Modern Chinese History Through Family Stories

Ji Xiang's '16 independent study  in Modern Chinese history sprang from a desire to compare official Chinese texts on the Cultural Revolution with American versions. It has become much more: an evaluation of Mao’s position within the Communist Party, and political tactics of the 60s. Ji Xiang has read several American textbooks on the 1950s and 60s in China, as well as the leading biographies of Mao. He has watched films, especially a couple with documentary footage, to better grasp the personalities, aims, and constraints at work in shaping the Cultural Revolution. But this independent study has become much more than a question of history texts.  Ji Xiang has uncovered a treasure trove of information about his own family's roles in the major events of China. Often, older Chinese relatives do not discuss their experiences in the painful and confusing events of the 50s and 60s - the Great Leap Forward, the ensuing famine, and the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps such turmoil is simply too complex to share with today's well-ff young people, or perhaps the changes in China's economy have alienated older Chinese from the goals they so passionately strove to achieve, and suffered for as well.  However, Ji Xiang's curiosity is inspiring his family to tell him and each other stories and memories. He is conducting a set of interviews among his family members and compiling a fascinating oral history of his family’s position since the revolution of 1949. Part of this study is a search to recreate genealogies lost during the Cultural Revolution. Descended from Manchurian royalty, Ji Xiang is discovering that the impact of China’s changes on his own family have been graphic at every stage. From noble great-grandparents holding positions in the Qing court to aunts in the Red Guards to his own education in the U.S., Ji Xiang’s family history tells the story of the evolution of Chinese society. He has worked passionately on this study, discovering newly public documents from government sources online to memoirs of Mao’s nurse.. Ji Xiang has written a comprehensive first draft of the paper, is creating a new family tree, and compiling the oral histories of his family. This work is truly original scholarship. Perhaps Ji Xiang is starting a revolution of his own by breaking through silences in his family and society. 

Rocket Science!

In a Parents’ Weekend mini-class for AP Chemistry, we actually did rocket science. Dr. Joanna Smith first explained a basic equation that used hydrochloric acid as a fuel.   As Dr. Smith explained, “One of the goals of the lab was to determine the optimum ratio of hydrogen gas to oxygen gas for their combustion reaction that would allow the bulb to be launched across the room the farthest. Hydrogen gas is combustible (fuel) and oxygen gas must be present to for the gas (fuel) to burn.” She told us the hydrochloric acid would react with zinc, which would allow us to siphon off the extra hydrogen gas. A group of mostly puzzled parents nodded heads and guessed at what might seem logical while the theory was explained and diagrammed on the board, but when we got to actually do it ourselves, it was exciting and not too hard. When we mixed the hydrogen gas with oxygen inside a small oval capsule, it formed a simple fuel. Ignited with a click from a switch, the ampules flew into the hallway. Instantly there was a competition to see whose would go farther, and it was easy to see how students get hooked into the world of science. The diagrams on the board made more sense when they described something we had seen happen. I wondered how these reactions were discovered and harnessed, and left wondering what other chemical reactions were firing beyond my perception all day. I doubt many of the parents who entered the Chem lab on Saturday morning considered themselves rocket scientists, but we can now make that claim, and more importantly, see that our students really could go down that path. Extending the boundaries of what feels possible: this is the best of science education.

Here are Dr. Smith’s notes on the chemical reactions behind the experiment:“Hydrogen gas generator: hydrochloric acid reacts with zinc to generate hydrogen gas and zinc chloride (Zn +2HCl -> H2 (g) + ZnCl2) Oxygen gas generator: hydrogen peroxide is decomposed with a catalyst (yeast) to generate oxygen gas and water (2H2O2 -> O2 (g) + 2H2O) 

 Finally the Hydrogen gas is mixed with the oxygen gas in various proportions to test the distance the micro mole rocket (bulb) is launched.  With a spark inside the rocket to initiate the reaction, the hydrogen gas and oxygen gas combine rapidly to produce water and energy.  This reaction is exothermic: 2H2(g) + O2 (g) -> 2H2O (l) + energy.”

Developing the PRISM Approach

What is PRISM in action?

Programming, Robotics, Imagination, Science and Mathematics is Dublin’s unique way of forging connections between disciplines and classes for rich learning. It deepens the learning experience for students and furthers the goals of individual courses at the same time. What does it look like in action?

