A Unique Opportunity for Upper School Students

While we are all missing being physically on campus, remote learning has opened some incredible opportunities that can sometimes be more difficult to coordinate during the school year. One of these has been the opportunity to invite guest speakers into our classrooms. Like the rest of us, many world renown authors and academics now find themselves temporarily teaching and working from home, and several Upper School faculty members have taken the initiative to reach out to experts in their respective fields to invite them into their classrooms through Zoom.
David Cutler has invited guests into his classes weekly. Mark Waid, one of the most popular and sought-after authors in the superhero comic book industry and author of two books read in our Popular Culture in American History elective, joined class to discuss the use of superheroes to tell historical stories. Popular Culture students were also able to speak with Josh Elder, a DC Comics writer and founder of Reading With Pictures as well as a United Nations diplomat for comics in education, about his work with Superman. 
In United States History, Kenneth C. Davis, historian and author of More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War visited to talk with students about the 1918 epidemic. Last week, Professor Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project and Cuba Documentation Project, spoke to students in our Latin American History elective. Kornbluh’s work has been nothing short of revolutionary for historians, politicians, and world government. He has played a leading role in shedding light on covert US policy to undermine Latin American elections throughout the Cold War. Next week, Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Foner will speak to Brimmer students about his work as an American historian. 
In Paul Brauchle’s chemistry classes, Eric Arsenault spoke with students about why he chose to pursue a PhD in Chemistry, the research he is doing, and what drew him to science. Arsenault graduated from Wesleyan University (CT) in 2017 with a dual degree in Chemistry and Physics and is currently pursuing his PhD in Physical Chemistry at UC Berkeley, studying photosynthesis using ultrafast spectroscopy.
Bill Jacob, Creative Arts Chair, and the students in our Creative Arts Diploma Program, organized a Coffee House for the Brimmer community inviting some of our own “experts”—current students, alumni, and community members—to perform. Brimmer’s version of the virtual concerts that are popping up on social media, it helped spread good spirit.
These special guests and events are just one example of the innovative and exciting ways that Brimmer’s Upper School teachers are taking advantage of the current learning environment to provide unique opportunities for our students. Whether it be the opportunity to learn from a top-level expert or a chance to share our expertise with others, our emerging virtual environment has enabled us to reach far beyond the walls of our school in a way that has enhanced our students’ learning experience during this unprecedented time.

In the Classroom: Exploring Voice Through Music

It is common knowledge that music is a form of communication and can elicit different feelings and emotions based on the rhythms and notes played. As I stepped into our Upper School Ensemble class, I was thrilled to observe a lesson that encouraged students to broaden their understanding of student voice through the lens of music as they honed their improvisation skills.

I would venture to say that, before this class, most of the students in our Ensemble saw improv sets as an opportunity to highlight their own skills. However, their teacher explained the significance of improv in a more profound way. He told students to think about the notes that they string together as a speech or part of a dialogue with the audience. He encouraged students to start softer to draw the listener in and then to grow the sound to add emphasis; to use different rhythms to add cadence to the conversation and accentuate moments; and to provide space for members of the band to add notes which represents moments of affirmation in a conversation such as “I understand,” “Oh, I see,” and “Tell me more.”

Improv sets represent so much more than a moment to shine. Instead, they become a way to add personal voice and touch to a known piece of music and to elicit emotions from the audience. The lesson showed students yet another way that they can add their own voice to the community. Some students may not be able to stand in front of a room of people and deliver a speech, but when given a trumpet or keyboard, they are able to provide originality and deepen connections through music. There is a reason why you see people in jazz clubs nodding their heads and engaging with musicians as if in conversation, and I am glad that our students are getting an opportunity to explore dialogue through music at Brimmer. I am looking forward to the upcoming concerts, and I am eager to engage in a different type of dialogue with our Upper School Ensemble.

In the Classroom- Modern World History

I recently had the opportunity to step into a Trench Warfare Simulation in a 10th grade Modern World History class. As I walked into the room, I found the tables turned on their sides and students throwing paper balls at each other. What started as an initial observation of student mutiny quickly turned into an observation of profound student learning. 
 
Students in Mr. Barker-Hook’s class were learning about trench warfare in World War I and its human cost. To help students grasp what happened, he turned his classroom into a mini battlefield with an attacking army trying to cross “No Man’s Land” to reach the opposing trench. Students were asked to move at a speed that would be the equivalent of running across the battlefield, yet no matter the rules put in place to help the attackers, they could not make it across.  
 
Through the simulation, students could feel the hopelessness that most soldiers felt as they charged across the battlefield. Students shared that even though it was a simulation and people were using paper balls, they still felt anxiety and fear when trying to cross “No Man’s Land.” They also began to question the purpose of the strategy and dove into the human impact, which is well documented by the History Channel in their series, Life in the Trenches of World War I
 
Simulations are a powerful learning tool. There has been an increase in the use of simulations by medical and nursing schools through multi-million dollar investments in specialized simulation classrooms because it gives students experience beyond the textbook. A 2016 National Institute of Health study showed that simulations were very useful in understanding how students will react in the face of stress, as well as to reinforce what they have learned in class. It is a particularly effective learning model for high school history classes because it allows students to build an emotional connection to historical events and to experience a small degree of what it may have felt like to live through those times. More importantly, it gives students the opportunity to practice taking the perspective of those who experienced these events. By experiencing events themselves “first-hand,” students are able to think about history in a more profound way. 

In the Classroom- Neuroscience

If you were walking around the halls last month, it would have been hard to miss what our Neuroscience students had been learning in class. After spending the previous week learning about how the brain functions, students were then tasked with identifying the different regions of the brain. Students assembled, colored, and identified these different regions by creating a “Brain Hat” and showed them off around campustaking advantage of an opportunity to share what they had learned with the community. 
 
Learning about how the brain works is interesting and critical to students’ understanding of how they learn. The topic of brain science has grown in popularity in schools as educators realize that understanding how the brain works can help inform best practices in teaching and learning. I’m excited that our students are exploring brain function as part of their Neuroscience class as it will help them more deeply understand their own strengths and areas of growth.