After six weeks in Chile and spring breaks spent across the USA, Alzar School students have finally returned to campus and hit the ground running. Between busy class days, outdoor activity, PE, and even some spring skiing, the schedule has been jam-packed. But students haven’t forgotten their time in Chile, or the language skills they learned while abroad. Last week, students had the opportunity to share their experiences, as well as their language skills, with local elementary students in Valley County.
Students began planning their lessons in Spanish class. Each class prepared not only a short presentation on Chile, but also fun and engaging 15-minute lessons based on concepts recently studied in their Spanish classes. Spanish teachers Auriona East and Colin Hull encouraged their students to think outside the box, and students worked in small groups to develop lessons and materials for their classes. They prepared slideshows, poster-boards, cut-out figures, and fun games to help their soon-to-be students engage with the new content.
On Tuesday, students travelled to Donnelley Elementary School, where they taught in first, third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms. On Thursday, I joined students at Cascade Elementary School, where they taught fifth and sixth grade classrooms; following our time at the school, we headed to the Cascade Cultural Arts Center, where students taught a small group of homeschooled children of various ages.
The lessons at Cascade Elementary started with a brief slideshow in which Alzar School students presented on their experience in Chile. The students had the opportunity to share not only about the various different landscapes and environments that we travelled through, but also to discuss differences in Chilean cultural and lifestyle. The Spanish C class enthusiastically shared about the different foods that they ate in Chile, from empanadas to the famous lomo a lo pobre, a steak dish served with caramelized onions, French fries, and a fried egg. The Cascade students gobbled down the information as readily as they might have gobbled down one of the dishes displayed on their Smartboard; as the Alzar School students moved through their lesson, they reviewed new vocab. “What’s the word for soup? Or bread?” they asked the class. The local students perched on their knees, shouting sopa, pan, stretching their arms up into the air to be called on.
After the short presentations on Chile, the fifth and sixth graders split into four groups, rotating through stations planned by Alzar School students. One group of students taught a wonderful geography lesson, in which Cascade students competed against one another in a “trashketball” competition based on identifying new vocab. Another group had a vibrantly colored poster-board with illustrations of valleys, mountains, rivers, and more, which transitioned into a Pictionary game on the board. Students shouted the new vocab enthusiastically. “El rio, el sol, la montaña!” echoed through the locker-lined hallways.
Another group practiced weather vocabulary with an animated game of charades, directed by the Spanish B students. A slight, blonde boy stood at the front of a table of his peers, violently shaking and chattering his teeth; “Hace frio!” his friends cried out, competing to be first to remember the new words. On the floor nearby, Spanish D students split their small group into clusters of two and three, and each group was tasked with arranging a cut-out house, tree, and person based on a Spanish phrase. “El hombre es lejos de la casa,” Ceilidh said, and an active brunette with a tie-dye sweatshirt on quickly grabbed the stick-figure man and placed him an arm’s length away from the house. Each student, whether from the Alzar School or from Cascade Elementary School, was active, engaged, and excited.
Reflecting on the experience over the course of the next few days, our students noted that teaching was incredibly fun, as well as exhausting. They returned to campus with a newfound appreciation for their Alzar School teachers, and the work each of us puts in to planning an engaging classroom discussion or activity.
But more importantly, they reflected on how exciting it had been to share their knowledge and experience with local students. They had offered the Cascade and Donnelly students a glimpse into Chilean culture, as well as an inspiration to continue to study language – and perhaps, one day, to use that language to connect with a new place, to make a new friend, and to expand their understanding of the world.
The day after students arrived, we began academic classes. One class, Physics, immediately took their heady concepts and formulas to the test.
During a Physics Lab last week, the students were asked to consider the forces of gravity, drag, and impact on a given object. In our Physics class last Wednesday, the object was a raw egg.
Gravity, when left entirely to its own devices, will cause a falling object to accelerate. So, as we all know, if you simply dropped a raw egg from a ~4.35 meter ledge (as the students did), that thing should definitely break! But, students were asked to help create "drag", or air resistance... or friction (all synonyms that helped me understand this concept) on their egg so they could slow acceleration and hopefully keep the egg from cracking.
