Yellow Band: By Land, Weeks 8 & 9

Welcome back! It’s only been 9 days since getting back from winter break, but it feels like we’ve already done so much interesting work. We’ve started our expression phase group projects, and started some Yellow Band specific exploration that connects to one of those big building projects.


As the whole school embarks on expression this time around, the focus is on the details. Throughout the rest of the school, kids are working on declarations, meeting with the admin team, and making plans for the rest of by land. Over in the Beehive, we reminded the Red and Yellow bands that we make declarations for each project that we work on together! On the first day of any project we make designs together and talk through a plan for how we’ll accomplish our goals. And this time around, we explained, we’ll also need to think about any special materials we might need and present our project idea to the administration as well. In other words, we had our work cut out for us! Nathan announced that he’d be working on a gondola, and I announced that I’d be working on a covered wagon, and we got to work.

Reyahn tinkers with gondola mechanics.

Reyahn and Sakira work on initial covered wagon designs.

Sylvester and Ronin work together on making some 10′ long pieces to make the length of the wagon. One of our goals is to make the wagon a historically accurate size!

Oh, and, the Yellow Band is going to hit the trail! Following our study of fractions, I asked the kiddos to make themselves some spinners–one with 50/50 chances, one with 25/25/25/25 chances, and one that’s weighted to guarantee an outcome. Then, I told them that we’d soon be embarking on a cross-country adventure. And they’d get to choose which adventure they’d like to go on! Would they like to prospect for gold in California? Become a lumberjack in Oregon? Claim some cheap land and start a farm near Santa Fe? Or, would they like to escape to freedom in the north on the Underground Railroad? Each Yellow Bander made their choices, then tested out their weighted spinner, to see if it would work in their favor.

Sakira wanted to travel to New York on the Underground Railroad. So, she gave this choice about 1/2 the space on her weighted spinner.

We also bound little booklets to use as travel journals!

The gang, illustrating covers for their trail journals.

Morning choices have been jam-packed with fun activities as well. I started to delve deeper into the book Bridges and Tunnels by Donna Latham. We checked this book out from the library at the very beginning of the arc, and I just took a closer look this week–bad choice! This book is amazing! Not only does it talk about the history of engineering, but it’s packed with fun and simple experiments for us to do together. We read a bit, then chose an experiment to test what we think about the strength of different shapes.

First, we made lots of paper triangles. Then, we stacked National Geographic magazines on top of the triangles. We chose the magazines because each one very close to the same size.

The next day, we tested folded paper squares. Based on our work in the shop, all of the kids expected the triangles to be stronger, but this wasn’t necessarily true of the paper shapes.

And, we recorded all our data in a table. The next shape we’ll test will be a circle–no folds!

Oh my goodness–and this is barely half of everything we did this week! There was work forming letters, reading our book club books, exercising across the our bodies’ midline, and a trip to the community garden for Class Meeting. We’ve got so many good things going.

It’s Time to Declare Those Projects

The week leading up to winter break and this first week back have been spent preparing for the Expression Phase of the By Land Arc. We spent time brainstorming project ideas and the routes to take to complete them. We worked together to create a declaration for our ‘Brightworks on a Bus’ (BOAB) band project. We talked about how the declaration is just as important as the final product.

Our By Land brainstorm included types of projects that could be completed, as well as ideas for the project.

We worked together to write up a declaration for our Brightworks on a Bus project.

We talked about how important it is to plan ahead and make time for multiple iterations.

For the next five weeks, the Teal Band will be working on an incredible collection of projects. Here is a sneak peek into what they will be working on.

