Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 10/9/17

This week, the students continued their study of the U.S. Constitution by focusing on a particular amendment and researching its history. This research supports the skits they are writing about different amendments. We also took a closer look at state government this week and combed through the database of laws and bills being considered by the Michigan legislature. Students learned to navigate the database and searched for bills by sponsor, by category, and by keyword. They then carefully parsed the text of the bills themselves in order to determine what actions the bill would require or prohibit. This work is preparing them to develop proposals on issues of importance to them in the Michigan Youth Caucus. The proposals with the most votes will become part of the Michigan Student Caucus platform that students will present to legislators in Lansing in December.

As part of the MSC project, nine of the 7-8s attended a town hall meeting on campus at UM. The speaker was from the Ginsberg Center at UM (a resources for UM affiliated people and groups who want to engage in service learning) and she spoke about the ways in which state and local governments are working to address community needs in Washtenaw County. The SK students were engaged participants in the discussion and eager to share their ideas and questions.

Eighth graders also started their visits to local high schools this week with an afternoon at Greenhills. We are visiting many of the schools in Washtenaw County in order to learn about the different options and prepare students for their next steps.

Weekly overview - week of 10/2/17

This week, the 7-8s continued their Michigan Student Caucus media artifacts. Each student has chosen a topic that is of importance to young people in Michigan. On Wednesday, we were joined by two of the graduate students from U-M, Cate and Eve, who are helping to facilitate the online discussion as part of their course work. They spent the afternoon helping students to think through their topics and focus their efforts on their media artifacts.

As part of our continued study of American government, we learned about the structure of our representative democracy (on a federal and state level) with a particular focus on the legislature. We then looked at the concept of “gerrymandering” and discussed the Wisconsin gerrymandering case that is currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Later in the week, we turned our focus to the Constitution itself. After drafting a class constitution, we went through an overview of the document itself. Students were then ready to wade into the actual text. After starting to read the document, one thing led to another and the result is that a student suggested responding to the text with a comedic skit (or several). Soon after that, students were off working alone, in pairs, or in small groups to write a series of skits and songs about the Constitution (some Convention-inspired, some amendment-inspired). At some point in the near future, we’ll have information about a performance. Stay tuned.

The 7-8s also started the Our Whole Lives program this week. We’re looking forward to continuing the OWL program for rest of the school year.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 9/25/17

Happy Banned Books week! The 7-8s started the week with a celebration of intellectual freedom and a discussion about censorship. They also continued their work on their Michigan Student Caucus posts. They have been both crafting their own posts and replying to the posts of others (students from our class and students from other schools in Michigan). The next step is to create a media artifact (podcast, poster, infographic, etc.) to teach others about a particular problem of concern to them (and other young people in Michigan). To support their understanding of how government works, we’ve been reading about different types of governments (throughout the world and throughout history) and, in our country, how state governments function.

We've also been thinking about how new people (and, more broadly, groups of people) become part of the United States. We read and analyzed a poem related to this subject: Amendment” by Christina Davis and visited a poignant exhibit of photos and narratives by refugees who have resettled in Ann Arbor. We're looking forward to returning to this theme throughout the year.

The joy of fall that feels like summer

A very professorial J.M.

Grateful to live in a city that celebrates the stories of others

Rope making demonstration (W.S. made a model of the tools we used at Tillers) during morning meeting

More morning meeting

Even more morning meeting

Another group sharing their experiences at Tillers with the rest of the SK community

Monday, September 25, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 9/18/17

The 7-8s have been busy diving into their Michigan Student Caucus projects. Each student chose a topic area from a list of nine broad issues  (such as environmental quality, transportation, juvenile justice, and K-12 educational achievement, for example). Then, within their broad areas, they are now narrowing their research in order to focus on a particular problem within that area. They are contributing to online discussions on these topics and starting to create media artifacts in order to teach others about their problem and potential solutions. To deepen this work, students have also been learning about the foundations of government, starting with the philosophies of Hobbes and Locke and moving into the concept of “sovereignty.”

