Violet Band: Brave New World

Jumping into our exploration while still in project mode (Laurel is currently putting the finishing touches on her self-watering arduino planter. Max finished the school’s program of “RotorEd” to train middle and upper-elementary students on how to fly the quad. Grace is painting her reflections of plants. Sayuri is currently re-stringing a violin. Harry is creating a video trailer for his game. Cyrus is writing his project presentation. Jack put the finishing touches on his baby plane. Josh is building a planter to hold young oat plants to feed the cats. Cassandra is culturing algae.) 

The Violet Band started reading Brave New World. As we spent so much time on organic food and genetically modified foods in the seed arc, it was easy to extend into genetics in general, and the transition into modifying human genetics was seamless. We are six chapters into Brave New World.

The initial responses from the group – especially after the early chapters describing the setting – produced some beautiful, analytical, counter-intuitive responses.

Before we jumped into the novel, we tried to define what it means to be “human” as a group. The band settled on three buckets:

– biological factors (opposable thumbs, large brains, bipedal, etc.)

– emotional factors (having and understanding emotions)

– social factors (engaging with others)

Brave New World has brought about very distinct conversations on various elements of humanity, as the humans in their civilized society are decanted in a factory, conditioned to live and love and work in their caste, and satisfied through heavy extrinsic drug use and sex.

I want to make sure they have enough time to dive deeply into the concept of what it means to be human, exploring other areas in this realm as well.

In Brave New World, the characters are about to venture to a reservation to meet the “uncivilized” population, which – as the band hypothesizes – are people who are more like us, whose normal corresponds to our own normal.

The band is keeping a communication journal with me on their reading experience, as well as participating in a weekly literature circle. So far, they’ve mapped out the Central London Hatchery and made predictions about the world, as well as analyzing each of the main characters. Notes from some of their work:

— This society is different from ours, but so far, I don’t see why this ‘dystopia’ is so bad. It certainly is ethically wrong- training babies since conception to fill a certain position. But to the person, it makes no difference. Unless there is a defect in the system and a baby comes out wrong (which there certainly will be, otherwise the story has no plot), the person is perfectly happy doing their job.

— In our world, we are fully grown and matured in about 16-24 years. And while we are growing up, we learn mostly by making mistakes. When you break something, when you lose something, when you hurt someone. All these things teach us while in BNW, they don’t really have those learning experiences.  

— Alphas are given normal levels of oxygen to ensure full physical maturity and full mental capacity, the oxygen supply is reduced the farther down the social construct you go to the point of having epsilons being stupid dwarfs. my question is is it wrong to be forced to do one kind of work when you are sort of genetically inclined towards those working conditions?

— In the Brave New World setting we have been introduced to, nearly the only thing humans today have in common with the humans in London, 632 A.F. are some biological factors. So far there is nothing in the book to suggest that there are people in this society that don’t have opposable thumbs, and proportionately big brains. However, the mentality of the society seems to be centered around consumerism rather than creativity, each person striving only to fulfill their position as a cog in the great machine, pushing limits only in the endeavor of greater mass production of people. 

— In Human 782’s case, it has not and will never reproduce, has never felt emotion, and most likely does not have the will to survive. So is Human 782 human?

— Even in the first few lines, the atmosphere was set up beautifully, but that atmosphere was strangely sterile and overall a little spooky. The last thing I noticed was how even though it was written decades ago, how much of the impact and relevance still remained. That isn’t a common thing, even with actual classics.

Blue: “I would ask the same thing of my 25 year olds.”

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This week was hard for Blue Band. Not only did I ask them to start to wrap up their projects and draw as many conclusions as possible, but I also asked them to begin to synthesize all of their data into a stunningly beautiful presentation that they will deliver to the school on Tuesday afternoon.

This is a lot.

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This is a lot because as one door begins to close, I am asking them to open an equally heavy, challenging door to contextualizes their work for public forum. Plus, who is really that comfortable and confident about having to present to 70(-ish) people for 7 minutes anyway?

Well, Blue, you’re in luck. I’m not a scientist. I don’t know a lot about plants or leaves or seeds. I can’t tell you much about farming or photosynthesis or cellular structure. But, what I can tell you about is how to present your research.

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I can tell you how to tell a story in 10 pictures. I can tell you why 10 pictures in 7 minutes is important and how it keeps an audience paying attention. I can let you know how to structure the arc of the story, and what to include — also what not to include.

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I can tell you roughly what to say when those pictures are cycling through, and how to stay focused on the positives of your project while also acknowledging the setbacks. I can tell you approximately how many words you need to say in the time you are given, and how quickly and loudly you need to say them.

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I can show you what 7 minutes feels like for a person talking verses a person listening. I can tell you how to be a good audience member that makes your presenter feel good, supported, and confident.

