January Parent Letter

Dear Parents,

I feel so warm and relaxed after spending winter break with my family, eating and reading way too much. I enjoyed hearing about your travels and cozy holidays from the students, and I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to see how much they’ve grown emotionally and academically in just a few months.   It’s a pleasure to be back in the classroom with these energetic learners!

In Humanities in December, our history studies focused on ancient Egypt, and our field trip to the Rosicrucian Ancient Egyptian Art Museum was a wonderful way to make our studies feel real. This is the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts west of the Mississippi, and the collection includes some well-known objects and real mummies! Thank you to all parents who drove and made this experience for the students possible.  Continuing with our year-long themes, we watched a clip of The Story of Math in ancient Egypt, read about The Rosetta Stone in The History of the World in 100 Objects, and explored some of my favorite ancient Egyptian monuments and works of art in slide shows.  The students created thoughtful representations of ancient Egyptian gods or goddesses in the ancient Egyptian style with strong outlines, figures shown from the side, and saturated colors.  They presented their research on their god or goddess to the class, and the beauty of their final work was a testament to their effort.  We’re looking forward to a particularly Gateway experience:  6th-grade parent Noha Gowelly has organized a Skype interview with Mr. Wallid El Batouty, a world-renowned Egyptologist for this Thursday.  Our students are very lucky to have an opportunity like this, and I cannot wait for the presentation!

After winter break, our history studies have moved to India.  They began in the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro, a part of the Harrappan Civilization, and followed the migrations southeast to the Ganges River. We’ve watched short clips from Michael Wood’s The Story of India, and we spent a class period attempting to complete a simple task without breaking character in a caste-system, role-playing activity. We are learning about the foundations of Hinduism, and as part of these studies, we read two different versions of the Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic telling the tale of the god Visnu’s 7th-incarnation as Prince Rama, when he saves the universe from destruction by the demon Ravana. The first version is a heroic and exciting tale created by Pixar animator Sanjay Patel, The Ramamyana: Divine Loophole. The students are swept away by the excitement of the story with epic battles, divine weapons, and the honor and bravery of the characters. The second version is called Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar, and tells the same story from the perspective of Sita, Rama’s wife who is caught powerlessly in a war for the honor of the men around her. Though it is the same story, the different perspectives of the same events offer a striking contrast, one that makes for insightful discussion. This is particularly enjoyable as a teacher, because the students are building upon the character education program Voices from their elementary years. Perspective-taking is one of the themes with which they’re very familiar, and I love to continue this natural progression.

After finishing the Ramayana, we will read about an Ancient Indian Prince, Prince Siddhartha, who would become The Buddha. The students silently absorbed Prince Siddhartha: The Story of Buddha by local authors Jonathan Landau and Janet Brooke. Some of the students will go on to read a translation of The Jakata Tales, which were fables told by the Buddha to teach, and which many believe told the stories of the previous lives of the Buddha. We will learn about the foundations of Buddhism, and we will explore how influential some of these ideas were in India with this unit’s object from History of the World in 100 Objects, Asoka’s Pillar. We also have woven in some of the mathematical contributions and scientific discoveries of Ancient India, including the basis of our number system, Hindu-Arabic numerals, and the use of trigonometry to figure out the distance of the moon from Earth in The Story of Math.

In February, from India, we will trace the spread of Buddhism using images of the Buddha along the ancient Silk Roads to Ancient China, and our field trips to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco will kick off our clay meditative figures project.   The 6B’s will go on Thursday, February 22nd, and the 6A’s will go on Friday, February 23rd.   All students will need a sack lunch (i.e. something that doesn’t need a microwave) and will need to arrive on campus no later than 8:00 for an 8:05 departure.  We aim to be back at 3:00, but some years we have faced traffic.  Please be aware that there is a chance of a late arrival, so have after-school carpools, etc. planned accordingly.

In our literature studies, the students wrapped up their character analysis essays from Nation or Wonder.  The students stepped up to the challenge of using the text of the novel to support a point of view about a character.  I was blown away by a few of the essays; they were among the most original and thoughtful essays I have ever seen in 6th-grade.  Now the students have begun their literary analysis essays on the novel they chose to read over winter break.  They will be given some class time to work on these essays when I am available to answer questions.  If your child is, for whatever reason, unable to complete the work during class, s/he will have some of this as homework.  The writing assignments based on literature in 6th-grade can be challenging for some students.  For the first time, they are being asked to not just retell or review a story, but to pick apart what the author did to solicit certain reactions or feelings from the reader.  It’s another, almost abstract layer added into the complexity of reading, to pull oneself out of the story and examine it from the author’s perspective, but very rewarding as a teacher when they “get it” and discuss the novels on another level.  I am really looking forward to ushering the students through the writing process and being surprised with what their creative minds come up with!

I am having so much fun this year. This group as a whole is earnest and dedicated to being the best students they can be.  They are fascinating and fun, and I am learning so much as a teacher this year.  Thank you for sharing them with me!