Selina, Aurora, and Nora’s project introduction:

We find it really interesting how ancient civilizations, with their limited supplies and technology, managed to create their own modes of travel and use them to trade and thrive. Even today, people are thinking of new ways of transportation, because without transportation, we couldn’t trade or expand our cities and civilizations. Transportation allows growth, and in ancient times, it was a necessity. For our project, we want to each create our own civilization in three very different terrains, and experiment with different forms of transportation that would best suit our different landscapes. After we come up with a few different forms of transportation, we want to design them in GoogleSketchUpp and create to-scale models. While we are doing this, we will make maps of our civilizations and the civilizations we created will be trading with each other. We will also research what sort of resources there are in our landscapes, and build our civilization off of those. Every day each civilization will gain a certain amount of resources that they can use or trade. Our final product will be to-scale models of three different forms of transportation and maps of our civilizations.

Patrick and Jared’s proposed project introduction:

We are hoping to build an RC car. Now, the real question is will you let us?  Jared wanted to build a remote control car and Patrick wanted to help him through the first real project arc of the year. We decided to build an RC car first because we thought that we should take baby steps until we make a bigger version which you could ride in. Also, it would help both of us learn multiple things and become better friends along the way.


Piper’s proposed project introduction:

How does Slide Ranch get yarn to us? I would make a map to show how it would travel from being on a sheep to nice yarn that can be used and sold. I want to do this project because I love using yarn, and I want to know how it gets to me.

Freddie’s project introduction:

I, Fredrica Lipsett would like to propose my by land arc project where I study the migration patterns of urban coyotes and create a map showing their general locations. We have many urban coyotes in the Bay Area and I have always wondered, “How did they get here?” So, for my project I would like to learn why they have migrated here over the last number of years. I would also like learn about their habitat and how people track them. I’m interested because at Bernal Hill (where I live) there is a coyote living there and I am intrigued about how it got there. We have 70 Coyotes in San Francisco but no one knows if they came as a pack or if they came from different places in California and beyond.

Huxley’s proposed project introduction:

Dispelling fear of Maglev technology/electrodynamic suspension.

A Maglev is a high-speed train that uses repelling magnetic fields to levitate. The lack of friction allows Maglevs to achieve speeds of 603 km/h, while using only around half the energy a normal bullet train needs.

The Maglev is far more efficient, less polluting, and much faster than any other type of train, so why aren’t we seeing them everywhere?

Because most humans are afraid of the unknown, and therefore afraid of change. Protests have been set up because some people believe that they will be bombarded with harmful radioactivity from the Maglev. No scientific research supports this, and yet the protesters still believe, because they are afraid of the unknown, and new emerging technologies are classified as unknown. The same scenario is happening with self-driving cars, and has happened with smartphones.

In order for Maglev to become a reality, we need to dispel this fear. To do this, I propose that we make an RC toy, using Maglev technology.

How it works:

If a spinning magnetic field is placed on top of a conductive non-magnetic material, such as copper in the form of sheet metal, It will create eddy currents in the metal. Following Lenz’s law,

The direction of current induced in a conductor by a changing magnetic field due to faraday’s law of induction will be such that it will create a field that opposes the change that produced it.
The eddy currents will create a magnetic field that opposes the magnetic field that created it. A series of electromagnets in a ring, pulsing at specific times, could create this spinning magnetic field. If provided enough energy, this should keep a small vehicle aloft. Other rings of electromagnets on the sides of the vehicle could be pulsed in order to steer.



Precious Cargo + Persistence

Over the last two weeks, the Amber Band has continued to explore human migration by designing and building a vehicle to safely transport us and the things we need to start a new life. This phrase “start a new life” has been a common one among the group as we research human migration, so we wanted to take some time to understand what that might mean to each of us.

Hong Kong International School and Brightworks SF meet to discuss similarities and differences in their schools.

To help us dig a bit deeper into this topic, each student chose a particular place in the world to research how humans have migrated to or from that region. In addition to their independent research, we had the opportunity to interview students at Hong Kong International School to hear their stories of migration. Because of the 15 hour time difference, we stayed overnight at school so that we could chat with students in Hong Kong during their school day.
We also got a chance to have an expert visit from human migration researcher, Alice Taylor. She asked students to consider how they might design a school for refugees. She also shared some powerful resources with the group, like the educational online game Against All Odds. The game is designed to show you what it feels like to flee a country. As you play, you have to try and start a new life in a different country after you’ve escaped conflict. The game is built on facts and short films, and comes from The UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

A lesson in physics with Gever.

