Updated Class Descriptions, September-October 2017

BAND: COMPOSITION AND PERFORMANCE: Each class starts with a body and voice warmup and occasionally group singing. Then we move to instruments and band practice. We are working on six songs, including two originals, which we will feature at the first Variety Show on December 9.

BASIC CHEMISTRY: We started off by looking at the devastation and toxic impact of hurricane Harvey in Houston, which is one of the major petro/chemical industry centers in our country. We simulated the explosion at the organic peroxide plant by decomposing hydrogen peroxide using two catalysts and saw how the reaction was exothermic and released oxygen which fueled combustion. Next we studied some of the properties of matter by measuring density and creating density towers. After that we turned to the development of the periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev and others and the history of the atom. We are currently looking at atomic structure and chemical bonds. We will be using the decomposition of sugar to learn about balancing chemical equations and measuring reactants and products in grams and moles.

BREAD: We have made a different kind of bread every week, starting with basic white bread and including such varieties as rye, pita, anadama, and tutmanik (a Bulgarian cheese bread). Most of our breads have been yeast breads and we have talked about how yeast works and how to tell when it is active. We've also discussed why kneading is important for yeast breads, but why "quick" breads (like the pumpkin bread we made) should be mixed with a lighter touch. We're developing skill at dividing up and rotating tasks so that a group can all be involved, and when the bread is finished we share it with the community.

CREATIVE WRITING: In this class we practice cultivating our creative reading and writing skills. We do close readings of texts, and engage in different writing practices. This class sometimes requires sharing of material. DIGITAL ART AND MORE: So far this year in Digital Art & More, we've been exploring the world of digital art and illustration, learning about utilizing color, and flexing our own creative muscles by creating characters or pieces inspired by things like music, color, and even sea animals!

CRV ECOLOGY:  In this class we spend each day outside. We learn about the local flora and fauna of our geographic region on our nature walks. Focus is placed on species identification and discussion of ecological processes. 

FUTURE OF THE WORLD: Explore our concerns and visions for the future of the world through short readings, videos, and group discussion. Recent topics have included utopian visions, space exploration, non-violent conflicts resolution.

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. Each class is designed to bring about about greater relaxation and life energy.

HERBALISM 101: Sometimes I enjoy making tea for the students such as chamomile, mint, and lavender. I often ask the students for their reflection on the plants when they are having the tea, such as the taste, energetics, or personal feelings. Students will also make herbal medicine with me. We have made elderberry syrup and fire cider together so far. I enjoy talking to them about basic materia medicas of plants such as its name, latin name, taste, energetic, actions, uses, contradictions, etc. to understand the plant broadly. There is a lot of new vocabulary for students in this course as well as minor discussions on body systems.

KOREAN CULTURE AND POLITICS WITH KPOP: We have completed this 12-week class. Topics covered included

1. What kind of sound does Korean consonant and vowel combine?
2. Look for consonants and vowels and write students own name
3. Greeting
4. Introduce yourself
4. What is different? (honorific version and casual version)
5. Make Korean food while speaking in Korean
6. Express the taste of food
7. Korean culture and current political situations

LIBERATED LEARNERS: Learn more about and spread the North Star model of learning without school. Join Ken on visits to partner sites that are either already open or planning to open soon and tell your North Star story.

LUNCH CLASS: What a fantastic new North Star tradition! This class has been an absolute delight all three days every week. The students are great at working together, and we've learned A Lot (particularly how to caramelize onions, chop ginger and garlic, use a wooden spoon to stop pots boiling over, and love the NeuroFuzzy rice cooker).  We've made: Cuban Rice & Beans (with fried eggs and bananas), Vegetable Fried Rice, Vegetable Macaroni & Cheese, Fish Tacos, Sweet Potato Burrito Wraps, Onigiri (Rice Balls), Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Broccoli, Stovetop Autumn Rice Pudding, Curried Coconut Milk Rice & Peas, Potato Chip Fish & Rice Pilaf, Sesame Noodles, Homestyle Pancit Noodles, Taco Salad, and Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Broccoli and Bacon. Whew! Onwards!

MATH: FROM COUNTING TO CALCULUS: At students' request we are alternating classes between very basic concepts and the most advanced (presumably later in the year we will meet in the middle!). We started by discussing where numbers come from in the most abstract sense. We did some exercises looking at various early number systems. We invented our own number system based on an alien with 7 fingers per hand. And we also looked at the importance of the number 12 for the ancient world. So much for counting. On the advanced end, we've examined the basic premises of derivative and integral calculus and done a lesson about trigonometry.

