Students have developed awareness the body's felt sense: the sensations that arise in the body in response to emotions and thoughts. We have used this awareness to understand a bit more about the nature of empathy and intuition. Now we are applying this practice through "systems sensing": using historical and/or fictional figures, we map the systems of relationships the figures are embedded in, and then "walk" the system to experience how the relationships feel. This has generated new insights into familiar characters (Harry Potter, Voldemort) and powerful understandings into the lives of historic figures (Harriet Tubman, Anne Frank).
Yoga and Mindfulness for Every Body
Each class we focus on practicing yoga and learning about mindfulness/meditation through various experiences. Each practice consists of physical movement, inquiry, and mindfulness/meditation. During yoga, we learn and practice True North Alignment, using our bone structure to move into poses in alignment, using breath, and drishti (steady focus). Our mindfulness practice has consisted of watching short videos that show the value of practicing mindful meditation, then experiencing a form of practice, whether a body scan to relaxation, bringing awareness to the present moment with a and using breath and practicing stillness, or reading an essay that opens up inquiry to the importance of self-compassion.
Big Ideas in Science
We’ve been studying the work of Galileo, Kepler and Newton as it relates to understanding gravity. We’ve dropped things out the window and filmed them in slow motion to show that air resistance slows things down, but without it, objects would fall at the same rate. We rolled balls down tracks and timed them at intervals. Plotting time and distance revealed a parabola and demonstrated that distance is proportional to time squared. For the last few weeks we’ve been experimenting with pendulums, making measurements and testing conjectures. Along the way we’ve also viewed clips from documentaries about Galileo and Newton, discussed the history of science, and the difference between experimental and theoretical physics. We also took advantage of some recent nice weather and took our Dobsonian telescope outside to observe the top of Mount Sugarloaf from our backyard.
Math is, at its essence, the study of patterns. We’ve spent the past few weeks on a number of open-ended activities exploring this idea. First we played around with Kaprekar’s Constant, made observations and tested out conjectures. This led to a discussion of place-value and an impromptu lesson on binary numbers. Next we started examining different ways of visualizing numbers and how these representations can make the factors of the numbers more apparent. We also talked about prime numbers and prime factorization. An observation by a student regarding the depiction of the number 729 led us into an exploration of fractals. Recently we’ve been playing a board game called Prime Climb.
History of Rock and Roll
We began with an overview of the various musical traditions in the US prior to and in the early days of recorded music including blues, jazz, folk, country, and religious music. Study of the music industry included sheet music publishing, radio, records and record charts. We traced the evolution of the “race” and “hillbilly” charts to “rhythm & blues” and “country and western” and the emergence of rock and roll as a reinterpretation of rhythm & blues music marketed to a teenaged audience in the mid-1950s and the associated styles of rockabilly, ska in Jamaica and skiffle in the UK. Then we examined the time period between 1959 and 1964 when a variety of pop styles vied for chart dominance including girl groups/Brill building, surf rock, Motown and soul. Currently we are studying the Beatles and watching their movie “Hard Day’s Night” through the lens of Beatlemania and film as cultural artifact. Throughout the year, we’ll be studying the evolution of rock and roll against the backdrop of social and political change including civil rights movements and second-wave feminism. Classes generally consist of songs, documentaries, video clips, handouts, lectures and discussion.
Each week we try out a new recipe, including a variety of yeast and quick breads from different cultures and celebrating different holidays and seasons. We start with an hour that is carved out in the morning, and the operation frequently continues into other parts of the day, allowing for rising, shaping, and baking time. We share the bread with the community (with priority going to those who participated in the baking). The breads we have baked to date include Basic White Bread, Soft and Fluffy One-Hour Dinner Rolls, Molasses Brown Bread, Dutch Apple Bread, Cinnamon Swirl Bread, Melon Pan, Pita, Pumpkin Spice Bread, and Pan de Muerto (for Day of the Dead).
How to Listen to Classical Music
We started the year listening to Ambrosian and Gregorian Chant, and moved on to other church music of the Middle Ages. Since then we have talked about the progression from Monophony to Polyphony and Homophony and the emergence of secular music as the Middle Ages morphed into the Renaissance years. We talked about the composers Dufay, Palestrina, Weelkes and others, and the popularity of motets and madrigals, as well as Renaissance dance music and its influence on other genres. We started exploring the early Baroque period, looking at historic movements happening during the same time period and how they influenced changes in music.
