Monday, October 3, 2016

A VITAL, New Ninth Grade Seminar Series

Ninth grade vector designs that were laser cut in the PC IdeaLab
Karen Campbell, Judith Hill, Michael Moulton and Debbie White worked this summer with funding from VITAL to create the new first-quarter ninth grade seminar series that combines disciplines to help all ninth graders become super savvy with learning skills, wellness topics, research ability and technology use.

Tech Savvy
Working on their technology skills, students have moved from setting up their school laptop for wireless and printing, to accessing the PC Hub, to creating increasingly more complex schoolwork documents in a cloud-based document system. Their latest work included collaborating online to create scalable vector graphics (SVG) files to send to the PC IdeaLab’s new laser cutter.

Wellness Savvy

A lesson on Stress Management begins with a high-pressure/low-stake, single-elimination tournament of Slap-Jack. This icebreaking activity does a great job getting students to experience some of the physiological signs of stress (shaky hands, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms…). The discussions continue with why we experience stress, identifying signs and positive healthy ways to cope with stressful situations. "Slap Jack Video"

Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk  “How to Make Stress Your Friend” challenges students to view stress as a good thing and to trust themselves that they can handle life’s challenges.

Learning Skill Savvy
Students planning a week in the life of a PC ninth grader.
The foundation to this portion of the class is understanding how we learn using the latest research on adolescent development and 21st century learning. Using surveys, reflection and critical research, each of the students will have a clear sense of who they are as a learner and what they need in order to maximize their potential in school. Once students have this information, we move on to practical tools and habits for success. Sessions on planning, organization tools and tricks (tech and no-tech) and goal-setting start the quarter and we will round out our time with note-taking strategies and effective studying. In each meeting there is time for planning as well as questions on anything from navigating the Hub to managing positive teacher/student relationships.

Research Savvy
In October, students will explore the library and build research skills that will come into play in their coursework in late fall. They will participate in a library scavenger hunt where they will physically and virtually explore our library resources (people, as well as materials) and learn how to utilize the library and explore resources beyond the library walls. Students will conduct research on the topics they are learning about in the health and wellness component of the class, learn how to take good notes in the NoodleTools research app, and how to properly cite ideas and images that are not their own. Students will familiarize themselves with library-curated material that is authoritative, current and non-biased, as well as learn how to evaluate the material they turn up in their favorite research tool of choice, Google! They will utilize the database Teen Health and Wellness, a new library resource written specifically for the teenage audience, which was added for this course, and for student use throughout their time at PC.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Creating Music: Theory and Practice

We collaborated this summer to create musical instruments from basic materials to study the construction and acoustical properties of these instruments, an initial step in studying with our students the physics of sound. Our work was funded by a grant from VITAL – a program created as part of our Strategic Vision that is designed to provide resources for teachers to work cross-curricularly over the summer to pursue areas about which they are passionate

We are passionate about science and music, and this work was a chance to look at the relationship between math, science and music by using PVC, wood, electronics, 3D printers and other materials to construct electric guitars, ukuleles, flutes, djembes and a trombone. These instruments were made with traditional and nontraditional methods in part to take advantage of the tools in the IdeaLab (also a outgrowth of the Strategic Vision) and develop techniques that students can use in the IdeaLab to safely create instruments of their own.

This fall we will study the physics of the sound from the instruments we made to help show students how the instruments create their unique tones. Students in the Small Band will have the opportunity to create their own instruments and to study the sound that they produce.

We also are working on a course proposal for a future semester-long course to explore in depth the physics of music, music theory and instrument design.  The combination of science, music and technology in a project-based course fits nicely with the Strategic Vision goals for continued growth of academic opportunities for students.

Along with the benefits we hope this provides for our students and the school, it was also just plain fun to spend time together building instruments.  We had our share of “failures” with instruments we created that didn’t do what we intended, but we learned as much from these results as from the instruments that worked as envisioned. 

We hope to pass some of the fun we had along to our students as well as other students and adults in the community who love music as much as we do.

Brad Ford, Upper School Band and Performing Arts

Tim Clarke, Upper School Physics and Robotics

Friday, June 10, 2016

Using All the Angles in Ninth Grade Geometry

The geometry balloon project described in this video was an exciting task that drew upon at least five core curriculum areas: surface area, volume, right triangle trigonometry, polygons and proportion.

The project certainly involved some 21st century technologies, as students used the multiple award-winning Geometer's Sketchpad software, and then transferred data to Inkscape, an illustration tool that can be used with our laser cutter. Students used the laser cutter to cut out all the polygonal panels to exact sizes.

The students then constructed the projects in the IdeaLab, and sometimes in the Upper School art room. This final step makes this a good example of the Strategic Vision goal to rethink space, as students divided their time between their regular classroom, the IdeaLab and the art room.

We encountered challenges along the way, but these enthusiastic ninth graders persevered to success.

Also, in this topic we again talked about the multicultural roots and examples of geometric art and architecture throughout the world, with particular mention of Islamic art, which focuses on geometric shapes with spectacular results, as in the Alhambra, in Granada, Spain.

Bruce MacCullough
Upper School Mathematics

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Beowulf Production Becomes a Literary Event

by Christine Pearsall

When I learned that the Middle School play for the spring of 2016 would be Sort of Beowulf: A Sort of Comedy, a parody of the famous English epic hero story, I immediately envisioned an opportunity to draw from my experiences as an English and theater teacher and link our divisional theatrical project to the Middle School English classroom.  Early in the process I teamed up with Eva Kay Noone, the production’s director, to share my ideas about how we could make this a literary event for the entire Middle School.

