Orange Band: Seed, Week 1

On to the next one!

This week, we kept up with our routines and started a new exploration together: SEED. We even got out of the school a few times!

We had literacy workshop featuring writing in shaving cream, playing Boggle, and reflection journalling.

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Sadie and Emilio practicing letter formation by making long smooth strokes in shaving cream.


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Everyone played Boggle together, and wrote the words we saw in the dice.

We have also been talking about NaNoWriMo. we’re getting ready by thinking about what we would like to write our stories about, and talking about elements of stories. We’ll be writing graphic novels, maybe with some help from a pro!

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Emilio doodling along to our reading of James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. As we read, we are noticing the vivid descriptions Dahl uses to bring the setting to life.


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On Thursday, Nathan read us one of his favorite books, The Widow’s Broom, by Chris Van Alsburg. As he read, we talked about the characters in the book–the widow, the broom, the witch, and the neighboring families. We talked about how stories must have characters, but characters don’t have to be people, and authors develop characters through dialogue, plot events, and descriptions.

We also took the next step in our numberline math project. Last week, kiddos practiced writing numbers, and also built some familiarity with multiples of 2, 5 and 10 by drawing a giant hopscotch outside the school. This week, we talked about the strategies we used to recognize these multiples, then got started working on a numberline for our bandspace.

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Sadie worked really hard, with the help of her friend Gita, to build fluent recognition of multiples of 2. We noticed as we worked that multiples of 10 would be the numbers that are already marked as both 2s and 5s.

We’re really hit the ground running for our next arc topic, Seed. This week we went for a walk around the neighborhood hunting for seeds, went on a seed scavenger hunt at the grocery store, started reading a great story about a boy and a giant seed, went to the library to get lots of books about seeds, and were shown how to dissect seeds by students form the Green Band.

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Sadie found lots of seeds in the spice aisle!


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Oscar and Emilio sit next to our stack of seed books for scale.


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Zev helps Oscar and Emilio open up bean pods, then dissect the dicot bean seeds inside.

So far, this arc is delicious!

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Let the Novel Writing Begin


National Novel Writing Month or “Nanowrimo” is a time when students get to lock up their inner editor and let their imaginations run wild.  The month of November is given over to writing.  Focusing on quantity over quality, students write to reach a word goal and win bound copies of their story.  During December and January the students revise their work into a publishable form.  The delight on students faces when they receive their bound copies is a wonderful thing to behold.

The past two weeks the Green band has been reflecting on what they love about stories and analyzing the structure of the novels they admire.  They have been inventing main characters, figuring out the driving motivations of those characters and the inventing obstacles those characters will face over the course of their journeys.  They are mapping out the rising and falling action of their plots so they are prepared to get writing on the first day of November!  Next Tuesday we will begin our week with an Nanowrimo writing party.

Blue’s Close of the Rock Arc

IMG_5734 This week marked the close of the Rock Arc.

And, very simply, that meant: we had to set up for a public presentation of our work. We had to reflect on what happened, why it happened, and what we learned. We had to figure out the best ways to capture an audience’s attention at Expo Night. We had to work as a team to list out and distribute tasks so that everyone was contributing in a limited about of time. And, equally as important, we had to reserve some time to not be so serious. IMG_5741 But first, down to business.

Didactic materials are those informational signs and displays that you find at museums. They do a few really important things for the audience of museum goers: they describe the stuff on display, provide some context or historical background, and they usually point (literally, or metaphorically) to something else to learn or look at.

Because the first Arc’s Expo Night doesn’t include student presentations, all the information that our audience should know has to be communicated in another way. To do this, Blue Band envisioned the space as a hybrid between a museum and a VIP lounge treehouse, and so we spent a lot of time writing didactic materials that were informative and also fun. Those materials were then arranged into whimsical displays.     IMG_5834 Everyone did a really great job of deciding what information was important to display and how to best display it in our treehouse. A last minute design solution also yielded a fun cairn-making station using the rocks we had collected over the course of the Arc.       IMG_5815 Another highlight of our preparation was a ROCKumentary (filmed, directed, and edited by Blue) that documented a rock formation project that we presented to the Orange Band. Our classroom television transformed the space into an intimate viewing room.   IMG_5791     IMG_5826

With all our hard work this week (and every other week preceding), a strong theme that Blue is continuing to nurture is the practice of flow and focus through fun activities that help to punctuate but also highlight our serious academics.

