Monday, October 31, 2016

Learning Experiences Beyond the Classroom

American Studies Academic Walks through West Philly

For students in Upper School American Studies, exploration of the novel Disgruntled by Asali Solomon broke free of the traditional classroom, expanding to the streets of West Philadelphia.  

For two years in a row, each class of American Studies students read Disgruntled during the summer and the author visited the class in the fall to participate in discussions of the book. Solomon, who grew up in West Philadelphia, “elevates West Philly to be a character in the novel,” said co-teacher Lee Payton. “We asked our students to explore their neighborhoods, to investigate it through writing, and their investigations are a springboard to discuss Disgruntled.”

This September, the class walked through sections of West Philadelphia to experience locations Solomon describes in the novel. They checked out Koch’s Deli and the Green Line CafĂ© at 44th and Locust, Henry Lea Elementary a few blocks west, and walked toward and away from the University of Pennsylvania campus to observe the physical, architectural and demographic changes as they walked. 

“The walks are a physical manifestation of what we do in the classroom,” Payton said. “Seeing the neighborhoods, what is there versus not there in each one, helps us discuss different perspectives, what [our late colleague] Cheryl Irving and I termed ‘conflicting realities.’”

“It’s important for students to have academic experiences beyond the classroom,” Payton said.

Co-teacher Shahidah Kalam Id-In said exploring a neighborhood can be a learning experience just as valuable as a classroom lesson. “We want our students to experience learning uncoupled from that," she said.

American Studies is an exercise in interdisciplinary teaching and learning. English texts support the history and current events taught as part of social studies, and classroom discussions of those texts center around their cultural influences and implications. 

“The focus of the course is to examine American culture through the lens of literature and history,” Kalam Id-In said. “Using critical inquiry methods from both disciplines allows us to develop a ‘reading’ of the world that impacts the intellectual and personal lives of our students.”

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.