P.U.L.S. Happenings

Follow all of the happenings in our Middle School Program right here.

A Pail of Oysters and A Big Project on Transitional Justice

posted Oct 28, 2018, 2:46 AM by Jason Brunken

A major topic going forward in class this year is transitional justice. Transitional justice are the actions countries take to address large-scale human and civil rights abuses in order for groups to go forward living in peace. If that confuses you, think of Germany after WWII and what had to be done to help victims of the Nazi terror and former Nazis to live together in a peaceful democratic country. Other countries like South Africa, Colombia, Costa Rica, and even Taiwan have had to address transitional justice in one way or another. It is essential to a healthy democracy. 

As we finished our first unit, we looked at ways that South Africa began the transitional justice process after the end of Apartheid. I gave a lesson and asked the students to think carefully about the purposes, objectives, and components of transitional justice. This was in preparation for a new unit and a very big project.

This week we began our new unit. We are reading Vern Sneider's A Pail of Oysters. This book is set in Taiwan in the 1950's. If you know anything about Taiwan's history, you know this wasn't a very good time for most people in Taiwan. Following an uprising calling for reform in the KMT government led by Chiang Kai-shek was answered by a violent crackdown that left tens of thousands dead and many more in prison, Taiwan entered a period of martial law that lasted until 1987. Sneider's book looks at how many Taiwanese were forced to live and how opposed to reform the government was. For years, this book was illegal in Taiwan, but now it has been re-published and we are free to read it thanks to the strides Taiwan has made in freedom and democracy. 

Students have been given a big project that will constitute the bulk of this unit. Their task: develop an effective transitional justice plan for Taiwan. You can read the details of the project here. Tasks they will need to complete in this project are:
  • Research and develop an outline
  • Summarize an interview of a grandparent about the time period
  • Use their research to develop a proposal for transitional justice
  • Promote their proposal by making a YouTube video or composing an essay to send to President Tsai
  • When it's all done, write a short reflection paper
I can't wait to see how the kids do with this project. I hope their plans for transitional justice will help Taiwan which is still in the process of transitional justice for the abuses from the time period we enter in A Pail of Oysters. Assignment sheets are below to view.

Historical Perspective

posted Oct 21, 2018, 7:22 AM by Jason Brunken

When learning about conflict in history, perspective is very important. People are complicated, and in history, people rarely fit nicely in to Good Guy and Bad Guy roles. Real life is far more confusing and people are much more complex than that. Students often forget that history is made by the billions of little choices made by the billions of people who lived in the past. We are so used to focusing on "Great Men" in our history when it is in fact the masses that turn history. In those masses are people just like us, so why do you not read history in way we can empathize those who lived in that moment in time? Getting kids to think about historical events this way is a challenge and we began that task in this unit with a lesson on historical perspective. Historical perspective is the point of view you take when looking at a historical event. For example, do you read about the the American Colonies breaking away from the British Empire as a war for independence, a revolution against an empire, or an uprising by rich landowners who didn't want to pay their taxes. How your read and see an event greatly affects how you understand it.

I delivered a lesson in class teaching these principles during this unit. I used the slideshow below to help. I also tasked the students with reading about a great figure in South African history, Nelson Mandela, and try to compare and contrast how he is seen from different perspectives in a short activity below. We will continue with perspective a great deal in our next unit.

Unit 1: South Africa and Apartheid

posted Sep 17, 2018, 6:20 AM by Jason Brunken

Welcome to a new year in the Program for Upper Level Students at Happy Kids. Each year I try to plan unique, interesting, and challenging students of this class. This year's first unit is about South Africa. We will look closely at South African history, especially that of the Apartheid Era (1947-1990). This era of South African history is very well known the world over. While it was a horrible and unjust system that set the country back tremendously, students rarely get the chance to really analyze events like this from history. With this unit I hope to not only teach students about the era, but also the big picture concepts of historical perspective, importance of empathy when learning history, and minority rule. In short, we will be focusing more on the why and how of the events rather than the what.

For this unit, we will be reading Beverley Naidoo's Out of Bounds. This is a collection of short stories set at different times of the Apartheid and post-Apartheid era. We began our first assignment this past week: a lesson in the origins and composition of the Apartheid system. You can find the assignment here or take a minute to view it below. Stay tuned for more lessons in this unit.

