Monday, June 9, 2014

Graduation Day, Class of 2014

Graduation Day is one of my favorite celebrations of the year. The graduation students played and sang fabulous music, Karl spoke wise and witty words, the Kindergarteners recited sweetly, and there was much rejoicing. It is also a day that pulls at my heart. Today we celebrated the moving up and moving on of Saul, Denali, Lily, Jonathan and Ryan. We also celebrated the moving up to middle school of fifteen young 4th graders - awesome and wonderful creatures - but with our eighth graders we also have to say goodbye.

Each year I write poems for the graduating classes; a joint poem for the fourth grade and an individual poem for each of the eighth grade graduates. It is part of our ritual to have each child stand with me on the platform and listen to their poem. It is poignant moment for me, to have that opportunity to write for them and about them, and let them know how much they mean to us, and also at that same moment to send them off to new adventures.

Class of 2014, please know that you are loved. Come back and visit often.

Here are the poems:

Eighth Grade

Ode to Saul
O Saul, whose brain is like a city
Where buildings reach into the sky,
And streets make complicated patterns
Losing countless passers-by…

O Saul, the city of your brain
Is home to thoughts and contemplations,
Who ride their bikes to work each day
Through the streets of expectation.

Saul, the city is beautiful.
The reason why it is beautiful
Is that your heart is beautiful.
Over the city, the sun of kindness shines.

Ryan throws down his gauntlet to the world.
“I challenge you, World!” he exclaims,
And the world accepts the challenge
But it knows it cannot manage
So it goes and packs its baggage
And runs away in shame.

Ryan climbs a mountain
Just because it’s there.
And the mountain throws ice storms at him,
And avalanches fall on him,
And sometimes lava pours on him,
But Ryan doesn’t care.

Ryan is the emperor
Of all that he surveys.
And he, like Alexander
(That Ancient Greek commander)
Seeks out new worlds to conquer
And earns eternal praise.

Denali is a lake of calm, calm water.
See how softly the reflections lie on the surface?
Not a ripple.
Not a wave.
Lake Denali smiles in the sunlight.

Take a small boat, and head across that water.
At some point you may feel, beneath the surface
Something ripple,
Someone wave,
Lake Denali is deep beneath the light.

There are all kinds of things that happen in that water;
Parties going on below the surface...
Laughter ripples,
Paintbrushes wave
With brilliant color that catches the light.

Denali is a lake of calm, calm water,
And under those reflections on the surface
Magic and mischief
Music and mayhem
Dance in the watery light.

Lily thinks
Lily thinks carefully
Lily thinks carefully and she acts.
Lily acts
Lily acts purposefully
Lily acts purposefully and she loves.
Lily loves
Lily loves with an open heart
Lily loves with an open heart and she laughs
Lily laughs
Lily laughs radiantly
Lily laughs radiantly and she sings
Lily sings
Lily sings wondrously
Lily sings wondrously and with life
Lily lives
Lily lives joyfully
Lily lives joyfully and with thought
Lily thinks carefully and she acts purposefully and she loves with an open heart and she laughs radiantly and she sings wondrously and she lives joyfully
Lily is in our hearts

Jonathan is an explorer,
And here’s how explorers play:
They find new paths no matter
How hard or rough the way.

Jonathan treks through the jungle,
Carving his own kind of track.
He pushes through vines and branches
and sometimes they push back.

Jonathan bounces up again,
And shakes off the leaves and dirt.
He smiles up into the sunlight
and shrugs away his hurt.

When there’s a monstrous fallen tree
That blocks the way ahead,
Jonathan jumps right over it
And bumps into the branch overhead.

Jonathan bounces back again,
And rubs his head with a smile.
He says, “I’ll find my own path,
And I’ll do it with personal style.”

Jonathan returns from the jungle,
With a fascinating map
Showing every place he tripped
And every place he bounced right up,
Because to get all the way through a jungle,
There are times when it makes you fumble,
And times when it makes you stumble,
For that is the way of a jungle,
And a true explorer jumps back up.