Declan’s work space

Audrey and Norabelle’s vehicle prototype.

Each student considered the things they would need to start a new life—their precious cargo. Those things ranged from survival items like food and water to pets and card games. We built prototype vehicles to test on a small ramp to measure and graph each vehicle’s speed, and approximate the speed of our final build. Gever visited for a guest lesson on vehicle safety and physics, and helped students start to transform their design into a vehicle big enough to test drive down Bernal Hill.

All hands on deck!

Audrey and Norabelle reviewing their vehicle designs with Gever.

Audrey and Norabelle’s designs for their vehicle… so many ideas!

Rhone on the drill press, working on the steering of his vehicle.

After many hours in the shop, each group followed up with Gever for a safety check on their vehicle build—all of the groups were sent back to the drawing board! Some needed to make steering revisions, others had to install brakes, while others struggled with structural problems. This set us all back, but no one was ready to give up. The whole group worked double time last week to try and meet our Friday deadline to race down Bernal Hill.

Audrey on the chop saw cutting out the posts for the box design of her vehicle.

Khalia on the circular saw to cut the chassis for her vehicle.

Rhone, Felix, and Elijah work on the frame for their vehicle.

“Can you supervise a bunch of cuts?” – Ella

In the end, we didn’t meet our deadline. However, this did give us the opportunity to have a conversation about persistence, and to learn from our mistakes and failures. Students reflected on questions like: How did we work towards our goal over the two weeks? How did we manage our time? What might we do differently next time? For many, they realized that working as one big team would have helped us meet our deadline. They also talked about strategies to help them get focused in the future. All this helped us prepare for the upcoming expression phase of the By Land Arc, as students will need to find ways to set their own goals, manage their time, and work towards making something epic!

NaNoWriMo is Never-Ending (and we love it!)

To celebrate the *official* last day of NaNoWriMo, Charlotte and the Orange Band grate chocolate for hot cocoa treats.

Lucy and Phoebe take turns, grating as much chocolate as possible to fuel their writing fires.

Justin and Roman combine their efforts for a faster and greater) yield.

Amiya and Jeevan prefer hand graters – slower, but less likely to result in a shredded finger.

Though we have left the month of November, and all that novel-writing that comes with it, we are still reveling in the work that NaNoWriMo inspired and yielded. Even as we march towards the beginning of a brand new year (Welcome, 2017! We can’t wait for you!), Orange Band students are still contemplating the characters, settings, and plot twists that filled our time together.

Computers and notebooks remain an Orange Band focus, even though November has come and gone.

Jeevan works on self-editing his novel- dialogue and paragraphing have been big focuses.

The inspirations for our novels are varied: previous NaNoWriMo projects, our favorite authors and stories, each other’s work and ideas, and the stories we wish were in print, but simply haven’t been written…yet! Throughout the work on character, setting, and plot, however, we have come to realize that most stories have a shape to them. Orange Banders looked at how the venerable and prolific author, Kurt Vonnegut, visualized these shapes. Afterward, students created their own story shapes, and we saw that our stories and style of story-telling varied just as widely as our inspirations!

In addition to goal setting for word counts (which nearly all Orange Band students have met or exceeded!!), kiddos set goals for the impacts their novels make when they are released into the world. Some of the Orange Band NaNoWriMo goals are:

  • Jeevan: I want people to know what they see may not always be the truth.
  • Lucy: My goal is to show that polar bears are awesome.
  • Roman: My goal is to make my novel a great story to read and to share it with my family.
  • Charlotte: My goal is that I want to get little girls out of their princess dresses, and get them to see the true princesses–and get them to BE like true princesses without magic.
  • Amiya: My goal is to make people laugh.
  • Phoebe: My goal is  to show that dead people aren’t really dead, and that you might not kill someone by dropping a knife on them, so don’t try!