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This week, we practiced all these things.

I let Blue know it was going to be messy and painful. The practice presentations would feel bad and incomplete. That I didn’t expect perfection, and would be very disappointed if they strove for that.

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After each person practiced their draft presentation, they were lovingly roasted by me and the audience.

I gave everyone a job. Specific people critiqued specific things. We timed each person, giving a 2 minute warning, a 1 minute warning, and a cut off if necessary. We critiqued the visuals. We critiqued the speech. We documented the “uhm,” “uh,” and “like” fumbles. I told them when they weren’t talking into our fake microphone or didn’t thank a question asker for having the bravery to ask a question — even if the questions were intentionally stupid. We went through every presentation with the same consideration and thoroughness. Because of the amount of time and energy we spent taking this practice so seriously, we ran way over time and had to miss part of Park.

It was hard. (Good!)

They got frustrated. (Great!)

They also took my loving criticism like professionals. (Amazing.)

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After we finished all 8 presentations and we were 35 minutes late for Park, I got my jacket and walked out of the building with all of them. On the way to catch up to the rest of the school, they all had this relief and happiness on their faces. It was like we all just ran a marathon together, and it was hard and tiring and sweaty, and we were all glad that it was over.

“The thing you that all just did,” I told them in that moment, “had the same expectation and requirements and standards that I placed on my 25 year old college kids.”

What? Really?

“Yes, really. You all did amazing.”

All smiles.

“I’m serious. I’ve seen better presentations, but I’ve also seen worse. The thing that you did today was terrible and probably felt terrible, but you got this experience and this feedback so that you can make it better. You have all weekend to do that.”

(You’re welcome.)

We jogged the rest of the way, and I watched these 8 kids giggle and scream in the sunlight with their peers.

(If only I got to also see the 25 year olds take loving feedback in the same serious, gracious way.)

Tuesday is gonna be great!

Orange Band: Seed, Week 11

This week, I got the kiddos to do a little bit of my job for me! Since the beginning of the school year, we’ve been writing in reflection journals. During this arc, we tried to focus our journalling on our expression project work. In order to understand why we did this, one day we visited an upper school band to see how they reflect. One thing the Blue Band does as a part of their reflection practice is write blog posts. This blew the Orange Banders’ minds! I realized that they had never seen the blog I write, so I took a few minutes to show them the Orange Band blog, and almost immediately kiddos asked me if they could write a blog post for the band. Answer: YES.

What you’ll read below is each kiddo’s journal entry from last week, plus a picture they chose to reflect the journal entry and a caption the kiddo and I wrote together to describe the picture, and connect it to their reflection journal entry.

Oscar:

I don’t feel like I have any trouble with compromising because I like participating with the group. But it’s hard to compromise when I’m supposed to write.

The other bands had a caulk gun and we had to wait, so we compromised made our own out of a clamp and a caulk container. After we waited, we got the caul gun. In this picture, I am using the caulk gun on the planter because it was leaking.

The other bands had a caulk gun and we had to wait, so we compromised made our own out of a clamp and a caulk container. After we waited, we got the caulk gun. In this picture, I am using the caulk gun on the planter because it was leaking.

Isaac:

I like compromising because it is a win-win situation, like when me and a friend are arguing. We often needed to compromise when people were begging for turns to plant in our planter boxes, or go on the swing, or use the chopsaw!

In this picture, we are cutting the potatoes to put in our planter boxes. We had to take turns cutting because we just had one knife and cutting board. Because we compromised, everyone got a turn who wanted one.

In this picture, we are cutting the potatoes to put in our planter boxes. We had to take turns cutting because we just had one knife and cutting board. Because we compromised, everyone got a turn who wanted one.

Emilio:

It’s hard for me to stay with the group when people are arguing. I can use my headphones or work in a different space. When people are shouting, I need to work in a different space. Sometimes, I leave the group in order to work in a different space where I can focus.

In this photo, I'm working on the planter boxes. I'm putting in the plexi-glass.

In this photo, I’m working on the planter boxes. I’m putting in the plexi-glass.

Ramses:

I’m working on listening. It was hard for me to listen when we were working on the plant play when I was hungry. In order to listen better I need to eat more snack during snack time. Sometimes I miss some of snack time because I am playing on my computer or reading or playing on the cork floor or hiding in the closet.

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In this picture, the Orange Band is working on the plant play. The cloth was for the setting. I am just watching my bandmates attach the cloth to the stage for the plant play. Instead of just watching, I can ask, “How can I help?”

Gita:

I am working on compromising because people only want their way and don’t listen to me. When we were working on our play costumes, when I asked people, “how can I help?” sometimes they said, “I don’t need help.”