Together we worked with the Middle School English department to devise a curricular unit for grades 6-8 that would help students learn the story of Beowulf and prepare them to see the production. Students read an abbreviated version of the story and then sampled some of the epic verse. Some classes even listened to a portion of the story in Old English, gaining a sense of the language in its earliest form and an overall scope of how the language has evolved.  Each grade also completed an artistic extension in response to their study of the tale. For example, eighth graders used a menu of knight heraldry symbols to create personal coats of arms, which they designed to look like Viking shields. Seventh graders examined a graphic novel of the epic tale and then worked in partners to illustrate comic book sequences inspired by the great battle between Beowulf and the monster Grendel. Sixth graders created and colored murals of the action scenes from the adventure story.

While our cast and crew delved the most deeply into the story and play-making process during their weeks of rehearsal, many other students joined the experience the week of the show by helping display the dramaturgical work of the English classes in the Middle School lobby and Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts and by volunteering to usher for the show.  In an effort to give all Middle School students an opportunity to “see” the story they had been studying and to support their peers who were performing, we sponsored a pizza dinner for students on opening night, so they could stay at school and attend the performance. Over 35 students came to our pre-show event, with many others joining us in the Kurtz Center that evening with their families.

Thanks to our collaborative and willing English, visual arts and theater faculty, Sort of Beowulf: A Sort of Comedy truly became a literary event for all Middle School learners.  I am always delighted by how theatre can enliven the classroom, and how this particular art-form’s magic can bring to life important stories.

Part of the Content goal of Penn Charter’s Strategic Vision charges us to continue to teach canonical works like Shakespeare and Beowulf, but to find new ways to have our students access these age-old classics. The Beowulf project that the cast, crew and entire Middle School community engaged in is an example of how we designed an innovative and age-appropriate experience to enhance student learning. Projects of this nature are an example of how Penn Charter affords educators the opportunity to design and deliver innovative learning experiences and to “collaborate with students in a process of continuing revelation and joyful learning.”

Christine Pearsall is a Middle School English teacher. She has served as assistant director to Middle, Upper and all-school productions, and she is head coach of the Middle School girls soccer team.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Wellness: Mind, Body, Soul

Wellness: Mind, Body and Soul

Student wellness was one of the topics presented at Vision Forward NOW, a student-teacher showcase of initiatives undertaken since PC announced the new Strategic Vision in 2013.

In a live presentation at the event on May 5, Director of Middle School Wilson Felter explained his division's new advisory curriculum, which is designed to promote character, decision making, healthy choices, and more. Above, the video captures some highlights.

In a short video presentation, Lower School Counselor Lisa Reedich explained the power of mindfulness, showing how she coaches both students and teachers to practice mindfulness. During the Vision Forward NOW event, Reedich came on stage after the video and led the entire audience in a one-minute mindfulness exercise. Even with 300+ people in attendance, silence filled the Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts.

While both the advisory and mindfulness presentations touched on neuroscience and social-emotional well-being, the third element of the wellness segment focused on the brain in a very different way, highlighting Penn Charter's concussion management program.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Educating Fifth Graders about Social Justice


By Naveena Bembry, Fifth Grade Teacher

As a teacher in a Quaker school, I seek ways to empower students to have a voice and give meaning to the Quaker principle, “Let your life speak.” 

In fifth grade, we have actively explored Goal 1 of our Strategic Vision -- which calls upon us to deepen our identity as a Quaker school -- by nurturing Quaker values through the lens of social justice. In that process, we are building the kind of consciousness that will prepare students to fulfill our ultimate goal to educate students "to live lives that make a difference."

Inspired by the “I too am Harvard” campaign and similar movements on college campuses around the country and beyond, it struck me that the voices of young people are powerful and should be lifted up. With our fifth graders, we began the process of finding our voices by having conversations about social justice issues.

We analyzed texts and images that sparked conversations about social justice issues connected to ideas of power imbalances, layers of identity, socioeconomic status, gender roles, environmental stewardship and inequality. Our classroom provided a safe space for us to talk about diverse perspectives, microaggressions, stereotypes and the critical role that language plays in our interactions with each other. 

I shared images from the “I too am Harvard” style campaigns that have spread to many college campuses, and we analyzed the experiences that might have sparked a student to write a particular message like the one above: "Intelligence is not determined by race."

What do you stand for?

I was drawn to the simplicity of using a white board and a dry erase marker to write a deeply rooted belief or a profound message about an experience and so, we embarked on a journey to lift up the voices of fifth graders, asking each: What do you stand for? Each one of their messages was captured in a photo and the photos were displayed together for all to see.

There was quite a buzz when the photos went up, and one student remarked, “Wow, I never knew that my classmates had all of these opinions. These messages tell us so much about who we all are.” In that moment, it was clear to me that this class project provided a window for students to grow from their peers’ perspectives, convictions and personal experiences. With each message, we gained valuable insight into our fifth grade community.                                        

The simplicity of student voices

A sampling of student responses appears below.The beauty of this experience was the way that the simplicity of sharing student voices ignited our learning and expanded our thinking in so many powerful directions.

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Invisible Man: English Department Collaborates on eBook
by Erin Hughes, English Department Chair
Shahidah Kalam-Id DinSara MosesLisa Turner and I will be serving on a teacher advisory board for Adam Bradley, English professor at University of Colorado-Boulder and director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture. 
Bradley is a leading scholar on Ralph Ellison, and Ellison's longtime publisher, Random House, has asked Bradley to edit an "enhanced ebook of Ellison's Invisible Man.
Here's where we come in: PC teaches the book in eleventh grade. Having taught Invisible Man many times and knowing both the value and challenges of teaching the novel, we are working closely with Bradley to develop a mutual understanding of how best to share Ellison's work with high school students. It's an exciting collaboration, complete with discussions of Ellison's manuscripts, newspaper articles he used as the basis of vignettes in the book, editing decisions and more.