The Sea & Me

The Amber Band has been taking some time to make personal connections with the sea. To help with this, we worked with community artist Sierra Reading to learn about how she is helping others make personal connections through art-making. We participated in one of Sierra’s projects, Candle Conversations, where each student passed around a candle to share in a discussion while the wax dripped onto a cloth. As students passed the candle, they shared out intentions for the new arc, and let go of some of the things that they wanted to leave behind. Both Amber Band and Indigo Band got to participate in their own Candle Conversation, and we came together to explore indigo dye as a symbol of strength when we then dyed our batiked cloth.

Audrey and Oscar are carefully dipping the cloth in the vat so as not to disturb the indigo fermentation. It’s important to keep as little oxygen as possible from getting into the mixture.

Ambigo explorations of indigo as a symbol of strength with community artist and educator Sierra Reading.

During the By Sea arc we’ll be getting more opportunities to collaborate as Ambigo on excursions. We went to the Aquarium of the Bay to learn about our local marine life. Students worked in small teams to record observations on estuaries, ecosystems, and conservation strategies. Each student then chose an animal to research further. Making the connection to our San Francisco Bay got us thinking more about conservation efforts, and how we might do our part to keep the Bay healthy. We decided to adopt drains around the school! This presented a design challenge for us: build a device that will help you safely cleanup the drains in our neighborhood. Each week we’ll visit our drains to keep them free of leaves and debris to manage stormwater and minimize flooding in SF.

Ambigo visits the Aquarium of the Bay

Ella, Norabelle, and Owen are playing in the tide pools.

Rhone, Oscar, and Corin exploring under the bay.

We got up close with sharks to learn how they are an important part of the San Francisco Bay.

Taking our connections to the sea a bit deeper, we’ve been asking ourselves: What is our relationship to the sea as residents of California, and how might people living in other parts of the world relate to water differently? Just 5% of California was drought-free a year ago, and today it’s 91% drought-free! We took some time to simulate the Oroville Dam’s use of the emergency spillway by calculating how long it would take to fill a fish tank. The band had to find the volume of the model dam, the water flow rate, and determine their margin of error. We read more about the Oroville Dam, the recent history of the California drought, and American water usage. We decided to track our own water usage, and we analyzed that data.

Amber Band collected data on how much water we use in a day, and then made approximations for that water usage in gallons using USGS data.

How long will it take to fill the tank? Well, after calculating the flow rate of the water pump, the volume of the fish tank, converting cubic inches into gallons, and determining their margin of error (20%, Oops!)… they found that the pump outputs around 62 gallons an hour.

 

Next week we’ll continue exploring our personal connections to the sea by getting out on the Bay in kayaks, touring Angel Island, creating short film adaptations of the novels we just finished on the immigrant experience, and tracking our personal history on what brought our families to the Bay Area. We’ll also start looking at the physics of water, asking questions to find out what we need to know more about water to better understand our relationship to it.

 

Teal Band Launches into the By Sea Arc

The Teal Band launched right into The Movement of Things By Sea Arc this week. We began the week with a mind map of where the exploration phase of this arc will take us. Our large topics of study will include Immigration Stories, especially those who came through Angel Island in the first half of the 1900s, Marine Biology and Ecology, Density and Buoyancy (I expect they will all be able to spell buoyancy by the end of the arc,) Sailing, and  Sailing Cultures. 

Teal Band’s By Sea Mind Map of the Arc

We began reading The Dragon’s Child by local author Laurence Yep. The story is a fictionalized biography of Yep’s grandfather’s and father’s emigration from China to the United States via Angel Island when his father was only nine years old. Through this story and the stories of many others who came through Angel Island on their journey to America, the Teal Band (along with the Violet Band) will build empathy and understanding of their immigration experiences. In a couple of weeks, we will visit the Angel Island Immigration Station with the Violet Band, where these people were detained for weeks, months or even years at a time before being allowed into the country, and write our own historical diaries from the experiences we’ve read and heard stories of.

