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.

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