This week, blind contour drawings became another tool in that toolbox.

Get a piece of paper, a marker, and a partner. Sit across from your partner. Touch your marker to the paper and don’t pick it up. Don’t look at your paper. Look at your partner. Pick a starting point on your partner’s face, and draw an imaginary line with your eyes around their features. As your eyes move, also move your marker. Don’t look down.

You have 60 seconds. Go.




Yup, keep going.

Rocked It

This morning to celebrate the end of the arc the Green Band sipped hot chocolate on the roof and reflected upon some of their favorite parts of the Rock Arc.


Most of the kids shared moments from Mendocino: climbing trees, being silly and working through challenges.  Since we’ve returned from Mendocino there has been a real change in the quality of connection between the members of our band. I saw it at the Exploratorium as the group flitted like flock of chattering birds from display to display.  I saw it as they climbed trees together in the park.  I saw it as they excitedly ran around preparing the school for Exposition Night. There is a playful cohesion that celebrates the kooky individuality of all our members.


When it was my turn to share a favorite moment from the Rock Arc I told a story from our Baker Beach field trip.  I chose this story because it was a moment when the students really embodied the values I’ve been trying to impart in this learning community.  The Yellow and Green bands were posted up at the North end of the beach where all of the greywacke sandstone is just begging to be climbed.  In our first exploratory foray into the rocks the kids were over excited and pushing boundaries.  I made the call to turn back because I didn’t see anyone taking responsibility themselves or eachother.  They were disappointed but content to explore the tide pools and collect rocks.  Later in the day a group of students came up to me with a very level-headed proposal.  They had made rock scrambling agreements as a group.  They would:

  • Be calm and take things slow.
  • Always look for the safest route.
  • Stay together as a group.
  • Always help each other.

With these agreements in place we went on a second exploratory mission.  What happened was magical.  As we traversed the rocky terrain the kids discussed best routes together with great gravity, they pointed out foot holds and they cheered each other on.  They were being safe, charting their own course and taking responsibility for each other!

Baker Beach field trip with Green Band

That there is the sweet spot.  That feeling of empowerment and care for one another is exactly what I am trying to help them find as we traverse new concepts and challenging projects.  As we turn the page on the rock arc and begin a new chapter I hope we can continue to embody these lessons.


Orange Band: Rock, Week 8

Friends, it happened. We did it. We did our first arc of the year together. And we really really did it.

As I look back on this week, I’m having trouble believing it’s only been 5 days–we did so much this week!

On Monday, we spent the morning reminding and practicing some routines for our bandspace. After spending the week in the Woodlands, the kiddos appreciated the chance to take a breath in the morning, and get back into the routine of Monday morning Literacy Workshop. We added a bit of skills practice by recording in writing the words we built in Quiddler–and we had some doozies! Like T-Rex! Kiddos spent some time finishing up the Theseus books they started, which gave me a good chance to read one-on-one with everybody. In these one-on-one reading moments, I simply listen to hear the types of words kiddos miscue, their tendencies toward guessing vs. decoding, to give gentle reminders to respond to punctuation cues, and ask some thinking questions. In the Orange Band, reading is a closely monitored practice, and we’re building skills everyday.

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Oscar and Emilio playing Quiddler and recording the words they build.

After spending some time on prep for Expo night in the afternoon and the next morning, we did one of my favorite activities of the whole week. We went outside and drew a huge hopscotch on the sidewalk! Here’s the idea: we have a range of comfort with numbers and place value in our band. Some kiddos are a bit less fluent with computation, but strong on strategies and number sense. Others are pretty fluent with computation, but could use some practice thinking about the relationships between numbers and efficient problem solving strategies. I’d also like us to make a number line for our bandspace that shows the multiples of 2, 5 and 10. In order to work up to this, we talked about what makes a number a multiple of 2, 5 or 10, and decided on some body movements we could when we land on a number in our hopscotch that is a multiple of 2, 5 or 10. Then, we grabbed a bucket full of chalk and headed outside.

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Tesla and Isaac worked together to add the action notations to multiples of 2, 5 and 10.

