LESLEY ELLIS MIDDLE SCHOOL January 2018 At the heart of the middle school program are our students. In our hallway, individuals come together to collaborate in a shared mission, one that begins and ends with academic curiosity, passion, empathy and the capacity for joy when tackling and solving increasingly complex problems. Together as a community of teachers and learners, we endeavor to build an environment that nurtures the whole student by forming meaningful relationships, cultivating scholarship and academic excellence, encouraging the appreciation of individuality, and embracing equity and diversity. When visiting classrooms in the middle school, one sees students working together to inspire themselves and others, identify and grapple with challenges, create solutions, innovate, test existing norms, consider consequences and think critically. Our students are constantly encouraged to take intellectual risks, recognize successes and learn from missteps. Our talented and innovative teachers design curricula and programs that encourage students to embrace inquiry, engage in independent thinking, advocate for themselves, feel empowered to make choices and collaborate on authentic problems by ﬁnding value in varied perspectives.
HOMEROOMS 5/6 5/6 homeroom and anti-bias periods have focused on the documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, which follows a group of eleven year old New York City public school kids as they journey into the world of ballroom dancing. After discussing the ﬁlm in detail, and sharing their own thoughts and reservations about this form of dance, students have begun to learn a series of line (Electric Slide and Boot Scoot’n Boogie) and ballroom/partner dances (Tango and Cha-Cha). They’ve come far in a short period! 7/8 Last week in homeroom we focused on our baggie dryer project. The idea was born when two ideas converged. (1) Students were putting resealable snack and sandwich baggies in the school recycling bins. (These items can only be recycled at grocery stores.) After telling students that they cannot recycle the bags here, many more ended up in the trash. (2) CNN Student News (CNN10, 12/11/17) did a report on plastic in the world’s oceans. They noted that, “pound for pound, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than ﬁsh.” This fact really stood out to students and sparked a conversation about the use of disposable plastics. As part of this conversation, one student brought up the increasing number of resealable baggies ending up in the trash, and said that her family always washed and reused them. I (Michel, homeroom teacher and admitted plastic-baggie-over-user) mentioned that while I feel guilty about my level of plastic-baggie useage, I don’t wash them because they stick together and don’t dry out well. Thus emerged the 7/8 STEM project to design the ultimate plastic baggie dryer/rack. Step 1 : Set a Goal To develop a resealable-baggie drying rack to making drying washed bags easier.
Step 2 : Spitball Ideas Students did quick sketches of every design option they could imagine, from diﬀerent drying-stick layouts to designs involving fans and motors -- even a ﬁdget spinner! During this phase, all ideas were accepted, no matter how outlandish. Step 3: Assess Client Needs Students decided they needed more information. They wrote a series of 10 questions which they then sent out to their parents and teachers. Students then created a series of slides to summarize the results of the survey.
Step 4 : Create Prototypes that Address Client Needs Students worked in groups of three or four to create detailed drawings or physical prototypes (their choice) based on the feedback from the client survey. Step 5: Reﬁne the Designs Student groups presented their designs to the class and received feedback. Through this feedback, the class developed a list of design pros and cons, which they will then use to reﬁne their prototypes and settle on one or two main designs to build for the purposes of testing their product.
HUMANITIES (ENGLISH & MATH) 5/6 ENGLISH Grades 5 and 6 completed and submitted their letters for the The Library of Congress’ Letters About Literature contest, for which each student wrote a letter to an author or poet. The piece was used as a vehicle to talk about one’s own thoughts, inspirations and experiences, as they related to the text. In this unit, 5/6 students concentrated not on writing a fan letter or book report but rather on revealing their thoughts and experiences via personal resonance. To do so eﬀectively, we reviewed approaches that produce attention-grabbing leads and ones that develop conclusions which close the letter strongly. Students were extremely engaged in this unit. Multiple students even contacted their teachers for feedback because they were working, though unassigned, on their letters during their winter break. That’s 5/6 dedication!