MINDFULNESS: We study different styles of meditation with the desire to bring these skills into every day life. We sit quietly for half of each class and then do a simple activity like chocolate tasting, apple tasting, art projects, and aromatherapy.

MUSIC WORKSHOP/IMPROV: A class for all who just want to play music. We will do a lot of improvisation sprinkled with some instruction around rhythm, chord structures, melody and a variety of other musical concepts. All levels and instruments welcome.

THE POWER OF NUMBERS: The Power of Numbers met for a few weeks and we spent most of that time playing around with logic puzzles. As interest waned, it morphed into a drop-in math class with a focus on HiSET prep.

PRIMAL MOVEMENT AND MORE: We have been engaging in playful exercise that coordinates and strengthens core muscles and develops joint safety and stability using developmental movement, creative games and laughter.

QUEER THEORY DISCUSSION GROUP: In Queer Theory class we have been using Ru Paul's Drag Race to discuss topics of gender, sexuality, queer history and identity. The students identified the television show, Ru Paul's Drag Race, as integral to their understandings of their queer identities. Watching sections of the show have provided powerful impetuses for discussing the history of queer identity formation and community building.

SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING MASTERMIND: We began by exploring a few different models for understanding learning styles and multiple intelligences, taking what is useful about each while also critiquing flaws and misinformation. Other topics include time management strategies and goal-setting. We have also been learning about the HiSET—High School Equivalency Test—and are currently working our way through practice tests, self-evaluating readiness and strategizing how to prepare for the test.

SOCIAL ISSUES: Discussion of current events and interesting topics in the news.

THEATRE: This group has been creative and generous as we roller coaster around the world of theatre - we went to see After Juliet, and will be seeing two more shows in November; we've trained in Suzuki's method of actor training, Bogart's Viewpoints training, Action Theatre, vocal work from Patsy Rodenburg and Kristin Linklater; read scripts aloud; explored subtext and intention; and built ensemble.  Some students may be presenting scenes or monologues at the Winter Variety Show, and we're already looking ahead to what our spring production might be. Rachel and Ellen are very much looking forward to the rest of this year!

USING PHILOSOPHY: In this class we engage with the philosophy relevant to our current age of information: the internet age. We investigate the information technologies which structure our current experience of philosophy. Internet era privacy, digital social interactions, mass information access, science fiction, space politics, and more. 

VOLUNTEER TIME AT AMHERST SURVIVAL CENTER: Our group has shown up faithfully every Thursday morning since the beginning of the semester, and earned a reputation for getting a lot done during our short two hours of service. When we arrive we check in and find out what needs to be done on any given day. Most typically, we help unload the donation truck when it arrives and sort/shelve donated food and other items. If we have slow time waiting for deliveries, we sort and repack disposable diapers. Toward the end of our shift, we haul the recyclable cardboard boxes to the dumpster, and finish with a snack in the dining room. I am proud of the enthusiasm, good cheer and kindness of our group, and of our small contribution to this wonderful community center.

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: We have read and talked about whether rewards increase or decrease motivation (what happens if you reward young children for drawing? what motivates people to donate blood?) and whether penalties do or do not reduce bad behavior. We’ve looked at Carol Dweck’s work on learning goals vs. performance goals, discussed intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, learned what heuristics are, and begun to explore how the design of the environment affects what people do (why do some countries have such high rates of organ donation while others’ rates are so low?) as well as how self-image or desire for approval affects behavior. In considering all these questions, the group is also learning to read carefully, listen to others’ thoughts, discover and articulate their own thoughts, and tolerate being unsure or changing their minds. The year is off to a great start.

WRITING YOUR LIFE: What we wonder about, conversations we have overheard, physical postures and gestures, being lost or found, describing something from our current mood and from a very different mood … these are a few of the prompts, or invitations, that we have used to begin to find material from our lives to explore through writing. 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 and the year is off to a great start.

YOUNG ADULT FANTASY BOOK GROUP: In the young adult fantasy book club we are reading 50-60 pages a week and then reflecting on them together. We share our likes, dislikes, favorites lines, and how we interpret scenes. I like to ask students to find a specific word in the book and watch how it changes in the context of particular scenes. Sometimes I will ask them to find a scene or line that they really enjoy and ask them why they enjoyed it so much. We are always sharing our ideas about why a scene happened or what may happen next in the book. We have discussed different types of fantasy books, the formula of young adult fantasy books, as well as different types of heroes and heroines. We are just about to finish our first book Roar by Cora Carmack and will be moving onto The Fifth Season by N.K. Emission. When the time approaches for a new book for us to read, names are put into a hat and one person is chosen at random to choose the next book. I never choose every book.