Graphic Design Group
We discussed the principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity and how they affect design, and we used them as bases for looking critically at others’ designs. We sketched up rough designs for a Halloween Party flyer, and several students chose one to refine and lay out in Canva, and eventually to print and post at North Star. We began working with Photopea, a free photo editing software.
Why We Do What We Do
The group is off to a strong start and has already become good at considering complex topics and listening to one another. We have read work by Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn, Daniel Ariely, and others to consider intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, the effect of rewards and penalties, what does or doesn’t motivate generosity, whether praise is helpful, and all sorts of other related questions. We have learned to consider “heuristics” (cognitive shortcuts) and to think about when they are helpful and when they are more like mind traps. Most recently, we have considered research that helps us think about how the design of a situation – like the design of the form that asks whether people want to be organ donors – influences the choice people make.
DC Service Trip
We have been meeting weekly to plan our March service trip to Washington, DC. Student presentations have covered such topics as Vietnam War Memorial, DC Statehood, Positive Force DC, Wildlife in DC, Fundraising for the trip, and Activism.
Volunteering at Amherst Survival Center
Several of us go to Amherst Survival Center on Tuesday mornings. We typically start the day bagging fresh produce and baked goods that arrive in donations, getting them ready for the morning distribution. Often we help unload the donation trucks. If we finish with fresh food and have extra time, we sometimes pick up trash outside the center, making the space more attractive and welcoming.
Painting Hour is an hour of open art space with a focus on painting with acrylics. Participants come in with an idea in their mind or a feeling in their soul and a desire to express it on paper.
Lunch Class with Kizzi
This is my first year leading a lunch class at North Star. Foods that we have made together are Mac n’ cheese with greens, lemon-artichoke pasta, black bean burgers, sesame noodles, and chicken skewers! I have enjoyed the smaller group, as it is usually only about three members. I am excited to hear what else they would like to cook together and learn about other types of food with them.
For the first part of this class, we have read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. As we read, we analyzed the material, deconstructed the story, and brought out our own opinions and understandings of these classic narratives. We discussed the play on words, the songs, and the poems that Lewis Carroll weaved in as well.
Currently, we are watching Walt Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland to compare the stories and that particular adaptation. We are discussing the similarities, the differences, and Disney’s version the tale.
After we finish the film, we will be reading The Phantom Tollbooth.
Sex is a Funny Word
Quite a few subjects have been brought up during class. These topics include internal and external condoms, celebrating Bi-Sexuality week, sexting, sexually explicit media, transgender rights, and more. I enjoy creating discussion groups with the class and bringing up open-ended questions for them to discuss and ponder. The class create its very own informational board in one of the bathrooms at North Star. It is filled with pamphlets and facts about local places people can go to for sexual health needs.
Band is very new this year, with only 2 returning members, and several new members, and Johnny joining John as co-director. We are having fun, coming together as an ensemble, settling on a set list for our first performance in December, and now rehearsing them. It’s an exciting process seeing a new band come together like this.
The Great Matters
This is primarily a philosophical discussion group. We we addressed some major topics, including the Nature of Reality, and what do people mean when they talk about God. We have lively discussions, and debates, and are looking forward to our next topics which include the Nature of Consciousness.
This class is focused on self-care and stress reduction. We have been working with meditation, yoga, chi gong, and always ending with a guided relaxation that supports us to let go out stresses, and relax completely.
Social Science Research Design and Debates
For the first few weeks of class, we looked broadly at what social science research is- how it differs from the physical sciences, what kinds of questions it can be used to investigate, and the primary research methods used by social science researchers. We also went over the differences between qualitative and quantitative research questions and methods, and how these relate to concepts of "truth." Finally, we also reviewed the history of ethical issues in social science research and how this history informs the ethical guidelines that we follow today. Currently, based on the expressed interests of the class members, we are focusing more narrowly on discourse analysis and specifically the ways that language is used in propaganda.