Middle School Program Happenings

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

Until Next Year...

posted Jun 20, 2017, 2:05 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Jun 20, 2017, 2:16 AM ]

I can't believe the school year is done already. Those 32 classes just flew by. We had a good time this year, and I hope everyone learned a lot. Thank you for your feedback on the course. I will work hard over the summer to make this class even better for those of you coming back in the Fall. Also, thank you for your hard work and dedication despite being so busy. 

Have a great summer. If it is your last at Happy Kids, don't forget to come and visit us when you have a chance. I always love seeing former students. Don't forget to get some reading done this summer either. Reading lists are posted on Happy Kids's website here. Enjoy!

Anti-Heroes

posted Apr 9, 2017, 7:58 PM by Jason Brunken

Now that we have gotten further along into Ship Breaker and this unit, we can begin to explore a final lesson on literary heroes: the anti-hero. anti-heroes by definition are characters that play the protagonist in a story and sacrifices for others or fights for some greater good but also are devoid of those typical qualities that our classic heroes have. Remember those? We talked about them back in the first unit this year with Percy Jackson. A classic hero is strong, brave, talented, noble, selfless, and honorable. Think about Percy Jackson, Superman, and Captain America. These characters represent the classic hero, the ideal our culture and society strive to be. 

Anti-heroes, lack some or all of these traits. Anti-heroes might save the world at the end of the story, but not because it was the right thing to do. She probably did it because she realized her life would be over too if the world ended or some other selfish reason. Anti-heroes come in many shapes and forms, but they all the darker reflection of the classic hero. They are selfish, greedy, dishonorable, sometimes unscrupulous, weak, cowardly, and sometimes even evil. Despite these failings, we love anti-heroes. Just look at popular movies, TV shows, video games, and books today. The protagonists are almost all anti-heroes. Captain Jack Sparrow, the Fast and Furious gang, Deadpool, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Frodo, Shrek, and many, many more are all anti-heroes from popular movies and books. So what appeals to us about these characters? This is what we are exploring in class this week and next.

You can view the presentation on anti-heroes given in class below and the assignment kids worked on in small groups below. We will continue from here with an exploration of our characters in Ship Breaker. Is Nailer an anti-hero? How about other characters in the book? It will be fun seeing the students' responses to these questions.



Ship Breaking

posted Mar 26, 2017, 3:29 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Mar 26, 2017, 3:30 AM ]

This week the Middle School Program began its next and final unit on Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker. This book is set in a future Earth where climate change has changed everything. The world has used all of the oil, Major coastal cities lie underwater, and the economies of the world have been shaken. The main character, Nailer, is a ship breaker. Today, ship breakers are the very poor who live in impoverished nations like Bangladesh. It's a dirty and dangerous job that pays next to nothing. Nailer doesn't live in Bangladesh though. He is American. The once rich coasts of America are now wastelands of the wasteful past. It is here on the ship breaking yards of the Gulf of Mexico where Nailer finds his destiny washed ashore after a "city killer" hurricane. 

Throughout this unit, we will discuss issues related to loyalty, poverty, climate change, and heroes. We will focus especially on Nailer's character. Is he a traditional hero? Is he an anti-hero? But first, we must learn about where Nailer came from before we explore too deeply who he is. To do this, we must understand Nailer's environment and the life of a ship breaker. 

Our first assignment for this unit is to watch some videos about ship breaking in Bangladesh. The follow-up quiz will test students' understanding of the content. The next assignment is more analytical where students will compare and contrast Nailer's setting with that of the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh. All of these are posted below.


The Big Question: Was it right?

posted Mar 5, 2017, 7:28 PM by Jason Brunken

As our unit on Barefoot Gen and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 comes to an end, we are left pondering a very important questions that circles around this issue no matter where and when you study it: Was the United States right in dropping atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring an end to WWII? While for many the answer to this question seems an obvious yes, upon closer inspection of the historical facts and context of the decision, it is not so simple. Was the bomb the only way to convince Japan to surrender? Were there other options? Is it ever ok to target civilians in war? These questions are ones we still grapple with today which makes the discussion of this event in history and this question important. 