The kiddos were so engaged with this activity! We took turns drawing the boxes, writing numbers, and labelling the multiples of 2, 5 and 10 for their actions. On multiples of 2, we drew a line down the middle to show the hopscotcher to land on both feet. On multiples of five, we traced a hand to show the hopscotcher to give the sidewalk a high-5. On multiples of five, we traced two hands to show the hopscotcher to clap. As we worked, we took some breaks to go through the hopscotch, and noticed that at some numbers, we needed to do all 3 actions. Which numbers are those? The multiples of 10! Then, at the end of the day, we got to tell our friends that it was hopscotch-o-clock!

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Ramses loved going through the hopscotch! He very thoughtfully performed each action as he reached a multiple of 2, 5 or 10.

Oh, and Wednesday morning we put screws into wood for our storage unit! Yay!

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Tesla and Emilio make a great team!

In earlier posts, I’ve mentioned how this early elementary year is one of transition toward higher expectations. One of those expectations is performing self-assessments at the end of an arc. We have already established a practice of reflecting in our journals every Wednesday afternoon, and have been moving toward writing more specific, detailed entries. This week, we turned our reflection writing toward listening and thought about how we’re doing at some specific skills we identified at the beginning of the year as earmarks of good listening: turning your body toward the speaker, making eye contact, turning your voice off, and signaling a connection or that you’d like to build-on. Kiddos spent the afternoon writing about which skills they think they are doing well, and which they need to work on and how.

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Tesla used our band’s poster about listening skills as a resource to guide her reflection journalling.

The day finally arrived: time for Exposition. We had a plan, we knew what our priorities were, and we got to work. Some folks focused on presentation board to go with each of our explorative projects, others helped clean and organize the bandspace. And in the afternoon, we rolled out the labyrinth we drew on Monday afternoon and lined up rocks along the pathway.

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Sadie, Emilio, Isaac and Tesla get ready to roll out the labyrinth.

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Ramses, Oscar and Emilio carefully place rocks along the path.

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Sadie, Isaac and Tesla work together to place rocks along the pathways of the labyrinth.

As we reflected on our time spent following the Rock thread together, a few things stuck out to the kiddos as things we did really well. We thought it was great to have different projects happening at the same time, so kiddos could choose what they wanted to work on. Kiddos really enjoyed how our trip to the labyrinth led to a study of both Greek mythology, the story of the hero and the beast, and a study in specific techniques for drawing this ancient art form. Others enjoyed the thread of chemistry in growing our own crystals, and the connection between this and the three main types of rocks. We truly had something for everybody, and are off to a great start.

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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: Red Band

For the past few weeks the Red Band has been launching into an exploration of our surroundings. We have taken to the hills to find the best views our city has to offer. It began with a single rock which led to discussion of large rocks and mountains.

We started with a walk up 18th street and over to McKinley Square which offers a lovely view of one of San Francisco’s largest peaks, Mt. Sutro. On our way we spotted nearby Bernal Heights Park, a 500 foot tall peak.


We spent a week working with the number and possible ways to create our own 500 foot tall mountain. With a bit of math and a bit of clay the kids created scale of 1:100 using unifix cubes to create their clay mountains. Transferring our scale from linked cubes to colored clay, one color per 100 feet, we molded mountains that were 500, 900, and 1200 feet tall right in our art studio.


We then took a trip over to Bernal Heights park to hike to the top. Along the trail we estimated altitudes, admired the city below us, and faced our fear of heights one step or scoot at a time.



Blue in the Woods


The whole school spent last week in the Mendocino Woodlands.

On a curricular note: what a great way to bridge the Rock Arc and the Seed Arc! And, on a completely different note: what a great way to learn all the other things.

During our time in the Woods, the Blue Band had a lot of amazing, unscripted, silly, and powerful moments that had nothing to do with structured learning experiences. These were great moments where we had the opportunity to learn about each other and how we work together as a team. We learned that being a community means not only nourishing, but also cleaning up after that community. We learned about our ability to memorize, create, and perform something in a set period of time. We learned about bravery and pushing boundaries. We learned that headlamps can easily light the way through an all gender / all Band nail painting party. We learned that an afternoon at the chilly beach can reveal so much about our surroundings and our friends.





Also, #Selfies!