From the inspirational to the macabre, Orange Band NaNoWriMo projects will have it all!

NaNoWriMo even infiltrated student blog post topics…

NaNoWriMo, by Amiya Das

My Nanowrimo story is about two brothers, one brother’s friend, Betty, and a very old treasure. The story begins in 1851, when John Devell goes from New York City to Placerville, CA, to find gold during the California gold rush. He finds a lot of gold, and hides it in a cave near Placerville. Unfortunately, he gets on the boat back to New York City, forgetting his treasure, and he doesn’t remember until it was too late. He makes a treasure map and gives it to his Great-Grandsons, Robert and Edward just before his death. Robert is drafted for The Second World War in 1940 and is reported missing in action in 1942. His plane crashes in the French Alps, but he moves back to Chester, Nova Scotia in 1953. Edward lives there, until he rediscovers his copy of the treasure map in 2016, and decides to go on a road trip with his friend Betty. Robert rediscovers his copy, and he goes on a road trip too. They meet just after leaving Chester, and decide to race to Placerville.

NaNoWriMo Reflection, by Roman Stadler

NaNoWriMo was a great writing opportunity. I wish we can have it forever because it’s that fun.  One reason why NaNoWriMo is fun is because on Wednesday, November 30, we had NaNoWriMo the whole day and it was also Pajama Day. our class sipped hot chocolate while writing our stories. I would get sugar crazy so I would get more ideas in my brain to write about. We also had a  super fun time writing because we got to make our stories up and write whatever came to our minds. Everyday after lunch during quiet time we wrote NaNoWriMo. I loved writing NaNoWriMo in peace and quiet because I can concentrate better. My word goal was 2,001 and I have 2,010 right now. I am super excited because I accomplished my word goal. If you ever get an opportunity to write a story, use the NaNoWriMo process because when you reach your goal you will feel like you are proud that you accomplished a difficult and complicated story.

Other Orange Band kiddos looked to the coming end of the arc to focus their blog posts:

Future Field Trip, by Lucy Rubenstein

I think that we should go to the zoo! One reason is that it is the by land arc and there are lots of animals there that walk on land. The zoo is pretty big to so we would be walking all day, and  we would be moving by land. Also there are lots of cute animals there. It is important to realize that  the zoo is just really fun to go to anyway. For this reason I think we would all probably enjoy it and we would learn about animals that walk by land.☺

As the Expression phase of the By Land arc looms, Orange Band students also contemplated possible projects.

Expression Project, by Justin Bebee

For our by land arc I am going to turn the entire earth into a bluetooth speaker. And I am going to study how sound travels by land. But mostly turn the entire earth into a bluetooth speaker. And then I can play annoying music to the whole world. And since the music is coming from the earth, they wouldn’t be able to tell who it is. That would be so cool. Then we could play clapping, and people will think that the clap is happening. That would be funny.

Still other Orange Banders considered our future endeavors–in our band space, and Brightworks, as a whole.

My Persuasive Blog Post, by Charlotte Jewell

I think we should redo the table that we built and make it only white board because people keep scratching it and it hurts my ears. Our table than we have now has whiteboard and blackboard, I think that we should redo the actual board part because it does not fit correctly either like you could fit it this way but you couldn’t fit it that way. I think we should use shower boards instead of foam because when people flip stuff or when you don’t have a clipboard and your pencil goes through the paper and then it goes through the table it would damage the table, I think we should also paint the table (or the unfinished book shelf, if you didn’t know we were working on a bookshelf, we are making a bookshelf because our old bookshelves back came off so we have to make new one if ). I think we should paint the table Orange (because our band is orange and I like orange or we can paint it blue).

