Saturday, April 30, 2016

Week 33: The WEB Program, Total Equality in 2081 and Dystopian Literature (week of 4/29/16)

We began the week by reading Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s "Harrison Bergeron". The story takes place in 2081 America; a futuristic America where everyone is finally equal. Equality, however, comes at a cost; each member of society is "handicapped" based on their abilities or appearance. If you're too strong, you're weighed down with heavy weights. Too smart? You're required to wear an earpiece that emits a thought-breaking sound every twenty seconds. Those who are too good looking are forced to wear masks or alter their appearance with rubber noses and tooth caps. The goal, of course, was to make everyone equal so they would never have to feel bad about their abilities or lack thereof. Through this story, we explored the idea of the "perfect" society. Our conversations on Friday revolved around the idea of fairness and equality as well as power and control. My students all agreed that the 2081 government in "Harrison Bergeron" took their power too far, leading to an uprising by the people of that society. Little did my students know that their epiphanies lead nicely into our unit on "The Giver".

We ended Friday by starting our notes on Dystopian Literature and "The Giver". Students were tasked with using the tools given to them (my website, the notes packet, and their eyes and brains) to find the notes and begin their work. While frustrating for some students, this was an exercise in slowing down and finding the answers without any outside help; the answers were, of course, in front of them the entire time. The lesson here was that they could find the answers for themselves and didn't need to have the answers handed to them. We'll be continuing our notes on Monday before we really dive into the world of utopias and dystopias. I like to frontload my students, in this unit, with an in-depth look at dystopian literature (The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and the Divergent trilogies, for example) and the themes behind it. We then take a look at real-life utopian societies, that either tried and failed or tried and succeeded, through nonfiction pieces. This frontloading really hits the point that perfection is only an opinion and trying to meet those expectations is tough, and not entirely necessary (a nice tie-in to the real world of these middle schoolers and their search for themselves). All of this work is leading us to Lois Lowry's The Giver, which we'll be ending our year with. Whether your son or daughter has read it or seen the movie, or both, the lens we're looking at the novel through will really change their view of the novel as a whole.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of presenting a new program to our entire seventh-grade class on Friday. The program I'm referring to is the WEB program, which stands for Where Everybody Belongs. The WEB program is a seventh-grade orientation and transition program run by 75-80 of our eighth graders and overseen by myself and Ms. Ahearn. Through this program, our eighth graders will learn how to lead effectively and make a real difference at Laguna. We kick off the year by welcoming next year's seventh graders to Laguna through our orientation program. This orientation is geared at pulling the entire seventh-grade class together and making them feel comfortable on campus before registration and the first day of school. It's geared at creating a community of not only the seventh graders but the seventh-grade class and their eighth-grade leaders. For the entire year, ten seventh graders will be grouped with two eighth graders who will lead them through what it takes to be successful in middle school. It's a truly great opportunity for this year's seventh graders to step up and become next year's eighth-grade leaders, spreading their own love for Laguna to next year's seventh graders. If this sounds like an opportunity that would be good for your son our daughter, encourage them to apply for the web program. Applications are available in my classroom (G-6), Ms. Ahearn's classroom (G-7), at the Laguna website, and in their other 7th grade classrooms. Applications are due Thursday, May 5, 2016, by 3:30 in the Student Services office (hand them to Ms. Morgen).

For more information about the WEB program, please view the presentation on my homepage or feel free to email me.

We spent the week polishing up our websites and getting them ready to publish. Before too long, we'll be ready to show off our work! We also had a Tutorial and played Pictionary in Ms. Ahearn's class for Fun Friday; special thanks to Mrs. Blanco who took over for me while I got set up for the assembly.

Questions for the drive home and dinner table:
-What was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. trying to teach us through "Harrison Bergeron"?
-How did the government in "Harrison Bergeron" keep control and power over the citizens of that society?
-What weaknesses does the person you're reading about for your Independent Book Project have? How could you spin these in a positive way?

Warmest wishes,

Kevin Laffin

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