Middle School Program Happenings

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

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.

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.

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