Updated Class Descriptions, November 2017-January 2018

Band: We had a great variety show, despite having to delay until January 5 and despite several people not being able to attend for various reasons. Still, there were a lot of firsts, and the band has really proved that it can roll with the punches and truly sound like a band! Each class starts with a body and voice warmup and occasionally group singing. Then we move to instruments and band practice.  It's wonderful to see different individuals stepping up, trying out new roles, and new instruments! We're now at work for the next Variety show on Friday, March 2. The time is fairly short, so our new challenge is to get a new set of songs up to speed quickly. We are excited to see how it unfolds.

Math: From Counting to Calculus: Over the past few months we've been focusing on understanding the concepts of algebra, trigonometry and using graphs to demonstrate these ideas.

Music Theory: Over the past few months we've focused on looking at different scales and how they can work with various chord structures. We've looked at major and minor pentatonic scales, the major scale and various minor scales as well. Typically, I the piano is used for demonstration and students then play on guitars.

Lunch Class remains an absolute delight all three days every week. The students have developed a really solid flow with each other and are also welcoming to newcomers and drop-ins, and we continue to learn a lot!  We've made so many dishes that I can't remember them all! Here's what I do remember: Asian rice noodles, macaroni and cheese soup, bowtie pasta and garlic bread, dairy-free gluten-free dark chocolate brownies, Minestrone-inspired stew, black bean veggie burritos, fried plantains with coconut rice & beans, roasted root vegetables two ways (garlic/rosemary/olive oil and Caribbean coconut spice), Shakshuka, toasted cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, chutney & curry chicken salad, vegan entree salad, veggie fried rice and sesame chicken, baked orange cauliflower and rice, and hot spiced apple cider. Delicious! Check out our Facebook photo album to stay apprised of our culinary adventures.

Theatre has gone on few field trips to Henry IV, part one at Young Shakespeare Players East, and to Runaways at UMass.  We plan to see a couple more shows this spring. We spent the end of the fall reading through plays and choosing our mainstage production. We've already held auditions and are all set to perform Sarah Ruhl's Melancholy Play in May. Students have been working hard and we're already getting into the juicy rehearsal process. Rachel and Ellen are looking forward to the rest of the year!

Future of the World:  In this class we explore our concerns and visions for the future of the world through short readings, videos, and group discussion. Recent topics have included the development of AI (artificial intelligence) and its potential ramifications for our future), a 20 year vision of the future, urban planning, the UN and its Sustainable Development Goals.

Healing Ourselves: We explore concepts, methods, and practices in holistic healing of mind, body, spirit. Topics and practices include physical practices (chi-gong, yoga, shaking medicine), breathing methods, sound healing, chakras, the use of visualization and affirmations, self-massage, and guided meditation and relaxation. A central principle we are working with is how to maximize the flow of life energy (chi, prana) together with stress relief.  Recently we have been exploring a comprehensive look at what a holistic lifestyle might look like, including meditation, exercise, diet, and so forth. The class is not just ideas, but also experiential, and each session is designed to bring about about greater relaxation and life energy.

Music Workshop / Improv:  This is a class for all who want to learn the art of jamming while exploring basic musical ideas. We do a lot of improvisation sprinkled with some basic instruction around rhythm, chord structures, melody and a variety of other musical concepts. All levels and instruments are welcome. Recently John’s schedule has changed, and we may decide to change the time, but for now we have just a 45 minute session starting at 11:45 on Thursdays.

Yoga:  For now, yoga is on hiatus, but we always do a little yoga as part of the Healing Ourselves class, and if anyone is still interested in having a yoga class, John is open to finding new time, and starting it up again.

Why We Do What We Do: We have read and talked about material having to do with such wide-ranging topics as what affects whether or not people will cheat, conversational style and how that affects our behavior with one another, whether our predictions about our own behavior match our predictions for other people’s behavior, and various ways in which we might be unaware of why we’re doing what we’re doing. For that latter topic we’ve drawn on several studies summarized in John Bargh’s book Before You Know It, including one showing that holding a hot or cold drink for just a couple of seconds can affect our assessment of whether someone else is a warm or cold person. We’re now beginning to look at what factors can influence helpful behavior, or its opposite. Along the way, the group members are growing increasingly skilled at listening to each other, discovering and articulating their own thoughts, and tolerating being unsure or changing their minds. We have a great time each week.

Writing Your Life: We have passed around a box and noticed what we expected or hoped might be inside, caught and made use of words that were tossed at us at 60-second intervals, read and used as jumping off points poems by Lisel Mueller, Ross Gay, Jamaal May, and others. These are just a few of the prompts, or invitations, that we have used to find material from our lives to explore through writing, and along the way we are thinking about structure, tone, where to start and end a piece, how titles matter, and all kinds of other considerations. We spend about 20 minutes writing and then share what we’ve done so far, and a big part of the group’s focus is on learning how to listen carefully to each other’s work and offer helpful responses. The group members are attentive and supportive of each other, always finding something to appreciate in each other’s work.

Bread: We have continued to make a variety of yeast and quick breads from week to week. Some of our recent breads have included Cheddar Biscuits, Sourdough English Muffins, Strawberry Bread, Turkish Flatbread (Pide), and Fast No-Knead Artisan Bread. 