A Persuasive Blog Post, by Jeevan Bhatia

I think that Brightworks should teach a different language. Languages have a lot of different things behind them, for an example, a culture. A language doesn’t just teach you  language it can teach you a different syntax and new culture. You can learn how to write and read in a different way. I mean, Brightworks teaches a lot but not like this.  Communicating in different languages is something that you can use for a lot of different reasons, for an example, in an emergency. If someone that knows about the emergency is the only one that can help in the emergency, and  only speaks one language and that language is not the one you know, then what?  What  happens if no one is there that can help?

I speak 3 languages English, Spanish, and Mandarin fluently. I use to speak Spanish a lot better than I do know. When I was younger I spoke 5 languages.  When I first came to BWX I asked a lot of people if they spoke any other languages and no one spoke any other languages. I  mean one or two people spoke one or to other languages but not really fluently. I  can speak Hindi a little bit but not fluently. Anyway learning a language expands your Brain.

Don’t eat Hershey’s, Nestle & Mars Chocolates!, by Phoebe Pringle

Do you want to know how Hershey’s, Nestle & Mars get the kid slaves in the first place?

Let’s back up. Hershey’s, Nestle & Mars uses kid slaves in Africa to harvest cocoa beans. You know, I’m ten. A kid my age would be on a cocoa beans farm harvesting cocoa beans.  If the kids if need to go to the restroom they have to go on the roof or in a cup. Now back to the top question: Hershey’s, Nestle & Mars bought or kidnaped the kids. To conclude don’t eat or buy from Hershey’s, Nestle, & Mars.

As we say goodbye to 2016, we hope the Orange Band has given you something to reflect upon…Happy Holidays

Yellow Band: By Land, Weeks 5 & 6

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Fractions, parts of a whole. Here in the Yellow Band, we are each an important part of the whole. But, we’re not each exactly the same, unlike the equal parts we’ve been dividing shapes and quantities into.

Nolan tries to add pattern blocks to his design, while keeping the proportions of blocks the same. He needs to have 1/2 of the design one color, 1/4 of a second color, and 1/4 of a third color.

Oscar, on the other hand, thought about area when figuring out how to divy up color in his design.

Last week in Class Meeting, we read the book They All Saw a Cat. It’s all about perspective–everyone sees the cat differently, yet each of their perspectives is beautiful in it’s own way. This idea has permeated a lot of our different explorations, from sharing thoughts and problem solving strategies for vitamins at Morning Meeting, to solving problems at Class Meeting, to writing based on our book club books.

Reyahn works on writing a postcard home, taking on the perspective of Elmer Elevator from his book club selection, My Father’s Dragon.

“Hey, Jenny here!” Sakira’s two postcards home so far as Jenny, from School for Cats. Her voice really shines through in these short notes, and she’s tried to incorporate both Jenny’s hardships, and excitement to be at her new school.

What’s more, our study of the Pony Express led us to an exploration of native peoples of North America. It was important to me to bring the kids’ attention to the ‘discovery myth,’ the idea that the west was discovered by the European settlers as they moved across the continent. A lot of the texts we read about both the emigrants and the Pony Express included this type of language. So, we’ve been spending some time trying to learn about the plains tribes, especially the Sioux, and using resources from the indigenous perspective whenever possible. Oh, and it also informed some of our math-art connections and vitamin work–of course!

Abir carefully folded his paper, then painted in the shapes he had created. Folding first helped us make symmetric designs composed of geometric shapes, inspired by the parfleche paintings on buffalo hides many plains tribes made.

Oh, AND, we started new projects! Nicole is working on a 3D map, and Nathan is working on a fence styled after a fence the Bees fell in love with in Mendocino.

Solin and Dash work on assembling a section of the fence. The group’s goal is to make the fence both collapsible, and walkable–like a balance beam!

Nicole helps Abir, Sylvester and Quinn trace California from the projector, the first step in making a 3D map of California.

