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. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Financial literacy project review

Before spring break, we wrapped up our financial literacy project with an open house and podcast listening party. Younger students and parents came upstairs to see the projects on which the 7-8s have been working for the last several months. Click here to listen to some of their podcasts.

But before we got to the podcasts, we kicked off the project with two formal debates. In English, students prepared assertions, reasoning, and evidence to support their arguments. In teams of three, they argued about one of two topics. English class I debated the following proposition: "Community college should be free." English class II debated the following proposition: "The United States should discontinue the penny." When students were not involved in the debate, they flow charted the other classes' debate and acted as judges. All teams did an outstanding job and the proposition teams prevailed in both debates.

We then moved onto budgeting using ones' salary. Using this salary-based budget approach, students first looked up starting salaries for their desired careers and then worked their way through their individual hypothetical financial decisions. This connected with work that we did with Laura Radzik, branch manager at Old National Bank, who came in for weekly lessons on personal finance and banking with the class. Topics covered included basic banking and account types; how to use credit; student loans and debt; budgeting; financial psychology; and saving strategies. We also visited the bank and got to go into the vault, which was quite exciting.

In our class, we work to approach all academic content through a social justice lens. As such, it was critical for us to explore this topic from the perspective of poverty as a social problem and the high cost of being poor. We began with data analysis and reflection on the causes of poverty and the relationship between poverty and unemployment and poverty and discrimination using parts of these resources from Teaching Tolerance. We then looked at poverty and solutions in our own community, as is outlined in this article about Groundcover News. Then, after reading the introduction to $2 A Day aloud and brainstorming related questions, we welcomed Professor Luke Shaefer (one of the authors of the book and Director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan) into our class to talk with us about systems that function to keep people in poverty (such as prohibitively high auto insurance rates, for example) and what can be done about them.

We then turned our focus to the concept of economic bubbles, including two historic examples: Tulip mania in the Netherlands in 1637 and the housing market crash related to the recession of 2007-2009. In addition to welcoming AJ Franchi from Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group into our class for a lecture on the housing bubble and crash, students also wrote skits to illustrate the stages of bubbles (using their own original example: the "John Cena gaming console").

Finally, we ended our whole-class work with a look at teen spending habits over time and the role of neuro-economics to explain our financial decisions. We began by evaluating our own perception of teen spending and discussing the role that food trends might play in the recent increased teen spending on food and subsequent decreased teen spending on clothes. Other potential factors that students identified included the social aspect of eating in restaurants and the fact that shopping is a considerably less social activity (for our students, anyway). After analyzing teen spending trends over time, we watched and responded to this PBS News Hour clip on "neuro-economics" and the role that biology plays in our collective understanding of "what's cool" (note: students rarely think their teachers or their teachers' jokes are "cool" but that does not seem to stop teachers from trying).

Friday, February 1, 2019

Move Up Day and The Bead Game

Earlier this week, we celebrated an annual SK tradition: Move Up Day. The 7-8s welcomed the 6s into our class for the day as a way to help them get acclimated and excited about next year. During project time, all of the kids played The Bean Game” (renamed “The Bead Game” for our purposes), which required them to work with a partner to divvy up their annual income by category, weighing different options for each category (housing, food, clothing, etc.) and prioritizing their limited income. We played two rounds of this game: once with twenty beads and again with thirteen beads. We then analyzed a pie chart that broke down national annual expenditures. Students were incredibly insightful during this game. One shared that it was easier to divide up her group’s income when they had fewer beads because they had fewer choices. Another group decided to combine their beads (pool their resources) and work together in order to get more of the things that they wanted. We will return to the concepts explored during this game as we move through this next project on financial literacy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

December -- See You in the Cosmos, Science Exhibits and Demonstrations

December 7, 2018

In English, students continued reading See You in the Cosmos and wrote reflections on Dr. Carl Sagan’s ideas about space exploration (that it is worth the investment because it reminds us, here on Earth, of what is possible). We’re excited that the author, Jack Cheng, will be visiting our class in January. 

In connection with their current science project, we also started working on expository writing and thinking about how to explain scientific concepts to a broad audience. We started by evaluating the text on exhibit placards at the museums we’ve visited and then worked to revise the sample text that Sam wrote for his example friction exhibit. We also practiced paraphrasing one another’s writing as preparation for their own exhibit placards (work that they’ll be starting in the next few weeks). 

Also during project time, Sam led the class in a few chemistry mini-lessons. We reviewed the parts of an atom and then started talking about chemical formulae and reactions. In conjunction with the presentations the students are preparing we’ll be going through mini-lessons on a variety of topics related to what they are presenting on. 

December 14, 2018

In English, students started a new approach to grammar work: sentence-composing through imitation of beloved authors. Over the course of the next few months, students will work on imitating the work of great writers in order to identify component parts of great sentences and then use those “tools” in their own writing. In terms of reading, we’re They have been digging in to See You in the Cosmos and writing responses to prompts based on the text. 

The eighth graders spent Thursday morning at Community High School and Friday afternoon at Huron High School. We have now visited seven schools (Greenhills, Steiner, WTMC, WiHi, ECA, Community, Huron) and will visit New School High in January. Eights are also starting individual shadow days at different high schools around the area.

In project time this week the students have been preparing for their demonstrations next week. Sam also continued the mini-lessons, including more with combustion and a brief talk about pressure. Mostly we’ve been researching and preparing for the performance--come see us on Wednesday for slime, flaming money, spinning wheels, and the like.