Identity – Arab American National Museum . Writers’ Block . Phylomon


We continued our exploration of identity with a visit to the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Before and during the visit, we talked about what helps define Arab identity, including a shared culture and language. The students heard various musical instruments and made connections and distinctions between the instruments they heard and those they are familiar with. We also played a game matching English words derived from Arabic words, including coffee, orange and giraffe. After discussing aspects of the immigration experience, we saw an exhibit that focused on Somali-American Muslims designed to challenge negative stereotypes about Muslims.

We finished our visit with a demonstration of the Dabke, a communal dance performed in countries throughout the Arab world at weddings and other celebrations. According to one folklore tradition, it originated when constructing houses with roofs made of wood, straw, and dirt. “Dabke” which means “stomping the ground,” in English was a great way to compact the roof materials evenly.

sk – 3/4 – Dabke Demonstration – Arab American National Museum from Chris Swinko on Vimeo.

Though it can be unnerving at times, many students love sharing their work, especially when unsure about how to proceed. One tool we use to address this is our “Writers’ Block” a dynamic writing group that students form or join as needed. Students, in a small group, share their writing. The writer shares where they are feeling stuck. Peers then share feedback using the Notice, Appreciate, and Extend Protocol (Project Zero). This structure encourages students to notice instances of strong writing in their work as well as those of their peers. It also gives writers multiple perspectives to incorporate as they think about ways to move their writing forward.

The Phylo(mon) Game was inspired by the popularity of Pokemon and designed to foster a similar immersion into the natural world in order to learn about biodiversity and ecological principles. I was reminded of the cards by Lisa (our science teacher) and introduced the idea during our elective. The students were hooked and immediately began looking through cards making decisions related to content and design. Our focus will begin with what we have on our school grounds and will be growing in the garden, with a focus on relationships between plants, beneficial insects and pests. We will also create cards that will focus on soil and the microorganism that are fundamental to its health. It was amazing to see how quickly they began thinking about rules and event cards that incorporated the seasons or increased a plant’s abilities. More to come.

How We Got to Now – Sound . The Little Prince . (Not Just) Pascal’s Triangle

Steven Johnson is an author and host of How We Got to Now, a documentary series that explores ideas that have had major impacts on the modern world. Last year, when exploring light, we learned about the evolution of photography and how it ultimately led to changes in civil infrastructure, after shedding light on the plight of the poor in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. We’ve now nearly finished the episode on sound, which described our rudimentary attempts to capture sound in the caves of Lascaux, France (the most “acoustically interesting spaces also contain the most paintings”) and the way trials and errors in attempts to capture and broadcast sound led to profound discoveries (the vacuum tube) which revolutionized communication.

Today, we saw and discussed how music and jazz specifically played a powerful role in the Civil Rights Movement. The music humanized African Americans in the eyes of a part of White America that was ignorant or indifferent to the suffering of African Americans. Billie Holiday, in Strange Fruit, shared the horrors of lynching in a way that caused many whites to face this terrible reality. As a result of this artform, some whites began to join African Americans to confront the racism ingrained in the laws of American society.

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We finished The Little Prince this week and had an interesting conversation about life and death. Students discussed whether or not they thought the Little Prince was dead and what “dead” really meant in the context of the story as well as life as we live it. Some took the Little Prince at his word when he asked the Pilot to see his body as “an empty shell” too heavy for him to carry back to his star. Others spoke of an afterlife, either in Heaven or in the hearts of those that continue to remember and love us after we have gone.

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Understanding patterns and relationships is essential to studying mathematics. This week, we explored the triangle most commonly known as Pascal’s Triangle though the triangle was well known in India, China and Persia centuries before Pascal. We completed a small version of Pascal’s Triangle based on some initial clues. Students quickly took over recognizing various other patterns. Finally, we talked about triangular numbers and used base 10 blocks to construct triangles and tetrahedrons by looking at some of the diagonal columns in the triangle.

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And someone used this pencil to do it.

Letters for Chickens

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We are in the process of petitioning the city to allow us to raise hens on our school grounds. Before we petition the city, we wanted to make sure that we had the support of our neighbors. We used the knowledge of students and parents in the class who have chickens to help us think through what concerns our neighbors might have and how we could address them. Then, as a group we drafted a letter to our neighbors explaining our intent. On Wednesday, we delivered the letters and were excited to receive the support of our neighbors. Thank you to Select Auto Service and Planned Parenthood for your support. After hearing back from one more neighbor, we will be ready to petition the city.