Blue: Asking Great Questions and Practicing Self Direction


Blue drove in head first with two pretty important lessons this week:

  • What’s a great question?
  • What do I need to do in order to keep myself on task?


Our Great Questions lesson took many iterative forms.

We talked about the criteria for a Great Question: yes/no verses how/why, knowing the answer verses knowing where to find the answer, knowing where to find the answer verses knowing roughly where you might start to look for the answer. We talked about how forming a really Great Questions can lead to sustaining a multi-week investigation, and how taking the time to start researching now (4 weeks before we start to transition out of the Exploration phase of the Arc), might help to sustain your self-directed project later.

This is heavy, heavy stuff for a middle schooler. This flavor of inquiry was something I had to wait until age 28 and year 2 of graduate school to really start to understand. I think that being able to even set up this sort of directed provocation for an 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 year old is a gift, and I treated it as such for the whole week.


The Great Questions that Blue formulated during our first brain dump session were amazing. They ranged from super specific questions about plants and history and animals and each other to things that humanity itself doesn’t have the capacity and/or technology to answer. We talked about all of these. We sorted them. We decided which were too big and which were too small and after establishing a comfortable middle ground, everyone tried again: this time formulating Great Questions about seeds.

We will use these after the Thanksgiving Break to start to narrow curiosities for their Arc projects. In the mean time, just the act of writing out questions has already sparked some research possibilities for a few. I can’t wait to see how this grows.


Blue’s second line of inquiry this week involved practicing self-direction.

We did this for two reasons:

  • As we begin to transition out of the Exploration phase of the Arc, I will become less of a facilitator of awesome (sometimes random) learning experiences, and more of a project management partner. I will start to help folks stay on task, and also push them off tasks if the questions become too easy to answer. I will be both Devil’s Advocate and a support system. I will do this because it’s part of my job, but also because I deeply believe in this method of pedagogy — and this transition will not be easy for any of us.
  • Secondarily, everybody needs different things in order to be productive, stay focused, and accomplish goals. Everyone’s goals are different. And yet, here we are, all in the same space, for something like 30 hours a week. We gotta work together, and we gotta be respectful of the needs of others and the needs of ourselves.

With that said, the week involved a few scenarios in which I had one-on-one meetings, helped folks get going, and then backed off. It was their job to come to me if they got stuck. It was their job to stay on task. And, it also became their job to sit and reflect about what went right and what went wrong and what they could have done differently.

Leaving time and space for reflection helped everyone take the next day to reset, and try again with a newly established perspective.

During an assessment meeting last week, I told a parent that I think my job here is always about two things: establishing learning scenarios that have specific steps that weave in between one another and also run parallel at times, and that I try to be always transparent about the meta curriculum.

“We are doing this because…”
“This process is important because…”
“Reflection helps bookend because…”
“We are practicing this process because…”

I think the constant transparency helps Blue understand what’s happening and invest in their own learning experiences. These things are tools in a toolbox that you’re building as we go. I’m going to always give them blueprints for the toolbox and the tools.

After all, this isn’t actually about me. It’s for them.

Orange Band: Seed, Week 4

Time flies when you’re having fun and working hard!

This week, we started to think about some projects we might be interested in doing as a band as we shift toward expression after break. We returned to an internet research activity, but with some added choice and responsibility on the kiddos’ parts: instead of being given key words to guide their searches, kiddos chose their own key words, guided by the idea of a recipe they could make with a partner. Then, they chose a recipe and put together a list of ingredients, including some estimates for what the recipe would cost to make using Amazon Pantry.

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Tesla and Oscar watch a short clip on making meringue. Do you think eggs are seeds?

We’re so close to being done with our storage unit, we can literally touch it! We had cubbies in our space for the whole week and it’s been amazing! We spent our Class Meeting time this working on problem solving how to attach some of the silly hooks we chose. Our last steps are to attach the last few hooks and the presentation board on the backside, which faces the dining area. Woohoo!

