Thursday, December 21, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 12/11/17

At our middle school meeting on Monday morning, we welcomed Jenny and Tyler from Spinning Dot Theatre Company. In only twenty five minutes, we talked about the upcoming middle school play, played games, and had a great discussion about the value of learning stories from around the world. Auditions for the play will be held January 8 and 9 at 3:30pm. Students will sign up for auditions at next Monday’s middle school meeting (on 12/18). If students have questions, they can ask their teacher or Walter.

This week, in addition to continuing to learn about the Arduinos through a set of exercises, students also started a small research project to learn about a specific electronic component. With a partner, they’ll be presenting both the science and the application of the component to their peers next week. In science, Sam has been teaching students about parallel and series circuits.

On Wednesday, we left SK at 7:15am for a trip to Lansing for our culminating Michigan Student Caucus activity. Three of our students presented their final proposals to a panel of elected officials and agency heads. We also got to hear from some of the high school and university caucus participants who presented their proposals to the panel, too. Students returned to school and did their final reflections on their student caucus work.

Students continue to read and annotate Player Piano. When we return from break, we’ll have an opportunity to wrestle with the fundamental questions of the novel and begin writing a creative response that aims to answer some of these questions.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 12/4/17

The eighth graders started off the week with an afternoon at Early College Alliance (ECA) at Eastern Michigan University. This was our sixth high school visit so far this year. On Friday, eighth graders visited Washtenaw International High School (WIHI), concluding our high school visits for 2017. In February, we’ll head to Huron High.

We’ve continued to be busy exploring with the Arduinos in science class. In addition to working with the Arduinos (and related components, such as sensors and motors), Sam has also been teaching the students about electricity, circuits, voltage, resistance, current, and Ohm’s law. On Thursday, we visited the UM School of Engineering Design Expo, where SK students spent the afternoon learning about a wide variety of UM engineering students’ projects and engaging in conversations with the UM student presenters. The 7-8s were excited to see that many of the UM students’ projects used Arduinos, too.

Three of our students’ proposals were selected to be part of the Michigan Student Caucus platform. As such, they will present their proposals at a special hearing in Lansing next week with a committee of state legislators. They’ll also be sharing their proposals at next Friday’s morning meeting (12/15).

Students are also making their way into Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano. The themes of the novel, including the role of technology in society, the future of an automated world, and the tension between humans and the machines they create and use, are becoming even more relevant as we delve into our current project on autonomous vehicles.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 11/27/17

This week, we started wrapping up our Michigan Student Caucus work by posting proposals on the site and rating the proposals of others. For the next few days, students will read through and comment on one another’s proposals in order to determine the top proposals that will make up the Michigan Student Caucus platform. On December 13, we’ll head to Lansing (with other MSC participants) to present the platform to an ad hoc committee of legislators invested in civic engagement.

The culmination of one project also signals the beginning of the next project. Under Sam’s direction, students started working through a set of introductory Arduino exercises in order to get comfortable with the programming environment and learn about the functionality of both the microcontrollers themselves and the additional components (resistors, LEDs, sensors, etc.) that we’ll be using in the next few weeks. Students worked through the exercises and documented all of their successes, challenges, and observations in their engineering notebooks. Eventually, students will work in design teams to build autonomous vehicles that complete different tasks.

In that vein, we welcomed three engineers into our class to talk about their work and the role of documentation in their work. Thanks to Charles Hardin, Sarah Kingham, and Jean-Marie Rouillard for sharing their experiences and stories with us.

We also started reading Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, which will ask students to think deeply about the potential implications of automation.

On Friday, the eighth graders continued their high school visits with a trip to Washtenaw Technical Middle College (WTMC), located on the campus of Washtenaw Community College.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 11/6/17

During this short week, we welcomed Elena Brennan of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency into our class to talk with us about youth in the criminal justice system. Some of our students have been focusing their research on youth in the criminal justice system for their Michigan Student Caucus projects and we invited Elena to our class to talk with us about MCCD’s “Raise the Age” campaign (which aims to raise the age at which a young person who enters the criminal justice system is considered an “adult”).