Jonathan is an explorer,
And as every explorer knows
The joy is in the adventure
And that’s how the spirit grows.

Fourth grade

The FourthGradeGrad Project (inspired by the Heidelberg Project)

In the town of Summers-Knoll
There is a lovely neighborhood
Called FourthGradeGraduate Avenue
With houses, gardens, woods.

There’s the Kit house. It opens on the woods, and all the trees reach in their branches until the whole house looks like a forest. Animals run in and out. The Kit house is connected to the Ariana house, which has a stream running through it, and a prairie. Butterflies dance abundantly.

The Clementine house is woven of bright yarns and fabrics, with a rooftop of folded paper and a garden that grows sequins and bright buttons. If you look in through the windows you will see that every room is painted like a different world.

The Oliver G house makes sounds. Different music comes out through every window, and as it comes out it turns into brightly colored words in crazy fonts that run all over the house. Nothing is the same for longer than a minute and a half. Every so often the front of the house folds down and reveals a stage, where brilliant comic plays are performed by Oliver G himself and his closest friends, to the delight of the neighborhood.

The Miriam house is also a performing house. The walls are made of moving dancers, and as they leap and pirouette the house shimmers and shifts and reforms, flowing and misty with gauze and silk. Miriam herself can be seen from time to time, poised en pointe on the balcony.

The Maddy house is a house of books. It is connected to the Becca house, also made of books, and between the two of them they have a maze that people can enter and read their way around until they are completely lost. People have been known to enter these houses and never come out again, living the rest of their lives inside the worlds of different books. Sometimes you meet a character coming out, who has accidentally stepped out of its book and is wandering around the maze too. I met Harry Potter himself, coming out of the Becca house. It was SO COOL. But he looked a little confused.

The Niko house is wound around with stories. The walls tell the stories, and the words grow into pictures on the outside. The house is surrounded by his friends, listening to the stories the walls tell and trying to avoid the zombies, who are always hanging around hoping to be part of the story.

There’s a whole block of houses covered in Magic cards. The Elliot house, the Andrés house and the Ben house are all thick with cards so you can’t see the walls or roof at all. The cards are constantly visiting or having contests of strength, with Pyromasters and Callers of Beasts and Legendary Creatures and Planeswalkers all playing tricks on each other. Sometimes the whole block bursts into flames for a second, or transforms into a dragon, and then Elliot or Ben or Andrés has to go and fix it so it doesn’t wreck the whole neighborhood.

The Owen house is a gigantic soccer ball. The door looks like the English flag, the Red Cross of St. George. If you ring the doorbell, it sounds like a huge crowd cheering, but if you open the door you will get bopped on the head by a soccer ball. Owen’s guests are famous soccer players from the history of the game, and they play all over the house all the time, so soccer balls are flying everywhere. Watch out.

The Oli S. house has been constructed out of Minecraft pieces. Oli goes on regular trips to other planets to gather construction materials. It’s an enormous house. It goes up and up, but also down and down into the earth, with endless new developments being made. If you actually want to talk to Oli you have to make an appointment. You can’t just drop by - his house goes on for miles and he may be a loooooong way away.

The Henry house is virtual. It is made of code. Henry reprograms it from time to time, whenever he wants a different look. Right now it is a mansion, but a couple of days ago I walked by and I’m sure it was a Winnebago. Henry programs gardens all around it, where he grows virtual vegetables which he cooks and eats for dinner. He shares them with a virtual groundhog who comes by and nibbles in the garden from time to time. (Note: Henry is not actually graduating from 4th grade - he is moving up into 4th grade. His contribution here is to feed Eva's horses, below.)

The Eva house is a stable. Horses come and go. The Eva house is full of hay and has a huge yard where the horses race each other and practice jumping over the fences out into the neighborhood. Sometimes they visit the Henry house, and help themselves to some good carrots or apples from the virtual garden, but they always complain that the food there isn’t very filling.

The Adri house is a mass of singing and acrobatics. It is a swirl of bright colors, and every few minutes it plays a fanfare. Ideas pop out through the windows and float away on the breeze like bubbles.

