Archive: HOS Blogs from 2015-2016

It’s all Greek to me.

In Medieval Europe, before the invention of the printing press, written works were duplicated by hand, most often by monks who were among the literate few at the time. Copyists worked in dimly lit halls, cloisters, or scriptoria to transfer the content of manuscripts onto new pieces of parchment. It was slow and painstaking work, and errors were certainly made. At certain points, a copyist might encounter letters or words that he could not decipher and therefore could not render into intelligible Latin. Those letters or words were often deemed to be Greek. Whether they actually were Greek or not, in many manuscripts they were not copied verbatim but instead were represented by the substitution of the Latin words Graecum est, non legitur (“Greek, not readable”).

 
Link to Artwork

To this day, English speakers use the phrase, “It’s all Greek to me” to denote something they can’t understand. There are similar expressions used by other national, cultural, or linguistic groups to convey the same idea of inscrutability. For speakers of Greek, it’s Chinese. For others, it’s Hebrew, Turkish, Arabic, hieroglyphics, chicken feet, fish-egg language, Spanish village talk— clearly, the unintelligible can take many forms!

 

But a basic inability to decipher language is not the whole story here; sometimes, we’re confounded not just by words, but by culture. It’s ridiculous to expect that we’ll comprehend everything we see or hear— the real question is, what will we do about the incomprehensible? How will we confront it? Will we acknowledge that we can’t understand and then try to remedy that? Or will we take the Graecum est, non legitur approach and move on? If we choose the latter, then we will have to accept the limits imposed by such a choice (from a practical point of view, sometimes that’s necessary).

 

We’re constantly called upon to determine what’s worth understanding. In that process we depend, to a great extent, on the history informs our lives, the language(s) we know and use, and the quality of our education. In this day and time, we have extensive resources available to assist us, well beyond anything the copyists of the Middle Ages could have imagined. My hope for our students is that they will draw intelligently on those resources as they attempt to deal with the things that challenge and mystify them. This has to begin with acknowledging that they don’t understand, that they need to learn, and that they will have to figure out where and how to look for answers. In the broadest and, perhaps, most important sense, such a habit of mind will open them to seeing and embracing the differences that exist within the complex pluralism that is our world. Having been educated at TJ, the chances are great that they’ll recognize Greek. 

One Right Answer

Prefatory note: I composed this blog entry just prior to the attacks that took place in Paris on November 13th. In light of that tragedy, which comes on top of all the other traumatic local, regional, and world events of the past year, I believe it’s more important than ever for us to do all we can to prepare our students for an uncertain world.

 

One Right Answer                                                                                                                                          

 In late October we received a visit from Denis Belliveau, the photographer who followed the path of Marco Polo and documented the whole extraordinary adventure in video and print (see: In the Footsteps of Marco Polo). The time that Denis spent on our campus was a rare opportunity for us to learn from him. His remarkable journey was one that earned him an Emmy nomination and landed him in the New York Explorers Club, among the ranks of other amazing adventurers. It also linked him to all manner of other historic travelers, both real and imagined.

 

All such journeys are built on some basic questions: Where am I going? How will I get there? What will I find when I arrive? What will I discover along the way? Ever since human beings started moving from one place to another, they’ve relied on a variety of navigational tools. They’ve used maps, of varying precision. Some have had people to guide them. All of them have had the sun, the moon, and the stars. Many have had faith. And more recently, GPS. Whatever their navigational tools, it is certain that at some point, all of the travelers faced doubt.

 

As educators, we spend a lot of time thinking about the journey we’re on with our students. We know we’re preparing them for something, but what is it, exactly? Yes, we’re a college preparatory school, so in the immediate term we’re getting our students ready for that next stage of education and life. But do we really know what they will need as they move through college and into adult life? In a complex world whose hallmark is constant disruption, that question is increasingly hard to answer. Will our students be ready? Will they be able to deal with uncertainty? Tolerate ambiguity? Will they be able, as Rainer Maria Rilke expressed over one hundred years ago in Letters to a Young Poet, to “live the questions?”

 

Learning how to live the questions, right now, as they grow and learn, is what will take our students to answers. Their answers won’t always be right, of course, but they will see that a failed answer is an automatic learning opportunity. Sometimes students will find an answer they don’t like. Or they may get confused by finding more than one answer that seems right. Or there may be no answers at all. My point is this: Wherever they land, they must be flexible, adaptable, and open to possibility. Whatever they find, they must have the knowledge and skill to confront and understand it.

 

Along the way, all students will inevitably make mistakes and missteps. They’ll take wrong turns. They’ll feel at times as if they’re about to drop off the edge of the Earth. But if we’re doing our job, if we’re educating them well, they’ll recognize that it’s all right not to know exactly where they’re going. What matters is for them to know that they’ll get there. Because they’ll have the necessary tools, including the courage to deal with the fact that there may not be one right answer.

 

35 Minutes

A recent Microsoft study brought forth the rather startling revelation that my attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish.[1] Given that most learning requires some level of concentration, there are obvious implications of the goldfish finding for how we teach students. At the very least, it raises the perennial question: How long should a class period be?

As most of us know from direct experience, the duration of a class in an American middle or high school is typically 45 or 50 minutes. Some schools combine periods into 90-minute blocks. Some schedules are rotational and differ from day to day. The academic day commonly starts at 7:30 or 8:00 and ends at 2:30 or 3:00. It’s a schedule that hasn’t changed much since my own (long-ago) high school days. And frankly, it’s one that doesn’t pay much attention to attention span.

Back to the goldfish. Even when fully awake, alert, and interested, no one—not even a goldfish—can focus fully for 45 minutes at a time. Which raises another question: What’s the best use of classroom time?

