Friday, December 11, 2015

Week 14 -- Fractals!

In math we've been looking at fractals. We watched a great Nova program. Personally, I find many aspects of mathematics beautiful but, none more pleasing aesthetically. The film uses examples of computer animation and Star Wars [although, it's episode Six <shudder>] as irresistible hooks it the attention centers of the tween mind.

My small math group made a Fractal Tree out of Sierpinski Triangles and a small branching fractal, you can see it in the 5-6 Commons. We discussed adding another row of pages, but the six kids in class was the exact number needed for each to make one of the right-side up triangles for a three-row "tree".


Friday, December 4, 2015

Week 13 -- Why'd You Have to Go and Make Things So Complicated?

....because we're talking about the real world and not some carefully selected cross section picked to highlight some specific concept.

In part because of rehearsals for the play, this week has been lower on written assignments and heavier on discussion and research.

We've begun our look at our next theme: Systems. We're taking a look at the political, social and economic systems of various European and Middle-Eastern countries, with a specific eye toward the refugee crisis in Syria.

One of the my favorite kid comments this week led to the title of this post. In response to this video:
A child said something to the effect of, "All of this is really complicated and it doesn't really make sense, why can't we just look at one piece at a time."
It's a reasonable response to a hideously involved, situation with it's roots in 1500+ years of religious, social and cultural conflict. However, it is something that we can tease a lot out of.
Regardless, instead of teaching a lesson about European Geography and asking kids to fill out an endless line of blank maps, the kids are developing a real sense of what countries are why as they think about the flow of refugees through Europe.

To further our understanding of European governments, we took a detour to look a little bit at our own.
My initial attempt to explain the EU and the flow of refugees got complex.

In math class, we've been discussing proportions. Here Maddy is explaining how to solve one.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Week 11 -- The Importance of Being Bad: Because It's the Only Way You Can Get Good

This week has been project heavy. In science the kids have been working on assembling their skeleton models. In homeroom, we spent the first half of the week working furiously to finish writing and editing material for the Identity books, so that we could begin final assembly of the books on Thursday. As frequently happens the first time through a project, things are taking a little longer than we expected and the books might not be done before Thanksgiving as I had hoped.

Monica came to show us how to start our books and sew in extra pages.
There was a lot of frustration around the book-making process. It turns out that punching holes and sewing stitches in a prescribed way is pretty difficult. We had a great class discussion Thursday afternoon and into Friday morning about dealing with frustration and not expecting everything to work perfectly the first time. Basically, to get good at something, you're going to have to be bad at it for a while. Learning from the initial failures is a key aspect of developing skills. 

These situations can be especially difficult for some children and corresponding growth message hard to hear.  Especially for children who are used to many activities coming very naturally or who are used to working on projects that allow more latitude in their execution. It is important, and necessary, for children, especially at this age, to develop resilience and perseverance when encountering unfamiliar and difficult tasks.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Week 10 -- HeArts and Minds (and Lungs and Music)

Between preparing for Friday night's performances; a field trip to the Village Theater in Canton to see an art exhibit from last week's guest artist, and SK-alum parent, Leslie Sobel; continuing to work on proof-reading and editing works for our Identity books; and Friday science class with, fresh from the butcher, hearts and lungs to investigate, this week has completely flown by.

In the linked video Christopher and Owen do a peer edit. Below some pics from the week:

Leslie Sobel leads a tour of her artwork at the Village Theater in Canton. 
Lisa shows the class how to build a simple model of the lungs.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Week 9 -- Please Wait, I Have to Find a Pelvis for Someone

Peer Editing Documents for the Identity Projects

There was no Checkout this week, so don't worry if your child didn't bring home their Weekly Reflection, we didn't do one!

Well, why not? What have you been doing? 

The work on our Identity Book project has moved from the writing to editing stage. We've been doing reciprocal peer reviews and having conversations about the point of editing, specifically with an eye towards writing with a specific audience in mind. (We had a really funny discussion about the language you'd use for arranging a play date with a friend, versus asking your boss for a meeting. We pretty much agreed that "Yo d00d, wanna get 2gether for sum gamz," is alright for friends. But, "Can haz meetz," probably wasn't a good choice for an email to the boss."

In science class, we (mostly) finished assembling our skeleton's and digestive system paper models. These will eventually be put on display once we've finished adding in the other body systems.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Week 8 -- Conferences and Halloween Parade

After waxing philosophical last week, I've been under the weather this week, so I'm keeping things short, sweet and practical:

Three Reminders:
Conferences and Time Change -- Don't forget to set your clock ahead Saturday night. Most of you are coming on Monday or Tuesday for a conference.

Identity Project -- This week we narrowed the focus of our Identity projects. As a group we, came to consensus that everyone wanted to build their own list of work to include in the project and so one of the assignments for the week was for each person to create a Table of Contents for their forthcoming book. The next couple of weeks will focus on editing and polishing the documents that were selected.

