MESH™ at Work: "Power and Energy"
Last school year's Unifying Theme — Power and Energy — contains terms used in common statements, such as “I have lots of energy today,” and “What a powerful statement.” If we ask ourselves the Universal Questions,"What is power? What is energy?" though, we arrive at only provisional answers that yield new questions. For example, energy is a quantity that, when transferred from one system to another, can do work; enegy represents the relationship between all things physical and how they interact to cause change Power is capacity for activation and control. Where there’s energy, there’s power.
Asking and responding to Universal Questions is scalable and has cross-curricular implications. At the time of last school year's midterm and our SGA elections, we asked Universal Questions in both our social studies and math courses across grades. To think through their responses, our fourth grade engineering students also took a neighborhood walk to identify local sources of power and energy, and this informed their design of a multi-use city neighborhood with a transport system that navigated their theoretical citizens through each imagined district. Our sixth grade biology students studied how matter and energy move through an ecosystem by examining the impact of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Our tenth grade physics students learned to translate physical motion into mathematical representations. In ELA, our seniors explored the Universal Question "How can we harnes the power of our voices?" by reading the anthology This I Believe as a mentor text for their own writing, considering the impact of voice on craft, authenticity, and access to audience.
The two terms “energy” and “power” are deeply linked. Power is the capacity for something in our social environment and wider society. Like energy, it’s a transferable abstraction. Power is a capacity for activation and control. To live and survive, we must have power over our world. We must have the ability to direct resources to what sustains us. Importantly, being social, to expand our control we must have the capacity to get others to do what they would not otherwise have done.
The ability to get others to act is known as the First Face of Power. Sociologist, psychologists and historians have realised that there is a Second Face of Power that is equally important: the ability to suppress action. If we control the ability to decide — to vote on issues, to divert resources, to decide who gets to express themselves — then we can prevent decisions from being made. We can increase the individual cost action to a point where it’s not worth (even life threatening) to act. The use of this Second Face of Power is not restricted to totalitarian regimes. We can exercise such power in our local and relatively peaceful communities with republican and democratic systems of governance.
These concepts and questions can be explored at many levels. Throughout the year, all our students will explore energy and the use of power in developmentally appropriate ways. From how we act and react in the playground, to the importance of controlling procedures and decision processes within our governing public institutions. From how plants transfer the energy of sunlight into the chemical bonds that hold sugars together, to the black body radiation of the tiniest things.
Our youngest students spend the first three months of each school year exploring each of four domains in weekly two-hour sessions. At the end of this period, based on documented faculty "noticings," the student’s performance, and the student’s interest, a placement in one of our four KidWorks groups is suggested. This school year, our four groups are:
KidWorks coaches regularly conference with each student, so that students learn to identify and advocate for their preferences. Though native abilities make it easier to master some domains, commitment and hard work are required in order to achieve excellence and can compensate for difficulties in mastering many skills. If a child demonstrates both strong interest and a willingness to work hard, they will be placed in their preferred group regardless of staff observations and recommendations. From January through June, KidWorks students explore projects in their domain in greater depth and with increasing constraints.
Each Upper School school student is assigned a teacher as a coach with whom they will define and explore a domain they'll dedicate themselves to throughout the school year. Domains are wide ranging — from studying the history of surgical knots, to creating a multi-media autobiography, to learning to take apart & reconstruct a Porsche — and are individualized to the skills that a student wants to develop further.
IndieStudies students also work with their coach to identify resources and potential mentors outside of the school. A mentor is an expert in the field under investigation who devotes time to working 1:1 with the student (supervised by the coach), providing both feedback and guidance. At the end of the school year, Upper School students present their work, process, and discoveries to a round table consisting of adults with domain-specific knowledge and select peers.
Lower School students ready to pursue a passion project with discipline and supervision are also invited to participate in our IndieStudies program.