now and we'll post subject-specific updates there. This main page will be used for project updates and information for the entire 7-8 group. We'll do our best to specify which one of us is writing.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions.

To a wonderful year ahead,

Sam and Rachel

Friday, May 31, 2019

Food Project

May 3, 2019

In English, students started the week with an analysis of Roque Dalton’s poem, “Like You.” We’ve been working to develop our poetic sensibilities, which include a sensitivity to what is around you, multisensory perception, asking questions, making connections, developing one’s desire to find the right words, and using one’s imagination to connect these words and phrases in unexpected ways. Students practiced their multisensory perception skills by eating a piece of bread, writing about both their associations with bread and their sensory observations of this particular piece of bread. After sharing their associations and observations, we analyzed the poem, the poet’s story, the message of the poem, and the way the poem works to connect the speaker and the reader.

Students also revised their essays on genetic editing, which they first wrote during an in-class impromptu writing assignment. They wrote revisions and then submitted their second drafts for editing. These final drafts will be (for most students) the third iteration of their essays.

For the food project while we’re continuing to work on the final presentation pieces for the first half of the project (making more delicious food), we’ve also started thinking about making food more delicious. Specifically we’ve been focusing on wheat flour and gluten; the class has made 8 sourdough starters (2 recipes, stored in 4 locations) to do a comparison of the final bread products (to be cooked next week). On Thursday and Friday we continued to look at gluten by making pasta from scratch and reading about the process of making pasta from Cook’s Science.   

May 10, 2019

This week, students continued working their food projects and related endeavors. They completed rough draft of their research posters (final drafts will be displayed at our Empty Bowls dinner fundraiser on June 6). Topics include brining, pickling, kimchi, kefir, smoked meat, GMOs, food preservatives, polyploidy, grafting, selective breeding of vegetable plants, irrigation systems, chocolate farming and deforestation, bee conservation, vegetarian protein sources, cattle farming and consumption of natural resources, and fermentation in wine-making.

We welcomed SK parent and food scientist Ruta Inamdar into our class this week to teach us about her work in food manufacturing and about the science of microorganisms in food. We walked over to Whole Foods together to compare expiration dates of fresh produce, frozen produce, canned produce, and dried produce. After walking through the store, talking with employees, and comparing shelf life, we met up to share our findings and hypotheses and learn from Ruta. We also sampled various fermented milk products while we discussed helpful and harmful microorganisms found in food. Thank you, Ruta!

In English this week, we focused on the way that we write differently for different purposes and for different audiences. Our practice included writing emails to different people (famous and infamous) about different situations in different voices.

On Friday, we started researching food insecurity in Washtenaw County in order to prepare for our upcoming Empty Bowls fundraiser. Students will continue this research as we decide on the organization for which to fundraise for the event. As we work to look at all of our classroom content through the lens of social justice, it is impossible to study food and sustainability without carefully considering the fact that 1 in 7 people in our county is food insecure. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will spend time asking and answering complex questions related to that statistic.

May 17, 2019

In English, students read and analyzed Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Traveling Onion.” We then discussed the ode as a poetic form and attempted to write our own odes. As is to be expected, some of the students decide to invert the readers’ expectations and write ironic odes. Many of these odes are still in draft form but we hope to revise and share them at some point in the near future. 

We also spent time learning about Ms. Georgia Gilmore, whose “Club from Nowhere” helped to fund the Montgomery bus boycott. Ms. Gilmore, a trusted friend of Dr. King’s (among many other leaders of the Civil Rights movement) turned her home into a safe space for organizers and participants to gather, strategize, and eat. She also sold baked goods as a way to fundraise for station wagons and gas money for people to use to get to work during the bus boycott. As someone who literally nourished the Civil Rights movement, her story and work served as a starting point for our conversation about the role that food can play in social change. Students are thinking about this concept as we move into the final segment of our current food project: our upcoming Empty Bowls fundraiser. 