Activities and Discussion Questions for M. T. Anderson's Feed

posted Apr 30, 2018, 1:26 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated May 18, 2018, 1:09 AM ]

We are nearing the end of our unit on Feed. I know some of out there are curious about the different assignments we are working on on in class. I also know there are some teachers here who are looking to plan their own units around this fantastic novel. Below I've included the different discussion questions and activities and tasks we did in my class for this unit. For the most part, our discussion around this novel has been sporadic. We are talking about many topics from the environmental destruction in the book, the effects of the technology, the politics in the book, as well as the interpersonal relationships between our characters. We will be closing this unit with a focus on privilege and how it affects the outcome, especially the climax of the novel. For students in my class. This is the first time they have discussed privilege and the role in plays in life. I hope the make the connections between their lives and those of the characters in the book.


posted Mar 27, 2018, 6:49 AM by Jason Brunken

This week we started our fourth and final unit of the year. Our guide material is the novel Feed by M. T. Anderson. Feed is an interesting book. It is speculative fiction set a couple generations in the future in America. The author imagines a world that is a technological wonderland, for the rich at least. A majority of people have an implant installed when they are young called the Feed. This connects something like the Internet with the central nervous system allowing all kinds of data to feed directly into your brain. Imagine the possibilities! While it might sound awesome on the surface, a plethora of problems exist as you can imagine. Corporations control the Feed and constantly feed their advertising into you to get you to constantly buy new stuff. This rampant consumerism has destroyed the planet.

The book, written in 2002 before Google, Facebook, and the smartphone, has predicted much of what we see today. A warming, volatile planet, constantly connected culture, Big Data, and targeted advertising. The themes of the book are more important than ever as we inch closer and closer to the future that M. T. Anderson predicts in this novel. 

While reading, we will explore topics of consumerism, the value of human life, our relationship with technology, and technology's impact on human relationships and communication (especially with how it changes language). We started the unit with two assignments. One, a look at the poem Anderson uses to begin his book, "Anthem for St. Cecilia's Day". The second assignment is an ongoing one where students make a dictionary of the slang words slang words used by our future-set characters. Coming up soon will be an assignment that asks the students to look at the technology found in the novel and analyze their benefits and costs to society. I'm hoping for some provocative discussions over the next 8 weeks.

Finishing Red Scarf Girl

posted Mar 27, 2018, 6:15 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Mar 27, 2018, 6:15 AM ]

Sorry for not posting during this unit. We got pretty busy at school. However, the main reason I didn't post much was because I borrowed heavily from someone else for this unit. If you are looking to teach Red Scarf Girl or you are reading it and would like to spend more time and look deeper into the issues, I recommend this unit developed by Facing History and Ourselves. I took a special course years ago on this unit and actually got to speak with the author, Jiang Ji-li who worked closely with FHO to make it. It is very, very good. I especially recommend the Teaching Red Scarf Girl packet they developed. It's everything you need to build a unit for this book.

Getting Started with Red Scarf Girl

posted Jan 8, 2018, 1:42 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Jan 8, 2018, 1:47 AM ]

This week we began a new unit in the Middle School Program. The unit will be on the themes of identity, bullying, and authoritarian power using the book Red Scarf Girl. Red Scarf Girl is a memoir of the Chinese Cultural Revolution written by a woman named Ji-li Jiang who was in 6th grade when the Cultural Revolution started. The book follows her family's experiences through the first couple (most volatile) years of this moment in history. 

It is important to study the Chinese Cultural Revolution because it holds a about the dangers of unchecked authoritarian power for all nations. What was the Cultural Revolution? Following the failure of his "grand ideas" of reforming China's agriculture and industry which resulted in the deaths of more than 80 million Chinese people due to famine and violent persecution, Chinese leader Mao Zedong sought to rekindle the flame of his popularity in a campaign to boost his image as a god-like figure for the Chinese. From this purely selfish motive alone was born one of the most tumultuous chapters of China's history. The sad part is that China was on the road to reform and people's lives were improving. Nonetheless, in 1966 Mao begins speaking about the dangers of the "Four Olds" and the need for a new revolution to keep China on track to be a socialist paradise. He called on young people in particular to take it upon themselves to seek out and destroy "Four Olds" wherever they saw them, even to the point of open violence. The result was years of state-sanctioned vandalism, violence, and persecution where innocent people were put at the mercy of anyone who accused them. Thousands, possibly millions died, and priceless pieces of Chinese history were lost forever.