They also presented, in pairs, their analyses of selected poems about poetry. They identified serious, comic, and ironic elements of each poem and articulated their own definitions of poetry. We will continue to read poetry, write, and recite poetry throughout the year.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fall overnight to Tillers International

On Monday, September 11, we left SK for parts unknown. Well, actually, thankfully, we knew exactly where we were going. We were headed to Scotts, Michigan, to visit Tillers International.
But still, we didn't exactly know what to expect. We'd been talking about the history of agriculture in the United States since the first day of school and we'd been thinking about the ways in which people shape technology and technology shapes people. All of this this thinking and reading prepared us for our two days at Tillers.

On Monday, we spent time learning how to plow a field with draft horses, forge metal in the blacksmith shop, and prepare wood for barrels in the wood shop. We also made our own rope, which we brought back to SK and are happy to show off. On Tuesday, we visited the farm museum (containing over 4,000 historic farm implements!) and cleaned out some barns. Kids were delightfully enthusiastic about the cleaning (and the animals we met in the barns, including a very friendly cat and some marginally friendly turkeys). On Tuesday afternoon, we returned to SK.

In addition to all of the hands-on learning and philosophical discussions about the ways in which we use tools, we made time for a considerable amount of fun. We LOVED the Cook's Mill Guest House because it was a) beautiful, b) had secret passageways, and c) had secret passageways (!!!). We also enjoyed cooking and eating all of our meals together.

In short, the fall overnight was a tremendous success. Huge thanks to our friends at Tillers International for being such awesome hosts.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 9/5/17

We started off the year with a new space, new friends, and an all-around wonderful week. One of the lenses through which we are approaching our learning this year is that of technology as a tool for social, political, and cultural change. As such, next week, we are headed to the Cook’s Mill Guest House at Tillers International farm in Scotts, Michigan to take classes on traditional skills (such as woodworking, blacksmithing, and ploughing with draft animals). In preparation for our trip, we looked at a very brief overview of agricultural history in America and examined the relationship between world events and technological innovations. Based on our observations and questions, we dove into a fishbowl discussion on the merits of technology and how different tools or “advancements” have improved lives (or not) throughout history. This thought exercise will set us up to get working with the new tools in the Innovation Lab later this year.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Welcome to the 2017-2018 school year

Dear readers,

Welcome to what is sure to be a banner year for SK 7-8s.

Eighth grade girls (how did that happen?)

Observations on a very brief overview of American agriculture

Kaz leads an important discussion on pizza toppings (seriously, we were voting on what type of pizzas to make on our overnight next week)

Fishbowl discussion on the merits of technology

More fish(bowl)ing

Inside the fishbowl is for debating and active listening; outside the fishbowl is for note taking and active listening

Fishbowls for the win

What does your ideal classroom look, sound, and feel like?

Discovery: our ideal learning environments have a lot in common (but also many differences)

What's going on in the world and how do you know? (an introduction to our weekly study of current events)

To a wonderful year ahead,


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Weekly overview - weeks of 4/17/17 and 4/24/17

Week of 4/17/17:

After a brief discussion of usability and website architecture, students started mapping out their online portfolios on paper. First, they’ll design the information structure of the site and then they’ll use Google sites to build the site itself. We’ll be working on the creation of these online portfolios for the next several weeks.

We also started lessons on health, wellness, and sexuality this week. While we will teach the year-long Our Whole Lives program, we believe that some topics are important to cover each year in seventh and eighth grade. These topics include reproductive anatomy; communication skills and strategies; risk taking; peer pressure; and decision making. We will continue these lessons and conversations for the remainder of the school year.

Week of 4/24/17:

This week, we continued to work on portfolios by getting work ready to show to the public. Students organized (sorted, labeled, and renamed) artifacts in their Google drives. The next step will be cleaning up and reflecting upon that which they consider their best work from the year.

In health class, we focused on communication skills and strategies as we examined effective ways of creating productive and respectful dialogue in different situations.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Weekly overview - week of March 27

This week, students presented their final projects and reflections on the food unit. Each student presented a research question, a hypothesis, a procedure they developed to test their hypothesis, results (in raw data and in graph form), and conclusions to be drawn from the results.