Students also continued to work on their Constitution skits (to be performed on 11/21 at 9am in the middle school commons) and their Michigan Student Caucus proposals. They are also getting excited for next week’s Music Cafe and they hope to see the whole SK community at the Cafe on 11/17.

On Friday, the eighth graders continued their visits to local high schools with a trip to Community High School.

Arduino time

Science is off to a blinking, fading, and electrifying start. This week, we've been working through Arduino introductory exercises to get familiar with the programming environment and the related components. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Weekly overview - week of 10/30/17

We hope you had a happy and safe Halloween. We had a wonderful time leading the parade and seeing all of the creative costumes.

This week, inspired by conversations borne out of our visit to City Hall, we researched and debated the deer cull in Ann Arbor. This was our second fishbowl debate of the year and just as lively as the first.

We also continued work on individual consultations with experts in students’ selected topic areas. Students have practiced reaching out to professionals via email and conducting phone and email interviews. They are now working to summarize their findings as they prepare their final Michigan Student Caucus proposals.

In English this week, we started with an introduction to poetic vocabulary and the concept of scansion. After we practiced identifying iambic feet and learning about the history of the sonnet, we did an initial reading of Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”). We’ll return to this form (the sonnet) in the near future in order to explore the way that it has changed over time and the way that modern poets use it today.

On Thursday, we welcomed Mohamed Abouelenien, a UM computer science professor who is affiliated with the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor, to talk with us about the fundamental tenets of Islam and the harmful stereotypes Muslims face today. As we’ve been studying the workings of American government (on federal, state, and local levels), we’ve done so with an eye toward the evolving understanding of who Americans are and how the concept of “an American” has grown more inclusive over time.

On Friday, the eighth graders continued their visits to local high schools with a trip to Rudolf Steiner High School.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Halloween 2017

Spooky and charming and delightfully creative (which could describe our class often but rings especially true on Halloween)...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Our visit to City Hall

This afternoon, we took the city bus to City Hall to meet with Council member Chuck Warpehoski. He spoke with us about the Gelman dioxane plume, the rights of non-binary people in Ann Arbor, and the ways in which local government intersects with state and federal laws on both of these issues. These topics, in particular, are areas of study for some of our students in their work in the Michigan Student Caucus. 

After our discussion, Mr. Warpehoski took us on a tour of council chambers and shared his own story about deciding to run for public office.

Tremendous thanks to Mr. Warpehoski for a fascinating and thought-provoking visit.

Weekly overview - week of 10/16/17

We started the week with a zine making workshop with special guest and longtime friend of SK, Megan Gilson. After giving us a brief history of zines, Megan led us through exercised where we brainstormed how we use words to help change minds and then, if given the chance, what systems (on a school, state, or national level) we might want to change. Students then set to work developing their ideas and creating their own small zines. This idea of students as change-makers with something to say intersected nicely with the work that the students on the Michigan Student Caucus (MSC) site.

On that MSC front, students shared their media artifacts (including a game, several podcasts, two original infographics, and several informational articles) with their peers on the site. They are now starting the process of seeking expert “consultants” to help them learn more about their issue and to give them feedback on their potential solutions to the problems they’ve identified.

On Thursday, we returned to the concept of tools that change people and vice versa (a lens that we introduced at Tillers in September and will return to when we start our autonomous vehicle project in November). Jim Horton, expert printmaker and woodcarver, joined us with a moveable press and taught us how to set type, ink leaves, and print our own bookmarks. Jim also taught us about the history of the press and led us in a discussion of the ways in which printmaking technology has changed over time.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Printing with Jim Horton

On Thursday, we welcomed Jim Horton, renowned local artist and printer, into our class. Jim taught us about the history of printing and then taught us how to set and print our own bookmarks. We also inked gingko leaves and used them as illustrations. 

Thinking about tools and the way that people have used them over time helps us to remember that our experiences shape our world-views. This thinking gives us an opportunity to try to expand our thinking and ask complicated questions (especially about technology but about other topics, too). 

Tremendous thanks to Jim for a delightful and engaging afternoon. 

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