Another way to protect the egg is by displacing or slowing down impact. If you protect the falling egg with some kind of buffer such as bubble wrap, the time of impact will increase, so the intensity of the hit will be spread out over... maybe .5 seconds instead of .25. In this way, the students could also attempt to protect their egg.
So, our Semester 10 Physics students were given a variety of materials to increase drag and decrease impact. The one caveat was that they could only build one device. They couldn't have something attached to the egg and on the ground; they had to get creative. And, they did.
Some built elaborate pillows dangling just below their eggs to decrease impact. Others, as you'll see in the picture below, made parachutes.
We're so lucky to have an academic environment where our kiddos can learn hands-on - test their ideas and learn from their experiences. Not one egg broke!
During this Unit in all of our English classes, we've been exploring the value of a literary movement that is widely accepted as having begun in South America. The most famous female author from this movement is Isabel Allende, the niece of Chilean President Salvador Allende. It seems fitting we'd explore her style of literature while also exploring her homeland.
In our AP English Language & Composition course, the students spend their time analyzing and debating the greater meanings found in these incredibly poetic and complex pieces of literature. Ultimately, they write an analytical essay arguing for what they believe the greater meaning of one of these texts to be and supporting it with textual evidence. It is one of the more challenging essays they'll write this semester.
In our Honors 10th & 11th grade English courses, the students are also expected to analyze and discuss the major themes of these and other Magical Realism short stories or excerpts, but afterward, they are asked to employ those elements in their own writings. In class everyday, I have my students analyze "visual texts" and then write Magical Realism pieces telling their stories. These smaller, in-class activities allow them to develop these complex skills and then ultimately apply them to personal writings in which they expose their emotional experiences.
Because the purpose of Magical Realism was, and has always been, to communicate that which is tragically real in spite of the fact that it may have never truly happened. You say, "Uh... whuh?", and I understand the confusion, but I'll clear it up quickly. In the news, when reporters say that another hurricane hit Haiti, or when you read in your history textbook about lynchings in the post-Civil War South, you can't really comprehend what the emotional effect of those traumatic events was on the people that survived. Sometimes those experiences were so tragic and so disorienting for them that the way they felt was not at all the way they factually were. Anyone who has experienced this kind of helplessness, fear, or trauma understands. There are myriad examples of this style of writing in the American canon; The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer are just a few of these types of famous, tragic, and beautiful stories. Maybe you read them and were so caught up in the web of their accounts, you didn't stop to ask yourself what of it was actually real? Maybe you knew, and you didn't really care?
So, out of respect for my students' privacy and creative genius, I'll allow them to share their pieces about their personal lives with whomever on their own time. Here, however, they've allowed me to share their in-class writings. So, suspend your desire for facts, and walk slowly through their web of truths.
Carrie Ann Baade's following painting was interpreted thus:
The butterfly lady was always a myth my mother would tell me when I was a child. She was a beautiful woman who wore a magnificent green dress and walked around the woods followed by butterflies of every species...I always dreamed of meeting this butterfly woman... as I grew up my childish ambitions died and I joined the real world. Got a job as a photographer... after returning from Japan my boss next sent me to Mexico to photograph the annual monarch migration. When I arrived the number of butterflies was insane. I got beautiful pictures but then all of a suddent time seemed to freeze and from the middle of the grove a multitude of different species of butterflies appeared and I went bak to that little girl. I saw the womand was so captivated I forgot I had a camera to take a picture... when I returned home, no one believed me but I knew I had seen the butterfly lady." - Jake V.
About this painting by Carrie Ann Baade, Amparo M. wrote:
"It was Fall in the small town. The trees were dressed in their most fiery coats and the hunter's wife was weeping. Over the course of the year, after the hunter's immense success selling rabbits, he had found in a reality constructed by liquor, the most intense pleasure in beating his wife... Even though she tried to hide it, her sorrow was palpable in the air around her. And the town's people ceased to buy the hunter's rabbits in an act of empathy to the poor wife. But the man was full of rage, and the abundance of rabbits in the woods provided a source of output for his violence. The Hunter's house began to fill up with carcasses..."