Reading Laurence Yep’s The Dragon’s Child

Much of our exploration will be done alongside the Violet Band this arc and we launched that partnership with an exploration into the relationships of mass, volume and density. Working together in teams, they found the mass of five different items, ceramic tiles, steel nuts, pvc pipes, wood and water, as well as their volumes using displacement. After finding and recording this data, they graphed the volume and mass (whoops! didn’t get a picture of the finished graph,) discovering they found the density of each item. They concluded that those objects that float had a density lower than water and therefore a slope less than that of water (which they found to have a 1:1 ratio of mass:volume.) This discovery allowed them to hypothesize where other objects and liquids, such as oil, would fit on our graph.

Teal and Violet worked together to explore the relationships of mass, volume and density.

After reading about the immigration tests required of the Chinese and Japanese looking to enter America through Angel Island, the Teal Band asked to be tested for entrance into the band space. They took time to interview one another, asking questions about siblings, favorite colors, and favorite animals. They also took note of the bandspace, particularly the number of specific objects in the space. When given the test on Wednesday morning, even our visitor looking to join us at Brightworks next year wanted in it.

Question: Would you have been able to remember exactly what your teacher was wearing the previous day when you were eleven years old?

Teal Band interviewing one another and studying up for their Teal Band Immigration Test.

On Thursday, the Teal Band took their exploration to Ocean Beach. We talked about how incredibly fortunate we are to live so close to this amazing body of water. We brainstormed data we could collect over the day, such as types of water vessels seen, times they were spotted and if they were headed inbound or outbound from the Golden Gate. We also took time to listen to the stories of those that crossed that vast ocean on boats, looking to start a new life on “Gold Mountain,” aka America.

Taking in the great Pacific Ocean which we learned from Gever covers almost half the planet.

Bonding at Ocean Beach as they listened to immigrant stories and The Dragon’s Child

As always, the Teal Band had to build a fire and have a fire naming ceremony. Thanks to Freddie’s bacon fat fire starters, the fire was named Porky. After story time and fire chants, the Teal Band took a walk down the beach where they found another body of water up on the beach. They wondered if it has always been there or was a result of the recent rains. They also wondered about how deep it is. Luckily, they stayed dry and no one found out the answer to that question.

We wrapped up the week with a day on the field. We had been explicit all week about the importance of kindness, both towards others and yourself. Friday morning, we joined Jay, Nathan and Evan on the field to play a few team building games. They had to work together to strategize and support one another in order to be successful. Some Teal Banders found their voices as leaders, while others were happy to sit back some and support the team. It was wonderful to hear them cheer one another on and listen to everyone’s ideas.

As a part of “Kindness Week,” Teal Band played a few games out on the field to build on teamwork.

Just a heads up! We have a number of exciting field trips ahead of this month to truly explore The Movement of Things By Sea.

We have a busy month of field trips ahead of us.

Moving From Land to Sea

The By Land Expo Night was such a blast! We got to celebrate all of the hard work from the arc with the Brightworks community.

The Amber Band celebrating with friends and family at Expo.

Elijah and his mom on the ladder he built.

Audrey sharing a demo of her moss on Mars experiment.

Before Expo though, each student shared more about their process through their presentations. They talked about all of their iterations, the experts that helped out along the way, the good times, the bad times, and all the ways their project helped them to understand the movement of things by land in their own unique way.

Rhone presenting on his drift trike, and sharing out the struggles he faced when he bent the axle of his trike.

Oscar talking about the problem he identified in the LARP cart, and how that inspired him to design a mobile LARP Armory.

Declan sharing all the iterations that happened throughout his process, and the challenges of working with copper for his steam engine catalyst.

We took time before presentations to practice many times. We also practiced each other’s presentations with a round of “presentation karaoke”, an improv game that has the presenter sharing slides they’ve never seen before. Practicing our presentations got us talking about the expectations we had for each other’s presentation and exhibition of work, some worries about stage fright, and how we could all support each other as a band.

Audrey presenting on Rhone’s drift trike process in a round of presentation karaoke.