The neighborhood is beautiful,
Full of life and sound.
Thank you, Fourth Grade Graduates
We’ll be seeing you around!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The timeline project

The Timeline Project is a service project that the 3rd and 4th graders have been working on to benefit the whole school. Spanning 10,000 years, the line will run all around the first floor of the school building, starting in the middle school commons outside the faculty lounge. It will run around the lunchroom, through the library, along the passage to the kindergarten classroom and back, past the courtyard and my office up to the art room, picking up again outside Chris's room, running along the passage and back into the lunchroom where it ends, here, at 2013. We've left plenty of space at the end here, as we know that current affairs will need plenty of real estate. 

The whole school is invited to enter interesting dates and historical information as material comes up in their studies. We anticipate that the timeline will gradually become a collective record of the school's engagement with history. The measuring, calculating, cutting, inking, and taping has been an epic feat in its own right. The 3rd and 4th graders are honored to present this work to the school. 

Timeline factory

We're very close! First piece going up in two minutes!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Praising process and grit

It's not news that children develop better coping skills, internal motivation, self-esteem, skills and productivity when their efforts are recognized rather than their innate abilities ("Look how far your hard work has brought you," rather than "You're so smart!"). This article underlines the importance of this for girls in particular.

I'd emphasize this same point for gifted kids in particular, whose identity is in grave danger of being bound up with their intelligence, and who are often particularly susceptible to debilitating perfectionism. Students who can't get started on work, who procrastinate, have anxiety attacks, develop distraction techniques, cry, rush their work ("of course it's no good - I didn't try to make it good") - all these can be symptoms, not of lack of ability to do the work, but lack of ability to take the risk of not being perfect at first attempt. It is crucially important to support effort and celebrate the learning process that comes from mistakes.  

When kids flunk on their assignments - and sometimes they do, even our little darlings - it's  a great way to learn that their teacher trusts and respects them enough to allow them to learn from that and engage with the work again, properly. Effective learning takes effort, practice, and the knowledge that you are part of a network of people who care enough about you that they help you through avoidance and don't let you give in to insecurity. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Time for an update!

Another month has flown by, and there is more to share with you from an educational, programmatic perspective. Again, this is general information, not a call to action. Please feel free to skim to the parts that interest you.

The Alternative Athletic Association
As you know, Karl has connected with Upland Hills School in Oakland County, and The Friends School in Detroit - two warm, friendly, small independent schools with open hearts - to form an Alternative Athletic Association. The only league where schools write thank-you notes after competitions, the AAA continues in November with Summers-Knoll's middle schoolers welcoming visitors from Upland Hills, and getting on the bus to visit the Friends School. We don't have any scores to report, because thus far our games haven't lent themselves readily to statistics: ropes courses, gaga ball, parkour, and Calvinball.

This is a program that could expand to other schools in the future. At the moment we're keeping it small. The kids are having a blast, making new friends, and developing their team skills and sportsmanship in the process. We're enjoying the connection to other schools, and some great conversations are coming of it.

While we're on athletics, a completely different note:

PE Assistant
Adam Checkle, who has been so ably supporting Shan as PE assistant (a necessary role as Shan does so much work with the students off-site where the presence of a second adult is a crucial part of the picture) has moved on. His goal is to work as a classroom teacher, and he is actively pursuing that goal. We are sad to see him go, but of course we fully support him and wish him the very best in finding work that fits his needs.

This leaves us without a dedicated PE assistant at this point. Nick Taylor, my classroom assistant, is taking the time to support the PE program as a temporary measure. We do need to find another person, however, and will be searching for a really great, warm, active, person who can be Shan's assistant in this program. If you have thoughts, please don't hesitate to let me know.

