Saturday, October 29, 2011

technology: the raging debate

Technology has always been a bit of a thorny problem for an educator. At Summers-Knoll we share the point of view expressed by Jane Healey in her book, "Failure to Connect". (You can find an excerpt here for an example of her reasoning.) Her statement, "The best multimedia, interactive environment is still the real world," resonates with us and informs our approach, especially with the younger children.

Does that mean there is no place for technology? Clearly, students are excited by the extensive opportunities offered by computers and interactive software. There's a huge and understandable desire on the part of their teachers to harness that excitement. There's also a huge pressure on parents to feed their children with technological entertainment. ("But Mom! It promotes hand-eye coordination!") And just as the world of technology is enormous and complex, so are the arguments that surround it. Essential tool or poisonous creator of ADHD? Thought-promoter or thought-destroyer? Social promoter or the end of human connection? There's a lot of attraction and a lot of anxiety to navigate.

It has to be all in the choices and the applications: educational technology comes in many forms. Some are useful and some are emphatically not. Some can be used creatively and with original thinking; some cannot. It doesn't help that this is a powerful, multi-billion dollar industry with a lot at stake, and the research is conflicting and flawed by self-interest. Here's an insightful New York Times article that describes some of the vagaries of educational software research.

At Summers-Knoll we'll continue to be wary. We'll avoid technology with the younger children. We'll choose software with the older students that demands independent thought, analysis and creativity. And we'll continue to watch and question.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wild Swan Theatre

This morning I stopped by the WIld Swan rehearsal space and watched the actors brushing up on their current play, "Once Upon a Time". I was struck all over again by the magic, not just of these high-energy, charismatic actors, but also of the mirror-acting done by the sign language interpreter. She acts alongside the regular actors, using body, face and movement as well as hand signs to express the words and characters of the play, so that children who have hearing problems can engage with the action of the plot without having to look to the side of the stage for the sign interpretation. It's fascinating to watch. It's also a great message of inclusiveness for hearing kids.

Here's information about "Once Upon a TIme":

Once Upon a Time
Family friendly, for Pre-K and up!
Thursday, October 20, 10:00am
Friday, October 21, 10:00am and 1:00pm
Saturday, October 22, 11:00am

Wild Swan Theater opens its 32nd Anniversary Season of bringing the finest theater to Michigan's families with Once Upon A Time, an engaging collection of classic stories and songs!

Once Upon a Time offers three familiar and friendly tales, imaginatively staged, and is the perfect introduction to theater for young children, ages 3-9. In true Wild Swan style, three performers (Sandy Ryder, Jeremy Salvatori, and Michelle Trame Lanzi) and musician David Mosher create all the magic inherent in these timeless stories, making this first time theater experience unforgettable. Jamie Fidler, an American Sign Language Performer, rounds out our cast.

This lively and fast paced production begins with a sweet and funny version of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” Children will delight in the telling of "The Billy Goats Gruff" where the silly but very hungry troll is outwitted by three clever mountain goats.

“Reynard the Fox,” the second story in this collection, provides ample opportunity for audience participation. The children become Reynard’s shadow and echo, giving him all he needs to trick his animal friends. This delightful story ends with the audience getting a chance to trick Reynard!

Our final story is the classic tale of “The Three Little Pigs.” These are some spunky pigs that enjoy riling up the wolf. The three houses that each pig builds are beautifully and magically created, helping to make this story fun and funny at the same time.

Live music arranged and performed by David Mosher heightens the beauty, suspense, and humor inherent in these timeless tales. Besides playing throughout the stories, he also plays several songs which tell wonderful stories on their own. We are honored to have David who has been named “Outstanding Acoustic Instrumentalist” several years running by Detroit Metro Times.

Jamie Fidler’s signing is seamlessly woven into the action, adding another layer of clarity and depth to the stories while bringing the beauty of sign language to our stage. Backstage '"touch tours" and audio-description are available for blind audience members. Please call (734) 995-0530 for reservations for these services.

This production is part of Wild Swan Theater’s “Kid’s Classic Series” for ages 3-9. Our Classic Series introduces young theater goers to the joys of live theater. Gently told tales in a story-theater style provide first time audiences with the thrill of seeing favorite stories come to life with easy to follow plots, lively staging and physical humor, imaginative costumes and props, and many opportunities for audience participation.

Tickets $12 for adults, $8 for children and seniors
Discounts available for groups of 10 or more; $3 lap passes available for patrons under 2 years of age.
Purchase and Information: (734) 995-0530 or
Accessibility reservations: (734) 995-0530
Wheel chair seating
American Sign Language Interpreting
Audio-Description and Backstage Touch Tours
All performances at Towsley Auditorium, Morris Lawrence Building, Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E. Huron River Drive.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

the value of play

When I was a child, I spent hours and hours building houses out of branches and leaves and "living" in them. I dressed up continually, trying on different personalities from different times and places, many of them not real to anyone but me. I made potions out of flower petals and rainwater, and whole worlds out of moss and twigs and tiny plants. I spent a huge amount of time outdoors, alone and with friends, with no play set but the trees and grass of the common area that backed my family's yard.