Checkout Reflection Document -- Most weeks your child should come home with a "Checkout Reflection" sheet, as well as some of the classwork from the week. The checkout reflection, in addition to asking the students to reflect about how the week has gone and providing frequent feedback to me, also is a record of what assignments still need to be completed and thus what your child should be working on for class over the weekend (if anything).
This week, with no school on Monday or Tuesday, we spent a little extra time making sure everyone had their Checkout Reflections done and that any work remaining made it into backpacks for the journey home.

And Now Fun Photos from the Week and Halloween:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Week 7 -- Some Philosophy and 10 Things

On Monday this week I (as well as Jason, Karl and Rachel) was privileged to attend and present at the AIMS (the local independent school organization) conference. The conference theme was "C's of 21st Century Learning: Choice, Collaboration, Communication, Conscientious Living, Creativity, Critical Thinking".

Like living in Ann Arbor, teaching at Summers-Knoll sometimes is a bubble of awesome surrounded by reality.  The prevailing paradigm of education in the last 15 years has been on accountability, assessment and performance. Even our cousin independent schools have largely followed step, and while the purpose of this conference was to push a 21st learning model, I heard more than once from other teachers comments along the lines of, "My class covers late 19th and early 20th century American History, so none of this really applies; there is just some much content I have to cover and I can't squeeze any more in."

It is a joy to teach at a school where we have freedom from rigid expectations about the content that *must* be covered in a particular subject. Personally, I am coming to believe more and more strongly that one of the bogs of modern schools is an attachment to a knowledge-based curriculum in content areas that were first designed more than 120 years ago by the Committee of Ten.

Summers-Knoll's actually lives the 5 C's mentioned above, especially in using Responsive Models of education that see children as important agents (though not sole proprietors) in the diachronic shaping of their own learning.

In my classroom this year, I am most proud of the ongoing "10 Things" that my students have been engaging in as part of their work each week. What I had originally intended as an exercise about the importance of being able to memorize content in a timely fashion on a topic of immediate interest, has evolved to be some combination of Google's Genius Time, independent and self-motivated research, and a (brief) weekly progress update given to the whole class.

Christopher's 10 Things has led him to learn Javascript. 
He's now helping Kaden and Owen learn it while the rest 
of the class is rehearsing for the play.
In the linked video Becca talks about Badgers.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Week 6

A few bureaucratic announcements before the meaty bits:

Conference Sign-Up:

I'll be sending a separate email with conference sign-up information. There will be a link to a google spreadsheet with dates and times for which parents can sign up. All the times are either immediately before school or on Monday November 2.

AMC 8 Reminder/Sign up:

The AMC 8 (American Mathematics Competition) test will be administered on November 17 to all students in Igor's math group and to any other middle school students who inform me of their interest (by email or in writing) by November 11.
For more information look to Igor's previous email or the website: AMC-8.

The Meaty Bits:

"Where I'm From" lessons:

We began to build poems for our Identity books based on this poem and the accompanying video inspired by the original poem.  So far, we've read the poem, identified examples of figurative language within the poem that stuck with each of us, thought about why that was, and begun a brainstorm about events and thoughts from our lives to include in our own versions of the poem. The first drafts of our own versions will be worked on next week, and the final versions will be included in the Identity Books at the end of the theme.  

Checkout System:

This week was also our first week with a formal checkout. Your child should have come home with, at a minimum, a "Things to Do List" and a "Checkout Reflection" document. These, in conjunction, are used to provide the students a system for tracking what needs to be completed for the week and what still remains at the end of the day Friday and thus needs to be completed over the weekend.

Most children do not check out on Friday every or even most weeks, so please don't be upset with your child if they brought some things home to work on this weekend. The goal here is for the students to take control of their own workflows and understand that the natural consequence of not completing assignments during the time allotted in school is that there is work left to be done on the weekend. So, if you want to encourage or nudge them over the weekend to have things done for Monday, go ahead.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Week 5 -- Interviews

This short week was a great time to go further with our writing and thinking about Identity.

We worked to further develop our descriptive writing using the "Favorite Thing" writing prompt from last week. In pairs or troikas, everyone took a writing piece from someone else and tried to make an accurate drawing of the object based solely on the written description. This led everyone to see the need for enhanced details in their descriptive writing, and we'll be continuing to revise these.

Can you guess what they are?


In a similar spirit, the class also began thinking about interviews and documenting information about another person. We first worked to write useful questions and discussed how to introductory questions to draw out the speaker and then follow up with more open-ended questions and follow-ups to enrich the quality of the responses.

