On Monday, we visited the food forest in Buhr Park where we helped suppress grass and other unwanted plants by laying down damp cardboard and covering it with wood chips. Students also photographed some of the plant and animal life they observed. After harvesting some rhubarb, we brought it back to school and incorporated it into a rhubarb ketchup which the students made and brought home to share with their families.
This week, we began exploring the concept of Identity, one of the themes of study for the year. We began with The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, focusing on how the narrator’s identity was impacted by those around him as well as how it shifts depending on whom he is speaking with. When reading aloud as a class, the students take on a specific role that engages them on an aspect of the text. The roles are as follows:
Profiler – As Profilers, students conduct character analyses, drawing conclusions or making predictions about characters based on what they say or do.
Reporter – As Reporters, students summarize what was read.
Curator – As Curators, students take note of interesting words or phrases used by the author. This could include unknown words as well as sections that are particularly well written or evocative.
Detective – As Detectives, students look for patterns and make predictions or inferences based on what they have heard so far.
We also spent time exploring Six-Word Memoirs as a way of expressing our identities. Students reviewed Six-Word Memoirs written by peers across the country and were asked to take note of ones that they connected with. Then they were asked to think about what the student might have experienced before writing their piece. After this, they began work on Six-Word Memoirs of their own.
During our elective, we headed to the Buhr Park Food Forest to continue work on a community project there. We brought cardboard for sheet mulching, toured the food forest (taking note of the biodiversity), pulled grass and sampled some fresh raspberries.
In math class, we played Four 4s where students were challenged to find the numbers 0 – 20 using only four 4s and addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. This encourages students to think flexibly about the ways numbers can be made and becomes more challenging as certain numbers prove to be more elusive than others. Students begin by playing with the various combinations and over time develop strategies as they begin to think about the relationships between numbers.
As a way of unpacking the concept of Identity, students were divided into groups and were asked to think through what Identity really means. One way we explore concepts is by using a framework developed by Dr. Derek Cabrera called the DSRP Method. Each group was given one of the following focuses along with guiding questions.
Distinctions – How do our identities differ from those of others? How do we have multiple identities?
Systems – What are the parts of our identities? What else are identities a part of?
Relationships – How do relationships influence our identities?
Perspectives – How are you different from what people think you are?
Students had time to record their thoughts individually and in small groups before sharing at the end. Many connections were made between Identity and our families, our histories, and our interests. We also touched on how identities can shape cities. Some students also shared personal reflections about feeling different and how these differences can lead to misunderstandings. We will continue sharing on Monday. I’m really looking forward to seeing how our understandings of the concept and ourselves, as individuals and a group, grow and change over time.
The beginning of the school year is a time of both excitement and transition. Students and teachers are learning ways of being with each other as well as in a new space.
We began the school year with a focus on shaping our physical space and building relationships. One great way to get to know someone is to have to put something together, together. Communication is key as resources are shared and duties are decided. Problems are encountered and solved. We learn about others and ourselves when faced with the challenge of building something.
In small groups, the students assembled a small table and two bookshelves and crafted “cloud lanterns” using paper lanterns, hot glue and cotton, contributing to both the functionality and aesthetics of our shared space.
Grades K – 4 also travelled to the Howell Nature Center for a day of nature exploration and team building. Our class learned more about the indigenous peoples of Michigan and played games that children living in those communities would have played. We also spent time exploring features of maps and then used these map reading skills to find clues and answer questions. The zip line, a favorite of many, provided a chance for some to face fears and others to enjoy an exciting ride over a small pond. The day ended with the Team Challenges, where our class needed to use their communication and problem-solving skills in a series of challenges. It was the perfect way to finish the first week.
Last week we welcomed Eli’s mom and her colleagues to our classroom for an exploration in bioluminescence. This tied in quite well with our studies of light and genes and was a great opportunity for the students to experience the phenomena first hand.
We began with a discussion of how humans and animals communicate and which led to our focus on bioluminescence. The students shared what they knew as well as potential applications they had heard or read about, including glowing trees along highways that would reduce the need for street lights.
After viewing videos of bioluminescent jellyfish, our question was whether or not bacteria would be able to read the genes from the jellyfish and actually glow. The students mixed the solution and placed the tubes in the centrifuge. Then we waited. We found that those injected with the genes that caused a green glow worked. The red ones didn’t, but it was a great opportunity for us to consider possible reasons why.