7/8 ENGLISH 7/8 students also completed and submitted their letters for the The Library of Congress’ Letters About Literature contest. Less “in class” scaﬀolding was oﬀered, as many participated previously. Students composed compelling openings, developed mature connections, and were thoughtfully introspective. Each letter contained some superb (not a word I throw around lightly) writing. Most recently, 7/8 students began reading The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. Although we have only completed the ﬁrst few chapters, the novel has already provoked strong opinions during class discussions. The Chocolate War is a more sophisticated, nuanced book than our previous class novel, The Outsiders, as it requires students to pay greater attention to literary terms in order to better discern the story’s structure and meaning. Finally, 7/8 English students continue to read their fantasy/ science ﬁction independent-reading novels before writing a critique, which is due in a few weeks.
Excerpts from two separate 7/8 student letters to Nicola Yoon about her novel, Everything, Everything.
“I was lucky enough to be born into a fortunate family and live my life like any child would want to. I got a good education, made many friends, and slowly began to open my eyes and curiously grasp the world around me. Everything, Everything made me appreciate just how lucky I am to lead this life. When I found out that Maddy couldn’t do simple things such as go outside on a sunny day, or even go to school, I was perplexed. My naive brain at ﬁrst simply couldn’t comprehend this. Those basic things that I took for granted were snowﬂakes of life that Madeline never had a chance to catch on her tongue. Before reading your book, I groaned at the thought of going back to school after a weekend. Now, I look at it as a place where you make remarkable discoveries, where everything is new and fascinating. Your novel has taught me to not dismiss incredible opportunities that many people may never experience. I learned to look at everything with a positive outlook, and make the most of it, not only for myself, but also to honor the people who can’t.” “When I ﬁrst saw the book’s cover, it simply seemed to be noisy riot of colors, turquoise and mauve and buttercup. It was beautiful as a summer day, but it was merely that. Nothing more, nothing deeper. After I read the book, with eyes bloodshot from crying, I looked at the cover again. This time I could identify pieces of the story, such as the solemn-faced Humuhumunukunukuapua. I realized how detailed it was and how many facets of the story it contained. As I gazed at it, a newfound appreciation of it surfaced. If we would only look twice at everything, as I did then, maybe we could understand and savor it. Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything brought emotion gushing out of me, both literally and ﬁguratively. I emerged from it with a new perspective on both what the worth of freedom is and the importance of the truth. I also realized that taking the time to reappraise things can allow us to grasp the true worth of something.”
5/6 HISTORY Over the past month, 5/6 students have focused their attention on an in-depth study of ancient Egypt. Besides looking at the region’s compelling geographic features, which inﬂuenced the early settlement of this area, students spent time learning about this ancient society’s class structure. Speciﬁcally, they considered how class determined the role of the pharaoh, the construction of the pyramids, the process of mummiﬁcation, and the ancient Egyptian belief in the journey to the afterlife. As a culminating activity, 5/6 students took a ﬁeld trip to the Museum of Fine Arts for a guided tour of the ancient Egyptian exhibit. The class will now be turning its attention to the study of ancient India.
An excerpt from a recent 5/6 student’s writing assignment on the challenges faced by ancient Sumerians. “Another signiﬁcant challenge the ancient Sumerians faced was an uncontrollable water supply. In spring, melted snow, ice, and rain from the mountains ﬂowed into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, causing ﬂoods across the plains. Because no one was sure when the ﬂoods would come, they would wash away young crops if farmers had planted before the water rushed in. The rest of the year, the soil was dry, hard, and dusty, making it diﬃcult to grow crops. As a result, the Sumerians invented irrigation systems. Farmers built levees (walls meant to stop rivers from ﬂooding) and poked holes in the levees to let water through when the land was dry. They also built canals (to move the water where they wanted it) and dams (to force the water into pools called reservoirs, which stored the water for later use). These inventions helped the Sumerians thrive as a civilization. The Sumerians were a brilliant culture, with some of their inventions still being used today. But every civilization has its challenges. Sumer faced hardships like attacks from neighboring communities, an uncontrollable water supply, and food shortages. The truth is, we still face problems like this. We may be technologically advanced today, but that’s partly thanks to the Sumerians, with their seemingly basic solutions.”