Here is one example. This fall, students in Engineering Design are designing and building a boat which will collect water samples in a near-by pond and take pictures of the pond and its resident beavers. As teacher Mr. Cox says, “For the Engineering Class, they must figure out what information is important to measure, what sensors to put on the boat to measure those things, and design the physical boat itself so that it can be sailed on even the shallowest parts of the pond (only a few inches deep).” The water samples will provide data for the Biology classes. The beaver pictures will enhance observation of the pond in the wild as well.

Another student, Aidan Ferguson ’16, is learning to program for the different tasks the boat will complete, refining his command of C## and designing a complex system.  “The three components are a base station which communicates wirelessly to the RaspberryPi on board the Boat, which in turn has a serial connection to the Arduino to interface with motors and sensors.”

The classes are theoretical and hands-on, involve imagination and modeling, allow the students to learn collaboration skills, and function as citizen scientists. This is one example of the kinds of engaging and interdisciplinary work that PRISM will foster.

Convocation: Your Learning Matters

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” 

-Arundhati Roy

Once upon a time in a land far, far away raged a terrible war. The war was so terrible that many of the people of the land fled with whatever they could carry, across mountains and seas, into strange places where they lived in camps. And as many as could manage in desperation tried to flee even further to places in the cold north where they hoped there would be jobs and homes, meals and schools. But the lands of the north saw the wave of poor, desperate people coming and they said, “Stop the trains, Do not let them cross the borders. We can’t possibly help so many.”

A boat carrying refugees turned over in the waves, and many of its passengers drowned. One was a 3-year-old boy, in a red shirt and blue sneakers. When his little body washed up on a beach, someone took a picture, and the picture was shown around the world. And the people of the cold northern lands said, “We must help. Whatever our governments fear, we want to help. Refugees ARE WELCOME HERE.” Citizens of Hungary, Germany, Denmark, France and other countries too are greeting refugees with train tickets, meals, flowers, rides, and opening their homes to show their support and willingness to help. Refusing to accept the decrees of their respective nation-states on “quotas,” they are asserting their own refugee policies that are more inclusive and responsible and honest.  They are also showing that they have learned something from the history of refugees 70 years ago, who were not welcomed and not helped.

I tell you this story, a true story, to show you that what you see and what you know, what you make space in your hearts and homes to care about, and what you do with your knowledge matters. This story has been one of favorites this summer. But there are others, many others, that show the same thing. When you choose to see truth and act with courage, you can change the world.

At Dublin School, our mission is to teach students to seek truth and act with courage. Mr. Bates has asked the faculty this year to focus on this ultimate phrase in our mission, and it is essential in a true education, one that asks you to be changed by what you know. Seeking truth is not simple, and it necessarily involves asking lots of questions, thinking critically, and listening to different points of view. Your teachers are eager to provide opportunities for you to do these things. As you incorporate Dublin’s principles into your lives, you will become people who open their hearts and minds to knowledge, even difficult knowledge, who respond to issues in the world, who speak up and create solutions, and offer sandwiches to hungry people in train stations wherever you live. You will build your dreams and you will change the world.     





On Sabbatical!

I have been given a gift: for the spring term, I am on sabbatical. Leading up to the start of the spring, misgivings and regrets dominatedmy feelings about three empty months, away from school, the faculty, the academic work that has given my life purpose and meaning for 27 years, my advisees, the seniors and the senior projects, all the special events of spring term....

Snapshot of a Stormy Day

Today's freezing rain and sleet have been a little hard to take, especially when 6 - 10 inches of snow were predicted. To  buck up my spirits, I spent time circulating through classes. Here are some of the things I experienced in my day at school that are sustaining me as the ice batters the roof of my office.

Senior MeKenzie Mattheson gave a presentation this morning on growing up with a brother who has a serious illness and disability. The pictures she shared and her stories made us all a little teary, for they conveyed the love and closeness of her family and the variety of things Elliott enjoys. The glow of their connection shines in my mind.

My Human Rights class let go of our assigned reading from the Leviathan to discuss what kind of action the students might want to take to mark Human Rights Day tomorrow. We discussed aspects of the situation in Ferguson, raised questions about the best timing of an action, and their feelings about what our community needs now, and how we might have most impact. Some students really want to be a part of the march in NYC while others do not. The tenor of the conversation was sincere, respectful, concerned and compassionate.