Volunteering at Amherst Survival Center: With some mid-year changes in personnel, our crew of four regular volunteers (+Loran) has become a reliable force at Amherst Survival Center. We typically unload the donation truck, then unpack, weigh and sort the donated items. Recently we have finished that task quickly and moved upstairs to help sort, pack and display fresh donations such as bread, pastries and produce. We have also helped out in the clothing room and taken care of other urgent tasks. The Survival Center staff is always glad to see us, and we have become an integral part of Thursday morning operations there. In our last day before the holidays we stayed and enjoyed a delicious lunch which is free and open to members of the community.

Basic Chemistry: We have continued experimenting with various reactions and learning about different types of bonds: covalent, polar covalent, and ionic. Using tiles with the Lewis dot diagrams of the first twenty elements, we’ve been simulating some of these reactions. Recently we simulated the reaction of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar (acetic acid) and then made a saturated solution of the product, sodium acetate, which can instantly crystalize under the right conditions (sometimes called “hot ice”).

Self-Directed Learning Mastermind: We have continued working on HiSET practice tests in math, social studies, science, reading, and writing, including several weeks learning about how to structure a five-paragraph essay. Recently we were given the opportunity to participate in Blake Bole’s “Launchpad” program. We received daily emails for three weeks that guided us through the completion of a short-term project, and included readings and exercises tailored to self-directed learners. While none of us completed the program exactly as structured, it was still a meaningful experience and everyone took something useful away from it.

Mindfulness class these days is focusing on play. We do a variety of projects, make airplanes, draw, etc. and pay attention to our reactions and feelings. We keep things simple and our focus is always about what is going on in our mind while we play:) We continue to sit quietly every class and this is becoming easier for all the students. It is a habit now and they all just slip into silence.

Let's Talk About Electricity! Discussions on: how electricity is generated / how to calculate the voltage, current and resistance using Ohm's Law in basic series & parallel circuits / distribution of multimeters to each student and instructions on how to use the meter / electromagnetic spectrum analysis and how 'radio' waves (frequencies) are part of what we can hear (in the audio spectrum) and see (in the color spectrum), and other waves that are invisible to us and how science has used these waves for our benefit. Personal equipment was used in the classroom so students could actually see the part of the electromagnetic spectrum (20hz to 20,000 hz) that consists of the waves we can hear.

Digital Art And More: In the last few months in Digital Art & More, we've discussed our motivations and inspirations, looked at some video games with great uses of color and character design, and of course, learned some more about creating art digitally. In the coming weeks, we'll be taking a much closer look at character design specifically. I'm looking forward to seeing how all of our exercises and conversations culminate as the year continues!

Herbalism 101: In Herbalism we have continued the work with talking about different plants, their medicinal uses, making food and creating product with plants such as golden milk and homemade incense. We have discussed plants that are common in the kitchen such as thyme, rosemary, and ginger and recently I have been going over vocabulary with herbal actions (anti-inflammitory, emmenagogue, vulnerary, etc.)

Young Adult Fantasy Book Group In YA Fantasy we have completed the books Roar by Cora Carmack, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and Sink by M.E. Rhine. We have now started the book Angelfall by Susan Ee. We often talk about characters, story development, what we like and don't like, predictions, and more!

Sex is a Funny Word We have been learning through playing games such as jeopardy and improv, as well as open group discussions. We have a box for students to put anonymous questions, suggestions, thoughts, and curiosities in and we cater future classes based on what is on the students' minds. This class is new this semester and so far we have touched on contraceptive options, stigmas and stereotypes, sex myths, gender and sexual orientation, consent, etc. The students generate interesting discussions which lead to educational conclusions.

Beginning ASL The ASL class thus far has focused on getting members excited about ASL. Attendees have learned the alphabet and we continue to practice it each class. We have started learning some sentence structure, basic vocabulary and short sentences, loosely following lifeprint.com with Bill Vicars and the beginner section in ASLDeafined.com. We have also watched a few videos with those fluent in ASL. In the near future we will follow Unit 1 of the Start ASL website, use the See It and Sign It game, and learn more about deaf culture.

Social Pioneering: For the first half of the year (Sept-Dec), each class has been different in what we cover, but always in a sociological framework. We have covered topics such as cultures/subcultures/countercultures, interdependency and interconnectedness, values and ethics, controversial issues, current social issues, etc. Now that the students have dabbled in a sociological framework, the second half of the year is geared more on individual and creative research projects regarding which area of sociology the student is interested. The first half of the class is now usually spent with sociological prompts/activities and the second half we dive into researching our areas of interest. A goal of the class this year is for each student to present their research topic in their own original way (be it an oral presentation, comic strip, prezi, experiment, etc.) at the end of the North Star year.

Art as your Tool: This class is essentially an art class with the aim of expanding the students' artistic horizons in mediums and philosophies. Most of our projects are only one class long because attendance is not consistent enough to have longer term projects. However we have had a few projects that have lasted a 2-3 classes (notebook-making, self-portraits, mythological creatures). We have also experimented with watercolors, acrylic paints, "sketch-hunting", collaborative drawing, realistic drawing, collage, etc. This class has been a great space for several of the artists of North Star to gather and share ideas, opinions, feedback, and general support for each other as well.

Yearbook: In this class, one and sometimes two or three students join in on the process of creating a North Star 2017-2018 yearbook. During class, we discuss and problem-solve about yearbook logistics such as costs, materials, number of pages, content, etc. We have printed out yearbook bios for students and staff to fill out, held a picture week last week which will continue for another week, asked different North Star student photographers to take photos of North Star events and activities, announced at community meetings updates with yearbook, and figured out fundraising possibilities.

DC Service Trip: This is a series of 6 class meetings in which we discuss topics pertinent to our planned service trip to Washington, D.C. in March, and prioritize how we want to spend our time.