Our school has a long history of short (35-minute) class periods. The exceptions to that are art classes and additional, longer periods for classes that need more time for labs and special projects. Of course there are disadvantages to the short period, but on the whole, they seem to be outweighed by the advantages. In a TJ classroom the level of engagement is extraordinary. That has a lot to do with our exceptionally bright students, but it has also to do with pedagogy and lesson design. From a teacher’s point of view, the 35-minute period is challenging: you have to enter teaching. You can’t arrive late, because every minute counts more heavily in the shortened format. You can’t spend time shuffling papers or writing notes on the board while students shuffle their own papers or watch you write on the board. The 35-minute period is all about preparation, on the part of students and teachers alike. On a normal school day, we blaze through eight periods of 35 minutes, starting at 8:30. We’re finished at 1:10. But that’s only the beginning. After the final 35-minute period, teaching and learning continue in other settings: teachers’ offices, Student Commons, study hall, gym, dorm rooms, outdoors beneath the ancient beech tree—wherever we happen to be. Every afternoon looks a little different, but they all last until 5:00.  

So we’re not goldfish, and we’re not teaching them. But we do need to understand and honor how brains are wired for attention, and then make sure that we’re engaging our students in ways that will leverage and, we hope, expand their ability to concentrate.  

 
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[1] For a more nuanced account of the study results, see the report at http://advertising.microsoft.com/en/cl/31966/how-does-digital-affect-canadian-attention-spans

Twelfth Grade

 

 

At long last, I’ve made it to senior year. That means it’s an all-AP day.

 

8:30 a.m.

Back to the 60’s in AP US History— Miss Fairbank has dressed the part, down to the love beads and sandals. She directs me to join the other students on the floor (I get that this is a teach-in, not a sit-in). To begin, we’re taken to Woodstock, where Country Joe and the Fish are singing, “So it’s one, two, three, what’re we fighting for?” That’s the first question; the next one, from Miss Fairbank, is “Vietnam—what got us there?” Ben, Brittan, Lisa, Alex, Kearsten, and Shane all offer answers to that question, each through a particular lens (LBJ – Goldwater -  McNamara – et al.). There are so many facets, and there’s so much to recall, analyze, and understand, even for those of us who lived through that period. Ho Chi Minh. Domino effect. Eugene McCarthy. Pentagon Papers. From this distance in time, there are finally some answers.

http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/fridgedoor_2266_465503728.jpg 

 

9:15 a.m.

Mrs. Roth announces that we’re in “full” AP review.  “Exciting!” she says. And quickly adds, “Ha-ha.” After a communal eye roll (including Mrs. Roth), we receive the “power packet” that will help us prepare for the exam. “What categories might you expect?” Mrs. Roth asks. Hands go up: Analysis. Compare/Contrast. Synthesis. Argumentation. Let’s talk about that last one. What is the best starting point? We talk about “appeals,” those being ethos, pathos, and logos. The first step in evaluating an argument? Figure out the rhetorical situation. Consider “SOAPS” – subject, occasion, audience, purpose, situation. We look at an excerpt from Margaret Visser’s article, “The Ritual of Fast Food,” taking that first step of applying SOAPS. Later we’ll look at a related article, “The Chipotle Effect: Why America is obsessed with fast casual food.”

 

9:40 a.m.

Free period, opportunity to work on that essay on the fast food article, due tomorrow. I sit in the gallery and read the article. This is also an opportunity to view in a more extended way the current art installation, “Swarm.” It’s an amazingly intricate and colorful assemblage of insects and webs, cut from paper and applied to in a way that creates a glow of color on the wall behind each shape.

 

http://sayyes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/IO6A2485_sm.jpg

 

10:15 a.m.

The first thing that strikes me about AP Physics class is that there aren’t any girls in it. But then I realize that I’m the only female in the room today because Stephanie is absent. We generally do have girls enrolled in this class, but as is the case is so many schools, perhaps not enough? After a quick three-question quiz, Dr. Troutman leads us through an overview of Maxwell’s four equations governing electromagnetism, which I understand to be the behavior of electric and magnetic fields. The equations look like hieroglyphics to me, which is understandable as I’ve never taken a physics class. But even I can grasp the concept of circuits—it helps to have such a cool animation on the SmartBoard—visuals always help. Dr. Troutman maintains a lively pace in this class, putting out lots of questions. That really is one of the hallmarks of a TJ teacher: they never stop asking.

 

10:50 a.m.

AP French is a small class with big work. There’s no way to come unprepared, or even semi-prepared. It’s the same story, really, in every class: If you stay current, the return on the investment of time and effort is great.  Today’s investment is in a piece titled “Solitude numérique,” from  a 1998 work by Didier Daeninckx. I have never read it, but I quickly understand from the discussion that it about the impact of technology on communication, daily life, and relationships. Each student is responsible for a question about the text, in which there’s someone called Martine. Apparently, she feels isolated, to the point of desperation.  Monsieur Smith asks, “Quelle est la question essentielle à laquelle cette histoire répond?” (What is the essential question that this story answers?). I think has to do with a paradox: technology has greatly enabled communication; it has also disabled it, in many ways. After this we move on to Candide, and “the best of all possible worlds.” 

  

11:25 a.m.

Lunch is in honor of Opening Day for the St. Louis Cardinals (anyone who comes to TJ from another city or country has to deal with this part of local culture). There’s no Crackerjack or peanuts, but we do have hot dogs.

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b4/St_Louis_Cardinals_1998-present_logo.png

 

12:05 p.m.

Time for a double-grader in AP Chemistry, calling for three tasks associated with the following: “An electrochemical cell consists of a tin electrode in an acidic solution 1.00 M  Sn2+ connected by a salt bridge to a second compartment with a silver electrode in an acidic solution of 1.00 M Ag+. Ms. De Jesus circulates while everyone works on the test. Every student is so focused that the room is totally quiet, except for the sound Ms. DJ’s squeaky shoes (I can tell she’s really trying to mitigate the noise, which only she and I seem to notice). The double-grader takes the entire period. Before the bell rings, we’re reminded that the AP problems will be posted on line tonight. “Be prepared to discuss!” are Ms. DJ’s parting words.