Watching our children at Summers-Knoll when they play in our playground or in the woods of County Farm Park takes me right back there. The games that the older children have been playing over at their temporary digs at the Good Shepherd are endlessly fascinating. They have no slide, no swing set, just a rather intriguing space with grass, paths and a wildish area of native plants and marshy ground. The children -all of them- have turned it into a complex system of real estate which they buy and sell, rent and share in nuanced and ever-changing ways. The lack of a formal play structure is as nothing in the face of their blazing imagination.

Here's an article from The Atlantic, giving yet another reminder of the importance of play to developing minds. Enjoy.

Exploration Block Class Descriptions: Fall 2011

Please note that, for this EB session only, the younger children and the older children will have separate EBs at different times. Next time (in the new building) we will have more flexibility to offer wider choices where appropriate. Horse riding will be offered again in the spring for the younger children specifically.

Grades K-2
Wednesdays 9 a.m.-10 a..m.

Pasta, Fried Rice and Matzoh Balls
Food, Culture and Traditions of Immigrants in America
(Mrs. Carpenter)
Cooking! Based on the book of the same title, this EB will focus on the traditional food of various groups who came to this country between 1565 and 1921. This will be a combination of a history class and cooking class. Each week will focus on one immigrant group: reasons they chose America to be their home, the challenges they faced, and the special gifts they brought with them from their home country. We will cook and sample one dish each week. Please note that this EB is NOT suitable for children with gluten or dairy allergies.

Robotics (Dr. George)
LEGO! We’ll be sampling activities from The LEGO® Education WeDo™ Robotics Construction Set. This is an easy-to-use set that introduces young students to robotics when combined with the LEGO Education WeDo Robotics Software v.1.2 and Activity Pack (900097). We’ll be trying out building LEGO models featuring working motors and sensors; programming their models; and exploring a series of theme-based activities.. Exactly what we do will depend on the children and the ideas we choose to follow.

Silkscreening with Andy Warhol
We’ll be taking a look at some of Andy Warhol’s art and his use of silk screening techniques. We will study color, layering, patterning in design and we’ll produce a piece of finished work. This may be a group project or individual, depending on the interests and aptitudes of the children, and our work may be used for a fundraiser or as decor for our new building! A visit to a silk screening company will be scheduled.

Pen Pals in Korea
Students will dive into the Korean classroom by learning basic greetings, culture, and customs. We will learn what it is like to be a student in Korea. The final project will be to write letters to Korean students who are learning English at schools in the Republic of Korea. Students will build relationships with people from around the world, and also practice communication skills at student-appropriate levels. (Kids who are not yet writing will be given scribe support from another student or the teacher.)

Grades 3-6
Wednesdays 12:30 p.m.-1:15 p.m.

Horsing Around!
Get out your boots, we are headed out to the farm. Join me as we take our weekly trip to Corner Stone Too Acres... We will be learning all about horses: anatomy, cleaning the stalls, cleaning the saddles, feeding, grooming, as well as riding. The goal of this class is to give your child the knowledge and skill set to do well with horses. Horse riding helps develop self-confidence, empathy, a sense of pride and accomplishment. Please see attached guidelines. Please note that there is a $45 fee for this class.

Hip Hop Lives
In this EB class, we will be studying hip hop music and culture. Students will learn the origins of the culture and explore the key elements, including MCing, DJing, Breaking, and Graffiti. Students will practice listening and collaboration skills as they compose original rhymes and beats. Movement will be incorporated into the class as students learn traditional hip hop dance routines. Fine motor skills will be honed as students examine different graffiti styles and work on crafting a style of their own.

Fine Art/Fabrication Workshop (Mr. B)
Students will be introduced to a variety of fine art techniques including book making/binding, balsa wood India ink drawing, and flute making. Students should have some experience using common art materials and have well developed fine motor skills for handling small & sharp objects.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

the right to study math

I stopped by Chris's classroom at the start of the day, just in time to see him become the least popular teacher in the school for about ten hair-raising seconds. Kids stared at him in horror.

"No math?"
"Why can't we have math?"
"OK, but we still want math."
"But I love math!"

No matter that the reason for the loss of math was that Nate Ayers, who is leading the class in an amazing exploration of permaculture, was coming in to work with them. No matter that they are truly riveted and inspired by that work. Math is math. You just can't deprive a girl (or boy) of her sacred right to do multiplication.

That's one of the reasons I love SK kids. Just sayin'.