Students in this class will begin our look at this question with a unique assignment. The class has been divided (ideologically) into two camps. One group that sees the dropping of the bomb as a just and necessary action while the other views it as an immoral act that wan't necessary. These two groups will compete by creating websites using the New Google Sites that not only clearly state their position and main arguments, but also a rebuttal of the other side's arguments. These websites are then meant kick start an informed discussion/debate in the classroom at the end of the unit. I am sure more than a few minds will be changed in the end. 

Details of the assignment can be found in the document below for those interested. I will post links to the students' websites when they are finished in a couple of weeks.

Understanding Propaganda

posted Feb 5, 2017, 2:21 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Feb 5, 2017, 2:22 AM ]

Propaganda plays an important role in Barefoot Gen. Like most countries during WWII, Japan was inundated with pro-government and anti-Allies propaganda. What was especially nefarious was that the Japanese government hid the truth that Japan was utterly losing the war from its own people to compel them to keep fighting despite widespread death and destruction. The fact that young people were still flocking to enlist and fight against the Americans when Japan air force and navy were already completely destroyed is a testament to the power of effective propaganda.

We don't need to look to history for examples of the effectiveness of propaganda. It is all around us in the form of commercials, government messages, suggestions from friends and family, and more. Literally everywhere we look we are bombarded with propaganda of some sort which is why it is so important for students to learn about, so they can learn how to recognize it, analyze it, and respond to it appropriately. In a democratic country, it is our responsibility to do this so we can make informed choices both with our money and our votes.

To help students practice these skills, they will be working on a propaganda analysis assignment and a role playing activity in small groups these next couple of weeks. The assignment sheet is posed below along with a presentation I gave to the kids about the nature of propaganda and the various propaganda techniques employed. I am eagerly looking forward to the results of the students' role play.


Barefoot Gen: Japan, WWII, Hiroshima, and Hope

posted Jan 8, 2017, 7:02 PM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Jan 8, 2017, 7:07 PM ]

This week the Middle School Program started its third unit of the year. For the next eight classes we will be reading from Keiji Nakazawa's classic manga series Barefoot Gen. Mr. Nazkazawa is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 8, 1945. Barefoot Gen is staunchly anti-war where the author rails against the totalitarian government of the Japanese Empire on which he squarely places the blame for the war and the atomic bombing. The books have a broader message though: peace, hope, and love in the face of the most inhumane of actions and experiences. In this unit, we will be learning about WWII, Japanese Empire, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but we will also be looking at totalitarianism, propaganda, and the issue of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and nuclear proliferation which are all currently in the local and international news recently. We will be reading the first two translated volumes of the Barefoot Gen series which cover the time before, during, and immediately after the bombing. The first volume is publicly available online for all here. I recommend reading along with your child and discussing it at home.

Our first assignments for this unit are a diary and a virtual tour. The My Hiroshima Diary assignment (copy posted below) requires students to write a diary entry after each reading assignment where they role play a young Japanese person living in Hiroshima during the events of our book and reacting to them in character by writing a personal diary. Students should also find an authentic photo from the time to go with their entries. 

The second assignment of this unit is a
virtual tour of Hiroshima to get students familiar with the geography, history, and people of Hiroshima before, during, and since WWII. Students are to work in groups to complete the different sections of this assignment in the next few weeks. A copy of this assignment is also posted below.

Due to the Lunar New Year holidays, there will be no classes On January 21 and 28. We will have class again on February 4 after the holidays. Please use this time to catch up on your work and reading. Best of luck on finals and good fortune in the new year.


Final Assignment for I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

posted Dec 12, 2016, 8:05 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Dec 12, 2016, 8:05 AM ]

Our unit for I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade is coming to an end meaning it is time for our final assignment for the unit. Each year in the Middle School Program I assign an essay for each student to write individually. Essays, while not the most exciting assignment, are an extremely common form of writing students are asked to due in Western education systems. Since many of our students at Happy Kids eventually transfer to an overseas school for secondary or post-secondary school, It is important they learn how to write a proper academic essay.

For this essay, students will have a choice of three questions (see below) related to our unit these past 6 weeks. Students are to pick one and write their essay by the end of the unit on December 24th. Follow the links for support for writing both an expository and a persuasive essay. While this assignment is a review, it is always good to refresh your mind. Assignment sheet is posted below for reference.