On Friday, we had the pleasure of welcoming We Are The Forest to our classroom where we explored the connections we have with forests. Nate Ayers showed us similarities in structural patterns (fractal properties) and explained the symbiotic relationship that exists between trees and humans with an emphasis on how the health of the former contributes to that of the latter. But the connections went beyond concerns about the environment.
Music and storytelling help define us and the forest has played a fundamental role in shaping these aspects of our shared human culture. Various cultures across the world have utilized the forest to make instruments which enable us to share stories through music. Nick Ayers (Nate’s brother) shared stories and songs with these instruments and it was amazing to hear how the sounds produced mimicked the sounds of air, water, and earth.
We ended our session with the installation of a “tree library” comprised of native trees that we will use for study, propagation, soil building, and a step towards creating resilient and regenerative systems at our school. The trees planted will help provide shelter and food for animals, and over time, food and fiber for our school (as well as more places to hide and climb.)
Our day ended with gratitude for the experience and hope for our shared future.
There was much to do this week outdoors now that spring has finally sprung. We spent time in both electives and homeroom tending to the grounds and preparing different gardens. During our elective, we sowed seeds which we will transplant when ready. They are currently cozy in the greenhouse. We also planted a cover crop and ground cover on “the pit” to stop the erosion and rebuild the soil. Some of the students also planted potatoes thanks to a generous donation of cured starters from Kaz and Aviana’s parents.
A new red maple and white pine were planted on the playground in honor of Earth Day and as an initial step toward adding new trees to the playground area in the place of those that were taken down.
Our class also worked with Shan and the 1/2s preparing both a rain garden and a butterfly garden. We mapped out the planting spaces to ensure that the plants would have enough room and helped the 1/2s dig and plant the native plants that will help us catch and store water on our property and attract pollinators.
When mapping out his walking path, Paul Salopek (The Out of Eden Walk) relied on both fossil evidence and the nascent field of Genography, where mutations found in our DNA provide a map of our lineage across space and time. In order to make sense of what this means, the students have been working on learning more about DNA and RNA. They have done this by reading articles, building models, watching videos and playing games where they can build virtual DNA molecules.
While many of the students were familiar with DNA, its cousin, RNA, was less well known. Debates about which molecule was more important spontaneously erupted. What excited them most was the opportunity to become, “Citizen Scientists,” by playing in the RNA VirtuaLab, where students learned about how RNA folds and were challenged to solve various folding problems by making adjustments to base pairs based on the strength of the connections. Along the way, they were shown how the RNA they created performed a function in the cell. After solving enough problems, the students are invited to join Eterna where they can design RNA molecules online with the chance to have their designs created in a lab and possibly used in RNA-based medical treatments.
Students were asked to use the DSRP Model to make meaning of the content they were working with. The model focuses on the following:
Some of the class also extracted their own DNA today using a special solution of sports drink, pineapple juice, dish soap and rubbing alcohol. We weren’t able to get any to wrap around our skewers, but we were able to see it floating in the solution. Here is the link for anyone interested in trying at home:
We made a light bulb! A small group of students assembled a light bulb this week. Despite the repeated failures of my model, the students were able to get theirs to work for over a minute. After their initial success, they began experimenting with the amount of filament (graphite) to determine whether or not that would prolong the glow. Next week, they will teach the rest of the class.
“What might happen if schools made room for students to build at least part of their programs of study around their own interests or questions–every year they are in school starting in first grade, create a steady connection between their curiosity and what goes on in school?”
This week, we dedicated an hour towards independent student projects. Each student selected a skill that they were passionate about and wanted to develop. Some chose to work individually while others took a more collaborative approach. They couldn’t wait to begin building model planes, designing imaginary buildings or new games, making jewelry from recycled materials, knitting a scarf or baking.
Paul Salopek is a journalist for National Geographic who has embarked on a 7-year trek around the world where he will trace our ancestors journey out of Africa. He will be completing much of this journey on foot as he encourages readers to slow down and notice the hidden connections between local and global stories. Our class has joined a “walking party” where we will be learning more about Paul’s journey and sharing our ideas with other classrooms across the country and globe. Not only will we be learning through Paul’s travels, but we will be asked to think about the connections we can make between local and global stories, as well as the past and its effect on the present.
Part of this exploration has involved examining some of the various milestones of our species both before and after they embarked on their journey out of Africa, including mastery of fire, the introduction of agriculture and cave paintings in Lascaux. We are working on stop-motion animation videos highlighting some of these milestones. These will be incorporated into an interactive map that will hang outside of our classroom using the Aurasma app.