Intro to STEM was brainstorming ideas to design a prosthetic for an astronaut in small groups., and excitedly beginning to research an area about which they know little. There was a feel of discovery in the room. Electronics and Circuitry were working on a lab; Silas Howe, who had completed it,  was modifying images from the observatory. We discussed our up-coming trip to the MIT museum on Friday: the hub of innovation! Myles Spencer showed me a motion senor camera he has set up that tracks changes in light. This is a step forward in his senior project developing a coaching app. He is building momentum. In World History II, Mr. Villaamil was engaging his class in imagining the position of a proletarian in Paris on the eve of the revolution. Emma Brown, Derek Deiter, Ben Simon, GH Werowinski, Georgina Yang, Jingxi Li, Josh Grebler and Yates Desel  discussed hopes, fears, tactics leading up to their study of the major documents of the era. Destiny Goncalves dropped by my office to ask questions about our March break trip to Costa Rica and how she will learn enough Spanish before then to communicate with her host family. And three of my advisees came by at different points: Hope showed me her new AP US History prep book, Will Hamer asked about a time to meet to put together his senior presentations, and Dani Robinson discussed plans for the coming term and the special sports program Mr. Johnson is designing to allow her to play tennis, her passion.

All of this is part of a regular day, and yet the excitement and positive energy of growth, hard work,  and learning fill me with warmth as I leave the office and head home for an hour before supper, an Amnesty meeting, and study hall.


Ode to Our Business Manager

While everyone knows that education requires ever more funding,  often, most often,  in schools the needs of the program and the business office are in a tug of war, and indeed, this was also often the case here at Dublin in previous administrations. No more: I am continually astonished at the ways our Business Manager, Jen Whitesel, finds to provide more support for our programs and our faculty. First of all, Jen is extraordinarily attentive to the health and well-being of the people in this community. She has insisted on ensuring that all staff members are included with the faculty in programs, meetings, professional development, and parties. She finds ingenious ways to keep us insured and provide additional services even as costs rise. She has created a wellness program, initiated exercise classes on campus, and worked with the kitchen to improve nutrition in our meals.  She has created an Angel Fund to take care of community members in crises. She has found and allocated funds to support students on financial aid to participate in international travel programs. Somehow Jen adds to the professional development budget every year, and this year she is working on creating a special fund to support faculty in graduate programs beyond anything we have been able to provide in the past. When additional costs arise or when faculty are being asked to fulfill additional duties, Jen finds ways to squeeze extra dollars from our always-tight budget to be sure work is compensated. She has found a way to allow us to add an extra department, and also extra vehicles so we don’t have to drive vans when transporting smaller groups of students. Many offices have candy bowls, but Jen keeps extra bags of goodies in her closet, and has dog bones for canine visitors to her office.   She books massage therapists to come to campus to provide faculty massages in comment-writing weeks.  All these things would be considered above and beyond most business managers’ responsibilities, and she also takes care of things I may not even suspect, like audits and book-keeping. But Jen stays attuned to the fact that schools are created by people, and that people do their jobs better when they are treated well, feel well, and know they are supported. Her work every day is animated by the larger view that education and growth can only occur when students, staff and faculty are safe, healthy, and energized and recognized for their contributions. There is not a more humane, kinder, dedicated or more inspired business manager in education than Jen Whitesel.


Exams: The Hum of Focused Minds

Exams started this morning, and, as is my wont, I have just made the circuit, checking in at each exam as it is in process. One reason for this practice is to see if there are any problems or if the teachers who are proctoring need anything. Another perhaps is to dignify the occasion by letting students know that I am watching and interested in their performance. Another reason, however, is for the gratification it provides me: I love the hum of young minds at work, facing a challenge, finding solutions, figuring out how to articulate an idea and demonstrate knowledge, making connections as familiar material is put into new contexts. Students hunch over papers, gaze at walls, stretch as they look up and settle back into their thinking. The quiet is encircled with age-old sounds of studiousness, papers turning , urgent erasers rubbing, sighs of concentration. Muslims believe that prayer is exponentially amplified when performed in a group, and an exam in full swing has something of that reverent feel: minds engaged, seeking, reaching out. This morning is the English exam: students are writing essays, defining words, identifying quotes, reflecting on works of literature, explaining their growth. Alicia Hammond, English Department Chair, reminded all students in morning meeting  to be sure they answer the three key questions about literature: What does it say? What does it mean? Why does it matter?

