Jon's Update 12-6-19

posted Dec 9, 2019, 9:20 AM by Cynthia Friedman
Dear Middle School Family,

I've gotten a few emails from families over the weekend asking for clarification about what the heck we're up to with these Humanities Projects.

There's no simple answer, so here's the deal:

We teach Humanities on an A/B schedule. Last year, we studied "U.S. history and government." This year we're studying "Global Studies." This conforms with the State of Oregon requirements for what we cover in 7th and 8th grade. That's where the conformity ends.

For Global Studies this whole school year. we are centering our learning around the Big Question: "How should humans live together?" 

Over the last few weeks, we have watched the first 8 episodes of "Crash Course World History" by John Green. It started with the agricultural revolution around 10,000 BCE, and ended with Alexander the Great, just before the beginning of the Common Era.

We watched them with the Big Question in mind. The students took notes of names and places and historic events that might be of use for answering the Big Question. Because the videos are so short, and lack detail, the students then chose 3 things from their notes from each episode, and wrote short "Elaborations" about them. Just a quick explanation of the person, place, or phenomenon.

Then they chose a topic that they thought would help provide some examples from history to help answer the Big Question.  After 8 episodes, they should have had 24 topics that they had elaborated on to choose from. 

Topics chosen included: Confucianism, Ancient Indian Bhuddism, Ancient Greek City-States, the Persian Empire, Ancient Egypt, the Han Dynasty in China... The task: Students must dig into these topics to find examples of what can we learn from these various attempts at organizing humans. Both things that worked well, and things that didn't work out so well.

How should humans live together? We tend to simply accept that our way of living is the way. We're going to spend the year exploring the ways we've gone about organizing around this problem throughout human history up to now.

My plan is that by the end of the year, we'll all know a lot more about the recurring mistakes we've made, and a little more, at least, about how we can do a better job.

As for the process for these projects: we're teaching your student how to think for their self. It's a difficult process, and there are at least 45 different ways for our 45 students to think for themselves. Once we make it through the process of this first project, they'll have a much better understanding of how to literally make meaning. 

The next projects won't be nearly this difficult. We're teaching them a very personal process for digesting information. They're not being asked to memorize or even regurgitate "facts." They are being asked to dig and explore, to interpret information, and to synthesize meaning. They are contributing to our collective understanding of the Big Question. Every student's contribution to our evolving and expanding consciousness about our human interactions is invaluable.

By the end of the school year, we will have this whole humanity problem sorted out. 

In the meantime, please be patient with me, and support your student in their struggle to understand. We are deep in the learning zone, right now. It's uncomfortable. True learning and growth always is. 

It's going to be a busy, valuable week. On Monday, I'm going to share a basic example of what I want their presentations to look like. That should help alleviate some of the stress that's happening right now. 

Timing is everything. Now that they've wrestled with their research, and are at a point where they know A LOT about their chosen topic, they will be more open and receptive to the detailed explanation of what they're supposed to do with it.

Please don't hesitate to e-mail me, or schedule an appointment to sit down with you and your student if you would like additional support, or explanation.

We're in this together!