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In this picture, I’m helping Tesla sew her wings. It was fun because once when we were switching jobs on the sewing machine, Tesla decided she wanted to change right back to her original job! It was fun because I liked steering, and she liked using the pedal.

Sadie:

It was hard when we were working on our planter boxes. It was hard to focus when we were putting on the plexi-glass. Putting in the screws was hard because sometimes the plexi-glass cracked when the screws went in. Working with a partner helps me get more done when I’m working in the shop.

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Gita helped me put in the screws for the plexi-glass. I chose this picture because it shows a time when working on the planter boxes in the shop was better with a partner.

Tesla:

Sometimes when I’m not focused, I need to take a lap on the cork floor. Sometimes, I felt really silly when we were working on our planter boxes in the workshop.

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Piper and I are talking about how I need to use a finish washer so the plexi-glass won’t break when we install it onto the planter box using screws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for reading our blog post!

Love,

Emilio, Gita, Isaac, Oscar, Piper, Ramses, Sadie and Tesla

Chartreuse Band: Meeting Deadlines

We are meeting deadlines left and right.
NaNoWriMo…Check!
Personal projects…Check!
Group projects…Check (for the most part)!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks as the Chartreuse Band has been pushing themselves to complete both there personal and group projects for the Seed Arc, as well as completing their NaNoWriMo stories.

On Thursday and Friday, the Chartreuse Band formatted their NaNoWriMo stories and finished up their covers. We can’t wait to share them once they are published!

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The research team has really pushed themselves to complete their projects. They have learned to take notes, organize those notes in multiple ways, create outlines, and turn all that into informative research papers. They searched for meaningful images, charts, and graphs to incorporate. They learned the importance of citing their sources. Oh, and the bamboo crew has continued to blow torch and build. Now they will find ways to present their information in engaging and informative ways.

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The window farmers continued their work on the window farm. These past couple weeks were not just weeks of physical work on the window farm, but it was also time for discussion and understanding. The team began to create Google Slide presentations on the process of building a window farm, reflecting on the work they have done. We watched a short video on vertical farming and shared our thoughts on these changes to traditional farming. They shared in depth their thoughts about all the possible positive negative effects vertical farming can have on the environment, the suppliers, and the consumers.

By Wednesday of last week, they finally had all the necessary pieces in place to hook up the air pump and add water to the reservoir bottle. Fingers were crossed as they waited to see if the water would make into and up the tube to the top bottle. As expected, leaks were found and adjustments had to be made. Each time the water traveled a bit further up the tube, the cheers and excitement grew. The water never did make it up and over into the top bottle that day, but they also never gave up. They knew going into this project that they would run into stumbling blocks such as this and that they would need to troubleshoot the problems, and they were ready for it. The goal is to have at least two of the towers running by presentation day on Thursday. I believe in them, and the best part is, they believe in themselves.

Window farming

Window farming

Orange Band: Seed, Week 10

Seed Arc is  flying by; before we know it, we’ll be onto Human. But first, we need to wrap up these projects, and present to our community. This week, we made a lot of progress on our planter boxes and plant play, here are some highlights!

Potato cuttings work so well for our planter boxes! The flat face of the potato sits right up against the plexi-glass.

Potato cuttings work so well for our planter boxes! The flat face of the potato sits right up against the plexi-glass.

So much great teamwork went into making costumes for our plant play. There are so many things in sewing that really need 2 pairs of hands, so here Gita helps measure Oscar for his spider legs.

So much great teamwork went into making costumes for our plant play. There are so many things in sewing that really need 2 pairs of hands, so here Gita helps measure Oscar for his spider legs.

When we got to the community garden on Wednesday, we discover a container with several baby lettuce plants waiting to be planted. Here, Nathan helps Sadie carefully plant the lettuce without breaking up the roots too much.

When we got to the community garden on Wednesday, we discovered a container with several baby lettuce plants waiting to be planted. Here, Nathan helps Sadie carefully plant the lettuce without breaking up the roots too much.

After trying to water out potato cuttings, we discovered that our planter boxes leak--a lot. So, we spent some time on Thursday troubleshooting solutions. We landed on the idea of stuffing strips of sponges to fill the gap between the plexi-glass and the wood.

After trying to water out potato cuttings, we realized that our planter boxes leak–a lot. So, we spent some time on Thursday troubleshooting solutions. We landed on the idea of stuffing strips of sponges to fill the gap between the plexi-glass and the wood.

Oscar stuck with this problem all day. When we discovered that the sponges worked, but not quite well enough, we brought out the big guns--the big caulk guns that is.

Oscar stuck with this problem all day. When we discovered that the sponges worked, but not quite well enough, we brought out the big guns–the big caulk guns that is.

Oscar's mom, Nora, is a great seamstress and came in to help us sew our costumes Friday morning! We made so much progress with her help, thank you Nora!

