Physics: Dropping Knowledge

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.

Charlie, Nick, and Bryan showing off their egg-protection contraption

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! 


Classes are in full swing as the school is in its third week of academics down in the Lake District of Chile. Coming off of our first two full-length expeditions in Patagonia, each student also came away from their first experience being a designated Leader of the Day (LOD) (more accurately - leader of two days). During this experience, students were supported by faculty to explore different leadership styles, self-reflect on what worked well and what they wish to work on, and take feedback from their peers and from staff in order to gain a clearer vision of the infinite ways that leading can look.

To start our weeks of Leadership classes here in the Lakes District, my co-teacher, Ned, and I asked students to write SMART goals for each of the four major components of their experience here at the Alzar School: Academics, Technical Proficiency, Leadership, and Cultural/Language. While we hope that all goals are thought out and intelligible, SMART goals stand for something more. To be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

Academics and Technical Proficiency tend to be the easiest for students to articulate, for example:

"To have above a 90% in all classes by Parent's Weekend"


"To study for the ACT two nights a week (1 hour each) while in Chile, and four nights a week while in Idaho, until taking the exam this spring"


"To be able to roll a kayak 8 out of 10 times in flat water by the time we leave Chile". 

Goals surrounding language acquisition and leadership skills tend to be more abstract and harder to measure. Some of the more articulate include the following:

"To be able to order a meal and ask what ingredients were used (in Spanish), and understand the response, by the time we leave Chile." 


"In my next designated leadership role on expedition I will receive positive feedback from my peers and staff on my ability to communicate clearly with my co-LODs, and I will check-in with my co-LODs before announcing plans/ideas to the group as a whole."


"I will improve my personal leadership on expedition by waking up 20 minutes earlier than the designated time, and be ready at the time designated by the LODs."

Students have shared goals with one another, and peers and staff will help hold each other accountable. Many ask for feedback and an increased awareness of both the positive and detrimental impact we can have on one another in the community.

Many of the students set high standards for themselves and what they hope to see themselves accomplish during their semester and beyond. This culture of challenging one another to work hard, improve, increase awareness, and keep pushing, is one that inspires me to continue my own leadership progression and quest for growth. It is a culture that I feel fortunate to be apart of.

*I challenge you to write a SMART goal for your upcoming month. 

The More We Know about Languages, the More Questions We Have to Ask

In Spanish class this past Friday, both Spanish teachers decided to start their first class of the semester with a conversation about how languages can affect the way we think. This topic has been heavily debated in Linguistics for years, but now that Psychologists, Neuroscientists, Sociologists, and even Economists are getting involved, it's becoming more and more apparent just how huge the language(s) that one speaks can be in shaping the reality that they (the newly accepted singular, neutral pronoun recognized by the ADA as the Word of the Year in 2015) experience.

Where to begin?

Well, in an article titled "How Languages Can Affect the Way We Think", Jessica Gross explains that languages can be understood as "futured languages" and "futureless languages". English is a "futured language", and what that means is that for native English-speakers, we unconsciously make a distinction between our reality now and our reality later. And, although that may not seem like a big dealresearch shows that, "... futureless language speakers are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year than futured language speakers... [because] when we speak about the future as more distinct from the present, it feels more distant — and we’re less motivated to save money now in favor of monetary comfort years down the line." How do you think a futureless language would affect the way relationships are conducted? On the flip-side, though, how much better do you think a futured language-speaker would be at recognizing that this is a hard day or week or  month, but that things will change?

Nearly all the articles the students read cited the difference between geographically and egocentrically directional languages. An aboriginal community from Australia speak a language called Pormpuraaw, and it is considered geographically directional. English is not. When I give a friend directions to my house, I say, "Drive three streets down, take a right, and my house with be on the left". This information would likely be confusing and useless for a Pormpuraawan because they read the land using North, South, East, and West exclusively. This has such a huge affect on their ability to stay oriented that a test was conducted in which geographically directional language-speakers were put in an unknown room with no windows and spun around many times. When they were stopped and asked what direction they were facing, they were almost always correct. Could you do that?

Some language nerds might cringe at hearing the pronoun they refer to only one person -as used in the first paragraph-, and others might consider it to be too general, but the reality is that other languages actually don't have gendered pronouns at all. In Finnish, as our students read last week, there are no gender markers. No 'he's, 'she's, 'him's, or 'her's. A Spanish B students, Liam, explained that one of his good friends is Finnish. Liam said that he's never met anyone his age more comfortable with the opposite sex. Can you imagine all teen-aged American... people feeling that way?

True, we haven't even mentioned Spanish, and this is a Spanish class, right? The most obvious affect that Spanish has on its speakers is through its use of gendered, inanimate objects. In another article entitled "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?", Guy Deutscher cites Russian, Spanish, and German as languages that refer to things as 'her' and 'him'. What is fascinating about this is that the words that are feminine in one gendered languages aren't necessarily so in another which allows researchers to determine if people generally perceive them differently merely due to their assigned gender in that language. The answer is yes. For example, the word for bridge is die Brücke - a feminine noun - whereas in Spanish, it's masculine; Germans used words such as "slender" and "elegant" to describe a bridge. Spanish-speakers, on the other hand  used adjectives having to do with strength (typically understood as a masculine characteristic). This ultimately lead Guy Deutscher to ask, "Did the opposite genders of “bridge” in German and Spanish, for example, have an effect on the design of bridges in Spain and Germany? Do the emotional maps imposed by a gender system have higher-level behavioral consequences for our everyday life?"