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We had several different tasks to work on this week: attaching the last section of sheathing to the back, attaching hooks, and screwing in the shelves. Emilio practiced self-directed work by working on the sheathing; everywhere I put an ‘X,’ he put a hole and a screw!

We went on an AWESOME field trip to The Mill! At this bakery, they don’t just start with flour, they start with SEEDS. So, before Josey can bake any bread, he has to mill the wheat seeds into flour. This field trip was a few weeks in the making, and I owe everyone at The Mill such a huge THANK YOU. Josey worked with the prior knowledge, interests and development of our group like a pro: we had a great combination of conceptually compelling topics to discuss (like the mill stones that grind the wheat and the cultures that make sourdough bread rise) and super fun silliness (like everyone cramming into the walk-in fridge to SCREAM!). I feel some expression project ideas coming on…


Josey shows us the seeds that go into the mill and get crushed into flour.



Josey reminds us how the first step of the process is to grind the wheat into flour, and we practice the action of the millstones with our hands. Then, the ovens do a surprising thing–ask your kiddo!

Finally, before our weekly pilgrimage up to the park, we did some leavened vs. unleavened experimenting. While some yeast munched on a couple of different snacks, we made some tortillas. I think this is the beginning of a lot more baking; we’re all really enjoying the way we can engage so many senses and intelligences when we work with food.

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Honey won! Any idea why?


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What’s different about the tortilla and the loaf of bread from The Mill? BUBBLES!

Happy Thanksgiving all! I’m so thankful for you all, and like I told the kiddos yesterday on our way back from The Mill, each and everyone are integral to the Orange Band; we just wouldn’t be Orange without any one of them.

Seeds, Seedfolks, Seed Olympics!

This post is a collaborative writing project by the entire Yellow Band. Enjoy!

We began our week by figuring out how many acres of farmland we would need to feed San Francisco’s population of roughly 840,000 people. We found that it would take the equivalent of close to 43 San Francisco’s in acreage, if one farm of about 230 acres feeds on average 150 people. That’s a lot of land! Like our hanging gutter planter, one solution is to farm vertically, minimizing its footprint.


We have been continuing to observe out self-watering planters. Last Friday, Quinn’s pinto bean plant had not yet sprouted and by Monday morning it had reached about 7 inches tall. In comparison, Huxley’s lentil plant which had already sprouted last week only grew about 3 inches over the weekend. Patrick’s bean plant that was left to grow on the ledge under the gutter planter has grow up and around the gutter to reach the sunlight. Justin’s plant still has not sprouted. He believes that his soil was too wet when he planted his seed.

Self watering planters

Self watering planters

Self watering planters

Self watering planters

Self watering planters

On Monday afternoon, we walked to the All in Common Community Garden with the Green Band. We continued to read our book Seedfolks. Change continued to be a theme in the chapters we read. We volunteered at the garden and met the garden’s resident cat. We swept and raked leaves to use as fertilizer for some potatoes we helped plant. We learned that the garden had once been a vacant lot just like the garden in Seedfolks.

All in Common Community Garden

All in Common Community Garden

On Tuesday we began our Seed Dispersal Olympics with the Green Band. Our first event was to build a machine that could be activated in the wild that could fling or explode seeds. To help us gather ideas we watched a short video about plants that use explosions to spread their seeds. We all created different designs including slingshots, catapults, and balloons fill of vinegar and baking soda. We will be testing all the designs on Friday.




Wednesday morning we continued our Seed Dispersal Olympics by creating ways to disperse seeds in water. We looked for materials that would float and hold air. Some included corks, balloons, and tin foil. 



In the afternoon, we went to Starbucks to write our NaNoWriMo stories. We wanted to try working in a different environment than our band space. Being able to buy our own treats made some of us feel a bit more at home. Justin, Quinn, and Patrick shared their stories with one another giving each other the chance to add a sentence to each story.