Speaking of the food project, we had several opportunities for experiential learning this week (ie making food). On Monday and Tuesday we used the sourdough starters to make bread; we were then able to do a comparison of the breads between starter type (with or without pineapple juice) and location. On Thursday, Georgette Stubin (mother of Joey), led the class for the afternoon in baking four different desserts. As we think about what to serve at the Empty Bowls Fundraiser, we will use this experience to help narrow down our options. Georgette also introduced us to the use of low-gluten cake flour and we were able to consume some cupcakes made with that flour, noting the difference in texture from the low gluten cake flour compared to the much higher gluten bread flour we’d used for the sourdough loaves. 
There are many more pictures in the class photo album.

May 24, 2019
Chicago Adventures:


Our first stop was at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for lunch; a few of the children endeavored to take a dip (or fall in) to the rather cold Lake Michigan; fortunately we had extra clothes and a place to change. Next, we finished the drive and checked in to the very welcoming Holiday Jones.  We finished the day wandering around the Loop, with Pisano’s pizza for dinner, and stops at Water Tower Place, and the Hancock Observatory before heading back to the hotel. We had a great first day.

We are returned to the hotel for the night after another day out in the Windy City. We began our day catching the El to the Federal Reserve Money Museum. (Look and see if you child comes home with a bag of money, we picked some up there.) Rain changed our further plans, and we briefly went to the Public Library before heading to Lincoln Park for lunch with my good friends Avi and Liz, who also showed us the wonderful view of the Loop from the roof of their building. We then spent several hours wandering in Lincoln Park, including the Lily Pond, Zoo and Conservatory. Our final adventure of the day brought us to Wrigley Field for the Cubs vs. Phillies, but it was very cold and windy and we were all quite tired, so we left a fair bit earlier than expected and returned to the hotel in time for a comfortable night.

Something like 10.5 miles, that's what we walked today...

After a leisurely breakfast we hopped on the CTA for our tour of the Pilsen Neighborhood; our tour guide Amanda (incidentally an alumna of UofM) walked us through the history of the neighborhood from it's Czech/Polish roots, to the late 20th century Mexican neighborhood that is now rapidly gentrifying. For the 8th graders there were many echoes of last year's Detroit project.

After the tour and lunch in Pilsen, we headed back to the Loop for our program focused on Gwendolyn Brooks at the National Poetry Foundation; many of the students wrote poems inspired by the activity (and may even have them to show you).

Our final adventures of the day had us heading to the north side of town for a tour of the country's only certified organic rooftop garden and dinner at Uncommon Ground. After dinner we headed to the beach near the Loyola University for a quick dip in chilly Lake Michigan before heading back to our hotel for the night. Our El driver on the way back offered to let the kids take pictures from her cab--you can check them out on the class Google Photos album.

We're looking forward to our last activity at Inspiration Kitchen tomorrow for lunch and then we'll be departing the Windy City for our return to the Mitten.

May 31, 2019

This week, we dedicated time to preparations for our upcoming Empty Bowls fundraiser. Students worked on different aspects of event planning logistics, including communications and promotion. Students also decided on the two beneficiaries of their efforts: Growing Hope and Water for South Sudan. At the event, the students’ display tables will contain research they’ve done on both organizations.

In English, as we wrap up our last novel of the year (The House of the Scorpion), we turned our attention to the concepts of capitalism, socialism, and communism (because these systems are represented and alluded to in the novel). After a lecture on the different systems (with a focus on economics, not politics), students participated in a simulation where they played Rock, Paper, Scissors using different rules for each round, representing the different systems (with teachers acting as the government). After the simulation, we deconstructed the activity and addressed its limitations. After analyzing the activity, some students asked if they could create more accurate simulations for the different economic systems and we (Sam and Rachel) suggested that as a summer project option for interested students (only half kidding, really).

Thursday, April 25, 2019

More Delicious Food -- Food Production

April 5, 2019

This week we’ve begun the next project: “How do we make more (delicious) food.” The first part of the project is focusing on increasing food production: history of agricultural and related technology and modern techniques for increasing yields. (The second part of the project will focus making better tasting food.) 

We began the week with some activities related to the transition from foraging to agriculture/herding and are ending the week with some research and short presentations on lesser known staple food crops. (Have you heard of teff, Nerica, chufa, duckweed, winged beans, sacha inchi, camelina or fonio? The students have now.)

