October Humanities Parent Letter

Dear Parents,

I cannot believe it’s already October!  This year has flown by.  The enjoyment these students take in their learning makes them a pleasure to have in class. Our discussions, driven by their curiosity, are lively and insightful. I’m really looking forward to the year with these enthusiastic learners.

In the Humanities classroom, the students have been working on their group game design projects, designing board or cards games based on the concepts about “geographical luck” we learned in episode one of Guns, Germs, and Steel and our studies of the agricultural revolution. It has been rewarding to see them work through their differences and play together during this collaborative process. From here, our history studies will move to the rise of some of the world’s first civilizations in The Fertile Crescent, ancient Mesopotamia. We will explore a few of the early empires of this region including Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, and Persia through art, legal systems, math and mythology. We will watch short clips from Iran: The Forgotten Glory, to see the beauty of some of the region’s art, architecture and ideas.

We will also be beginning two pieces of our curriculum that provide a common link from culture to culture that will continue through the year. First, students watch brief clips for each unit from The Story of Math, A BBC documentary featuring Marcos du Sautoy, a British mathematician who explores the contributions to mathematics made by the ancient civilizations that we study. We play with these concepts periodically throughout the year so that students gain an appreciation for the purpose of math and also an understanding of which culture is responsible for the concepts they learn with MaryD. (Next week, ask your child to show you how to count to 60 using your hands and explain why there are 60 seconds in a minute!) Also, as an art historian, I love to share my love of art with the students, and I have found that challenging them with The History of the World in 100 Objects, a book written by the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, which offers a unique view of history with its analysis of beautiful objects from the museum. I choose one to two objects per unit, which we focus on so they can learn to use their eyes as deciphering tools. Today, we deciphered The Standard of Ur and in coming weeks, we’ll examine the Flood Tablet of Ninevah. Beginning with art gives the students a way into these cultures that grab them at an emotional level, and it teaches them to use their eyes as deciphering tools. This book is also a college-level text, and it is very satisfying for them to know that, with a little work, they can understand and even enjoy it.

Our literature studies will always connect to our history either contextually or thematically. We will be reading an excerpt from The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story, using our “epic voices” (and wearing togas!) and read a children’s version of this portion of the story. Following this, the students will have the opportunity to write in cuneiform on clay tablets using a stylus. They get a sense of how different the world’s first written language was from our own, and as these clay tablets dry – and break – in the classroom, it becomes obvious to them why chunks of The Epic of Gilgamesh are missing.

You’ve probably also seen one of the novels we’re reading: either Wonder by R.J. Palacio or Nation by Terry Pratchett.Wonder is about a boy with a facial deformity starting a regular middle school for the first time, and Nation is set in a fictitious South Pacific during the 1860’s. It tells the story of a boy, Mau, who is earning his “man soul” in a rite of passage when a tidal wave destroys his village and everyone in it and Daphne, an upper-class English girl who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. The two come together, taking what is valuable from each of their worlds to build a nation. The novel offers discussion points about what it is to be human and what is important about a nation.  Both novels are compelling stories, and I cannot encourage you enough to read it and all of our class novels with your child. Reading together is a wonderfully simple way to stay connected through these years when they begin asking for (Who am I kidding? Demanding!) more independence. After we’ve read this novel and responded to the discussion questions, we will begin the process of writing the first essay of the year, a character analysis of either Daphne, Mau, or Auggie, the main characters in the novels. I will be posting details on this blog about the assignment as well as in the students’ google classroom when we begin the assignment.

I’m excited to be working with all of you to provide these kids with the best educational experiences possible.  Thank you for the support to make it all possible, especially driving on field trips, like the Second Harvest Warehouse in Watsonville.  Our first Humanities field trip will be on Thurs., Dec. 14th to the Rosicrucian Ancient Egyptian Art Museum in San Jose.  I’ll send out an email requesting drivers when the trip gets a little closer.  I hope you and your child are enjoying middle school, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.