Sebastian C. was inspired by this painting from Carrie Ann Baade's collections. He wrote:
"I try to control my mind as much as possible. But my thoughts are not my own, at least not completely. I don't understand what I am. I speak and hear my voice, but I think and hear two. Deciphering what thoughts are my own drives me crazy.... My sister and I have grown up with this our whole lives. She used to yell when the roaring voice came into our heads. She fought it so much, never calming down. She grew so tired, loosing sleep at nights with the roars in her head. She became so weak that she stopped fighting. She let the roars overpower her own thoughts..."
Our Spanish C Teaching Fellow, Melissa, took it upon herself to contact the local museum. She thought that perhaps we could bring our students there. The curator was overjoyed.
The kids were asked to record information about Neltume they hadn’t know yet while also searching through the plaques for the grammar they’ve been learning. They talked about the worker revolutions that began here. They learned about how artisanal woodworking has at once torn the forest down while lifting its people up. And from talking to the curator, they learned about the pride these people feel for their history and their land.
What's so exciting about learning at Alzar School is that we have the opportunity to delve into interdisciplinary studies every few weeks. They come about in the form of "Saturday Classes". This past Saturday was our 2nd of the year. In the first, the Environmental Science and Math teachers, Reed and Jonathan respectively, teamed up to teach the students about food composting and then the logistics behind making a large-scale compost site feasible... and then they did it! As an institution, we've been dreaming about making our campus' food consumption more sustainable, and we did it. Semester 9's students did to be exact.
This past Saturday, Megan and I co-taught a class combining Biology and English. To get the kids' attention, we called it "Making Science Sexy" because the truth is that "Science and Communication" sounds down-right boring. However, -I'm getting excited here- that's the whole point! We wanted to get the students thinking about how the words/data/images/videos that are used to convey scientific information can either bore you to death or engage you into action. On top of that, we wanted them to reflect on which formats are most engaging for them specifically. We introduced the science of Global Climate Change to them in seven styles:
- Lecture: Meg talked about what's happening in the atmosphere at a molecular level
- Visual Aids: graphs, diagrams, charts, infographics, etc.
- Photography: computer-generated and real-life
- Videos: ranging from An Inconvenient Truth to CNN films about the Marshall Islands
- Humor: comics, parody films, etc.
- Non-fictional Literature: news articles, personal accounts, etc.
- Fictional Literature: written poetry, spoken word, short stories
We showed myriad resources in each category and had the students reflect on each one, asking them how informative and engaging they found those styles of information to be.
After reviewing all of them, the students came together and discussed how scientific information can be made "sexier". They found out that for some of them articles and diagrams were the most engaging. Others were hit hard by the spoken word poetry and photographs of real people. They talked about using a variety of formats to appeal to multiple audiences. The students saw that what most appealed to them was often very different than what the kid next to them wanted to see, hear, or read.
After our Harkness Discussion the students were asked to delve into a social and environmental issue occurring in their sending communities. They had to produce a presentation for that information that called to their style of learning. Some kids created raps, others drew comics. Many wrote articles drawing on diagrams and photographs. One prepared a power point, and a few others made a video. More than a couple wrote poems. They came up with some awesome final products.
I'd like to share a poem by one of our students who wanted to address the intersection of homelessness and disease:
"Responsibility" by Samantha Daddi
Closed eyes, run by, look away no one makes a sound
Sitting there, a man dressed as though he hasn't a change of clothes,
Seemingly twinning with the man on his right,
The women on the bus snicker and scorn, advising distance to keep from those two, oh and all of the people over there, warning us not to go over there.
Ignored by society, pushed away to the side
Dropped to the ground from such a large high,
Drugs help to stabilize some of these guys,
Came here after loosing the game we call life.
Illness is not always apparent to the eye.
needs a clean slate, restrictions, guidelines and contributions
Outside perspectives no not responsible for their actions, they aren't mine
Mentally ill falling down a hill isn't that their problem?
Closed minded fragile views on social stigmas
Drugs may help this poor man's struggles but without regulation they may just be trouble,
Ways of communicating health and wellbeing to people who aren't being helped or well treated
One thing leads to another and that poor man is now in more turbulent trouble
Self care isn't there, access and efforts leading to outward diseases
Respiratory infection, skin disease and even hiv
Problems snowballing into a very large set,
Without taking responsibility,
standing up to systems that aren't met
we must never forget it is your responsibility to help one another, hard times good times, no one will know if we all contribute to a societal uphill