I made little drawings of each student’s project on worry stones as a way for them to feel ready for their presentations.

Of course we took time to celebrate too. The Magenta Band welcomed us in for a post-presentation party, and we watched Finding Dory on the Thursday after Expo Night.

Magenta Band, Indigo Band, and Amber Band celebrating after all the presentations were done.

As we begin to think about some explorations by sea, we took some time to mind map out all of our curiosities. Questions bubbled up like: How do fish interact with humans? How does water exist on other planets? How does our food get here? Next week we’ll begin by getting up close with some marine life, considering some conservation efforts we might want to help out with in our own Bay Area backyard.

Amberites mind mapping possible explorations for the By Sea Arc.

Yellow Band: By Land Expo

We made it!

Chowin’ down at our trail lunch! Read on to hear about the menu.

Across the country, that is. Oh, and all the way through the By Land Arc.

Solin and Ronin working hard to finish up some stabilizers on the the wagon hoops.

For lack of better words, HOLY CRAP. We did so much during this arc! We moved really heavy things, moved hundreds of things, studied simple machines and the scientific method, dug deep into 19th Century North American history, and built, built, built along the way. During Expo Week(s), all of these strands come together in such a beautiful way, and By Land has been no exception.

Thank you so much to all the families, the Blue and Magenta Bands for coming to support us during our presentation!

Let’s start with the Trail Picnic. A few weeks ago, I proposed the idea to Nicole and Nathan. Thankfully, they were amenable, and we all agreed that it would be super fun to make food together and then eat it in a little picnic style lunch. On the calendar it went. Along with it, of course, a trip to the grocery store a few days before. With this date on the calendar to look forward to, our work chugged right along. The buzz of approaching expo presentations adds a bit of pep to everyone’s step; the end is in sight, are we going to finish?

We kept on rolling the dice in our Emmigrant Trails board game, and kiddos started to make it to the end! Here, Sakira works on an illustration of the farm she’d like to start upon arriving in upstate New York.

Abir and Oscar work on installing the tongue of our wagon. We had to use a bolt instead of screws so that the tongue would be able to move and ‘steer’ the wagon.

For many of the Yellow Banders (and a few Red Banders as well) our board game really tied all of our strands together this arc. Not only did we make it ourselves, but the element of both chance and choice coupled with the history made the game fun and engaging in a nail-biting, heart pounding kind of way. Even though the Red Banders didn’t make trail journals and play the game with us, they were deeply interested in the process. Working on the wagon in the afternoon was a great chance for us to share the things we learned, weaving us together as the Beehive even more.

Oh no, Emilio pulled the cholera card! It’s a good thing he also picked up some medicine for the disease that killed tens of thousands of emmigrants while at Fr. Bridger! Emilio had been moving slowly through the game, so after leaving Ft. Bridger he also chose to take Donner Pass–yikes! Winter was fast approaching, and he knew he needed to take a shorter route, so he decided to go for it.

Below: phew, Oscar’s cat didn’t get cholera! Also, Oscar, you brought a cat with you?!?!

2017-02-08 18.58.44

Oh, and the wagon! Wow that wagon was huge! But also, it was the real size, which I think was really impactful for the kids. Like I talked about in one of my last few posts, this project really beautifully wove together our bigger picture goals with day to day work and play. Each day, our planning check-in consisted mostly of teamwork reminders: How will we communicate with each other while we’re working? How should we use the tools in our space and around others’ bodies? What should you do if you find yourself without a job? The Red and Yellow Banders knew what would come next in terms of construction, it was their design after all!

Abir developed a beautiful strategy for finding the middle of the front end of the wagon–the spot to attach the wagon tongue. First, he measured a certain number of inches from one side, then he made a mark. Then, he measured the same distance from the other side to see if it met his mark. He continued doing this, adding an inch each time until he met in the middle.

Oscar, Abir and Emilio moving the finished wagon tongue into place.

Oscar proposed that we build the wagon hoops like an upside down letter ‘U,’ out of 3 pieces of wood, instead of other proposals that included as many 5.