The Odyssey
The play is cast, rehearsals have started, Karl is working like a demon with actors of all heights and ages, and excitement is swirling around the school. You've seen messages inviting you to get involved - this is truly a whole-community event. All faculty, staff, classes, parents, as well as their pets (no joke, there is a dog in this play) are encouraged to be a part of this vibrant experience. With seventy-two SK students in the cast, The Odyssey is a quintessential example of project-based learning. The kindergartners are the sheep; third and fourth graders are servants, suitors, sailors, shades, and swine; first and second graders are gods and goddesses; middle school students handle everybody else. The seventh and eighth graders are reading eleven different versions of the story--prose, poetry, children's versions, Caribbean vernacular, screenplays . . . . Through it all, they have been considering the distinction between quest and homecoming, and writing essays and creative pieces on that theme.

Our first production meeting, set up for any interested volunteers, will be on Wednesday, November 6, from 11:30 to 12:30. We are looking for assistance in designing and building costumes, putting the stage together, gathering amphorae, arrows, and other props, and wrangling those 72 actors.

A side effect of all this has been to make the younger children crazy for acting. Impromptu performances happen all the time (and more "promptu" ones also, like the performance of "The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, performed by Elaine's class for an audience of 3rd/4th graders and Kindergarteners).

The 7th and 8th graders have been up to their ears in the past couple of weeks, presenting their Explorations projects. (Each theme culminates with individual projects. These projects are shown to peers, families, and faculty members in Exhibitions--two short lessons, packed with activity and newfound expertise.) Our set of Explorers Exhibitions ran from October 29 to November 5.

Among the twenty-four lessons taught were Ponce de Leon (in character); Mars rovers; life on Mars; the Silk Road (including attendees bartering Halloween candy); Eurycleia, Penelope's loyal maidservant; minimalism in music; tours of New York City, London, Antarctica, and Maastricht; early navigation and cartography; early cinema; and the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. (Attendees were spared this experience.)

Our next round of Exhibitions will take place in the second week of January, engaging the theme of Identity.

Theme Work
We are embarking on the theme of Identity, and in many cases it is blending magically with our Exploration work. (One example: the Out of Eden walk undertaken by Paul Salopek explores the identity of human beings as well as the geography of their progress across the planet.) It also brings in opportunities for a delightful shift in focus. No matter what your background, chances are you are celebrating something around this time of year, and that this is meaningful to your family and your heritage. So as the holidays come closer, some of our classrooms will be inviting families in to share their own identity through celebration. At the same time, students will be looking at the science of identity - DNA and genetic studies of different kinds. Children will be reflecting on what makes them themselves in all kinds of different ways. Stay tuned with the blogs to see how this all develops.

Community Partnerships
The 5/6 class is engaged in a project based in County Farm Park, with the support of naturalists from the University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor. Each student is designing a study to collect and analyze data. (An example: one student is learning how to track deer activity throughout the park. As he finds evidence of deer trails, he'll add them to a map. He'll then use that data to try to determine their habits and diet, studying deer population that is specific to County Farm Park.) Each student will be tackling a wholly unique project in this fashion. Seed dispersal, water flow, evidence of glacial activity, squirrel behaviors, and fungi populations are a sampling of some of the other studies. The naturalists who are partnering with us offer our students the mentorship and example of experts from the community. Students plan to publish their studies at the end of the year. This is also tying in with work they are doing in Math, on contours and maps.

5th-8th grades continue to partner with the Sweetland Center for Writing - thank you to Anne Gere for the continuing inspiration and support.

The 3rd/4th grade "Walks with Experts" series continues. So far our visitors have included Tom Mansell (sound artist - thank you to Christine Hume for the connection), Theresa and Brad Angelini (the architects who designed our school), A. Van Jordan (poet - thank you to Peter Ho Davies for the connection), and this week we are looking forward to Amy Kulper (Amy is an architect but also a historian, and will be focusing on history for her walk). Coming up we have a botanist and a police officer with his dog. We anticipate that this series will run all through the year.

Our own Christopher Matthews, father of Eliza Braunschneider in 1st grade, has written an astonishing poem about the journey of Lewis and Clark, which a couple of different classes (1st/2nd and 3rd/4th) will be working with. It's a huge enrichment and a great gift to the school to have parents who share their talents with us so generously. It builds on the work the younger kids have been doing on Lewis and Clark for the Exploration theme (lots of hands-on activities like making candles, Great Plains stew, moccasins, and preserved fruit, as well as excursions into the field to make notes and to take samples of flowers and leaves like The Corps of Discovery did).

