The middle grades finished its first Winter Seminar this December. What is Winter Seminar? Here is how our Upper Division head, Todd Shy, described the weeklong program: “Some of our core beliefs about school are that it should provide students opportunities to explore topics they’re genuinely interested in, that it should value depth of study and inquiry and that it should be engaging and joyful while at the same time stretching students to think in deep and interesting ways. Middle grades years especially should provide lots of opportunities for students to explore new things. We value depth of understanding, but we also value live and energetic curiosity. Winter Seminar in the middle grades program is dedicated to these core beliefs about school. For a single week, December 17–21, students chose two electives – one morning and one afternoon course – from a menu of more than 40 offerings. These electives are connected in every way to larger Avenues learning aims, but they focus on topics not explicitly taught in any single course. In this way, through mini-deep-dives, Winter Seminar extends the academic experience of the middle grades program and exposes students to a wide range of interesting new paths.”
Some Winter Seminar courses revolved around issues of social justice. In Ms. Snell’s and Ms. Delhagen’s “Choices in Little Rock,” students dived deep into efforts to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. In Mr. Hegner’s “Shotglass Heard Around The World,” students examined the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement. Another course focusing on social justice issues was Ms. Creeden’s “Gender and the Media,” during which a student, Penny, learned that “there are many ways in which we use gendered language without a second thought. It is those words and expressions, which we accept as normal, that are the concern."
Ms. Brandon’s “Girls Who Code” class dealt with social justice issues indirectly. In the class, Kyla “learned about women who code, or work with code. This shows that even though a tunnel may be rocky and curved, there's always a light at the end.”
Math had a starring role in several courses. In “The Mathematics Behind Life Decisions,” Ms. Simpson’s students learned about choosing a credit card and health plan and how to invest money. The students were shocked when our director of people and culture, Becca Howlett, used a sample paycheck to explain how much is taken out for taxes! And Ms. Patricia combined art and math in her course, “Geometry through String Art.”
One group of students spent time connecting with Avenues São Paolo’s students with the help of Dr. Glazer.
Science-oriented classes included Ms. Scarborough’s “Scent-sational,” which introduced students to everything about our sense of smell, and Ms. Williams’ “Paleonthology” which took students into the land of the dinosaurs. And Kieran “enjoyed learning some physics” during Mr. Mantzoukis’ “Zero Gravity“ class.
Winter Seminar wouldn’t be complete without art and music classes. In Ms. Harnischfeger’s and Ms. Sosenke’s course, students created mosaics inspired by folktales from around the world. Merin “learned how difficult it is to make mosaics, and I am proud of my work because the mosaics turned out really good.”
Mr. Neil’s students learned about music from the 1960s while Mr. Schartz’s students learned Portuguese through Brazilian music. Justine shared, “We learned about Brazilian music and we learned basic terms in Portuguese! We ended up sending videos to students at Avenues São Paulo and the video was in Portuguese and we talked about ourselves and who we are! Foi muito legal também receber vídeos de alguns alunos do campus da Avenues São Paulo e aprender um pouco sobre eles e manter contato com eles no futuro!”
“In the ’The ‘60s: The Music’ course I learned about all sorts of things that happened in the ‘60s,” said Maria. “This was really cool because we had a history lesson through amazing music.” Cami was also in this class and wrote, “I had never really listened to ‘60s music and this class has put me out of my comfort zone, but now I really enjoy the class and the ‘60s music.”
Students created books in Ms. Park’s “Book Art: Graphics and InDesign” class, wrote poetry in Mr. Shaffer’s “Poetry Workshop” and composed fiction in Ms. Brus’ “Fiction Writing Workshop.” In response to her poetry class, Annika noted, “It was really cool because I didn’t know how many different ways there were to write poetry and how many types of strategies you can use to have a really good poem.” Max participated in Ms. Tursellino’s “Soul of an Octopus” course where he “learned about anthropomorphizing theories. I enjoyed learning about the consciousness of not just octopuses, but other animals as well.” And the combination of technology and language arts in Ms. Nakanishi’s “Digital Storytelling” course was a hit. According to Caleb: “We created apps with unique aspects. We evolved the storytelling app by making it into gaming software. We evolved creativity!!!”
Another unique offering was Mr. Shy’s “The Great Debate,” during which Soleil “learned how to form an argument and how a formal debate operates. In everyday life, it's important to know good persuasion skills, and this class teaches them well.”
At the end of the week, students demonstrated what they’d learned during a showcase for parents. Winter Seminar’s success can be summarized in Ms. Williams’ reflection: “I am thankful to be able to teach something rarely taught in schools, and to expose students to the real truth about this field. I am thankful too that the students are mixed up in terms of grades, and for the amount of autonomy we have over our class. I am also happy that parents get to come in and see their children's work.”
Keep scrolling for more pictures from Winter Seminar.