After initially installing the hoops, we realized that they were really wobbly! So, we started adding stabilizers, relying heavily on those triangles we know make everything better when building with wood.

Then, all of a sudden, it was Expo week. But actually, when you researched, designed, built, redesigned, planned, and built as a team, getting ready to tell people about what you’ve been working on isn’t really hard! I was so impressed with the detailed and thoughtful questions and answers we brainstormed in order to frame our presentation. The kids were clearly ready to get in front of the community and talk.

While I don’t have many good pictures of our presentation–it was dark, I was presenting–I’d like to share a favorite moment: After we opened up to questions from the audience, a Magenta Band member (Ally I think?) asked a great question, and one we hadn’t practiced an answer to. “How did the teamwork aspect of working on the wagon go?” I asked the Red and Yellow Banders who were presenting to put up a quick ‘thumb-o-meter’ to show from thumbs-up to thumbs-down how they felt about working on a team to build the wagon. Immediately, the audience saw an array of thumbs, some up, some down, some in the middle. So, I asked a few kiddos to share some more about their reaction. “Because it’s hard to take everyone’s different ideas and put them together,” May explained with her thumb in the middle. And Quinn appreciated that, “There’s always someone there to help you with a tool if you need it.”

With our presentation out of the way, our focus turned back to finishing up our projects and explorations. A few kiddos were still a roll or two away from the West or North in Emmigrant Trails; we set the goal of installing two hoops in time for Expo Night. With the youngest students here at Brightworks, I think I like having our presentation several days before Expo Night, because after the presentation, they really get it: people are coming to look at our work, and it’s our job to have something we can show and talk about. The work in those last few days is always so focused, kiddos ask me so often, “How can I help?”

Reyahn works on stabilizing the wagon hoops.

Sakira, Nolan and Khalilah became the go-to pros working on the gondola. Here, Khalilah measures the length of the gondola flat on the table, in order to figure out what modifications the team will need to make so that the gondola can be installed on the steps up to the cork floor in our space.

Oh, and we got to start actually getting ready for our trail picnic! Really, what better way to close out the By Land arc than with a celebration around food?! First, we researched what foods the folks on different journeys would have eaten, and learned some interesting things along the way. Like how folks on trails West stored their eggs in their barrels of flour and cornmeal so they wouldn’t break on the bumpy journey. And how folks on the Underground Railroad foraged for much of their food. Former slaves needed to be able to move quickly from one place to the next, and leave no trace of their presence. So, they didn’t carry a lot of food. Instead, they ate greens, roots and berries that they picked along the way. This made for a pretty great menu at the trail lunch, because the food of the Oregon/California Trail is frankly pretty boring, and doesn’t include a lot of fresh fruits or veggies.

Devlin researching foods we should get at the grocery store.

Sakira researching food we should get at the grocery store. I think this is the moment she inferred that along with blackberries, folks on the Underground Railroad may have gotten to forage for other berries too–bring on the wild strawberries and raspberries and blueberries!

And, for one last field trip of the arc, I thought we should do some foraging of our own of course! Where does a kid who grew up in the suburbs learn about what’s safe to pick and eat here in the big city? Mackenzie of course! The Blue Band collaborator gave me a few great tips of things we’d be able to find in any park in the city, so a foraging trip to Glen Canyon Park to hunt for miner’s lettuce and chickweed went on the calendar.

Oh, and of course we should shake some cream into butter while we’re on the bus! How else are we supposed to make biscuits?!

Nolan stuffs a handful of miner’s lettuce into Sakira’s backpack.

Because her backpack full of lettuce is SO HEAVY.

Finally, Expo and Trail Lunch day arrived! Thank you so much to Lisa and Kerry for helping cook and setup in the morning. We made rice, beans and biscuits in the morning with the Red and Yellow Bands. Then while the kiddos were at the park, we put together some fresh fruit, washed our foraged greens from the day before, and put the biscuits in the oven. So many kids asked, “How can I help?” all morning, and even though it was a bit hectic and we had to be very patient and take lots of turns to do everything, it was such a great morning. When the Bumblebees got pack from the park to see all the food laid out on the front table, what a great moment. And then we got to sit outside in our courtyard with the big kids from the Orchard eyeballing our feast as they walked back to school for lunch! I even heard Khalilah tell a few as they passed, “We made all this ourselves!”