The "Favorite Things" writings and interviews will both be in the Identity project books.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Week 4: Figurative and Descriptive Language; How Long Are Your Guts; Library Trip

This week was quite busy for our class. In homeroom we continued to work on writing autobiographical content; we transcribed into the computer and edited our autobiographical anecdotes, and wrote another piece describing our favorite objects. We discussed figurative language, especially similes and metaphors, as tools for helping the reader to get more engaged in our writing.

We finished the week talking about the checkout system and wrote our first Weekly Reflections. (Parents, ask your student to see theirs, it's supposed to come home every Friday from now on.)

Science and Art class furthered the Identity theme as well:

In Science class we unrolled our models of the digestive system. 
In Art, we began working on self-portraits in the
style of a known artist. (In this case Tyree Guyton.)
On Thursday we took a spontaneous trip to the AADL to look at
autobiographies, with an eye toward improving our own writing.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Week 3: Learning Styles, Art, Science

Monday morning we (with Jason's class) led the all school assembly. The kids performed a number of short skits about their experiences at the Global Village. We followed up on this in homeroom with a writing assignment reflecting on the experience.

We also continued our look at Identity in a more analytic way. 

Becca helps her partner with the Learning Style Inventory

On Monday we looked at the Birmingham Learning Style Inventory in preparation for helping the students in Mrs. Carpenter's First and Second Grade class take the same test.

Tuesday morning we joined Mrs. Carpenter's class to administer the test. Our class was very surprised by the wider variety of learning styles shown by the younger children and we had a wonderful discussion about why some first graders might still need help reading the test at all, while others could do all of it without any help from their older partner.

This really broadened the 5-6 students perspectives on how and when they might be able to do any given task. (The specific example was reading--there is some connection between the ability to finely control the muscles of the eyes and reading fluency.)

We wrapped up the learning styles discussion with another written reflection about the experience of taking the test, administering the test to a younger student and thinking about whether or not we agreed with the results of the test.

Later in the the week we had a trip to the UMMA with Monica

We saw and drew copies of artwork by Julian Schnabel. This will be the start of some work into portraiture.
(I'd liked to have included some pictures but all the exhibits were "no photography allowed." Instead here is everyone in the big elevator.)

In Science class we've been learning about the human body. 

(If you look closely you can see the digestive system on Rushil's paper.)

And, a bonus picture from the mini-golf elective trip to Putterz to measure the course.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Week 2: Autobiography, Science! and the Global Village

This week our class continued to work on the Identity theme.
We had a conversation about the basics of reporting on true events, as opposed to telling a story.

Can you see the 5 W's on the board?
    Everyone worked on a writing an autobiographical narrative. We'll be doing more writing about ourselves as the identity theme continues.

In Science, Dr. J presented the kids with the challenge of replicating a "device" that she showed them given a small set of available materials.

Assignments and "grades".
This was the end of the first 5-day period (usually it will be M-F, but this time it was W-W). Each week we'll go over the assignments for that week. This week we also talked about what the different marks on returned papers mean. I'll be talking more about this on Thursday at Curriculum Night.

The week culminated with our trip to the Global Village at Howell Nature Center. Jason documented the experience of all the 5-6s on his Twitter feed and blog.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Week 1: Let's Talk About Community (Parks and Rec is later)

This week was spent building good classroom community and looking at concepts related to the Identity theme, especially Personal and Community Identities.

In addition to the beginning of school introduction to the classroom, we talked about mutual responsibility for sharing the space and resources, and also "Yours, Mine and Ours."

We had a good discussion and found some useful language around the idea of explicit vs. implicit permission. For example, glue sticks are a shared resource, everyone is free to use them without asking, but we all need to take responsibility for returning them when we're done. The insides of desks belong only to one person and unless you ask every time (get explicit permission) you shouldn't be going into someone else's desk.

Following on Tuesday's topic, we began the day with a whole school (Community) meeting. Our morning activity was a simulation, discussion and writing prompt on the "Tragedy of the Commons."

We found many reasons why people might act contrary to their own long term interests and had a lively conversation about how/why the government might want to regulate an industry, the tax burden of doing so effectively and the impact of overuse of the commons on long-term sustainability.
The writing prompt asked "What do you think would be different about the way people fish if everyone had their own lake and couldn't fish anywhere else?"

We finished the day on Friday with a fairly nuanced (for middle school) discussion of race, ethnicity, prejudice, discrimination, and bias that ranged from Rosa Parks to employment discrimination and rights afforded by the Constitution.

We'll continue discussing sharing, community, and social justice much more as part of the ongoing Identity theme.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Welcome to the 2015-2016

Well, you found Sam's Homeroom Blog...
There doesn't seem to be anything here...

That's because school hasn't started yet!

Most general communication to the whole class will be done through the blog rather than emails.

Bookmark this page or, even better, set up to receive updates via email. (Enter your email address on the right side of this page in the box under where is says "Follow by Email".)

So, send the kids outside to enjoy the weekend and we'll all be ready to jump into the school year on Tuesday.