  

12:45 p.m.

So what are we talking about in chapter 26? It turns out we’re continuing the discussion from the last AP Statistics class. It’s about the properties of independence and uniformity—how do these things relate? Dr. Braun wants to know.  We look at a matrix that shows the population on the R.M.S. Titanic before it hit the iceberg. Can we reach a statistical conclusion based on the data from the Titanic? We talk about what’s observed vs. what’s expected, about null hypothesis. The pathways to answers aren’t always straight. Dr. Braun checks in: “Right? Are people OK with that?” We continue to work through problems, ably assisted by TI-SmartView, when it’s appropriate (human brains on the job here, as well).

 

http://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/specialfx2/images/real.jpeg

 

1:15 p.m.

The Declaration staff is putting the finishing touches on the April edition (sixth of the year). Preparations for the Eighth Grade Play are in full swing.

 

2:00 p.m.

There are seniors in AP Bio lab, a regular Monday occurrence.  There are none in study hall or French or Italian 1 labs (although some of them might enjoy watching great films while eating great cheese).

 

3:30 p.m.

Unfortunately, my day as a senior has to end before Athletics. Under other circumstances, I’d enjoy being on one of the intramural teams that are competing with each other through the end of the year. There’s spirited competition in volleyball and frisbee golf, among other things. 

 

5:00 p.m.

Being a part of each grade level for a day has been a fascinating experience. Even gaining a small notion of what it’s like to be a TJ student in 2015 is immensely valuable. There truly is no substitute for being there, which is why I’ll definitely do this again, maybe even more than once a year. 

Eleventh Grade

It’s quarterly exam week, so I’m fairly certain that I’ll encounter a fair amount of review.

 

8:30 a.m.

Italian 2 begins with little slips of blank paper. On these, we’re to write three nouns and two verbs. This is what Mr. Pesek calls “il grab-bag italiano.” “Make sure you aren’t being TOO absurd,” he says. (“No chance,” I think to myself—he has a class full of comedians.) Once we’ve written our nouns and verbs, they’re all thrown together, and our next task is to grab one piece of paper from the pile, and from it choose two nouns and one verb with which to create a marvelous sentence. We’ll have 90 seconds to complete the task. Shay either didn’t hear or didn’t believe the instruction about absurdity—he asks, “Does it REALLY have to make sense?” Mr. Pesek’s sly response: “Abbastanza.” Sort of. Everyone gets to work. In the end, most of the sentences almost make sense. Of course they’re grammatically correct—these students understand—and enjoy!— language mechanics. As the period ends, we’re into round 2, involving vocab and verb tenses.

 

9:15 a.m.

This has to be college. There’s no other explanation for what’s going on here. Yes, it’s AP, which means it’s supposed to be more like a college English class than a high school one. But somehow, this one seems more advanced than advanced. Mr. Roth comments on the homework he’s returning. He says, “Normally, I hate grading. Then I read your explications…” The students appear mildly surprised but clearly pleased. Now we get into “The Dance,” a poem by William Carlos Williams. But before the analysis begins, there’s going to be a recitation competition: Siri vs. Tom. Mr. Roth goes to his iPhone and brings out the poem in Computerese. Then he asks Tom to recite it in (British) English. No contest, Tom wins. We point to the obvious: “He had feeling, Siri didn’t.” Jim comments that Siri stopped too much at the caesura. Alexis adds that the poem, which is about a dance, was written to sound like it, and that Siri missed that. We contemplate the Breughel painting that inspired the poet. “Can you do a painting from a poem?” One doesn’t preclude the other. Sean says, “They appeal to different parts of our brain.”

http://mccullochweb.weebly.com/uploads/9/5/1/3/9513010/1253889_orig.jpg

 

9:40 a.m.

With visions of enjambments still dancing in my head, I move into a free period.

 

10:15 a.m.

AP Comparative Government and Politics, aka AP Gov. Dr. Human is talking about the art of writing an AP essay. The students have just worked on one of last year’s exam questions, having to do with “similarities and differences in the sources of authority for leaders in China and Iran.” It’s important to answer only the question that’s asked, she says. “You have too much information, and you share it. Don’t write more than you need to; don’t use the ‘throw-the-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-hope-something-sticks’ technique.” Timing is important (i.e., you don’t want to run out of it). Now she turns us all into AP graders. We’re given scoring guidelines. “Grade your own essay,” she says. When asked what we gave ourselves, most people say “5” (I’m not sure if this is real or wishful). But there’s more to learn about AP grading—we’re given some sample (actual) answers to the sources of authority question, which we go through and grade together. Being aware of how an AP Gov essay is graded before actually writing one strikes me as a very good idea.

http://nataliethecoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/spaghetti-against-the-wall.jpg

 

10:50 a.m.

Down to Bio-chem Lab for AP Biology. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger textbook—it must weigh at 30 pounds. Ms. Pieroni takes a few minutes at the beginning to go over the research paper rubric. There will be individual meetings with her—those should be set very soon. She reminds everyone to be careful about the topic (not too broad). It’s not necessary to write a textbook. “Email me if you’re having trouble accessing primary sources,” she says. There will be NO more leniency on formatting— APA! Proper citation! Now it’s time to finish the discussion about chordates. Osteichthyes (bony fishes—most of these students have studied Greek, so they remember the word). Sarcopterygii (the living ones are coelacanths, lungfish, and the tetrapods). Kenny has a lot to say about these. It seems coelacanths were thought to be extinct, but then in 1938 someone actually caught one off the coast of South Africa. They’re often referred to as “living fossils.”

http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/005/cache/coelacanth_501_600x450.jpg

 

11:27 a.m.