Oscar and Khalilah took turns to cut the butter into the flour for our biscuit dough. Did I mention that we used butter and buttermilk we made ourselves?!

Reyahn, Sakira and Nolan were all very excited to work with Lisa, Nolan’s mom. It made for some tricky turn-taking, but I think it all worked out!

Thank you Kerry for helping serve! And thank you Lindsay for joining us!

Now my friends, like I always tell the kiddos, all good things must come to an end, including the By Land arc. I’ll wrap it all up with a few pictures of your children hanging in the air on the pulley machine (aka block and tackle) they built earlier in the arc. Because learning should be playful, and we certainly played our way across continents the past few months.

The Experience of Expression From the Teal Banders

The Teal Band has been working nonstop on their projects and even handled the news that their presentations had been moved up a day to help out another band quite well. What follows are their own words about this Expression phase.

Piper: So far to learn about sheep and wool I went to Slide Ranch and talked to the person who takes care of the goats and sheep. She told me all about how they send the wool to a place called Lompoc to get cleaned and turned into yarn. I also completed a map showing the route that you would go on if you were going to Slide Ranch.

I’m having fun. Next, I’ll work on the written part. I’m making a book with 6 page that’s like a comic book. A sheep is the main character and it’s talking about how it’s wool is getting processed into yarn.

Freddie: My project is about Urban coyotes. I wanted to learn about why they are coming to urban areas like the city. I have been able to make a map, write a research paper, and start my slideshow.  One of my main problems was focus. I couldn’t really focus and my experts weren’t writing back to me, so I got some new ones and sure enough they replied. It was hard to find experts on a subject that hasn’t been a real project. Next project I will focus more.

Jared: I am working on a project with my friend Patrick. We, as our project are making a RC car. So far In my project with Patrick, I have learned many things.

  • I’ve learned how to solder
  • I learned how to use a glue gun and be cautious.
  • And even a little bit how a RC car works!

The first thing we needed to do was to convince our educators to give us money to buy the parts, which we did both. When our parts arrived, I brought in popsicle sticks to build the frame of the car. After we made the frame of the car and showed it to our expert he said that we needed one more part and that our car frame was lopsided and that would be hard to work with, and since we’re waiting for one more part might as well make a new one. This was bad because we only had five days left till we have to finish and the frame took more than a WEEK. So the next day, we got right to work. Patrick started to work on the car frame and I worked on presentations and took some photos of him working to include in the presentation.

Patrick: Jared and I started the project half of the arc with the idea of building an RC car. We had some trouble focusing on writing our declaration, but we managed to finish it before the second week after winter break.

The two of us managed to get our declaration approved, and this is where we were like, “Ok. We’re really doing this.” We asked Jack to help us put a parts list together so we don’t order parts that don’t work together. We also asked Aiden to give us a soldering class. He taught us a few techniques for soldering and let us try to use them.

We spent about a month deciding the final parts that we would order. The parts arrived the next week and we got to work on our frame. Jared brought in a box of large Popsicle sticks that we cut then hot glued together into a chassis. We asked Aiden if he would help us solder our parts, only for him to tell us that our frame was lopsided and it would be very hard to make it work, and that we needed a new part so another part didn’t get fried. He suggested that we make a new frame while we wait for the part, and once we finished that he would help us.

We stop there, for there is the end of our story, or rather all that we have. We still have to finish our car, finish our presentation and practice it, and then build a poster board for Expo night.

 

Aurora:  For my project, I decided to work with Nora and Selina on a project about ancient civilizations. There are three main components to the project. The first component is personal civilizations. In this part of the project, each person in the project made a Google doc where we could write about our civilizations. The second component of the project is the trade route map. This we all worked on together. We printed out a map of North America, got some plexiglass and we traced our trade routes onto the plexiglass and then laid them on top of the map and put the plexiglass and the map in a frame. The last component of the project is our models. The models were in my opinion, the hardest part. We had quite a few iterations on our models. The first one we made out of paper they looked crude and ugly. The second and third iterations were made out of card stock and the final iteration was made out of foam board.