This past week, we started giving the kiddos in the Beehive more choice in the morning activities. So, we now have Hive-wide choices 3 mornings and 3 afternoons each week. Our goal is to take cues from the kids, notice the skills and areas each child feels confident, so that we can build from there with each Red and Yellow Bander. Expect to see more pictures and captions about students from both bands, as I’ll get to work with the Red Banders a lot more moving forward!

Duck, Duck…Ratios!

The Teal Band has covered a lot of ground in the last couple weeks. Everything from plucking ducks to calculating speed.

The band has continued to analyze the data they have collected with their “Getting to School” questionnaire. Information such as how many students per band travel to school by car, compared to how many of their parents was recorded. Huxley and Nora found that the graph of the students followed a very similar pattern to that of the graph recording the parents’ information. A number of Teal Banders, including Piper, Freddie, Aurora, and Selina, learned to use Google Maps to create maps documenting where everyone comes from. This information was also used to find the geographical midpoint of all the locations in hopes of determining the “ideal” location of Brightworks geographically.

Nora and Huxley decided to create a graph to represent their findings around how students and their parents get to school.

Nora and Huxley decided to create a graph to represent their findings around the students’ and their parents’ journies to school.

Piper maps out the locations that students come from everyday.

Piper maps out the locations that students come from everyday.

Selina and Aurora took some time to take notes on their discoveries while looking over the data.

Selina and Aurora took some time to take notes on their discoveries while looking over the data.

Further work was done using the data to calculate the average speed it takes certain students to get to school in the morning. Since the travel time for each student was not provided as an hour, but instead in the various number of minutes it takes them to commute to school, the Teal Band had to figure out how to convert their speed to miles per hour. Similarities began popping up around the different modes of transportation, along with their distance from school, in relation to their average speed.

Teal computed the speed of a number of students, converting it from miles per minutes to miles per hour.

Stepping back into history a bit, the Teal Band took a look at San Francisco’s transit history. They spent an afternoon exploring a timeline of events and recorded the events that stuck out most to them. They were intrigued to see how the cost of San Francisco transit has changed over the years and researched inflation rates, adjusting a number of the costs to compare them to today. They were quite surprised to see how much more expensive it was to take transit in the past compared to today.

Jared took notes on what he found most intriguing about the transportation his of San Francisco.

Jared took notes on what he found most intriguing about the transit history of San Francisco.

Just a few of the interesting tidbit of San Francisco transportation history we stumbled upon.

Just a few of the interesting tidbits of San Francisco transit history we stumbled upon.

The band took a field trip down to the San Francisco Railway Museum where they received a lesson on driving one the earliest San Francisco street cars. Something that the band didn’t expect to learn that day, was that the older street cars had ‘people-catchers,’ like the cow-catchers on locomotives. Jaywalking was extremely common during that time and before the ‘people-catchers’ were added to the street cars, people would be hit and run over often. The ‘people-catchers’ saved many lives.

Getting a lesson on driving an early San Francisco street car.

Getting a lesson on driving an early San Francisco street car.

Checking out the scale model of the street car they learned how to drive.

Checking out the scale model of the street car they learned how to drive and seeing the ‘people-catchers.’

The Teal and Orange band took a little break from their usual “By Land” routines to pluck and eviscerate two ducks (with one of them eventually becoming my Thanksgiving dinner.) The experience of plucking the ducks was exciting. There were so many different sized and colored feathers. The down was so incredibly soft. And, no one will ever forget the “bloody worm” that would emerge from the pinfeathers (developing feathers) when the quill was squeezed. Once the plucking was complete, a process that took patience and thoroughness, the band had a lesson on the evisceration of both ducks. They got to see, feel, and smell a number of organs, including the heart, lungs, intestines, gizzard, and liver. The female duck provided the most interesting discovery, the egg production chain.

Plucking a duck took some real dedication, patience, and focus.