Dr. Troutman began AP Calculus class with a question about questions: “Before we do our review, are there any questions from last night’s homework that we need to go over?” Everyone seemed to be OK, so we moved on. Now two minutes in, we’re looking at a problem that Dr. Troutman has projected onto the whiteboard. He tells us that we have to abide by calculator rules. His advice is to look at the question first, before taking action of any kind. It’s important to tap into intuition about what the question is asking. “Reflect for 30 seconds before diving in,” he says. Look for code words. Guess where the points are in each question. And find different ways of writing the answer. From what I can ascertain, the problem has something to do with grass clippings—that’s about as far as I can get. Fortunately, that’s not the case for the other students in the room.

 

12:05 p.m.

I’ve moved next door to Classics classroom where Dr. Braun is teaching precalculus. He’s going over material for the quarterly exam. What to review? Chapters. Old quizzes, homework, double-graders, chapter tests. He selects a problem from a chapter test and writes it on the SMART Board. He asks, “What’s the first step?” Samantha offers one. Tom suggests another. Dr. Braun says, “So, what I heard Samantha say was… Let’s try that.” Then he asks, “Does everyone like this first step? Where to next?” Dr. Braun isn’t about to give anything away—this problem belongs entirely to the students. Another student steps up to the board work through the problem. Several different approaches are attempted. Dr. Braun asks if we’re all OK with the process. Everyone nods in assent. This is homework—we’ll return tomorrow with the answer. Next we spend some time reviewing inverse functions and identities. We work a problem from a Chapter Review, and then one from Chapter 8. The students pick a problem involving the lengths of the sides of triangles. Area is given: 54√6 (somehow, that doesn’t help me—I think I need lunch).

 

12:45 p.m.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of food left for those of us who eat third lunch. I’m not a vegetarian, but since today’s selection looks so good, I’ll have it.

 

1:15 p.m.

Activities period. The Declaration team is working on the next issue. I look forward to seeing what Aaron, Rachel and their staff come up with this time. It’s always an interesting mix of news, features, reviews, and op-ed pieces.

 

2:00 p.m.

Study hall: favorite of no one, helpful to some.  AP Bio comes back together for lab. I think they’re entering dissection season.

 

3:30 p.m.

No athletics today, except to get ready for tomorrow’s annual Students vs. Staff basketball extravaganza.

Tenth Grade

8:30 a.m.

My day in 10th grade begins with a free period. Most of my classmates are in Sayers Lounge or Founders Room, preparing for Italian or physics, or for a quiz in some other class (typical Friday). We’re all playing a bit of catch-up due to yesterday’s Surprise Day at the City Museum. But I have to attend a class right now. Because of a scheduling conflict, I’m forced up to 11th grade so I can do French 2. Monsieur Smith greets us with a cheerful “Bonjour!” And then promptly gives us a quiz on the subjunctive. The fact that it’s on green paper is of some consolation. Monsieur Smith announces, “Pas de bonus aujourd’hui.” No bonus? “Can we make one up?” Océane asks. I admire such initiative. “Maybe next time,” Monsieur replies. Once the green papers are all in, we turn to the “Panorama” section of the current unit. It’s about francophone Africa. We read aloud a paragraph on Léopold Senghor, the great Senegalese poet and leader. Thomas executes a respectable English translation of the text.

 

9:05 a.m.

From French 2 to Italian 1. Signor Pesek has us practice the imperativo, both formale and informale. The students are pretty good at giving each other orders; S. Pesek makes sure they use the appropriate form when issuing a command to him. There’s a brief discussion about how we know when to use the formale. Age, status, relationship, and context matter. “Va bene. Now, what about pronouns?” We talk about the different types of pronouns that exist in Italian, and where they go in a phrase or sentence. According to Geremio, they go “everywhere!” But depending, of course, on the grammatical function, person, and tense. And with the imperativo, whether it’s formale or informale (Mi scusi! Scusami!)During the last nine minutes of class, we take a quiz (on the imperativo, naturalmente).

http://borgniet.be/italiano/gram/jpgpng/063taci.jpg

 

9:45 a.m.

I’m immersed in Romance languages: now French 1, another quiz. We’re going to display our mastery of indirect object pronouns. “Bon courage,” Monsieur Smith says, with his trademark radiant smile. True to TJ form, the quiz is a quick one. We then move immediately into the topic of clothing. Monsieur starts a game of “Mot de passe” (password). Wow, it’s really hard to describe an article of clothing when you have limited vocabulary! But with a strategically placed prompt here and there, Gisèle, Enzo, Juliette, Florian, and the others manage to work it out. We have a slightly easier time with the next activity, which is the question, “Qu’est-ce que je porte?” It always helps to have a visual. When a person is standing before you and you can actually see what he or she is wearing, it’s not as difficult to come up with the necessary words.

 

10:15 a.m.

Cookie break. I’m not very hungry so I spend my free period in the Gallery, talking with Mrs. Correa, Director of Residence Life. She’s a very interesting person who can, among other things, teach math and play the cello (although typically not at the same time).

 

11:00 a.m.

From modern to ancient— I’m now in Greek 2.  The period starts with—you guessed it—a quiz. Dr. G. says he took it and got a 4 (equivalent of 70). There are two parts: words to know (sternutation, polymathy, xeriscape) and declensions. The bonus question has to do with Harry Potter. Once the quiz is over, there’s controversy about what the bonus question really means. Dr. G. laughs. He looks at one student in particular: “Liat, I’ve accused you of thinking too much before.” Liat laughs. In reviewing the quiz, Dr. G. points out that in the declension section, we should always write the stem— “that’s 60% of the problem!” The rest of the period is devoted to Herodotus. We’re in a part of the text featuring Xerxes whose great flaw is hubris. We get into a translation challenge that illustrates how it’s sometimes impossible to engage in simple substitution, word for word. Consider δοκέω. It has to do with perception or opinion or something that seemsright or best. One thing is clear: there seems to be no way to capture it in a single English word.