7/8 HISTORY After closing the books on chocolate’s history for a short while, 7/8 moved into an introductory unit on economics. After a quick few lessons on important terms like GDP, inﬂation, and dividends, students were given $100,000.00 to invest in the stock market. They have been monitoring their online portfolios for almost a month now. Some students choose to buy and sell new stocks frequently, while others invested and are watching their stocks rise and/or fall. All of the 7/8 students are anxiously keeping tabs on their money’s movement. Students will check-in at the end of the month to see how these imaginary investments are panning-out and again at the end of the school year. In addition to this lesson in ﬁnancial literacy, students in 7/8 have been making short, history-related slide presentations on subjects of their choosing. We’ve learned about famous women in medical history, the space shuttle program, and the history of comics (among others) in these 5 minute mini-lessons. In the near future, we will begin our study of chocolate in the modern era and explore its eﬀects on the world’s economy.
MATHEMATICS 5th GRADE MATH 5th grade mathematicians just completed a mini exploration of the standard algorithms for long multiplication and division. Despite some frustration, all emerged more capable and conﬁdent. Students used these skills to calculate the mean, while also solving for the mode and range, of data sets. Exponents were revisited and all of these skills were applied to “real life” contexts through the analysis of everyday data. For example, some calculated an average test score for the term. Others went a step further, using the calculated means to compare ﬁctional students’ overall performances.
6th GRADE MATH This week we reviewed order of operations rules. Students discovered that the rules they had learned for positive integers also worked for negative integers and non-whole, rational numbers. After being introduced to a new way of writing PEMDAS (see photos), students also realized that the traditional writing of PEMDAS had been confusing, making it seem as if multiplication always came before division and additional came before subtraction. It is always nice to catch a misconception before it becomes ingrained! Students also noticed that if subtraction problems are converted to addition problems (because adding a negative is the same as subtracting), and if division problems are converted into multiplication problems (because dividing by a number is the same as multiplying by its reciprocal), then the Commutative and Associative Properties can be applied, and problems can be re-ordered to simplify calculating, abandoning the traditional “left to right” rule in order of operations.
With PEMDAS behind us, we looked at the distributive property, reviewing its application to constants and extending it to variables and negative integers. To end the week, students revealed a symmetrical pattern by solving integer addition and subtraction problems and shading a grid in accordance with their answers. They then began a mystery, solving puzzles involving integer operations to reveal the clues that will lead them to The Truth!
6th GRADE PRE-ALGEBRA In addition to algebra skills building, students continue with their practice examining challenge problems requiring both skill and creativity. In their continuing eﬀort to realize and understand the relationship between arithmetic and algebra, students are required to approach and solve the problem using basic mathematical intuition (arithmetic) and the skills they are developing (algebra). Each student is developing the understanding that increasingly, an algebraic strategy is the most eﬀective, although one using arithmetic is often still the preferred option. The ﬂexibility to use either, or even both, is a valuable capability for math students, and it will become even more important as the mathematics being studied grow in complexity and abstraction. 7th GRADE PRE-ALGEBRA We began the week with a fun new assessment tool: Plickers! Students solved multiple choice equations having “like terms” and parentheses. Once they had selected their response, they held up a QR code (a Plicker) which linked their response to their name. I could then scan everyone’s answers with my phone and instantly produce a graph of which answers had been selected (see photos). This proved to be a huge hit, and will become a regular feature in class. This past week was all about increasing complexity. Students took what they had already learned about solving equations and extended it to equations with variables on both sides and to equations with fractional constants and fractional coeﬃcients. They also learned that some equations have no solution (i.e., no value for the variable that makes the equation true) while others have inﬁnite solutions (any real number makes the equation true). Students had to confront frighteningly complex problems and many realized that even the trickiest looking problem can be solved by calmly chipping away at it with the skills that they possess; others are still not quite convinced!
8th GRADE ALGEBRA This week we began our study of polynomial operations. After practicing raising positive and negative constants and variable expressions to exponents greater than one, we began adding and subtracting polynomials. Students learned to identify monomials, binomials, trinomials, and higher order polynomials, and to identify the degree of a polynomial. Students also learned to multiply monomials. Students then applied these new skills to ﬁnding the perimeter and area of complex, compound-rectangular shapes, as well as the surface area and volume of shapes comprised of multiple rectangular prisms, all on shapes where side lengths were given as variable terms. Next, we began to derive exponent rules and apply them to increasingly complex monomials. We ended the week by re-examining the area model of multiplication and students realized that they already had an eﬀective tool for multiplying polynomials.