Students also presented their reflections on the food unit. We’ve been working toward the answer to the question of how we decide what to eat since January 9, when we first watched a documentary on bread and proceeded to make our first loaves together. Students reflected on ways in which their perspectives and understandings have changed since we started this project. Below are excerpts from their reflections (shared with their permission):

  • “I realized how important it is to be connected to your food, and to know where it comes from. [...] When people are connected to their food, they remember the love for food that stretches all the way back to the first people to grow a crop. They know then that food matters. To be connected to your food is to be connected to your history.” -- 8th grader
  • “I’m now really eager to grow things and make something new (or not so new) for the world.” -- 8th grader
  • “Now I have more faith in myself to bake and cook.” -- 7th grader
  • “I now realize how much food can have an impact on a community by bringing people together.” -- 7th grader
  • “I learned so much about how food is intertwined with culture.” -- 7th grader

P.S. Don't forget to check out the class photo album (upper right sidebar). I just added new photos from our adventures (in and out of class) from the last few weeks.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekly overview - week of March 13

This week, students continued to wrap up the results, analysis, and conclusion portions of their individual (or partnered) science projects. Students used spreadsheets to format their data into readable tables and then used that data to create useful, appropriately labeled charts (within the spreadsheet). Through this project, in addition to the content of their work, we’ve also been developing spreadsheet and data visualization skills. It’s exciting to see them create charts with the data they collected themselves (and to see their excitement when they’ve figured out how to use the technology tools in a meaningful way). They will be sharing these projects during presentations the week of March 27.

We also welcomed Eric Kampe, owner of Ann Arbor Seed Company, to our class on Wednesday afternoon. Eric taught students about seed saving: its history, how it works, and why it matters. We also discussed current issues in seed farming, including hybrid seeds and seed patenting. Students participated in a lively game of “guess what vegetable grows from this seed” (based on a diverse selection of “show and tell” seeds that Eric brought for us to examine) and enjoyed videos of Eric demonstrating how to separate seed from chaff. As we wrap up our unit of study focused on how we decide what to eat, it was interesting to consider the most basic element at the core of what we eat: the seed. Huge, huge thanks to Eric for such an engaging and interesting presentation.

Weekly overview - week of March 6

During this short week, we focused on independent science projects. Students conducted their experiments with participants and learned how to take translate their procedures into actual trials with students and faculty volunteers. Most students are now working on data analysis and visualization (drawing conclusions based on results and creating charts). We ended our short week with a full day of fun at the Livonia Rec Center (as a make-up day from when we were supposed to go snow tubing the day before midwinter break) where we swam, played games, and climbed in the indoor tree fort.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Freedom House fundraising dinner

In December, I reached out to Bee Roll, owner of Beezy's Cafe, to see if she might be willing to speak with my class about how she uses food as a way to build community through her restaurant. She then told me about a new event space that she'd purchased (right across the street from Beezy's) and said that it might be neat to do some sort of program there with the 7-8s. I agreed. 

Fast forward to February 28, when over sixty people gathered at Project23 for dinner prepared by Bee and the 7-8s as a fundraiser for Freedom House, a shelter in Detroit that provides critical services to refugees seeking asylum. (Side note: When we first decided to do a community dinner fundraiser, we discussed several organizations to which we might donate our proceeds. After learning about the comprehensive services offered by Freedom House, its recent cut in federal funding, and its uncertain future, the students voted to support this organization.) 

In between that initial meeting with Bee and March 1 (the day after the dinner, when we sat in our classroom to debrief and eat leftovers), we worked diligently to plan the event. Focusing on collaboration skills (taking responsibility for oneself; helping the team; respecting others; making and following agreements; organizing work; and working as a whole team) and planning skills (event promotion; organization of information in shared documents and spreadsheets; communication of tasks and responsibilities; logistics; and time management), the class worked together to take the idea from our classroom out into the world. 

Planning tasks and keeping one another accountable

Trying on the aprons 

Loving the aprons 

Sketching out poster ideas 

Prepping the salad dressing

Chopping the fruit

Always time for a waltz (or a waltz-like dance)

Serving the dinner

More delicious dinner

Enjoying the company of friends and families

Happy 7-8s

As we ate the aforementioned leftovers the day after the event, we discussed what worked well, what worked less well, and shared highlights. Highlights included: "a whole new experience," "serving dinner to my family," "meeting new people," and "getting to talk to new adults." In addition to our own personal (and collective) highlights, we also raised over $500 to help asylum seekers entering our country. 

Huge, huge, huge thanks to Bee Roll for her kitchen wizardry and for welcoming us into her space. Additional gigantic thanks to the friends and families who supported us in this endeavor. 

If you would like to join us in supporting Freedom House, please do.