In English, the students started the week with the well-known and oft-quoted poem, “This Is Just To Say,” by William Carlos Williams. After a brief introduction to the concept of Imagist poems, we looked at how the poem was “memed” last year and had a moment or two of Internet fame. Then, students wrote and shared their own versions (some reprinted below): 

Student example 1: inspired by events in our classroom

This is Just to Say

I have sat
on the
beanbag you

and which
you probably
wish to

Forgive me
and stop

Student example 2: a response to the original poem

This is Just to Say

I have put
the plums
in the

and which
I have been
for breakfast

forgive me
you shall not
eat them
they are mine

P.S. I put a
lock on it after
I found it empty yesterday

Student example 3: inspired by Mario

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the mushrooms
that were in
the question block

and which
you were probably
for growing

Forgive me
they hath
my soul

Unrelated to poetry, we also started pre-reading activities to get us ready for our next class novel: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. Themes of bioethics, including cloning, are prevalent in this novel. As such, we did a “tug of war” thought exercise on human cloning and then held a fishbowl debate on the topic. We’ll continue to identify and analyze questions of morality and ethics as we delve into the dystopian novel throughout the next few weeks.

April 12, 2019

Our project time this week has revolved around a set of activities from the American Egg Board about chicken eggs that we are using as research to model the main artifact for this project--a poster about an aspect of enhancing food production; either an historical discussion of what was done and the impact thereof, or a current issue and possible solutions for the future.bout some aspect of agriculture or food science. We’ve also been making a lot of egg puns. The high point of the week was Thursday afternoon’s Egg-sperience a hybrid science lab/cooking class comparing hard, medium and soft-boiled eggs and also, looking at the difference between four different types of eggs: standard, cage-free, vegetarian fed, and organic.

In English, we’re continuing with The House of the Scorpion and related themes. Students completed in-class impromptu essays on the topic of human genetic editing and the question of “how far is too far” when it comes to altering life itself. This ties in directly to the lessons on industrial agriculture and GMOs that students are beginning to explore as part of their current science project. We also read Jacqueline Woodson’s poem, “genetics,” which is an excerpt from her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. After reading and analyzing the poem, students wrote their own verses on the topic of hereditary traits. 

April 19, 2019

In English, we’ve been studying Dr. Temple Grandin’s life and work. Dr. Grandin ‘s influence on animal welfare in the meat industry cannot be overstated and, as such, we’ve included her work as part of our study on sustainable farming practices. In addition to reading about her life, her brain, her work as an ambassador for people with autism (including her invention, the “hug machine”), and her impact on the industry, we also read a journal article she wrote, “Thinking the Way Animals Do.” Dr. Grandin’s story is also related to our study of genetic editing (of crops and, in theory, of people), as she attributes her ability to connect with animals to her autism. This perspective led us to discuss the concept of “neurodiversity” and what is potentially lost if humanity moves toward a future of “designer babies.” 

Our major experience for the week as part of the Food Project was our visit to the Calder Dairy Farm. The students have also been assigned and begun researching a variety of topics (ranging from kimchi, to irrigation techniques, and GMOs) for the posters that will be displayed during the Empty Bowls fundraiser we will be hosting on the evening of June 6--Mark your calendars!

On Friday, we had a brief lecture about concepts in calorimetry, lab safety, and the use of laboratory equipment, then the students did the laboratory portion of a classic middle school calorimetry lab, burning Cheetos and other oily snacks.

April 26, 2019

On Monday we did wrap up the calorimetry lab with some questions about accuracy, precision, controls and related ideas for science lab activities. The rest of this week has largely been a research and organization week for the Food project. Rachel introduced a graphic organizer that the students used to start planning their posters. On Friday we had a visit from Dr. Julie Lesnik, a professor at Wayne State and authority on human consumption of insects. 

In English, we held an “appositive (a)party” which involved many outstanding student-written examples of sentences with appositive phrases. We also read and analyzed “Crows” by Marilyn Nelson, former Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets. Students worked to revise their in-class essays on genetic editing as they move toward a final draft.