5/6 In this new term our young scientists have begun the process that, in April, will have them presenting the results of a research project of their choosing to a panel of independent professional scientist/engineers and science educator judges in our annual Science and Engineering Fair. This is a multi-month eﬀort during which students consider possibilities for questions to explore and, with guidance and training, pare down the choices to the one that will both interest them and be within their realistic capabilities. Students have begun training in both the scientiﬁc method of inquiry and the engineering design model. With a careful step-by-step approach, students will be led through the skills necessary to choose a question, do background research, frame a hypothesis, design and implement an experimental plan, analyze the results to reach conclusions, and present their results both visually on a display board and orally to the judges. Our youngest students in the 5th grade will be doing this for the ﬁrst time and will beneﬁt from the shared experience of their 6th grade classmates. This is a valuable learning experience in both science and project management. Stay tuned…. 7/8 With their growing understanding of elements and the periodic table which organizes them, students have taken up the study of chemical reactions - composition, decomposition, single and double replacement, and combustion. Beginning with the study of how and why elemental atoms bond to make compounds - along with an understanding of basic electron conﬁgurations - students see examples of these reactions in the laboratory and then analyze and document them, with an intuitive and mathematical study of stoichiometry. I am impressed with the growing understanding of the nature of matter that is developing in our young scientists. Soon, 7/8 will be taking up their science and engineering fair projects -- which is a well known experience for most -- building on their science/engineering and project management skills from past projects, as they grow in capability and conﬁdence.
EDGEMAKERS (INNOVATION CURRICULUM 5-8)
This week our middle school EdgeMakers explored idea generation and Fun-novation. We began the class with each student writing a list of ﬁve everyday tasks that they had to do, even though the tasks were really boring. We then watched a short video demonstrating how a problem (pedestrians crossing the street on the “do not walk” signal) was solved by innovating fun (a dancing “do not cross” ﬁgure, which got its moves from people in real time, kept pedestrians entertained and waiting for the light to change). As a group, students then generated a list of activities they found to be fun, noticing that there were inevitably others who did not ﬁnd their ideas entertaining. This opened up a discussion of what, more generally, makes something fun. With a list of characteristics that add enjoyment -- such as, the addition of friends, engaging one’s senses, or posing a challenge -- students then brainstormed ways to morph one of the mundane tasks they came up with at the beginning of class into a fun activity. Students then looked at the art of brainstorming. They considered how to eﬀectively brainstorm individually and then as part of a group. Teams of 4 - 6 students tackled a “wicked problem” in the world, including: poverty, animal cruelty, and global warming. By brainstorming individually, without judgement, and then as part of a group, incorporating the viewpoints and ideas of others, each team generated a list of 20 - 30 ideas for addressing their chosen “wicked problem.”
MAKERSPACE 5/6 Each students in 5/6 designed a ﬂoor plan for a tiny house (under 400 square feet), and then brought their design to life with a model created to scale using cardboard. Each tiny house had to include a place to sleep, a kitchen, a bathroom, and some storage. Makerspace also hosted a 5/6 reading group when students created a character wheel featuring key quotations from The Watsons Go to Birmingham. They had access to a range of materials to bring their selected quotes to life, and projects included a couch, a burning church, and a steering wheel -- all pivotal elements of the story.
Students in 7/8 participated in circuit bending toys in the makerspace in connection with music class. The students dismantled devices and added components like switches and potentiometers to alter the circuit and create new sounds. A ﬁeld trip to the Brandeis MakerLab further opened their minds to creative possibilities. 3D printing was a favorite for many. In connection with their Life Skills Class, the students in 7/8 also created latch boards as gifts for their preschool buddy class. Working in small groups, the students selected materials appropriate for preschool play, and used a range of hand tools and drills to design these fantastic sensory toys that are ﬁlled with locks, latches, twists, pulls, and hinges.
SPANISH 5th GRADE SPANISH This week ﬁfth graders started to conjugate verbs in ﬁrst person. They learned and reviewed the inﬁnitive of regular verbs. Students can tell you that in Spanish, verb inﬁnitives end in either: -ar, -er, or -ir -like hablar (to talk), comer (to eat) and escribir (to write). Students are beginning to understand that if they want to conjugate a verb, they have to change the inﬁnitive ending according to the subject pronoun. Students then practiced making sentences using ﬁrst person ( I=Yo). Students showed their imaginations when they were challenged to replace the verb from a sentence to make a new one. Below is a simple example : “Yo como bananas.” (I eat bananas.) “Yo miro bananas.” (I look at bananas.) “‘Yo tiro bananas.” (I throw bananas.) “Yo piso bananas.” (I step on bananas.)