Exam week at Dublin involves a set of rituals that help us wrap up the term. Review allows work and material to gain depth and strength, and new perspectives to form. Review sessions ensure that students get help with material and develop the process of studying. Open library times provide the setting for students to work in groups or alone, to check in with a faculty member for tips or to be quizzed.  Open gym times and practices supplement the studying, and students are encouraged to exercise to maximize their cognitive effectiveness. Morning meeting announcements remind students to get enough sleep, drink water, run around the quad to oxygenate the synapses, showcase silliness and great thoughts. Today Quinn Thompson '17 was singled out for his genius in recognizing that Iago is an idea rather than an individual, the culmination of English 10's Othello challenge. In exam week, we dedicate ourselves to optimizing our students' achievements.

The Shape of The Sun

What does the sun really look like? What is going on on its surface? What can X-rays show us that telescopes cannot? How can the three-dimensional aspect of space be modeled? Can we do original research ourselves? Last week, a group of students and I traveled to Cambridge to visit to Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics with Joseph Putko, head of our Perkin observatory to explore these and other questions. We saw things we never imagined possible. Aidan Ferguson '16, Kate Fulshaw '16, Hannah Whitesel '15, Sydney Clarke '16, Sierra Riley '16, Ruiyu Zhang '16, Jordan Ferreras '16, Miles Morgan '18, Andrew Willoughby '18, and Silas Howe'18 learned  about X-ray imaging and saw photographs of gas clouds and star formations invisible to other observing technique . We saw the Harvard glass-plate collection of astronomical images going back over a century, the largest in the world, and that in the 19th century, women called "computers" recorded and deciphered the observations. (Many of Harvard's early scholars in astronomy were women.)  The micro-observatory scope allowed us to send an image of the sun to Mr. Bates.  You too can asked it to take and send pictures to you electronically from remote location. Finally we were shown images of the surface of the sun at different extreme degrees Kelvin, which are studied to better understand how our star, the sun, works. Five scholars took time from their days to give us a glimpse of their current projects. It was an engrossing day and we were inspired and awed by the generosity and scholarship shared with us. Here are the links we used to prepare our visit, which give additional detail and access to the projects. I hope you will check them out and come visit our Perkin Observatory too!

About MicroObservatory

WorldWide Telescope

Harvard College Observatory

Chandra X-ray Observatory


Model UN: Politics and Drama

Last Sunday 10 Dublin students attended the Model UN conference at Phillips Exeter Academy. Matt Coffin '16, Will Arment '16, Yichen Jiang '15, Nick Runyon '18, Gabby Colchete '17, Siyi Zhou '17, Diamond Miller '18, Amani Naton '18, Boning Ma '16, and Will Stanhope '16 spent the fall preparing to debate and solve pressing issues in the world today: the Water Crisis in Sub-saharan Africa, the role of transnational corporations in international relation, the militarization of the Arctic,  the Crisis in Southern Sudan were topics they researched from the point of view of nations they were assigned to represent.  There were general Assembly sessions, Security Council Sessions, a Joint Crisis Committee dealing with North and South Korean competition for the Young-byong Islands, and a Historical Security Council set in 1989 dealing with the rebuilding of Cambodia in the wake of the genocide there. Our students did research in spare time, on Sundays in the library, over the Fall break to prepare. Once there however, research and scholarship feed into drama and public speaking. Students from many prep schools and NH high schools mixed in Committee sessions and enacted solutions o their own, some more realistic than others. Following strict parliamentary procedure takes getting used to but did not suppress the creativity or imagination of the participants. Gabby and Amani argued for making an internationally-protected reserve for scientific exploration in the Arctic. Will argued for making transnational corporations support unions. Siyi and Boning became entangled in assassination attempts, fomenting civil unrest by smuggling choco-pies into North Korea, and putting down riots. Nick and Yichen helped develop a plan for supplying water to sub-Saharan African nations by creating desalinization plants which would be handed over to national governments after they have shown themselves strong enough to handle them. Dublin students had the chance to take leadership, push themselves, and contribute to the future. And Matt won Outstanding Delegate for his creative ideas in keeping peace and developing South Sudan!