Middle School Program Happenings

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

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.

Why Civil War?

posted Oct 29, 2017, 3:36 AM by Jason Brunken

As we conclude our first unit this semester about American Slavery and the Underground Railroad, it is time to begin preparing to read and discuss the American Civil War. However, to understand the Civil War, we must first look at the context in which it happened. American students learn about this history in 4th, 8th, and 11th grade, but our Happy Kids have hed next to no US history in all their years in school. So this week I spent time teaching the history of the expansion of slavery in the US and how that led to the Civil War.

Below you will find the slideshow I made to help simplify and clarify the events that led to the Civil War. Given the time we have, it's the best I can do. After the lesson, students are to watch two videos, Crash Course US 
History's episode on the Election of 1860 and TED-Ed's video on the Kansas Nebraska Act. After watching these there is a worksheet to write and a quiz on American current and historical geography

This should give students a solid foundation to prepare them for our next book, Soldier's Heart. During this unit we will not only learn about the Civil War, but also the struggles of the men who fought in the war. The American Civil War was the world's first modern war. It killed so many men because it was the world's first war fought with rifled muskets and artillery. These weapons were accurate and deadly at much greater distances than the old weapons of previous wars. Unfortunately, the military tactics of had not caught up. Officers walked men shoulder to shoulder across fields a mile wide. The carnage was unlike anything that had come before. 

Profiling Harriet Tubman

posted Oct 21, 2017, 1:45 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Oct 21, 2017, 1:46 AM ]

We are down to our last two classes for our Underground Abductor unit, a unit about Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad, and American slavery. As we finish our readings for this unit, it's time to step back and analyze Ms. Tubman a bit more deeply. While from our historical distance we often perceive her as another person from history, we tend to overlook just how awesome she was. 

Think about it. Harriet Tubman, a runaway, a black woman, illiterate, disabled, made no less than twenty incursions into the South and saved more than a thousand slaves from bondage without ever getting caught. Not even once. She had nothing working in her favor, but she went, time and time again for no pay to help others, and she was never caught. In fact, she never lost a single person in her charge. Her success and acts are incredible and exceptional which is why we take the time to learn about this woman, to honor her legacy.

To do this, students will complete a Character Profile of Harriet Tubman this week using our novel and two primary sources. The assignment is posted below. Students will also respond to their classmates' slave resistance videos this week. I've put that task below as well.

The Underground Railrod

posted Oct 8, 2017, 8:51 PM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Oct 8, 2017, 8:53 PM ]

The Underground Abductor is a book about Harriet Tubman. This famous woman from American history is most famous for her work as a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a network of houses and people that helped slaves escape enslavement in the South to free states in the North or Canada. While to us today, this work doesn't seem too risky or groundbreaking, it was in fact an incredibly dangerous and very illegal job. Harriet was an escaped slave herself, so if she had been caught during one of her many trips South to help runaways, she would have been put back into bondage or even worse, killed. 

This week in class, we discussed the idea of freedom. this word is thrown around a lot throughout history, but we rarely stop to think how different its meaning is across time and places. One task we did this week was explore our expectations of freedom in Taiwan and contrast those with the expectations of slaves escaping to the North. Our discussion was rich and enlightening, and I was happy to see the kids understand the difference between our expectations today and those of escaped slaves. Feel free to view their comments in the slideshow here.

Finally, I tasked the kids with learning more about the Underground Railroad using Scholastic's excellent online resource here. Students were tasked with reading through this resource and completing a handout to learn more about the Underground Railroad. These can be seen below. I have also included a very helpful video about the Underground Railroad to the right.

Introduction to American Slavery

posted Sep 14, 2017, 8:09 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Sep 15, 2017, 2:50 AM ]

To begin our first unit of the year, we are reading The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale. This book is a graphic novel that tells the true story of Harriet Tubman, a brave woman who helped herself, family, and others to escape slavery to the North and Canada. Ms. Tubman, after escaping, went BACK to the South at least 19 times to help others find freedom.

Harriet Tubman was more than just an "abductor" on the Underground Railroad, she was a Civil War spy, an awesome lumberjack, a nurse, a wife and mother, a political activist, and a prophet to some. Of course, before all of those she as a slave in Maryland, forced to work all day for no pay since she was 10 and treated no differently than the cows and horses on the farm of the slave master that, according to the law, owned her

To better understand the context of this book, we will spend this week learning about the institution of slavery in the American South and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Understanding these are essential to understanding the Need for the Underground Railroad, people like Harriet Tubman, and eventually the Civil War which will be the topic of our next unit. Below you can find the presentation I gave in class over slavery, the quiz students were asked to complete, and the group assignment about slave resistance that will occupy us for the next couple of weeks.

Welcome (back) to the Middle School Program

posted Sep 3, 2017, 7:28 AM by Jason Brunken

It's been a long four months, but the Middle School Program is back in session. I know I am excited to get things started. For anyone just joining the class or finding us for the first time, this is where I post important announcement and updates for class. Assignment materials are posted here, but details for each assignment and task are put in a private online classroom using the an app called Google Classroom. Students should get in the habit of checking their Happy Kids email accounts and Google Classroom a few times a week to stay current on what's going on. Occasionally extra credit is posted there, so help remind your child if you can.

This Saturday, I covered all of my expectations and how-tos for class. The first two assignments were rolled out too. I introduced the Joined Nations, and students picked their JN countries for this year. The results can be found here on the JN Website. Students can work on the Ultimate JN Quiz and their JN Country Presentation assignments over the next two weeks until we meet again on September 17th. Students should also be reading chapters 1-5 in The Lightning Thief.

Please contact me with questions. Class information presented today is posted below. Documents include the Year at a Glance, my introduction letter, class orientation slideshow, and the JN Country Website assignment. This unit's calendar can be found on the Calendar Page 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!


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.

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