This week, we're offering families conversation starters.
Below, teachers have provided a snapshot of what's happening in each of our academic classes. Parents: ask your Proofnik to tell you more!
Language Arts + Literature
In Language Arts 1, we have been learning about classic book design principles and the importance of design in the readability of books. Ask your kid about how to divide a page into ninths without taking a single measurement! All students have also identified multiple books they would like to read, and will be reading them throughout the block. Be sure to ask what book he or she has decided to start reading!
In Language Arts 2, we have been reading Sherlock Holmes stories—the 19th-Century originals by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Red-Headed League,” and “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Ask your kid which story was their favorite, and have them tell you the plot and what was most interesting to them. We’ve talked a lot about the role of Watson and his relationship to Holmes; disguises and the role of theatrical staging in Holmes’ detective work; geography and the arrangement of and movement through space in each story; and the relation between Holmes’ “reading” of people and places, and our reading of the story—in what ways do we act as detectives as we read?
In Literature 1, we have been learning the elements of a great presentation. Students get to choose one of three topics to present: a close reading of a poem or passage, their Block 4 paper testing a theory of contemporary scholarship, or their personal learning arc in our class this year. Ask them about a speaking tip they’ve learned these past two weeks, and take a look at the presentations they are piecing together—their slide designs are minimal and rather beautiful. They should also be practicing their presentations at home throughout the block, so be sure to ask them to practice in front of you. It will feel a little awkward for them at first, but that is also a major hurdle they need to overcome to deliver a talk.
In Literature 2, we have been learning about different ways of reading—different ways of approaching and interpreting a literary text. We read about psychoanalytic literary theory, a type of “symptomatic reading,” which concerns itself with what the text is hiding beneath its surface, just as a dream has some meaning that is only apparent through analysis. (We even read a selection from Freud’s groundbreaking work on the interpretation of dreams.) We then started thinking about the materiality of the book (how it’s produced, what it’s made of, how it’s circulated, whom it addresses, how and where it exists in the physical world). As we've begun discussing materiality studies, we have turned to some of fiction’s own commentaries on its construction. The students have read two of Borges' meta-fiction prose poems. And we are now starting to read part of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, in which we as readers serve as a character in a novel that is fully aware of itself as a book being read; it’s a novel about what it means to read a novel! Ask your kid what approaches to reading they’ve learned about so far and which texts have been most interesting to them.
In Latin 1, we just learned three new verb tenses. Ask your kid about the “past of the past” and the “future of the past” tenses (these aren’t their formal grammatical titles): when might you use these tenses, and how do you form them in Latin? We have also been practicing speaking and listening in Latin. In week one, students practiced speaking aloud and even acting out an excerpt from a real oration Cicero gave in the Roman senate in 63 B.C.E. In week two, students worked in small groups to construct Latin sentences collectively out loud. Each person added one word, which had to fit grammatically and semantically with the other words of the sentence. Ask your kid what was most challenging about this activity. Perhaps they’ll even remember a few of the clever sentences their group created!
In Latin 2, we have been learning about participles, otherwise known as verbal adjectives. You may want to ask your child how the participle is like a verb and how it is like an adjective. There are four participles in Latin. Ask your child to name them and explain how each is formed. A tricky aspect of participles can be the time of action indicated by the participle. Ask your child to explain the relationship between the tense of the main verb and the participle and, as a bonus question, ask him/her what contemporaneous means.
In Ancient Athens, we have been studying philosophy. We have been discussing the Greek concept of the Ethos of the Extraordinary (as it appears, for example, in the Iliad and Odyssey) and the new way Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle approached this concept. You may want to ask your child whether he/she agrees or disagrees with the Ethos of the Extraordinary. You may also want to ask your child what “philosophy” means and how that is related to the Proof School motto.
In World History, we kicked off our museum studies unit by curating a Proof School exhibit in which students wrote exhibit labels for things that represented our school to them, ranging from an Expo marker to our math teacher, John. Students pondered the definition of a museum while looking at some unusual examples, including the pocket-sized Mini Museum and the Museum of Bad Art. We are now in the midst of a series of design challenges, which give students the chance to practice skills they can apply to our main project: the creation of an exhibit for the end-of-year symposium.
In Science Studio: The Scientific Method, we have been exploring crystal growth. I challenged students to grow big crystals, but didn’t give them any specific instructions. They tried a bunch of things (multiple solutes, food coloring, using vinegar instead of water, adding strings, etc) and we did several rounds to try and check. Based on their observations, I’ve been slowly introducing concepts like saturation, solubility equilibria, nucleation sites, and Le Chatelier’s Principle (though not by name). Going forward, I asked them to plan an experiment to improve our understanding of the crystallization process, and next week we will start them.