 

http://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/images/print-edition/20130921_BKP002_0.jpg

 

11:25 a.m.

There are many kinds of languages. Math is one. This is a class with an entirely different grammar: advanced algebra-trigonometry. Ms. De Jesus is excited about reviewing formulas. The students give them and she writes them. I’m intrigued by how she approaches this. As a non-specialist, I’ve always tended to view math narrowly, as a single pathway that (one hopes) leads to “the” answer. We’re reminded that there are different ways of going about writing the formulas. Ms. D.J. talks about geometric and arithmetic sequences. All of the students nod to show understanding. “Now lead me through your thoughts,” she says. Which, I realize, is the basically the same thing as “Show your work.” We get to the “infamous” Bouncing Ball Problem. There are lots of questions (How high after the 5th bounce? How far will it travel? Will it converge? How do we know? What number will it converge upon? etc.) Eventually, all of this thinking will be called up on a double-grader. I get the distinct impression that the students themselves could easily write the test (and as Ms. D.J. tells me later, they sometimes do). 

 

12:00 p.m.

Second-period lunch has fewer people in it than first. I’m amazed by how quickly my table mates are able to put down a full plate of food AND carry on a decent conversation. I get so caught up in the discussion that before I realize it, lunch period is over. I still have most of a salad on my plate.

 

12:45 p.m.

We’re only ten minutes into a discussion of Act II of “The Merchant of Venice,” but already we’ve covered a lot of ground. This is, apparently, fairly typical of English 10. Mrs. Roth asks what strategies we use to keep track of what’s happening in a play when we’re reading it in pieces. We agree, it’s not at all like the experience of being in the audience, seeing (and hearing) everything in its entirety, from beginning to end. Jack says that there are more scenes in Act II, which makes the pace feel faster. Jeremy maintains that this helps you link everything. Do the settings complicate these linkages? Mrs. Roth offers a color-coded scene list: blue for Venice, green for Belmont. We talk about thematic continuity from Act I to Act II; building of suspense, evocation of states of mind. The character of Launcelot is introduced. There’s physical comedy here, and conflict, between his conscience and “the fiend.” Mrs. Roth suggests that we read some of it aloud and try to visualize.

 

http://bloggingshakespeare.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/CASKET-300x240.jpg

 

1:15 p.m.

Everyone scatters to the four winds of arts classes: Tap Dance, Ceramics, Drama, Painting & Drawing. I feel very conflicted about which one to attend, because there’s something attractive to me about each of the electives. I think I should opt for the one with which I’ve had the least experience, but as I don’t have the right shoes, Ms. Berger is spared the pain of trying to teach me to tap dance. Working on a lump of clay is probably a better option.

 

3:15

Clubs and athletics. Dungeons & Dragons Club is a long-standing tradition at TJ. These people are experts! Equality Club is a more recently formed group and an important one, in the wake of Ferguson and in the context of current social issues. It’s not surprising that we have a Mock Trial team at this school. I’ve never known a TJ student who couldn’t step up to a good argument.

 

http://media.utdailybeacon.com/photos/2012/04/23/mock-trial-gavel-4-24.2036-650.jpg

 

The afternoon is full of preparations for tomorrow’s Cabaret Night and for the imminent arrival of freezing rain. We may not get to “The Winslow Boy” at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre tonight. Ms. Fairbank reassures us that we should be able to reschedule.

 

5:00 p.m.

In a word: weekend.

Ninth grade

Ninth Grade

 

8:30 a.m.

Introduction to Biology. Ms. Pieroni asks us what’s going to be on the double-grader—what did we learn? The answer: a lot, i.e., a) living things; b) animals; c) chordates; d) cladograms (not familiar with that term; will have to look it up). She asks how we’re going to spend the bulk of our study time—we have study packets, plus there are the flashcards that everyone has made. Given all the long, complicated nomenclature, those strike me as a good idea. There are as many flashcard styles as there are students. Jeremy has standard note cards, Nathan has assorted scraps of paper—whatever works! We do a rapid review of primates and hominids (Ms. Pieroni will post the PowerPoint for later reference and review). We move rapidly through old vs. new world monkeys, the importance of head position, random mutations, and adaptations. “So how DID we get out of water and onto land?” Ms. Pieroni wants to know. By the end of class I know what a cladogram is. Which goes to show, if you keep paying attention, the answers to certain questions will reveal themselves.

9:05 a.m.

Intro to Bio, round 2 (actually, section 2). It’s quite useful to be able to do it all again, with a different group. This time we talk about bigger heads, bigger brains, non-grasping tails, and opposable thumbs. “Foramen magnum (from the Latin, meaning “great hole”): the large opening in the base of the skull through which the spinal cord exits the cranial vault.” Some intriguing questions are raised: “Are we evolving TOWARD something? What’s the end goal?” (I assume it’s survival.)

 

9:35 a.m.

Third period: Greek 1. Papers with lines of Ancient Greek are taped to the board. Mr. Roth announces a speed-scanning contest. Judging from the reaction, this seems to be a frequent occurrence. Michael is reputed to be a solid competitor; OP and Zach take him on. The three of them go after it, with gusto. Mr. Roth asks lots of questions, starting with, “What’s the hardest line up there?” There’s discussion of spondees and dactyls. Then we move to translation of some lines from the Iliad (this is, after all, Homeric Greek). We’re told to take out the “map”— apparently, a personal guide to endings and forms, of which there are many. There’s mention of “liquid future.” Mr. Roth suggests that this would be a great name for a rock band. I silently agree.

 

Detail from the Venetus A manuscript, showing Iliad 3.1-9.

  

10:15 a.m.