6th GRADE SPANISH It is exciting to see the students starting their second book. It is called “Casi se muere,” written by Lisa Ray Turner & Blaine Ray. The book follows the TPR Storytelling structure, which helps the students to enjoy reading as they beneﬁt from the repetition of words and grammatical structures. This book will give us the opportunity to talk about Chile and learn about diﬀerent cultural aspects of this country. We continue to practice the present tense and are focusing on the uses of “SER” and “ESTAR” (to be). The students continue learning new vocabulary words based on diﬀerent topics. Students will also be talking about emotions, and this will give them the opportunity to continue practicing the “estar” verb. 7th GRADE SPANISH Possessive adjectives and family vocabulary have kept this group of students busy and engaged over the past weeks. These topics gave all students who wanted to the opportunity to talk about their family members, and they all enjoyed learning about each other’s families. We continue to play short games as warm-up activities. A new one that students learned last week is, Piedra, papel o Tijera (rock, paper or scissors). We are excited to continue our adventure learning about Spanish-speaking artists. This week, the students will be learning about the famous Spanish painter, Salvador Dali. They will have the opportunity to work on a painting where they will use their creativity and ﬁgure out a way to include themselves on the painting. Pictured, is an example of one of the student’s projects, which were done when we learned about Pablo Picasso.
7th GRADE HONORS SPANISH Seventh graders started the new year learning about past tense. In order to become familiar with, and practice, conjugations related to the use of the preterite tense, the class has been exposed to diﬀerent activities. Students have: read biographies of famous people, made their own timelines and interviewed relatives or friends to learn about the milestones in their lives. Students also watched the movie, "Viva Cuba" and started to read "El escape cubano,” a short novel about the diﬃculties faced by a family ﬂeeing Cuba. Historical events and policies like “Wet-foot, dry-foot” were discussed as follow up activities.
8th GRADE SPANISH Eighth grade students are completing an in depth review of verb tense: the present tense of stem changing and reﬂexive verbs, present progressive tense, near future structure (ir +a+ inﬁnitive), and preterite tense. In order to practice and review all these tenses together, and to use new vocabulary, students were shown diﬀerent pictures and asked to tell what was happening, what it was going to happen and what happened before the picture was taken. An example: “La familia está mirando la televisión. La hermana está escondiendo las palomitas de maíz y el bebė está llorando. El bebė va a comer las palomitas y su hermano va a volcar el agua. El papá no durmió bien y no se duchó.” Translation: “The family is watching TV. The sister is hiding the popcorn, and the baby is crying. The baby is going to eat the popcorn, and his brother is going to pour the water. The father did not sleep well, and he has not showered”.
STUDIO ART 5/6 This fall 5/6 students worked together to plan their part of a school-wide installation of pinwheels to celebrate International Day of Peace. They made work for the Square One Art fundraiser based on a school-wide theme, “34 Winter Street, Our New Home.” They drew and painted images in watercolor inspired by our move into a new school building. They looked back in time at artworks created in ancient cultures from southern Europe, Egypt and Crete. They practiced techniques known to have existed since the time of the ancients, such as drawing with chalk, carving seals, and painting frescoes. Throughout these units, an emphasis was placed how the students hope to represent themselves today.
7/8 This semester 7/8 students also collaborated on their section in the school-wide installation of pinwheels to celebrate International Day of Peace and made work for the Square One Art fundraiser based on a school-wide theme, “34 Winter Street, Our New Home.” After this uniﬁed middle school launch, 7/8 artists moved on to projects exclusive to their grade. First they created a unique style of lettering by analyzing fonts and borrowing aspects of ones they like into a new design. They used the font they designed to visually represent the meaning of a given word from their Peer Leadership program. We display those hand-drawn words as posters in their classroom to enliven the space with reminders of the qualities we, as individuals and a community, strive to embody. In another project students made observational pastel drawings of fall vegetables. Currently, 7/8 students are completing optical illusions in black ink based on a sensation or experience in the abstract.