The down was so unbelievably soft.

The process of evisceration allowed the Teal Band to see a number of organs from the intestines to the liver to the heart.

Heart, lungs, eggs, and gizzards (from two ducks, one male and one female.)

The ducks not only provided a biology lesson and food, but also a math lesson on ratios. The band worked together to figure how they wanted to sort the massive pile of feathers. They decided to sort them into three groups by size: small, medium, and large. After counting each of the groups, they explored ratios, a comparison of two different quantities. It was interesting to find that while there were only twice as many medium feathers as there were large, there were seven times as many small feathers as large feathers. Taking the ratios a bit further, the band converted them to fractions and discussed the relationships of ratios, fractions, decimals, and percents, along with where we tend to see or use each form every day.

Two ducks produce a lot of feathers.

The Teal Band decided to sort the feathers into small, medium, and large.

Exploring ratios with the duck feathers we plucked.

The Teal Band began its group project of Brightworks on a Bus (BOAB.) The launch of the process began with a brainstorm on what it is that makes Brightworks, Brightworks, and organizing the ideas into three main categories; ideas, objects, and spaces. Knowing that a bus is quite a lot smaller than the school building itself, the band looked at which spaces could hold multiple functions. After coming up with three main spaces, the band learned to bubble diagram, a freehand diagrammatic drawing made by architects and interior designers to be used for space planning and organization at the preliminary phase of the design process. They each created a couple bubble diagrams, looking at how spaces and functions interacted with one another, before working together to combine multiple ideas. Next steps include drafting designs to scale and building models.

What makes Brightworks, Brightworks? We brainstormed the ideas, spaces, and objects that make Brightworks unique and possible to function.

What makes Brightworks, Brightworks? We brainstormed the ideas, spaces, and objects that make Brightworks unique and possible to function.

Teal learned to bubble diagram in order to quickly get out a number of design ideas.

Teal learned to bubble diagram in order to quickly sketch out a number of design ideas.

On top of all this, the Teal Band continued to write their novels, and on December 1st, they celebrated the end of the writing period of NaNoWriMo with a visit from the whole Polar Bear Clan. Congrats to all the authors…now to become editors.

The Polar Bear Clan came to celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo with the Teal Band.

Follow that Food!

Ah, November; what a month you’ve been, already!

This month has been nothing but nonstop action since it began. Indeed, the Orange Band  has hit the ground running since we returned from Mendocino last month: exploring San Francisco, where our food comes from, and, of course, NaNoWriMo!

Mendocino Memories - filtered light and the scent of redwoods

Mendocino Memories – filtered light and the scent of redwoods.

The movement of things by land is yet another vast undertaking for the Orange Band students. We saw, early on, that the interests and ideas we bring to the table make for a variety of possible projects and dives, big and small.


As a way to focus our energies and efforts, students began and in-depth and up close look at an essential part of our daily lives: food. We began the arc with a field trip to Pie Ranch, a thriving, working farm located in Pescadero. Pie Ranch’s food education program experience offered the Orange Band a first-hand look at one very special source of local food. Kiddos explored the multi-crop farm, its animals (pigs and goats and cows, oh, my!), and helped the farmers transition the crops and land as it began to settle in for a winter’s “sleep.” We celebrated a solid morning’s work in the fields with a delicious chili and cornbread lunch, topped with homemade herbed butter — nearly 100% of our meal was supplied by Pie Ranch! Does pulling the veggies out of the ground necessarily make them that much more tasty??

The fields were filled with color even at this late stage in the growing season. Orange Band kiddos helped the farmers remove irrigation tubes from finished plots.

The fields were filled with color even at this late stage in the growing season. Orange Band kiddos helped the farmers remove irrigation tubes from finished plots.


Amiya, Lucy, and Phoebe harvest the still plentiful crops.

Amiya, Lucy, and Phoebe harvest the still plentiful crops.