Back to American Studies with Ms. Audet— I hope she’s not getting tired of seeing me. But as I’m in 9th grade today, and as this is a combined 7th-8th-9th class, there’s no other option. She opens with good news: “The quizzes from Friday rocked!” Smiles all around. Then she talks for a minute about current events, the study of which is a constant in this class. We are reminded of basic criteria: Is it news? Is it interesting to talk about? There’s mention of an incident that took place one recent night at a hockey game, which involved hateful speech targeting some Native American kids—does that qualify as a current event? Given the timeliness and importance of the issue it raises, we agree that it does. Next it’s time for final practice and performance of the History Minute skits (I saw preparations for these when I was in 8thgrade). Group 1’s skit clearly articulates the differing views on having the federal government decide free or slave status of states as they enter the union. Ryan, Daniel, Aaron, and Hong Ding make their arguments with great emphasis. Theirs is the skit set in what appears to be a tavern (their beverage props are age-appropriate, marked as “coffee”). Now Group 2 (Michelle, Mason, Jeremy, and Allen) make their own arguments on the question of slavery, only their venue is a train station, complete with sound effects. They’re all very engaged and seem to relish making arguments.

 

11:00 a.m.

Ten minutes into World History. The class started with a quick quiz on an excerpt from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The topic is colonization in history and fiction. Discussion follows. What does Conrad say about the land? Ms. Barenkamp reads a paragraph aloud, so we can really get into the words. Everyone listens carefully, and when asked about “tone” words, terms like “murky” and “gloomy” immediately emerge. We talk about “untamed” landscape and the “impenetrable” aspect of nature. It’s obvious that this class is developing a keen ear for language and that they really enjoy vocabulary. The discussion shifts from the physical environment to the people in it. We discuss the idea of “other” and how Conrad links the people and the land as things both free and monstrous. David comments that this really reminds him of “Star Trek” and the Enterprise’s visits to other planets. Before we can get into this connection, which seems apt, the bell rings.

 

11:25 a.m.

I find I enjoy having first lunch—one hour makes a difference. Today it’s the taco bar. Another opportunity to exercise individuality.

 

12:00 p.m.

From tacos to geometry. Mr. Pesek is the teacher and a prime example of a TJ alum: multi-talented. In addition to geometry, he teaches Italian and yoga (why not?). He distributes a ten-problem double-grader with two bonus questions that he says I might get. As it turns out, all ten of the geometry problems contain clues to the bonus answers (I learn this only after the fact— very clever). I stare at the problems, racking my brain. I’ve seen things like this before, but I can’t quite retrieve what I need for solving. How to approach? How to read? This is basic learning. Suddenly, I’m reminded of my recurring nightmare in which I find myself taking an exam for a class I’ve never attended. It’s the worst feeling: being unprepared. Thankfully, in this school, given its size, the nature of its program, and the relationships between teachers and students, I don’t think that particular nightmare scenario happens very often.

 

12:35 p.m.

For the final period of the day, it’s a bit of a relief to be back in an English class (more up my alley), talking about a book I’ve actually read. The students seem to be enjoying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dr. Human quickly reviews the Who? Where? What? Why? of the current section, and then goes on to talk about “natural” vs. “unnatural” things. Is nature perfect? In the time of this story, people thought it was good to get out into nature and gaze upon its beauties. In the story, Victor takes walks and benefits from nature’s restorative power. Dr. Human advises: “Pay attention to nature. It’s going to be important.”  My mind wanders back briefly to the earlier discussion in history class—there’s a connection. We go on to consider the question of why Frankenstein’s monster never gets a name. We talk about why something unnatural strikes us as evil. What makes a human being, anyway? And where does goodness come from? Weighty questions, ones that have engaged philosophical minds for millennia, including now the 9th grade minds in this room.

 
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1:15 p.m.

Classes are over. It’s Tuesday, so we gather for our weekly assembly in the Dining Hall. As usual, there’s a series of announcements and reminders: clubs, theatre outings, Student Council, basketball, service learning. In their capacity as Heads of Lists, Tom and Jim exhort everyone to do their jobs and take better care of the spaces we all share. They’re quite serious and eloquent about it. Contrary to what students might think, adults sometimes really appreciate having someone else do the nagging.   

 

3:30 p.m.

The afternoon is quiet. Students are all over campus, working in their dorm rooms, in Main, in study hall. Some of them are up on the second or third floor, working with teachers. Everyone has had the chance to get out of dress code and into more comfortable garb (I don’t take advantage of this—I prefer to get dressed only once each day). There’s a bit of socializing going on in Sayers Lounge— that’s a necessary part of the program, as well. In Founders, Dawson is showing his developing card trick skills to some of his friends. I comment, in passing, that he really should check out Ricky Jay, a true master of the art.

 

5:00 p.m.

The “business” day is over; day students head home for the night, unless they have basketball. Everyone else gets ready for dinner.

 

 

Eighth Grade

8:30 a.m.

Today is Friday. I’m beginning it with a chemistry quiz. It’s being proctored by someone else because Ms. DJ is out of town today. Everyone (but me) finishes with time to spare, which gives everyone (but me) a few free minutes before our next class. They’re all loudly happy about it. Still in the lab, I stare at the blue laminated copy of the periodic table of elements and wonder where I went wrong—how could I never have taken chemistry?? This much I do know: Ms. DJ’s students are as good as Au!

9:05 a.m.

Dr. G. begins with: “Questions? Comments? Concerns?” (there’s a quiz— I’m told this tends to happen on Fridays.) No one has any questions, comments, or concerns. Interesting. When I was in 8th grade the first time, I don’t recall ever beginning a class this way—it certainly would have been nice! So the quiz begins. I get the “Visitor” version. Easiest question: #1, Batman or Superman? (My answer: Pacman. Dr. G. gives me full credit.) Hardest question: #3, Tell me a joke. (I never remember jokes. No credit.). During the quiz, it’s a pretty relaxed atmosphere—interactive, even. My classmates actually seem to be enjoying it! Afterwards, Dr. G. quickly reviews the answers and then throws out a (Greco-Nordic) challenge: “friggatriskaidekaphobia.” We get it! Today! Friday the 13th! What a great word.   

http://upload.wikimedia.org

9:40 a.m.