7/8 DRAWING ELECTIVE
New this year to LES is the addition of studio electives. The Drawing Intensive course is an opportunity for students to more deeply explore the drawing process and improve their technical and expressive skills. Students practiced observation exercises, breaking down the process of drawing into various discrete components: contours, proportion, texture and value. They also created several highly detailed drawings with a focus on accuracy.
PHOTOGRAPHY ELECTIVE Rather than waiting until the editing process, 7/8 elective photographers have been learning how to shoot black and white images using the camera’s monochrome mode. One of the beneﬁts of previewing and shooting in black and white is the practice of eliminating the distraction of color, which pushes the photographer to pay greater attention to elements like texture and composition.
PERFORMING ARTS MIDDLE SCHOOL MUSIC Middle school musicians are cruising towards two big events: Evening of the Arts and the Elective Assembly. CANTO is preparing "Seal Lullaby," by Eric Whitacre with poetry by Rudyard Kipling. Mr. Whitacre is an amazing composer of choral music. This piece is sure to be a standout during the Evening of the Arts, with its beautiful melodic lines and gentle soothing harmonies. Meanwhile, the students in 7/8 music class are working on songs by the Beatles, Sugar Ray, and a song in Spanish, "Madre Tierra," which will be performed at Evening of the Arts. Alongside, 5/6 students will perform a reworking of Bon Jovi's, "Living on a Prayer.” We look forward to sharing our work with you in the weeks ahead.
7/8 MUSIC ELECTIVE The music elective cohort is working on ﬁnalizing their own original dystopian rock epic, which is based on the 1927 silent ﬁlm "Metropolis." Tentatively titled "Metropolis NOW," the project explores the disparity and tension between the technologically enabled super-wealthy and the remaining underclass of workers that keep their high-tech paradise running smoothly. These middle school musicians have been making incredible contributions to this musical eﬀort in a variety of ways. Sam is on both synthesizers and drums. Io takes the lead on vocals, lyrics, and drums. Robbie is on electric bass and oﬀers a bit of dry humor. Our amazing DJ Will is on electronic soundscapes and scratch eﬀects, and Dante plays both electric and acoustics guitars, The result is an electronic rock sound that is somewhere between the classic rock of Pink Floyd and the synthesizers of Netﬂix's "Stranger Things".
5/6 MUSICAL Our 5/6ers have begun preparations for their big winter show, Beauty and the Beast. For their audition, students were given scenes from the script to practice. Last week, they presented these in front of the class. After much deliberation (and anticipation), students were assigned roles. We are currently underway and learning choreography with Leslie, music with Tom, and blocking with Bobby. Please stay tuned for more from our growing thespians!
7/8 DRAMA ELECTIVE In the newly formed 7/8 drama elective, 7/8 students selected the one-act play, The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon. It is a mash-up of several shortened fairy tales, as told to us by irreverent narrators with a modern eye. This past week, the actors have been rehearsing for the performance, which is just a few short weeks away. The students have been learning to perform theater in the (almost) round - which is a challenge because they need to be very spatially aware of which way their body is facing at all times. The kids have fully memorized their lines and are excited to ﬁnally perform in front of a crowd.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION 5-8 PE CLASSES Most recently in PE, middle school students have been working in small groups to choreograph gymnastics ﬂoor routines. Students ﬁrst watched a gymnastics video, which gave them ideas for their ﬂoor routines. Students were then asked to ﬁnd creative ways to move from one area to another with elegance and good posture. Once at a ﬂoor mat, they then had to show a gymnastics skill before continuing to another ﬂoor mat. Final routines were performed to music. TEAM SPORTS The Lesley Ellis athletics program provides students with the opportunity to participate in soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and cross-country in the spring. Through team practices and interscholastic games, students learn the fundamental skills and strategies of these sports. Lesley Ellis School competes in the Big MAC (Montessori Athletic Conference) playing similar middle schools throughout the Boston area. On Tuesday, the Lesley Ellis Lions had their ﬁrst ever basketball game against Thacher Montessori School. The team worked hard, played well, and showed their incredible sportsmanship throughout. Way to go LES Lions!
Take a peek inside the middle school program at Lesley Elli School.