In Science Studio: Light and Electricity, we are exploring electrostatic forces by experimenting with rubbing wool on packaging styrofoam and building charge detection devices called electroscopes by suspending two strips of aluminum foil from a bent paper clip and hanging the assembly inside a glass jar. The students have given themselves mild shocks in the process of charging up pie pans, and we are currently in the process of levitating light objects using these. From there, they graduate to electrostatic pickleball.
In Physics, we have been studying how waves form, travel in space time, and interact with each other. This is the first significant departure from considering the motion of discrete bodies localized in space, which has been our mainstay for Newtonian mechanics thus far. We have seen how slinkies invert a reflected pulse when one end is held fixed, and how wave pulses pass through each other as though they were unaware of each others’ existence! We are currently investigating standing waves, resonance, and their relationship to musical instruments.
In Chemistry, we spent the first week of the block introducing solids. This week and next week, in honor of APs, we have relaxed open problem-solving time in class. Students can work together to finish their problem sets on electrochemistry (started during Build Week) and solids. The block will finish with independent projects (research, experiment, or whatever else they come up with).
In Intro to Number Theory, we have been exploring properties of numbers. We’ve learned the test for divisibility by 11 and explored the Euclidean Algorithm through a game called Takedown. Ask your kid to show you how to play, but be careful! Most of them know how to win. Now we’re starting to count and do arithmetic in other bases. By the end of the week, the students should all be able to tell you how an alien with only six fingers would count.
In Intermediate Number Theory, we are creating a rigorous theory of the properties of integers, such as divisibility and congruence. The properties themselves are mostly familiar (so far), but writing down a careful proof of each one is no small feat, and nothing can be omitted; the simple theorems are the scaffold we need to reach the harder theorems. We are now closing in on a proof of one of the most fundamental facts about numbers -- their unique factorability into prime factors.
In Math of Decision Making, we have turned our attention to mixed-motive games like Chicken and Prisoner’s Dilemma, which are games that are neither strictly cooperative (two people trying to find each other in a crowd), nor strictly competitive (chess).
In Problem Writing Seminar we've been creating and polishing original problems for potential use on the Mandelbrot Competition. Students have already discovered quite a few nice questions that they are including in their portfolios. Most class meetings we also present a "featured problem of the day" to showcase student work.
In Elliptic Curves with SageMath, we have been getting a taste for what it is like to do computational number theory with the help of SageMathCloud, a Python-based software system. By leveraging the computational power of Sage, students are able to write programs to do tasks like compute how many points an elliptic curve has for all primes less than two to the twentieth. We then use this data to observe patterns and make conjectures.
In our middle school Intro Python course, we're dipping our toes into the world of object-oriented programming, beginning with a "Stuffie" class that simulates hungry, hug-craving, spunky stuffed animals. As time permits, we're tackling Project Euler problems to apply our coding skills to math problems that would be onerous to solve by hand.
In our high school Intro Python course, students are progressing rapidly through the basics of the Python programming language. In just two weeks time, we have already covered variables, loops, conditional statements, functions, strings, and lists. I believe all of my students had at least a small amount of previous programming experience coming into the course, but still, it's remarkable how rapidly you can proceed through the curriculum when you get to write code for over two hours a day!
In Intermediate Python, we are studying sorting algorithms. Students have learned several classic sorting algorithms (bubble, selection, insertion, merge, quick, radix), as well as a few more whimsical ones such as bogosort, cocktail shaker sort, and pancake sorting. Students are not necessarily expected to be able to write 100% correct code to implement these sorts. Instead, we emphasize gaining a high-level understanding of how the sorts work, and their relative efficiencies.
In our high school Graphics Studio course, students are learning how to use the wonderful built-in features of the Python programming language to create computer art. In the first week of class, we used turtle graphics to simulate lightning and snowfall, and we are now using tkinter to create original works of modern art. Will one of our students be the next Mondrian??
Maker Studio + Project Studio
In Maker Studio, we've been learning how to use Arduinos, merging circuitry and coding to light LEDs and control motors. Along the way, we're working on being resourceful makers who learn from instructions, tinker, collaborate, and seek out relevant resources.
In Project Studio, students are embarking on their final block of project work for the year. Projects range from coding a web-based chemistry game to collaboratively designing a game to composing original music. Ask your Proofnik what project he or she is pursuing this block!