This is a free period, so I have to figure out what to do besides eat a delicious rainbow chocolate chip cookie in the dining hall. Think I’ll park myself in the Gallery, review my schedule, do some reading, and watch the world go by. I’m not alone.

10:30 a.m.

I’m in an Ancient History discussion circle with Ms. Barenkamp, Chris, Michelle, Emma, and Carlee. We’re talking about a 10th-century Japanese woman named Izumi Shikibu. She was apparently quite a remarkable poet and lover. We consider the historical, cultural, and geographical context in which she lived, loved, and wrote. We talk about what different Asian cultures saw as female beauty at that time, and discuss how Izumi’s beauty is expressed through her poetry. Ms. B. says, “Let’s do a little more analysis,” so we dig more into definitions and meanings. This is tanka poetry, a very special, short (31 syllables) form. We look at a group of paintings done by an artist who was inspired by tanka. We read some lines aloud (in English translation—unfortunately, we don’t know Japanese). At the very end of the time, we touch on the aesthetic concept of Yūgen, which means something suggestive, subtle, mysterious, and profound. The bell rings. We’ve done a lot in 35 minutes!

                                                                                                     

                                                   http://40.media.tumblr.com                      http://upload.wikimedia.org

 

11:05 a.m.

I’ve returned to Ms. Audet’s American Studies class—it’s a combined 7-8-9 group. This time, I’m in a lab session. The students are divided into two groups, each working on its own “History Minute” skit. The project is about slavery in the US, specifically, about states’ rights to determine whether they will embrace slavery or be free states. The students have written their skits and are now rehearsing. They have to represent, in some way, both sides of the argument. One group’s skit takes place in a train station; the other group is in a tavern. The students encourage and correct each other. They’re extremely lively and passionate about their positions. Michelle is showing good leadership. She says, in an encouraging way, “Allen, you have to say something—you have to be involved.” Ms. Audet checks in periodically to see how things are going. Jeremy reports, “Our group is 75.6% done!” Group 1 says, “We’re in good shape.” It looks as if they’ll be ready to perform the skits next week. I should be able to see them— if I graduate to 9th grade.

11:25 a.m.

It’s the Valentine’s Day Special! Flank steak, veggies, salad. Incredible bread pudding for dessert. Chef Matt and his crew have festooned the dining hall with shiny red hearts and garlands, and every table has a sweet centerpiece.  

12:00 p.m.

After lunch (and chocolate) it’s time for Algebra 2. We enter the room to find four problems written toward the top of the board. Our instruction: “Find the thing in the box.” I take this to mean solve. Today it’s a “standing” class—we’re in the Physics Lab, so there’s a high, black table that’s perfect for doing algebra without sitting down. It strikes me as a good strategy for a class that is taking place after such a great lunch. No one is at risk of napping. Given how many questions Mr. Roth throws out, no one would be inclined to fall asleep, anyway. He has an amazing way of keeping us thinking. It’s all about tools: “Know which ones you have,” he says. People are murmuring: “Divide… multiply… radicalize…” After which we find the things in the boxes. Now Mr. Roth asks us to do problem #19 with him. It has to do with a ladder leaning against a wall, and what happens when you pull the feet of the ladder farther away from the wall. For some reason, the answer Mr. Roth has gotten (and he does ALL the homework) doesn’t match the one in the key. “Has something escaped me?” he asks. Everyone double-checks. “No,” they all say, “the answer key must be wrong. We should write to the publisher!”

                                                                                               http://learner.org

12:45 p.m.

From algebra to English. We start the class by making connections. We’ll be seeing a play soon, titled “The Winslow Boy.” Miss Fairbank predicts that it will look familiar to us. But why? When it is set? –1914. Where? –England. What are we reading right now? – Pygmalion. When was it written? Where is it set? And what about Oscar Wilde? What did we read by him that connects to all of this? Of course, everyone says, The Importance of Being Earnest. But it’s not enough to say the name of the work; they have to say why they’ve made this connection. We talk for a while about female characters in what they’ve read, and how their relationships to men are developed. Someone mentions Taming of the Shrew (another work they’ve just read). There are questions and comments about gender roles, caste, and class. There’s no shortage of opinions in this room. Miss Fairbank tells us to keep hold of all of this for when we go to the Rep to see the play. Now it’s time for a quiz (it’s still Friday). One of the questions is, “Give the Elizabethan word for: certainly / bathroom / okay.” With my intermediate-level proficiency in Elizabethan, I manage to get all three. 

1:15 p.m.

After 8th period we stay in the Humanities classroom with Miss Fairbank. It’s the day of auditions for the 8th Grade Play, something called “Superfreaks.” It’ll be performed in the spring. I’m fairly confident it’s a comedy— and I can’t wait to see it!

3:30 p.m.

It’s time for arts classes. Unfortunately, I have to miss today because of a meeting. I would so much have preferred doing some painting and drawing with Ms. Foster in the peace and quiet of the Art Barn.

5:00 p.m.

The weekend has begun. There’s mention of snow. Will we have school on Monday?

http://www.polyvore.com

 

Seventh Grade

8:30 a.m.     Pencil

Prep period with Mrs. Roth. I’m awake. We’re getting organized. Is homework complete (opening chapter of Animal Farm… Latin translations… Outside Reading)? Do I need to see a teacher? Any quizzes today? Do I have everything? My pencil eraser is bad— makes awful smears. Should have brought an extra. Maybe Rosie will lend me one (she seems prepared for just about anything)? Mrs. Roth gives us a cheerful, encouraging send-off. I should visit her every day at this time.

9:15 a.m.