On a similar poetic note, Christine Hume has arranged for visual poet Douglas Kearney to do a workshop with our 3rd and 4th graders on November 6th - poetry abounds in our elementary school. This promises to be enormously exciting.

We had a soul-stirring experience with Mark Stone and Dan Piccolo, who ran workshops and performed an interactive World Music concert for all our students. It was vibrant, beautiful, compelling stuff - thank you to Josh for making it happen. Mark and Dan also stayed for lunch to chat with our faculty, and we were joined by Jenny Koppera, a theatre professional with an interest in global theatre for kids, and James Chaffers, an architect who has worked in Europe and Africa, and who was a guiding light in the development of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC (thank you, Amy Kulper, for the connection). It was a lovely, lovely lunch with many interesting conversations which I know are continuing to happen between teachers and our guests. It will be fascinating to see where this might lead.

Kindergarteners have forged an on-going relationship with the University of Michigan Hospital Child Care Centre, where several of our children attended preschool and our own Val used to teach. This gives our smallest students the opportunity to be the big kids, and to offer love and guidance to the preschoolers when they visit them at the UMHCCC.

Josh is starting a series of relaxed evenings to share the children's music with the community. We are calling them Music Cafe evenings, and the first one, focusing on middle school, will be on November 21st. You should have received an email from Karen with details on this. Josh's goal here is to break down the barrier between music at home and music at school, and have the children identify as musicians whose musical passion is integrated into every part of their lives. As such, they are encouraged to bring music from outside school to perform at the Music Cafe.

As you all know, the math books are only part of the picture, providing structure and necessary practice. Math abounds with activities, also, that bring excitement and deeper understanding to the subject. 3rd and 4th graders have started on some programming work, with the majority studying the Tynkers program, and a small group studying robotics with Dr. George with a view to training others later. All classes are doing work that brings math alive, from cutting up potatoes and studying County Farm Park contour maps, to cube nets, to calendar games at kindergarten level that support developing readers as well as budding mathematicians.

Always fun, always exciting, always popular, EBs are in full swing after only one week, as we have changed the format to twice-a-week sessions. It's a lovely way to mix up the classes (my poetry EB has 3rd-7th grade participants) and the atmosphere that pervades the building as children head to their different EBs has a unique kind of energy to it. The buzz is palpable. EBs this session include Photography, Bread Baking (and culture), Paper Airplanes (and rockets), and Forensics for the little ones, and Poetry, Gardening, Card Games, Africa, and Science FIction for the older ones. Great stuff.

Costumes for EcoFair were, as ever, imaginative, creative, adorable, and amazing. A big thanks to you and your children for making this celebration so much fun and so memorable again this year. The parade was a blast. Next year, weather permitting, we will take it outside and walk around Arbor Hills Crossing mall with it. The world needs to know!

That's it for now - please do check your teacher's blog for more details, and read the blogs that other teachers write, too. There's some really interesting stuff happening in this school, and it's just not possible to capture it all here. I'm grateful to the faculty, the children, and all of you for the opportunity to work in such a vibrant place - much of this is on-going, but when you think that this represents a month at SK, you can perhaps see how magical it is to work in such a place. Please continue to bring your thoughts, expertise, connections and vitality to share with us - you are a vital part of the energy that drives this school.

Thank you all for your support and warmth, and for sharing your children with us. Please let me know if you have any questions at all.

Monday, November 4, 2013

ADHD event

Here's a great opportunity to attend a program on ADHD, free and open to all,presented by Dr. Charles Krasnow at the WISD. Dr. Krasnow is a local psychiatrist specializing in pediatric and adolescent psychiatry, and his talk promises to be useful and interesting. Details can be found on the Washtenaw Learning Disabilities Association Upcoming Events page.
Today a student who knows my love of poetry brought me a book of poems by the Persian poet Rumi. At morning meeting we shared this poem with the school, a celebration of the inspiration others can give us through love and friendship.