The Heroine's Journey

posted Dec 8, 2016, 6:37 PM by Jason Brunken

We've discussed the Hero's Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, much this year already. Now it's time to take a look at a competing narrative model called The Heroine's Journey. Like the Hero's Journey, you have seen this narrative model time and again in books, movies, and on TV, but you probably didn't notice it because was masked by or part of a larger tale that was more like the Hero's Journey. So what's the difference?


The Heroine's Journey was first described by Maureen Murdock as a feminist response to Campbell's overtly masculine Hero's Journey. Ms. Murdock described the Heroine's Journey as a journey inward to find one's "true self", or a seeking of a balance between the feminine and masculine natures of who we are. Like Campbell, she looked at stories across time and found common patterns in how these stories were told and developed a series of common stages characters on these journeys take. Read through the materials below to learn more about these and what a Heroine's Journey narrative looks like. 

To close, the Heroine's Journey is a story that focuses on the self. The main conflict is internal between a character's competing identities. Oddly, the Heroine's Journey usually isn't used to replace the common Hero's Journey template, but instead supplement it to make the story deeper. Man of Steel, the most recent Superman movie, is a great example. Yes, Superman follows the Hero's Journey as he transforms into the guardian of peace and justice, but there is another narrative too: his struggle between his alien and human identities as represented by his "ghost dad" and "alien dad". Both these stories play out before our eyes, and this is usually the rule rather than the exception with longer stories such as movies or novels.

To practice the Heroine's Journey this unit, students will be taking a short quiz and then aligning the story of Oyuna in I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade with the stages of the Heroine's Journey in this assignment shown below.

Gender Roles and the Hero's Journey

posted Nov 13, 2016, 9:13 PM by Jason Brunken

A big question we will be looking at in this unit is whether gender plays a significant role in the Hero's Journey or not. In short, is there such a thing as a Heroine's Journey? And, if there is, can a male character go on a heroine's journey and a female hero take a hero's journey? These are not easy questions to answer as they force us to look at our learned perceptions of masculinity and femininity. 

As a community, we come to an unspoken understanding of what it means to be man and woman. We agree what is masculine and what is feminine, and while none of us completely embrace one without the other, we tend to stick to our community's definition of each out of fear of being socially punished. Our perceptions of masculinity and femininity affect the way we see the world and others. It is why we think a woman as a race car driver and a male nurse are weird. These perceptions also define the roles or jobs we are supposed to fill in our community. If we are male, masculine, we should play a leadership or aggressive or constructive role in society as a boss, laborer, doctor, or soldier. If we are female, feminine, we should play a nurturing, supportive, or submissive role in society as a nurse, childcare provider, or a homemaker. These gender roels have been around as long as humans have lived together, but they have always changed. 

This week we look at what gender roles are in Taiwan and during the Mongol Empire and compare and contrast them. By understanding these well, we can begin to look more closely at the role gender plays in literature, specifically the Hero's Journey. See the presentation and assignment below for more.



Wait for it...a Mongol heroine!

posted Nov 5, 2016, 11:17 PM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Nov 5, 2016, 11:20 PM ]

This week we started our second unit of the year. This unit will give students a mix of history and literary learning as we read a historical fiction narrative set in midst of Kublai Khan's Mongol Empire (Yuan Dynasty) with I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade. This novel gives a young Mongolian girl named Oyuna who literally rides off to live her dream. Her story is riveting, and while exciting, it is a contrast to The Lightning Thief in that it is set in a real historical time with less of the supernatural at play. In this unit we will learn about the Mongols, the great empire built by the Khans, and look with a new perspective at the Hero's Journey, a female one. We will ask exciting questions like Is there a heroine's journey? Are female characters that follow the Hero's Journey more male in characteristics? Do heroes and heroines have to follow different paths? Face different challenges? I can't wait to get into this unit.

Our first assignments will be background learning about the Mongols and the Mongol Empire. The first assignment will be a quiz on Mongol history using Crash Course World History's excellent episode on the Mongols. Next, students will use maps of the Mongol Empire to learn about its vastness and diversity in this map assignment. Finally students will collaborate to make this slideshow to learn about items, practices, and beliefs important to Mongol culture. My hope is that students gain a good understanding of the Mongols before getting too far into the book.

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