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.  

Weekly overview - week of February 27

The highlight of our week this week was our big dinner fundraiser for Freedom House on Tuesday night. We spent the day preparing dinner (under the guidance of Bee Roll, owner of Beezy’s Cafe) and setting up and then we returned to Project23 (an awesome event space in Ypsilanti) to serve the meal to friends and families. We raised $525 for Freedom House, an organization that provides shelter and critical support to refugees seeking asylum. We’re tremendously grateful to all of the families and teachers who supported us in this project.

During the rest of the week, students worked on their independent science projects. They are doing background research, coordinating the logistics of their experiments, and beginning to draft their abstracts.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Weekly overview - week of February 13

As far as our food project is concerned, we focused on independent work this week; specifically, the process of refining individual and paired science projects. Students have designed their own research questions and are now developing procedures that they will use to test their hypotheses. They will share their findings during presentations the week of March 20.

On Monday, we welcomed Michelle Rabaut and Katie Kennedy, two University of Michigan students (who are also part of the SK camps and Extended Learning team), to our class. Michelle and Katie are sociology students who have both spent time working, learning, and living in Detroit (as part of UM’s Semester in Detroit program and, more specifically, through Michelle’s thesis research at the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm). They led us through fascinating conversations about food justice, including the concepts of food security/insecurity, food deserts, and the way that food can be used as a tool for social change. After they left, we continued to work through the concept of “gentrification” and the ways in which an influx of resources from outside the community can be both beneficial and detrimental to the community itself.

Huge, huge thanks to Michelle and Katie for coming to share their experiences with us and challenge us to think deeply about complex issues.

We’ve also been busy planning for our “Serve a Good Cause” fundraising dinner for Freedom House (a center for refugees from all over the world that provides shelter, services, and support as people work toward legal asylum status and get settled on their own) on February 28 from 6-7pm at Project23 in Ypsilanti. The 7-8s will be cooking and serving soup, salad, and bread from 6-7pm and the proceeds benefit Freedom House, the only organization of its kind in the United States. If you’d like to join us for this event and you have not yet purchased tickets, please email Rachel by February 24.

Weekly overview - week of February 6

This week, we started planning for our big “Serve Up a Cause” event on February 28. The 7-8s will be hosting a fundraising dinner for Freedom House, a Detroit-based center (the only one of its kind in the country) that provides transitional housing and a wide range of services for refugees seeking asylum. The dinner is from 6-7pm on 2/28. Students will be cooking and serving the dinner themselves. Tickets are $10 and will be on sale before and after school from Monday, February 13, through Friday, February 17. Right now, students are working on event promotion, ticket spreadsheets, sales schedules, and welcome-speech writing.

Earlier this week, we visited Maiz Cantina in Ypsilanti to see the “Wall of Stories” that the employees and managers built as a way of bringing people together through art and storytelling. We met with Beatriz Vargas, the general manager, who shared her own story and the story of the wall itself. We left thinking about both the way that restaurants can serve as places that bring people together and, more broadly, about the way that communities are strengthened by the sharing of stories.

Huge, huge thanks to Beatriz for hosting us and sharing her story and to Maiz for supporting community art.

This week was also cake week. Students divided themselves into groups for a cake baking contest (using recipes with a story, which they researched). On Thursday, they baked for most of the day and then showed off their creations to the 5-6s, who came to judge the cakes based on taste, appearance, and “interesting-ness.” The four cakes (a caramel cake from 1901; a Mardi Gras king cake; an English Victoria sponge cake; and a molten lava cake) were all delicious (of course). We had a little bit of fun baking, too.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Weekly overview - week of January 30; photos of our examination of materials from the culinary archive at UM

At the beginning of this week, we examined the text of Trump’s executive order on immigration. Using guiding questions, students analyzed the text and commentary to try to understand it from a policy perspective (its stated aims and methods) and from a historical perspective (putting it in the context of past immigration policies and laws). Students’ questions were thoughtful, pointed, and demonstrated deep critical thinking skills.

Students also continued to develop their independent research papers and science experiments. Student-developed inquiries range in topic but all fall under the driving question of how we decide what to eat. 

As part of our continued study of food, we took a trip to the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at UM in order to examine historically-significant cookbooks, menus, and ephemera. This trip, in addition to being interesting (particularly the World War II-era food advertisements, ration coupons, and “victory” cookbooks) helped us to continue to think about that which we can learn about people during a particular place and time through their food choices. Huge, huge, huge thanks to Liz and Juli from Special Collections at UM Library for putting together such a fascinating presentation and collecting such interesting materials for us to examine.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Weekly overview - week of January 23

This week, our focus was on the past, present, and future of agriculture in Michigan. We started with two readings on the history of Detroit’s Eastern Market (from Detroit Food by Bill Loomis and Detroit's Eastern Market by Lois Johnson and Margaret Thomas). We also examined and analyzed several facts about Michigan agriculture and thought about what it meant that the average age of a Michigan farmer is 58 years old. This led us to consider the future of farming here in Michigan and around the world. We watched a TED talk on “food computers” by Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at MIT, and discussed the idea of “climate recipes” (what was interesting to us, what was exciting to us, and what potential implications could be concerning to us). We ended our study of agriculture in SE Michigan (for this week, anyway) with a fascinating historical tour of Detroit’s Eastern Market, led by Myles Hamby of the Eastern Market Corporation. We also introduced our long-term science project ideas and held a peer-review session where we (under Lisa’s direction) gave one another feedback on said project ideas.