Discussing Animal Farm in English 7. Ms. Barenkamp has already asked us how it went last night— she likes getting feedback and is really enthusiastic about hearing from us. She has the best laugh. William has given an “Outside Reading”-type summary of what we’ve read so far. Seems to be good at that. We went over our Character Page (this time: Mr. Jones). Can we map out the farm in our head? Now we’re considering themes: the power of language to persuade; the corrupting influence of power on an individual. We’re really going to dig into these (reminder from Ms. B: “If I write it on the board, you need to put it in your notes”). Think: connections to other things we’ve read— or will read? Romeo andJuliet. Hobbes. Wow. There’s the bell already. This class went quickly.

10:00 a.m.

I love Latin! Who knew that declensions and tenses could be so amusing? We’re doing a lot of picky, tricky translations, but Dr. Grabarek somehow keeps everyone going. It’s not boring because a) Dr. G. is funny, and b) he brings in history and culture—the Roman Forum!— as we work through the intricacies of translation. He reminds us of The First Rule: “If it makes no sense in English, it’s probably wrong.” Words to live by. Michael hates #53 so Dr. G. tells him he gets to tell 5 things about the vocab in that sentence (he does a fabulous job of it); and then he also gets to tell 3 things about endings (we get it—5, 3). He does a fabulous job of that, as well. Michael probably now has a whole new perspective on 53. O amici! The queen who hates war!

10:35 a.m.

Right now I’m with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders in Ms. Audet’s American Studies class. Everyone but me is from somewhere outside the US— which is why, of course, we’re doing this class. The students all seem to like it. I’m impressed by what they know about Manifest Destiny and how articulate they are in talking about it— in a second language, no less. We study two different paintings that depict Westward expansion and point out what we notice in each quadrant of each painting. Details are important. Hong Ding gives an amazing commentary on the meaning of light and dark in the paintings. Michelle notices that there’s a cross carved into the side of a cliff. She shares some ideas about what this might represent. We wrap up by reading Robert Frost’s poem, “The Gift Outright.” Mason and Hong Ding read the verses aloud. Ms. Audet encourages them to be “loud, clear, and dramatic” in their delivery, and they are.

Emanuel Leutze, Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1861) 

Emanuel Leutze, Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1861)

 

11:00 a.m.

Dr. Human’s Social Studies class started today with “How to get the right answer when you don’t know the answer.” On the last double-grader, it seems some people had a little trouble contextualizing and explaining “ethnic cleansing” and “mechanized farming.” It’s all about the educated guess. As Dr. Human says, “There’s a lot more in your brain than you think there is” (hope she’s not joking—she can be funny about nearly anything). Now we’re getting into a new chapter in World Geography: page 252, South America— Human (ha ha) Geography. This is our first look at the material. “Do the thinking with me,” Dr. Human says. A map shows waves of immigration to parts of South America. Other maps represent human activity, health, and population density in a certain time frame. We check all of this out. Malaria = huge problem. Fortunately, however, not up here— we’re well north of the Equator. We talk about why this kind of information is important.

11:25 a.m.

Time for lunch. The morning has raced by. My attention hasn’t flagged. There’s been good energy in every class. Everyone participates, even when they’re not sure what they’re talking about (isn’t that the point?). Pizza and salad for lunch, tasty. Not my day to be a waiter— I have a few minutes of freedom before the next class, so I talk to some older students who are in the Dining Hall.

12:00 p.m. Blue cross

Ms. Pieroni is very efficient at the beginning of Algebra 1 class: a student hands back homework notebooks while she passes out materials for the problem we’re going to work on. It’s a plain piece of paper, cut into a cross shape. We’re going to figure surface area and volume (after we fold it into a box). I kind of remember how to do this, but I’m not confident. Variables… exponents… distribution… I know I can ask for a “lifeline” (another student) if I need help. We take it step by step. FOIL method or box? We do both. Ms. Pieroni guides, but it’s the students who do the work. Allen is closely studying how he’s labeled his box— looks like he gets it. It’s all very interesting. Suddenly, I hear in my mind the grating voice of my junior high math teacher: “Naturally, girls aren’t good at this kind of thing.” Really?? Of all people, SHE should have known better.

12:55 p.m.

In the thick of a lab experiment in Earth Science. Dr. Troutman has reviewed some climate material with us and has posed the question: When there’s wind, is it actually colder outside, or does it just feel colder? And then: WHY does it get/feel that way? We gather data from two probes: one is directly exposed to the air; the other is immersed in a beaker of warm water. The experiment involves a wind source (small electric fan); the control has no wind. We state our hypotheses, set up data tables that will either support or refute. We measure the temperature of each probe at the beginning and end of five minutes. Preliminary finding: air temp around the beaker (heat source) drops more quickly when exposed to wind. Beaker = human body— “feels” the cold more quickly with wind than without. Next time I hear “18 degrees, wind chill minus 1,” perhaps I’ll have a better idea of what’s happening.

 Feels Like Temperature

2:30 p.m.

After Earth Science everyone had time to relax, talk with people, change clothes, work on some things, go to cookie break. Now: theatre class with Ms. Kessler. We’re working on a condensed version of Romeo and Juliet— it’s “The Good Stuff.”  Really weird to see how it can be boiled down to a few basic scenes. Ms. Kessler accidentally left the swords at home, but no matter— there are plenty of other things to rehearse. We can work on swordplay later, maybe Friday. Braden, Aaron, and Haley seem up for that. Shakespeare’s language is hard. We work on some tongue-twister lines—“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.” Practice helps, we improve quickly. There’s no lack of drama— Paige, don’t fall off the “balcony”! Hopefully, we can present at least part of R&J—The Good Stuff at the our upcoming Cabaret Night? 

3:30 p.m.

Time for clubs, activities, start on homework. 

5:00 p.m.

This has been a great day— truly. Every class, every teacher. Time to wrap up and prepare for tomorrow. Parting thought 7th grade wasn’t anything like this when I did it the first time. Wonder how I’ll feel about 8th?