We will not be focusing too much on the history though. Instead, we will be focusing on Ji-li's story. Ji-li's experiences during the Cultural Revolution rocked the very foundation of her being, just like they did for almost everyone who lived through the time. Her identity was forever changed by the powers at work in her life. Identity is a key theme that we will be focusing on by exploring how we form our identity and the effects outside forces have on how we see ourselves. To prepare for that, we worked on identity charts this week for ourselves and Ji-li with this assignment. You can also view these below. 

Also assigned this week was a couple history assignments looking at Mao's Four Olds and primary sources reading assignment using documents from that time. I also posted a vocabulary list that will be used for extra credit. I encourage all my students to practice it. More assignments will be posted as we go through the unit.

Connecting the Civil War to the Present

posted Dec 17, 2017, 7:38 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Dec 17, 2017, 7:38 AM ]

The American Civil War ended over 150 years ago, but it's lessons, issues, and effects can still be felt and seen today. America is the country it is today because of the Civil War. While it was awesomely horrible in its scale of death and destruction, from that carnage arose a more united and free country. The modern, and very patriotic and nationalistic nation that we know today, was born from the Civil War. More curiously though, Americans have a strange, almost nostalgic relationship with the War's legacy, especially in the South.

The Confederate States were traitors. They rebelled violently against the Federal government of the USA. Yet, the men, history, and symbols of that time can be found even today in prominent places such as the tops of government buildings, public monuments, and even the sides of mountains. Those symbols and men immortalized in monuments mean different things to different people. For some, they are a way to revere ancestors lost or a part of their culture and heritage. For others, those same symbols represent unfettered hate and the inhumane institution of slavery. these parts of the US are still struggling wit that legacy and how to remember it today as these monuments are debated and challenged all the time. This is not dissimilar to how symbols and monuments of KMT symbols and men from the ROC's early history are being challenged and debated today here in Taiwan.

To better understand this debate, we will debate it ourselves in class this week. Students will research a position on this issue and debate it live in class. Feel free to read the assignment sheet below to better understand the task assigned to the students. I am looking for to their answers to the three big questions we hope to answer during the debate: Do Confederate monuments like this one represent history or hate?, Should monuments to the Confederate cause be allowed on public land?, and Should Confederate monuments be illegal?

Learning about the Civil War

posted Nov 21, 2017, 6:36 PM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Nov 21, 2017, 6:36 PM ]

The American Civil War is not taught in Taiwan, nor should it be. There is a rich history of both Taiwan and China that needs to be studied and understood here for kids to better understand their own culture and current government. There is even their own recent civil war that has directly shaped the present political and geographic situation that they live in that should take precedence over a war 150 years ago in America. However, the US Civil War was the single most important event in the shaping of modern America. For students that are interested in learning about America and its history, this topic is essential.

That caveat out of the way, this unit we are looking closely at the American Civil War in my class using the novel Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen. In our first lessons we looked at the lead up to the war and Americans' reactions to the outbreak of war (spoiler alert: they were super excited about it.) Now that our main character, Charley, has had his first battle, we are getting into some of the more grisly realities of the war. Students are still working on booksnaps to show their reactions to the reading. We are discussing events from the book. Students are learning history-specific vocabulary about the war. Finally, the big assignment introduced this past week is to work on a book that teaches about a Civil War topic with a group. This assignment sheet can be found below.

I am looking forward to posting the kids' books as soon as they are done. Keep them reading and curious.

So they were excited about the war?

posted Nov 5, 2017, 5:48 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Nov 5, 2017, 5:48 AM ]

Teaching the American Civil War is certainly something I've missed teaching at Happy Kids. One thing I've missed about it, is the opportunity to help kids empathize with people who lived a world away and 150 years ago. It isn't easy, but it is amazing when it happens. This week we read chapter one of Gary Paulsen's Soldier's Heart. In chapter the main character, Charlie, describes the excitement in his tiny Minnesota town about the outbreak of war. Charlies reaction to all of this? He wants to lie about his age and go off to join the army and join the fight so he can "be a man". Students' reactions were predictably shocked and confused why anyone would so readily go off to war. We discussed this difference in perception. As I said, it is fun to watch kids learn to empathize with people from history.

This week students were given two assignments. The first was learning to make booksnaps, a new reading response activity developed by Tara Martin in the US. Students watched this video to learn how to make them and then made their own. See the slideshow below. Finally, students were tasked with writing a compare and contrast paper about the differing perceptions of war between us today and Americans in 1861. This will help the kids better think through the topic and practice their academic writing skills. I am looking forward to their papers.

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