On Thursday morning we began our wind powered Seed Dispersal Olympics. Lucy looked for fluff to add to a seed to help it fly. Nora and Quinn worked to create a hang glider balloon, while Patrick frayed paracord, and Justin worked on a straw and paper hang glider (which he thinks would work better as a boat.) Huxley and his group used tracing paper to make a lightweight bowl to hopefully trap the air as it travelled. After a few trials, Huxley found that his bowl waited to be dropped the opposite way than he had originally expected.




Friday morning brought the “competition” portion of our Seed Dispersal Olympics. We saw everything from catapults to balloon rafts to fluff to water balloon popping devices. While each machine dispersed their seeds in their own unique ways, all machines showed incredible thought regarding the method of dispersal. After the competition, each band member received a medal for their individual contributions to the Seed Dispersal Olympics.

Seed Dispersal Olympics Medal Ceremony

Seed Dispersal Olympics Medal Ceremony

The Yellow Band Continues to Explore Seeds

Oat math, Seedfolks, hanging gutter planters, and NaNoWriMo.

The Yellow Band has been busy exploring seeds.

We began our days exploring the math concepts of estimation, averages, and time by way of Gever’s oat seed. The task: find out how many oat seeds need to be peeled for one cup of oats and how long will it take. Estimates on how many oat seeds make up one cup ranged anywhere from 3,622 to 5,500. Recognizing that it would take them many hours to count that amount of seeds, they decided upon each counting how many they had in a tablespoon, taking an average of each band member’s quantity, and multiplying that by the 16 tablespoons it takes to make up a cup. Strategies for counting possibly hundreds of seeds popped up quickly. Soon enough everyone was grouping their seeds in groups of either fives or tens. After counting and taking an average, we found that a cup would have approximately 3,680 oat seeds in it. It’s pretty amazing to think that one of the estimates was only 58 seeds away!




Oat math

After our work around the quantities of seeds we began to look at it in terms of time required to peel the oat seeds. Estimates to peel one cup of oats ranged from one and a half hours to five hours. We brainstormed strategies for figuring this out without having to actually peel 3,680 oats. We also realized that the rate at which we could peel the oats might fluctuate over time due to improving our skills (faster) or tiredness (slower). We decided to time our peeling for two different quantities: 10 oats and 20 oats. We found that when we peeled 20 oats we did improve our time ever so slightly, so we decided to take the average of our total time for both quantities. We quickly found that we were way off with our estimates. According to our work, it would take around 15 hours 38 minutes and 24 seconds to peel all those oats. More than three times our longest estimated time!

Oat math

One afternoon we took a walk over to the Potrero Hill Community Garden with the Green Band. After exploring the gardens for a bit, we gathered together to begin reading the book Seedfolks. Each chapter covers a story about each of the characters contributing to a community garden in Cleveland. We talked about the themes of change and community that wove throughout the stories.  We found ourselves embodying those themes when we helped the garden coordinator with some clean up and by bringing in the compost bins. She kindly thanked us by sharing some of her lemon verbena that we dried and made tea with the following morning.

Potrero Hill Community Garden

Potrero Hill Community Garden

Potrero Hill Community Garden

Early seed arc

Potrero Hill Community Garden

Wanting to take a closer look at the process of germination, we created a seed jar. We chose a variety of seeds, including pumpkin, forget-me-not, beet, California poppy, carrot, squash, and cornflower. We talked about what might sprout first, shoots or roots, the majority said shoots, and took guesses as to which seed might germinate first. After three days our first seed germinated. It was the cornflower and it was the roots that sprouted first. The poppy seeds weren’t far behind in germinating and by the end of the week, the only seeds that showed no sign of germination were those of the forget-me-nots. The roots of a number of them had also buried their way into the paper towel they were growing on.

Seed jar



Seed jar germination

Seed jar germination

Seed jar germination

Looking to grow more plants in our band space, we decided to take advantage of our vertical space and created a hanging window planter out of rain gutters. We had to take measurements of the window, draw out our plans, cut down our gutters, plan our plantings, find a way to hang it, drill holes for drainage, fill them with soil, and plant our seeds. Hopefully in a few weeks we will have everything from lettuce to poppies growing in our space.




