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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Academic Updates, Nov 2012

Being immersed in South Africa's multi-layered history is a constant motivation for TTS20's Modern History and Contemporary African Politics class to ask questions and explore answers. Following a brief introduction to colonial era, especially Dutch and British influences in the region, the students dove into the events of the 20th century. Through readings, class discussions, queries to locals, role play scenarios, poetry analysis, oral presentations, and primary source documents students have tackled the rise of apartheid and the ways that economics, constructed identity, and political interests can cause one people to subordinate another. In our last few weeks here the class is focusing on post-apartheid South Africa and current events. Our final stay in Cape Town will provide us many opportunities to visit some of the country's most historically symbolic locations, including Robben Island, District Six, and the city's surrounding Cape Flats area.

Visiting Parliament
It was a clear, warm morning as the TTS20 students climbed out of the van into the Cape Town sun. We were standing in front of the South African Parliament, a set of modern shining glass and traditional white columned buildings sprawling across manicured lawns and gated drives. As we stepped through the visitor's entrance, Ramon, a spectacled, energetic gentleman who launched into a speedy welcome to our Parliamentary tour, greeted us. He took off at a fast clip with us trailing behind, stopping here and there to point out works of art housed in the building. On the ground floor he showed us Keiskamma Tapestry, a 120 meter long piece depicting the history of the Eastern Cape (a region of South Africa) from the perspective of the women who made it. On the upper level, we visited the seat of both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, South Africa's two houses of Parliament. There is something truly powerful about learning how a government functions while sitting in the very seats its legislatures use to craft the nation's laws. The girls asked Ramon all sorts of questions, ranging from how one is elected president to what his views on politics today are and what had been planned as a half hour tour turned into a two-hour long conversation as he responded with comprehensive, detailed answers. When we emerged back into the bright, southern sun at the end of the tour, the girls were all a-chatter with speculations on South African government today and in what direction the country is headed. If that isn't the mark of a successful history class, I'm not sure what is.

Global Studies
Global Studies continues to be an interactive setting with eye-opening discussions about refugees, asylum and resettlement.  Many girls have previously encountered stories of refugees and have ideas about resettlement, but each student made new realizations that jerked at their souls.  For some, they recognized the pain students at their school had witnessed in order to start over in the United States.  For some, the idea of leaving everything for the idea of a better life with so many unknowns and questions was heart-wrenching.  In an effort to try to understand refugee's circumstances we made combined poems in the voice of a 12-year-old searching for something new while knowing she was different.  Recently, we switched topics and discussed the power of micro loans for women in developing countries.  As we move through the final weeks we will continue discussing leadership as young activists with knowledge and interest.  We will study different teenage stories of those who took action and made a change and discuss ways our group can give back and help encourage change.  This brainstorm will lead to a Zenith Project for the students to expand their leadership skills back home and devise a strategy to influence social, political or economic change for one place we experienced this semester.  Although the girls will all be back at home, the project will be a collective effort determined before we leave South Africa.

The Global Studies class will also focus on transitioning back home.  We will discuss different methods to conquer the culture shock of coming back home and reflect on our journey through Southeast Africa.  Each student will prepare a presentation to give at home about her journey and how it impacted her.  The class will work together to help each other develop strong speaking points and stories to share with their community.

TTS20's Literature and Composition class is in its final chapter of our three and a half month long saga. The students just completed their last novel, July's People, by Nadine Gordimer. The novel concerns itself with race relations in an imagined future for apartheid South Africa, a topic Gordimer explores through the story of one white families' flight into rural South Africa under the protection of their black servant, July. The students have engaged in honest and deep discussions about the book, and are continuing to tackle the complex subject matter in their analytical essays. As this is the essay style with which students are most familiar, I am encouraging them to argue more controversial thesis statements than they might at home in anticipation of the kind of analyses often expected in college. In addition, the students are currently working on their oral recitation projects and will all recite either a piece of original work or of South-East Africa poetry on Thanksgiving. In class we continue to work on creative writing through surrealist forms of expression as well as read short stories of the region in an effort to gain as solid an understanding of what it means to be a South African artist as possible.

Algebra 2:
The Algebra 2 class has continued to work hard and ask critical questions as the semester progressed from simple one-step equations to solving complex polynomials.  The students have each pushed themselves hard, ambitiously working through difficult topics of solving for multiple variables as well as factoring large polynomial expressions.  Class has continued to take place in any convenient setting, including on the road while cruising toward Cape Town, as well as at the breakfast table at the Rocktail Bay Resort.  Each student has shown tremendous growth, taking turns assisting one another through challenging problems.  The students have also tested their own complete level of understanding of a concept by teaching problems to the rest of the class.  As the semester comes to a close, students will use different strategies to solve for quadratic expressions, and then work on transformations of quadratic graphs.  The students will complete a comprehensive review before facing their final exam during the last week of class.