As our AP English Teaching Fellow, Megan, has said, "I'm more interested in questions than I am answers", and as far as this topic is concerned, I absolutely have to agree. Our students left that class asking themselves questions they'd never considered before. My hope is that every day's lesson obliges our students to ask even more questions - I think we're off to a good start.

Being prepared for the “What If’s”

At Alzar, we venture into remote settings. We ski and paddle and hike and as faculty and staff we often ask the question "What If?". What if my friend trips over a rock on a hike and breaks their ankle? What if we get caught in a lightning storm while on a hike? What if someone goes into cardiac arrest? Wilderness medicine training is one step in learning to think about and be prepared to deal with the unexpected.   

After returning to campus from our time in Chile , students spent 5 days before  classes resumed participating in and ultimately becoming certified as Wilderness Advanced First Responders (WAFA).  During WAFA students attended lectures on stings, bites, allergies, trauma injuries, and many other medical topics. Along with  class lectures, everyone spent at least half of the days in simulations learning how to assess patients in a wilderness setting and then treat and evacuate them. 

Austin and Emma making sure to clear Becca's airway during an afternoon simulation.

Austin and Emma making sure to clear Becca's airway during an afternoon simulation.

Two of our students, rescuers, tending to an "injured" patients during an afternoon simulation

Two of our students, rescuers, tending to an "injured" patients during an afternoon simulation

In simulations some students were patients and were given symptoms, a history, and possibly even fake bruises or lacerations for the the other students, the "responders" to treat. On our final day of the course, we were given a final scenario.  Here's what we were told: 

A group was rafting down a river and  flipped going over a waterfall. There are five patients, each with different problems. After being given this information ,students were challenged to go and assess, treat, and evacuate the patients. Some of the injuries,  a broken ankle, for example, needed to be splinted. Others- non-breathing-  needed  CPR and also assessment for other injuries. One of the patients was hypothermic and ultimately needed to be put into a hypo-wrap and transported back to "base" (the barn on campus) with the help of the whole team.

Our WAFA instructors, Lexi and Rachel, showing us the proper technique for creating a hypo-wrap for a hypothermic patient.

Our WAFA instructors, Lexi and Rachel, showing us the proper technique for creating a hypo-wrap for a hypothermic patient.

It was a challenging, exhilarating, and rewarding experience for all of the participants here. On day 5, after completing the written exam and the river rafting scenario, everyone was awarded with official WAFA certification cards! 

All Students passed their written exam and final scenario and were awarded their WAFA certifications!

All Students passed their written exam and final scenario and were awarded their WAFA certifications!

Learning to Write a Breakup Letter…

Throughout the semester students receive peer and teacher feedback on their written work. As an instructor, I work hard to provide students with balanced, specific feedback through comments and consistent use of the same rubrics for writing assignments, annotations, and Harkness discussions. Through this consistency, students can - theoretically - track their growth in each skillset over the semester.

In my experience as a student in public high school, I would receive graded assignments from my teachers, go straight to looking at the letter grade, and then proceed to celebrate or mope - either way ignoring any productive feedback (the only hope for me to improve).  In efforts to combat this mentality, I created the Writing Progress Chart. This is a Google Excel sheet that students each have a copy of with names of writing assignments on the left column and then columns for score, reinforcing, and constructive feedback for each assignment (**See here for a sample) . After students receive feedback on assignments they then synthesize these notes and input them in their Writing Progress Charts (*Parents these should be in students' shared "Refrigerator Folders" at this point and should update automatically with wifi access so you can track your students' writing progress throughout the semester!) When they begin to write a new essay, they first start here as well - to review past feedback of what they need to continue working on - to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

One day, students took this metacognitive exercise a step further. They were tasked with picking just one element of constructive feedback and then writing a love or breakup letter. The idea was they would either write from the point of view of a positive element (such as specificity) and write a love letter proclaiming its importance to the essay OR they could pick a mistake (like repetition) and write a breakup letter to the essay explaining why they are not compatible. The goal? For students to synthesize feedback and also know WHY it is important to avoid or include these elements that are tugging at their grade. Plus, it was fun.

See below for a few entertaining examples:

Dear Citations,

Please take me back. I will do anything you want me to-I would even consider sacrificing like 5 minutes of sleep to have you again. You complete me, you show me that I'm not just making up random points with no factual basis. Without you I feel disorganized, incomplete,unfit for the scrutiny of other's eyes. I swear that next time I will put in the extra work to make sure you don't feel awkward around the rest of my friends.


Derek's Essays.

Dear Alice,

I am sorry to be writing you this letter. So sorry. I really am sorry. Just so extremely sorry. But the repetition's gotta stop. Didn't reading those first few sentences bore you to death just then with sorry being constantly repeated? It is just too much. You really need to stop, its getting unhealthy. Did those moments in your querencia feel like hours? That's great if it did but I do not need to know that 5 other times. Telling me that once will leave a much larger emphasis and it will make it stronger. Saying the same thing over and over again adds no effect, other then me falling asleep. I'm so happy for you that you found a connection with someone new. As you said about three times, you shared something with Dillard. I do not need to hear about that over and over again. I'm happy that you found someone new and had to tell the whole world about it. Obviously you were just too overjoyed to be leaving me that you just forgot about me and used repetition all wrong.


Your Querencia Speech