Tuesday, December 20, 2016

American history through poetry

In October, the 7-8s began a deep examination of three seminal works in American poetry:

"I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman
"I, Too" by Langston Hughes
"Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander

These poems gave us a way to examine America's history of civil discourse and social challenges through the lens of the "singing" of diverse voices and the ways in which different voices have or have not been "heard" throughout history. Using poetry written at pivotal moments in history ("I Hear America Singing" during the Civil War era; "I, Too" during the Harlem Renaissance; and "Praise Song for the Day" at Obama's first inauguration), students were able to both place the art in a larger context and consider the ways in which the social and political landscape of the time is represented in the poem.

Working in small groups, students had to analyze the poems' form, content, and language; research the historical and cultural significance of the poem and poet; discuss the ways in which the poem is relevant today; and develop a lesson to engage the rest of the class in an activity based on the work itself or its message.  To accomplish these tasks, students had to do their own research (using web resources and books) and practice citing a source using MLA format.

In mid-November, the groups shared their work during our first exhibitions of the year. Belated and tremendous thanks to the parents and students (in Jason and Sam's classes) who joined us for these exhibitions. Students used their knowledge of poetic terms and concepts (such as, but not limited to, free verse, rhyme, metaphor, and simile) to analyze and discuss the poems. Presentations were informative, conversations were lively, and, as usual, we ran out of time to do all of the activities in their intended entirety.

Poetry continues to be a useful lens through which to attempt to understand the nuances of language and narrative. In these specific cases, connecting poetry to history gave us a way to examine the current political climate as part of the evolving American "song" and the ways in which the global (and local) events of our time shape our own voices.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Weekly overview - week of December 5

In English, we started the week with additional reading about two specific cases of gene editing in animals: salmon that grow significantly faster than their traditional counterparts; and mosquitoes that are specially designed to curb the spread of diseases. We mapped out arguments in favor of and opposed to genetic editing of animals as preparation for a formal debate on the topic (two, actually, since teams will be working on either salmon or mosquitoes) the week of December 19. Genetic editing and cloning are topics on the forefront of our minds as we continue reading The House of the Scorpion, which has resulted in deep thinking about the ethics and potential human or animal rights issues that genetic editing forces us to consider. We also deepened our study of ekphrastic and epistolary poetry this week with a trip to the University of Michigan Museum of Art, where we learned about art inspired by other art and wrote ekphrastic poetry of our own. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Weekly overview - week of November 21 and week of November 28

During our two-day week before Thanksgiving, we finished The Red Pencil and reflected on our "America Sings" group poetry exhibitions. We also ended the week with “Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye and talked about the poem’s relevance today (both post-election and in the spirit of the Thanksgiving/holiday season).

This week, we dove into our next novel, The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer. The award-winning science-fiction novel addresses questions about cloning, biotechnology, and bioethics. In order to gain a foundation for thinking about these topics, we read and discussed this New York Times article about gene editing in animals. Our next unit of study in science will be biology and genetics and we will use the list of vocabulary words and comprehension questions that we created/answered from the article to guide our learning in science.

We also started learning about ekphrastic and epistolary poetry as we begin to think about writing poetry inspired by or dedicated to favorite places/things/people of our own.