Roman can't resist tomatoes, right off the vine.

Roman can’t resist tomatoes, right off the vine.


Did you realize that beans grow in pods??

Did you realize that beans grow in pods??

Our final bit of work: flavoring homemade cheese with fresh herbs and flowers Orange Band students picked from the fields.

Our final bit of work: flavoring homemade cheese with fresh herbs and flowers Orange Band students picked from the fields.

And yet, most of our food — found in our homes and in Brightworks — is not so easily traced back to one source farm. Even though the list of stores our families shop at include more farmer’s markets and co-operative markets, where our food comes from is often mysterious and unknown. More often we are concerned if the avocados in the produce department are at that *just right* ripeness, and not how these fruits always seem to be available to us when guacamole cravings set in.

Where we shop truly does make a difference in terms of knowing where our food comes from.

Where we shop truly does make a difference in terms of knowing where our food comes from.

Orange Band students set about to find out just where the items we so cavalierly toss into our baskets or reusable grocery bags actually can be traced back to. Students chose a recipe to track down and we set out, maps in hand to help keep track of just where our food comes from: to a local franchise in the Brightworks neighborhood, a gigantic national supermarket, and two farmer’s markets. What was especially striking was the breadth of difference between the different markets. At one store, we were able to identify the state produce or meat came from (or city of production, if a dry good). At another, we were simply informed of the country the product was from. This certainly highlighted the disconnect we often have from our food, unless we take specific steps to get closer to what ends up on our plate, such as shopping at local farmer’s markets. At both the Civic Center market and the Ferry Building, we were able to identify the farms our fruits, veggies, and meat originated from. What a difference!

Perusing the stands at the Civic Center Farmer's Market.

Perusing the stands at the Civic Center Farmer’s Market.

Of course, the next logical step was to make the delicious meals we had been researching to such great lengths.


Roman and Jeevan prep for the mashed potatoes, while the NY strip steak sits, waiting to be cooked.

Phoebe and Charlotte help to get the band space ready for the "Bandsgiving" feast.

Phoebe and Charlotte help to get the band space ready for the “Bandsgiving” feast. On the menu: fruit salad, ham sandwiches, guacamole, steak, mashed potatoes, and chocolate sheet cake.

Can't handle the wait! Must eat now!!

Can’t handle the wait! Must eat now!!

Amiya's grandmother's cake was delish!

Amiya’s grandmother’s cake was delish – especially with fresh whipped cream!

As a capstone to these weeks of getting ever closer to our food, Charlotte and her mom, Kiki, gave us an even more intimate experience with our food: two ducks from the Jewell’s own home to be prepped for a Thanksgiving dinner. The Orange and Teal bands were all hands in!

The two ducks were beautiful to behold.

The two ducks were beautiful to behold. Kiki held out the wings for all to admire.

The labor intensive and fascinating activity included scalding the ducks to prepare them for plucking. Plucking and sorting the feathers was the most time consuming, and perhaps the most relaxing–once we got a handle on how to pluck the outer feathers, we were able to deftly leave just the soft, soft down to be removed.


The final step was to gut the ducks, a task Kiki did with an ease that many of us carnivores and omnivores do not possess. It was so special to be able to see what the meat we eat begins as, post slaughter — and it is not wrapped in neat plastic packages, to be sure!


Throughout this food investigation, and the looks into where our food is moved from into our personal lives, students began reading acclaimed food writer Michael Pollan‘s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. As students began digging into Pollan’s investigation of the Industrial food chain, the source of most of our food in much of the country, we contemplated the True Cost of the food we eat. Just how frugal are we being when we buy tomatoes at $2.99 a pound at our local Safeway (an oxymoron?), as opposed to $7.99 a pound from the Farmer’s Market? Why is our food system so reliant on a mutation of a grain (corn)? What does it mean to buy and eat responsibly in today’s industrial food age? These questions will continue to loom over us as we read and investigate further!