8 October 2015

socrates 10.8.15Dear Students,

You have one big choice you have to make in life: will you remain open-minded to the world and its people or will you assume that you know everything there is to know? Will you let people surprise you and allow them to change or will you think people who are they are and will always remain that way?

I know I’m often tempted to take the second choice, but I also know it makes me miserable.

Socrates says that “Wisdom begins in wonder.” It’s easy to let ourselves believe that learning and education should make us certain about the world, but really, the more we learn, the more we see there is to learn. It’s a lifelong endeavor.


Mr. H

7 October 2015

conversation10.7.15Dear Talkers,

We learn by reading and writing, but we also learn by talking and listening. Outside of school, not many people read a book and then write a book report about it. They talk to their fellow readers about it, give their opinion, and ask their friends what they think. The back and forth of conversation makes us reevaluate our opinion and think deeply about what’s really true.

When we have discussions in class, it’s important that you use that time to ask challenging and relevant questions of the person you’re talking to and use their questions to think more deeply about the topic.

There aren’t many “right answers” in life. We’re trying to find out what’s really true in the world, and that answer key has not been, and never will be, written.


Mr. H

6 October 2015

azteccalendar10.6.15Dear Artists,

This week we’ll take a whirlwind tour of the ancient civilizations of the Americas–Mayan, Aztec, Anasazi, and Moundbuilders. We’ll see that agriculture played the central role in these civilizations  because it allowed many people to stop farming and begin new areas of human development–architecture, writing, science, math, and art.

I think there’s something centrally human about making art. Instead of merely making the things we need to survive, we like to make them in a way that is beautiful, a way that speaks to some sort of ideal world we all wish we coud live in. Look at the calendar the Aztec made hundreds of years ago. It’s not just squares in a grid, it’s something much more beautiful.

Humans don’t just make buildings, we create architecture. We don’t make sounds, we make music. We don’t just move our bodies, we dance.


Mr. H

5 October 2015

Dear Cultural Historians,

Today we’ll continue to think about how the United States is broken up into physical regions. Through reading closely and widely about these regions, we’ll begin to learn about how people in different places in the United States live. These are called human or cultural regions.

Why do geographers create regions? To better understand a place, and there is a lot to understand. What people do, how people act, what people believe, what people eat, how people behave–these are all influenced by where people live and in turn, impact the places themselves.

To show how much you know about the culture and geography of the United States, you’ll create your own regions, based on cultural and physical characteristics. As geographers, you’ll do this to understand how the United States works.


Mr. H

2 October 2015

watsons 10.2.15Dear Empathizers,

Books and learning let us see the world from other times and places. Only ever living in our own place and own time is an impoverished life. Humans are meant to try to understand the world from many other points of view. Books let us do that.

Through books we can imagine what life was like for an African-American family in Flint, MI in 1963; we can imagine what life was like for newly arrived immigrants passing by the Statue of Liberty; we can even imagine what life was like for those First Americans as they tried to chase bison over cliffs using only rocks and their own two legs.

Living the good life is an act of imagination.


Mr. H

1 October 2015

fibonacci 10.1.15Dear Mathematicians,

We’ve learned a lot of new strategies for multiplying and dividing numbers. The important thing to remember is that these strategies aren’t only so you can quickly and accurately arrive at the correct answer. When learning these strategies, they might seem confusing and awkward. But over time you’ll begin to understand the concepts behind them, and you’ll find yourself using them to solve problems mentally.

We want you to learn to think about numbers in deep ways. We want you to understand how numbers and operations work, so you can use numbers to solve more complex problems in the future.

Math isn’t really about numbers. It’s about thinking in patterns. Numbers just happen to be a useful tool we use to talk about and model these patterns.


Mr. H

30 September 2015

crenshaw 9.30Dear Readers,

I just picked up Katherine Applegate’s latest book, Crenshaw. She’s the author of The One and Only Ivan, which is one of our class’s all-time favorites. From what I’ve read so far, Crenshaw is great in similar ways. It tells a real story but uses fantastical elements (like talking animals) to give the story a deeper meaning. And, like most great books, the book is about the power of stories.

I’ll have the book in the bin at the front of the room if you’d like to read it. I’m planning to read it aloud as soon as we finish reading about those Weird Watsons, but reading great books more than once is a great use of time.


Mr. H

29 September 2015

ag9.29Dear Historians,

Yesterday we talked about the First Americans traveling across the land bridge between Asia and the Americas and spreading out across the Americas. Today we’ll talk about one of the greatest discoveries in human history: agriculture.

Think about the advantanges that agriculture allows. Now people could stay in one place rather than always chasing after game. With agriculture, fewer people would have to find food and others could learn new trades. Eventually, humans learned new methods for improving agricultural production beyond what hunters and gatherers ever thought possible.

Sometimes when I’m in the grocery store, I like to imagine that I’m a prehistoric, pre-agricultural human seeing this incredible bounty of fruits and vegetables–all made possible by agriculture.

28 September 2015

9.28.15 speed limitDear Students,

An unfortunate thing in school and society is that we give a lot of attention to bad behavior. It’s a lot more fun to talk about the few people who are doing bad things than the vast majority of people who are not. We also tend to remember the bad behavior and forget about about all the people who are doing what they’re supposed to do.

When I’m driving, I completely forget about all of the people who are driving the speed limit like me. But we all remember the driver who zoomed past us going 20 or 20 mph too fast.

All of the attention on these bad behaviors can lead us to believe that the behaviors are a lot more widespread than they really are. We might think, “Everyone’s doing it, so what’s the big deal if I do?” But that’s just not true. The norm is to follow the rules.


Mr. H

25 September 2015

migration 9.25Dear Archeologists,

How do we know what happened in the past? What evidence and ideas about the nature of the world do we use to know what people did before we were alive? These are two of my favorite questions and thinking about them will keep you busy for a lifetime.

Over ten thousand years ago, the first people stepped foot onto North America. Historians, anthropologists, archeologists, geologists, and biologists have been debating how and when this happened. They have theories, but they’re always open to new evidence, and they have to think deeply about what makes evidence persuasive.

These kinds of debates are fascinating, and I think they’re one of the best things about being a human being. When and where the first humans came to North American may not have much bearing on our everyday lives, but the process of weighing evidence, building arguments, and figuring out what’s true in the world is the most important job we humans have.


Mr. H