For additional photos of our adventures, check the photo album link on the right-hand side bar.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bread: How it works; how to make it; how it tastes

We kicked off our current interdisciplinary project with an investigation of bread: its role throughout history; the way yeast works; the sensory experience of making it with your own hands; and the joy that comes from sharing it with friends.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Weekly overview - week of January 16

During this short week, we turned our focus to historical food narratives. After learning about Mrs. Abby Fisher (a woman who was born a slave in Alabama and eventually became a prominent caterer and cookbook author in California), we browsed through her digitized cookbook, What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking (published 1881). Our other key area of focus was on the role of food during the Civil Rights Movement (including the Greensboro sit-in; the Black Panther breakfast program; and Georgia Gilmore and the Club from Nowhere). In groups, students read articles about these topics and shared their findings and insights with the class. Our third text for the week was a poem: “The Traveling Onion” by Naomi Shihab Nye. In this poem, the speaker sings the praises of the often overlooked onion and other “small forgotten miracles.” The poem gave us a way to consider the route that food (even that as mundane as an onion) takes to arrive on our plates. Together, this week’s readings and activities gave us opportunities to consider how eating, which is such a personal activity, actually connects us to people and places from far outside of our own immediate communities.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Weekly overview - week of January 9

This week, we started our next big interdisciplinary project that aims to answer the question of how we decide what to eat. We'll be answering this question through a wide variety of lenses, including scientific, historical, cultural-social, and environmental. We began with an episode of Michael Pollan's "Cooked" documentary series (we watched "Air," which explores the way that baking transforms raw ingredients into delicious foods). The show examined the historical significance of bread from the earliest known bakers (Egyptians) through Wonder Bread and artisanal sourdough loaves. Students then did an experiment where they observed the way that sugar affects the growth of yeast. We then baked our own bread (it was delicious) and did some reflective writing on both our sensory observations of the bread making experience and how it felt to be connected to people all over the world, throughout history, who have also made their own bread. Students then snacked on their bread while reading an article from the Journal of Social Psychology about a study that on the impact of ambient smells (from a bakery) on participants’ willingness to help strangers. The results of the study suggest that people are kinder to one another when they smell baked goods. This study gave us a chance to review the steps of the scientific method and the concept of single variable experiments. We will be designing our own single variable experiments (related to this topic of study) later this semester.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Genetic editing; formal debates

In December, the 7-8s spent two weeks preparing for formal debates on two related, yet different topics: genetic editing of mosquitoes (in order to reduce the spread of disease) and genetic editing of salmon (in order to increase the rate of growth). Students were placed onto a team of three people (proposition or opposition) for one of the two topics.

This debate was part of a larger unit of study in ELA and science that asked students to "think like scientists" in order to turn data into evidence by using it to make a claim. In thinking this way, Lisa and I forced students to abandon their own views on various topics (ranging from climate change to genetically modified organisms) in order to develop sound arguments. This is not to say that we do not want them to form their own views on these topics (we absolutely do). However, in this case, we instructed them to suspend their own ideas in order to work through the process of developing an argument using data and research. In several cases, this thought exercise forced students to argue a view that contradicted their own previously held idea, resulting in a broader understanding of and appreciation for diverse perspectives.

In science, in order to support this research, Lisa taught students about DNA and the ways in which scientists are using new methods to "edit" organisms' genetic makeup.

Concurrently, students were also deep into Nancy Farmer's House of the Scorpion, an award-winning science fiction novel about biotechnology, bioethics, and cloning. Thinking about the possible future of genetic modification (even in a fictional world) gave students a larger sense of possible implications of these decisions and forced them to think through their arguments on a deeper level.

As part of our preparation for the debate, students generated a list of ideas about what "tugs" at each side of the issue and the many stakeholders to consider. The result of our lively class discussion is below:

In addition to research on their debate topics, preparation for the debates included a significant amount of work on public speaking skills. They watched and critiqued a sample debate, brainstormed effective speaking habits, and rehearsed their speeches for one another. 

Each student was responsible for flowcharting the debate of the other group and, based on their understanding of effective argument, rebuttal, and counterargument, judging the merits of each team's presentation in order to determine a winner. 

Examples of student debate flowcharts

In both cases, the opposition sides won their debates. However, credit must be given to the proposition teams for coming up with thoughtful, well-researched, and compelling arguments in favor of genetic editing of organisms.

Students have already asked Karl and me when we'll be able to debate again. I suppose that means that debate, as a class activity, was a winner.