As our "Where is 'Away'?" Project progresses, we have begun visualizing our research by creating a "detective wall" to help us piece together the story of waste in Ann Arbor. With the information before us, it's clear that there's a lot more to uncover, specifically regarding landfills/trash. We have not been able to find much information online about the landfills our trash goes to, or what happens at the mysterious sites.
On an unsuspecting Wednesday afternoon recess, however, some students halted their play as they noticed a large Waste Management truck pull into SK. "We have to ask them where they're taking our stuff!" Iris shouted to me. As we ran to meet the truck, he began to leave SK. I stopped, sighed, and assumed we had lost him. "We have to chase him down on Platt Road!" Iris continued. We ran to Platt, and waved the truck down. He pulled over.
More students from the playground noticed and ran over. An older gentleman got out from the truck, and the students excitedly threw their questions at him: "Where are you taking our trash? What landfills do you go too? How often do you come here?" The man, named Allen, was excited to share and grateful that the students were so interested in his work. After recess, we were able to add the information he gave us to our detective board, adding on to our understanding of what "away" really means.
This week we made black-out poems using pages from the book we've been reading as a class, Me and Marvin Gardens. These poems brought new meaning to "recycling" as we repurposed the book's pages, taking the words provided by the author and creating new stories. The students' poems will be hanging in the hallways of SK near the front chalkboard soon. Please stop in and check them out!
On Monday, we welcomed back six of the hens that we raised last fall. In order to acclimate them to the new environment, we need to keep them in the coop for seven days so they recognize that as their home. This will help ensure that they return to the coop at dusk before the automatic door closes, keeping them safe from predators. So far the students have fed them and changed their water. We also gave them greens from the garden, including comfrey and romanesco leaves.
As for the bedding, we are experimenting with the deep litter method for the winter. This involves laying down a thick layer of pine shavings and covering with straw. Each day, we turn the bedding and over time we will continue to add straw. The bedding combined with the chicken manure will decompose over the winter, providing us with compost for the garden in the spring.
This week we had the pleasure of seeing the play JJ's Place, a collaboration between University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Spinning Dot Theatre, written by Jose Casas and directed by Jenna Koppera. The play takes place in East L.A. and tells the story of the cultivation of a relationship between young JJ and his father after the passing of his mother. JJ, struggling socially and academically in school, is suspended and left to spend his days with his dad in the family shop doing handywork. JJ begins to create inventions from the scraps of cardboard left over at the shop.
It is through JJ's imagination, creating games and machines from scratch, that he is able to strengthen his connection to himself, his family, and his community.
The students were excited to visit the Duderstadt Center Video Studio to see the live performance, and many voiced how they felt like they understood and related to JJ. Some liked how the play used the screen behind the stage to display the vast worlds and visions of JJ's imagination. Others felt connected to JJ's urge to use his hands to build and create the stories of his mind. Many students also felt sad for JJ, and understood the importance of feeling like you belong, at school and in the wider community.
This was a wonderful opportunity for students to hear a story of someone very far from where we are, East L.A., and make connections to themselves. These stories create an opportunity to empathize with a variety of voices, allowing us to feel simultaneously how big and small the world is. Jenny Koppera also turns this dynamic onto us, stating that young people "can feel so small on the outside--in the real world--and so incredibly big on the inside--in the glorious safety of our imagination".
Last week, we welcomed Katie, Alison, and Annie from the Ecology Center into our classroom for their “Time for Waste” workshop. In this workshop, students completed an “archaeological dig” in which they compared waste from Native Americans to waste created today in order to examine how what we produce, consume, and dispose of is deeply rooted in our cultural beliefs, norms, and values.
Before completing “the dig” students were given trays containing a variety of items buried in a sand and flour mixture simulating stratum. Each tray represented a different period in time, spanning from the First Nations Peoples of the Great Lakes region to the recent past (2010 - present.) The students found various artifacts which they used to predict the time period they were examining. They then categorized the items into Paper, Organic Matter, Plastic, Metal, Glass and Other and compared the amounts in each category, noting changes over time. The differences were drastic as students noticed the predominance of organic material (and lack of plastic) found from the times of the First Nations Peoples to pre-1900 with a steady increase in plastic after 1920.
Included in our discussion after viewing and graphing the data we collected were the differences in meaning between “organic” as they often see in grocery stores and “organic” as it is used to describe things that are or were once living. They also took notice of how long humans lived without plastic with the idea being that part of any real solution to managing our ever accumulating waste is going to have to involve reconnecting with a way of life that prioritizes the use of organic/compostable materials.
Most of our Peace Work so far has explored the initial principles of Non-Violent Communication. Namely, we have been discussing the differences between making observations or evaluations when describing our interactions/conflicts and learning how to differentiate between "true" feelings that arise in us and "false" feelings which involve and blame others. This week, we practiced applying these principles as students worked in groups to create skits demonstrating one of the four qualities--observations, evaluations, true feelings, or false feelings. Students ofered a variety of settings and scenarios, and after each performance, we used key clues/phrases from the skits to guess what principle they were demonstrating. Students had a lot of fun writing and performing their skits, so this practice will definitely be something we return to soon!
After days and weeks of planting, planning, problem solving, and more problem solving, we are proud to announce that our living wall in the classroom is officially up!
On the first day of school, students worked together to complete a scavenger hunt that gave them clues to unlock our next activity: "L-i-v-i-n-g W-a-l-l-, B-a-b-y-!" With puzzled faces, we inquired what this could possibly mean, deciding that, knowing Chris and myself, this had to do with somehow putting plants onto the wall.
Before we began we brainstormed the many benefits that come from having and caring for indoor plants. Here is the list of benefits we came up with:
The next step was for students to figure out how to place 24 mason jars onto the wall in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Students were given the following information:
With a wide variety of plans for our living wall, each group presented their new design to the class. For each, we listed pros, cons, and potential questions or concerns for the designs. In the end, we decided that the four boards would go vertically on the four studs, and that we could keep the original spacing of mason jars if we tilted the mason jars towards the window, which would actually provide them more light from the west-facing window. Students took turns assembling the living wall, first screwing in the wooden boards, marking the placement of each jar, and screwing the jars into their hose clamps.
Today the 3rd and 4th graders, along with a handful of parent volunteers, headed to Tree Runner Park, an aerial high ropes course in West Bloomfield. Each year we return to the park, both at the beginning of the year for team building and at the end of the year as a way to celebrate our journey together as a class. As this was the first trip of the year, it was exciting to see those who have never been experience the park. Students guided each other through the courses, rooting each other, learning more about one another, and enjoying the beautiful fall day and fresh air.