Oscar’s mom, Nora, is a great seamstress and came in to help us sew our costumes Friday morning! We made so much progress with her help, thank you Nora! Earlier this year, I taught a few kiddos to partner sew on a machine: one on the pedal just controlling speed and one steering the fabric. Here, Tesla is on gas, Gita is steering, with guidance from Nora.

This week, Sadie drew the pattern for her feathers, cut them out, sewed them together with help from Isaac, and then hand-stitched on the elastic bands to hold her wings in place at her wrist and shoulder. Talk about being thorough!

This week, Sadie drew the pattern for her feathers, cut them out, sewed them together with help from Isaac, and then hand-stitched on the elastic bands to hold her wings in place at her wrist and shoulder. Talk about being thorough!

Blue: Quantifying Experience

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How do you quantify experience?

This question came up several weeks ago as I was consulting with a member of the Violet Band about her project. It’s an interesting question… sometimes you embark on a project that produces a physical thing: a plant, a paper, a mechanism, or sculpture. Other times, the product of a journey is not so quantifiable: research, question asking, iteration, thinking, or practice. Each of the Blue Band’s projects are a combination of these two disparate categories — concrete and abstract — and that combination is so difficult to quantify.

So, what happens when, at the end of the journey, you have to make a presentation to the whole school that justifies how you chose to spend the last five weeks?

The answer? Documentation. And, documentation can look much different for different projects.

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For example, it can be a time lapse of 60 minutes of pixel pushing.

 

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It can also mean taking the same photo everyday for several days to measure progress.

 

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Documentation can be a SketchUp design that later manifests into a wooden structure.

 

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Or asking a friend to record some off the wall afternoon testing.

 

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Documentation can take the form of detailed to-do lists.

 

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Or, taking photos of specimens… or photos of the thing you built in order to take consistent photos of specimens.

 

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All the notes that lead up to the final thing can also help to quantify all the abstract time and ideas and brainstorming that go into the manifestation of a final product.

 

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While possibly cliche, it’s important to point out that despite the emphasis on a final project or a final presentation, the emphasis of experiential learning is indeed the experience — the journey and not necessarily the destination.

As we continue to document this week, next week, we will start to map that journey and convert it into a story we share with the rest of the world.

Only 12 days left, Blue!

Blue: Projects / Creating Systems of Accountability

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Start with a 5-week project. Divide its tasks by the number of available school days. Divide those days by 2 sessions: morning and afternoon. From those 2 sessions, subtract the number of routine activities, field trips, and special events (taking into account their approximate duration). To that, add the weekends — maybe. To that, add the evenings — maybe. Take the sum of all available minutes to work, then distribute tasks accordingly by order of importance.

Now begin.

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Blue Banders have embarked on individual projects related to the Seed Arc. Each project is drastically different. Some are writing-based, research-based, design-based, building-based, and some are growing-based. Every student has a different personal and academic investment. Each project seeks to accomplish goals that they (and I) have helped to establish. This is complicated. And exciting. And really, really, hard.

It’s really, really, hard for a few reasons. To begin, I’m no longer directing the curriculum. And, when I’m no longer steering the ship, the inspiration and drive isn’t (necessarily) generated solely by me. Kids declare their interests, and then have to also keep up the energy to continue to keep those interests interesting.

(Whoa, that’s a lot of pressure.)

Also, time management is really hard. I keep a pretty tight schedule during the Exploration phase of the Arc, but will often deviate, sidetrack, and tangent along the way. Blue Band doesn’t necessarily always see this, but it definitely happens. A lot. And now, they are starting to experience that. Sometimes a plan doesn’t go as planned, and you have to readjust your expectations and your schedule to accommodate those learning opportunities.

This is all well and good, but here’s another thought…

In this school where we don’t issue grades, we (the Collaborators) constantly invent and reinvest systems of accountability in our Bands all the time. There isn’t an across-the-board standard or universal approach, and thus there isn’t really a model for students to use when the tables turn and they have to self-direct.

So, how is a middle schooler supposed to effectively establish, stick to, and follow through with a procedure that keeps them productive and on task (for WEEKS at a time)?

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This week, we worked really, really hard at verbalizing goals and subdividing those goals into smaller tasks. We wrote those tasks down, declared them to the group, and then made sure to publicly announce when tasks were completed. (Sometimes, we also rewarded ourselves along the way!)

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This is a system that works. And the Band is excited about it!

It works because it asks Blue to self direct in manageable chunks. The system also makes accomplishments that might otherwise be publicly invisible visible to a peer group. This visibility is awesome because we can high five and smile and make one another feel good for accomplishing things during the day. Also, it feels really wonderful to check a box in front your friends!

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Also, sometimes you can use the temptation of cake as a reminder to hurry up and check a box!

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