Window gutter planter

Window gutter planter

Violet Band: 3D-Printing and Drone-Flying and Vegan Week

This week is Vegan Week. Violet Banders are taking turns planning and prepping vegan lunches for each other.

We also updated our drone-flying schedule and rules. And we have music club! And we’re reading Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods.

Last week, we went to Noisebridge. Some of the Violet Band has been frequenting Noisebridge Hacker Space to make use of their 3D printers. Laurel wants to create a Bulbasaur planter. So far, the crew has had to not only repair the 3D printer, but also get it to connect with their info to print.

When we went as a band, we were focused on 3D printing Bulbasaur as well as fixing / building a new computer.

As a side engineering project, here’s a jelly-bean dispenser:

Blue: Seed Week 3, Call/Answer

The work we’re really doing at 1960 Bryant Street is a Call and Answer.

The Call often takes the form of an exploration, expert, experience, or lesson. The Answer is a way of cementing that Call into something practical that we take the time to cherish. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the Call from the Answer. None the less, both sides of this coin are required for a memorable education experience.

This week, the Blue Band had an overwhelming number of Calls and Answers!


Plants: The Call
The Blue and Orange Bands took a trip to Plant Warehouse! While there, we walked around in their urban jungle, asked a lot of questions, and also purchased some plant babies to later care for in the classroom. When selecting a plant, the Blue Band was encouraged to ask as many questions as possible of the expert staff. What is this plant? Where does it grow best? How should I care for it? What type of container should it live in?

Plants: The Answer
Once back in the bandspace, everyone spent the afternoon researching their new plants. After all, who is going to care for them during Thanksgiving and Winter breaks? Amanda is. How am I going to know what to do? They all made me some handy guides to caring for their plants, which included facts and tidbits that I might not otherwise know. Which researching, we also learned quite a bit about the different plants, including that Felix bought a hot pepper plant (spiciness confirmed).


Raisin in the Sun: The Call
We are nearly finished with Raisin in the Sun, and everyone is still pretty excited about how the story is progressing. We had some great conversations this week, which included a pretty lengthy discussion on housing discrimination laws and the current Air BnB discussions here in San Francisco.

Raisin in the Sun: The Answer
To answer this call, we had a cost of living calculation session this week, where we mapped out the differences in the cost of products between 1959 and 2015. Once we found the costs, we calculated the percentage of increase due to inflation, and then graphed out the differences so we could see the increase visually.


Printmaking: The Call
During a particularly distracted afternoon this week, Blue Band had to take an unplanned walk around the neighborhood to clear our minds and let off some steam. During our walk, we ran across Aesthetic Union, a printmaking business a few blocks over. Even though the business was closed, one of the owners saw us peering in the window and let us all in for a quick tour of the space. While wandering around the shop, we got to see the printing presses in action and check out some of the artwork they are replicating.

Printmaking: The Answer
We’re been printmaking on Friday mornings nearly the entire year, and this week was no different. Every member of Blue Band is at a different place in their print projects. Some were printing for the first time, some are now working on a six-color piece, and still others have launched into various side projects based on what they have learned so far. The highlight of this week: we learned that taking a break from a practice doesn’t necessarily mean your body isn’t continuing to learn. Audrey was so surprised when she printed the first color of her new print, and her technique improved one hundred fold since the last time she inked!

And from that, the only logical conclusion: time isn’t necessarily a factor, but you definitely need to bookend learning in order to experience growth. The Call needs an Answer.

Orange Band: Seed, Week 3

To start, sprouting seeds

Reading, dissecting, playing, exploring

Planting sprouts at last.


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Sadie carefully takes apart the sepals and ovary at the base of one of her flowers.


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Isaac and Sadie playing dominoes with multiples of 2 scoring.


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Ramses, Gita and Emilio working on illustrations of their characters for our NaNoWriMo projects with help from MB!


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Ramses and Tesla with the plants they chose at Plant Warehouse.


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Planting our sprouts in dirt. Thank you for sending in the egg cartons!