The science class was full of smiles and enthusiastic chatter as the aquatic marine unit was brought to a close in mid-November.  Science journals were filled with entries on whales and Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles, as the students had the rare opportunity to assist researchers and observe these magnificent animals crawl ashore to lay their eggs.  Not only did the students watch the turtles create their nests and lay eggs, they also were lucky to see a family of humpback whales breaching repetitively out of the water from a mere 30 yards away.  The students then formed groups and presented habitat and species summaries on whale sharks, turtles and great white sharks.  Their creative minds were put to the test as they invented two aquatic species that could live in a specific habitat, ranging from intertidal zones to benthic environments.  Each student had to create a complete species prognosis report for their newly developed species, then describe a symbiotic relationship taking place between those two species.  The final unit of study for the semester will focus on water conservation and problem solving discussions for solutions on the water crisis currently facing much of the world.  This topic has come up throughout the semester, as students have seen firsthand the struggle many villages have to simply access clean drinking water.  The semester will come to a close with the final exam, taking place during the last week of class. 

Math Concepts:
The Math Concepts class has been working hard to prepare for the workforce.  Each student chose a potential job to apply for after returning home, then created a cover letter and a resume for the job.  Mock interviews were held, and students had the opportunity to give each other feedback on both their verbal and nonverbal communication skills in an interview setting.  After a bit of practice, the class was ready.  Each student had to schedule an actual interview, and formal mock interviews were held at a local cafe.  The class is ready to face the workforce with confidence.  The curriculum continued with an introduction to economics.  Students each prepared a brief presentation on investment-related topics such as stocks and bonds and money market accounts.  Students reflected on what types of investments they are interested in for both the near future as well as long-term goals for further down the road.  Before the upcoming final exam, topics of discussion will center on supply and demand, the World Trade Organization, and the overall cost of happiness. 

The students have continued to build their own PE course this semester, by both teaching classes and seeking out physically demanding experiences we come across.  The student-led workouts have ranged from plyometric conditioning to abdominal exercises to Irish dance with each class filled with well-timed changes in exercises, sweat and plenty of enthusiasm.  To counter long days spent on the road, the students independently complete thirty-minute workouts to get their legs moving and the blood flowing.  Their ambition to conquer challenges has continued with activities sought out by the girls.  For example, after arriving in a campsite in a nature reserve, the class eagerly hiked a nearby  foothill for the perfect setting for a few hours for a history and literature class.  The girls had no trouble taking their class supplies along with their usual “possibles bag”.  As our journey continues, we are fitting in as many walking or jogging opportunities as possible to prepare for the TTS20 Turkey Trot 5k. 

In iLife class, discussions on personal goals and incorporating passions into future decisions have been the focal point for several weeks.  Each student completed a workbook to help narrow down interests into five passions.  Then each student brainstormed how to incorporate her passions into life both now and in the future.  During the parent campus visit, we had some guest speakers join the class for a poolside discussion on finding your path in life.  Parents discussed how sometimes following random interests along the way in college or after helped create a career they had never previously considered.  As classes continue, students will further develop this concept as discussions center on finding true happiness and pursuing personal goals.

In recent weeks, the class shifted gears from studying polynomial equations to studying logarithms.  We learned to condense and expand logarithmic expressions using the quotient, product, power and change of base properties.  The students are discovering how intertwined mathematical concepts are and how important it is to understand the concepts behind different rules and theorems.  We built on previous learned concepts to understand different types of exponential growth and decay.  Students are now able solve questions concerning the rate at which diseases will spread or populations will grow.  They can also determine how much interest they will accumulate in various types of accounts with different interest periods.  The final stage of Pre-calculus involves the study of trigonometry using the unit circle and right triangles.  We are discussing how applicable trigonometry is various careers.  The discussions continue to be interactive and spontaneous and the gals often have to double check themselves to make sure they are not having too much fun finding their nerdy math side.

Travel Journalism
The TJ gals continue their quest to be young journalists by asking questions and investigating their surroundings through their five senses.  The class continues to build their journalistic writing skills by creating articles with strong narrative form to paint pictures with vivid wording and descriptions. Currently, each student is in the brainstorming phase for her final article.  She is working hard to find a topic she is passionate about and believes the world is ready to hear from a teenager's perspective.  We practiced writing query letters to editors and now the students are forming individual query letters for their upcoming articles.  As a class we studied the Writer's Market and discovered a wealth of information and potential publishing possibilities.  Each student will submit her final article, query letter and three photos to a publication of choice in hopes of becoming a published journalist.  To compliment the final article, the class is also continuing to explore our surroundings through the lens of a camera.  We practiced capturing movement while playing on playgrounds or jumping in the waves of the Indian Ocean.  During the final weeks we will continue to expand our photography portfolio.  Once home, each student will have thousands of photos to sort through to create an online portfolio showing TTS 20 through her lens.  The portfolio will consist of various techniques and composition styles to highlight various perspectives.  Each student will summarize what photography means and how her chosen images weave a story.  

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