Selina: In case you don’t know about it, I am going to quickly explain my project. I did (and am still doing) a project with Aurora and Nora. We are each designing our own civilization in very different locations. I’m in a forest, Nora’s in a prairie, and Aurora’s in an icy snowy place. We each designed our own mode of transportation that would best suit our civilizations and made scale models of them. We also made maps of our civilizations and our trade routes.

One of the things I learned through doing this is how to make a good to-scale model. This involves designing, cutting, and putting it together. To design, I decided to use SketchUp, which is an app that is used to design, well, anything. Sketchup is awesome, but it also involves learning how to use it, which is a given, I guess. Anyways, after I learned how to use SketchUp, I designed my first iteration in it. At the time, I thought it was pretty good, so I made my first paper model, then I made a to-scale paper model. I made two more paper models, but I added and changed some things. After four paper models, I decided I was ready to make my final foam board model. I got the foam board, marked it all out, cut it, then glued it together. Sort of anticlimactic. But, I did learn how to properly cut things with small Exacto blades. I also learned how to re-think my models and how to use advice from other people to improve what I built.

One challenge we faced was adding the element of randomness to our resources. We did this by using something called wheeldecide.com. This was not a very good system, but it was the only one we could find.  This website worked by having you insert a list of things you would like it to choose from, then click a wheel. The wheel would spin, then it would give you the answer. The problem with this system is that it takes 5 seconds for the wheel to spin, and it needed to be spun at least 24 times. If you do the math, that means about two minutes of spinning every day, not counting recording the list and putting it into Google sheets, which takes most of the time. In total, it would take about ten minutes to get our resources, every day. But wait, there’s more! We also traded with each other and used our resources to build things, which takes about 5 minutes. That adds up to fifteen minutes of resource stuff, per day! That might not seem like much, but we had a lot of stuff to do, and sometimes we would skip resources entirely, which means double time tomorrow! Yay! Basically, it took a lot of time every day. So, we had a problem. Now the question is, how do we solve it? Unfortunately, this isn’t one of the stories where we figure out some genius solution that is super amazing and all. I asked my sister (Amelia) if she knew any solutions. She kindly answered that she could really easily code something that would give us a list of all our resources in less than a second. So, thanks to my sister, we can gain our resources and move on with our lives.

Through this project, I learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned was how to work together with my friends, how to stay focused and include everyone’s opinion. That is definitely something that is crucial in projects and friendships.

 

Nora, Patrick, and Huxley’s words to come soon 🙂

Iterate, iterate, iterate…

Each student made a mini zine to collect their feedback.

The Amber Band has been hard at work on their expression projects. Last week our goal was to have a second iteration ready for feedback. Each project built off of its first iteration, incorporating feedback from experts, and utilizing more advanced tools and materials. Students sought out feedback from fresh eyes in the Brightworks community, asking questions like: What do you think the purpose of my project is? What did you learn from my project? What are you still wondering about my project?

Elijah learned that he would need to make some structural readjustments to his ladder to make it safer. He was quick to take apart his second iteration. For iteration three he’ll broaden the base, fix some joint gaps, and add more support on the sides.

 

Declan was having some trouble getting the soldering metal to stick to his copper piston. He cleaned his copper well, helping the metal to stick, but now the edges were bumpy. To smooth out the joints he used a blowtorch and some welding tools.

 

Norabelle, Khalia, and Ella got some feedback to clean up the surface of their machine by replacing the tape with hot glue. They’ve already started replacing the tape for iteration three, and continue to add more chain reactions to their Rube Goldberg Machine.

 

Oscar did some user testing of his RFID tracker, and learned that the BWX LARPing community is eager to use it.

 

Audrey got some feedback on the variables of her experiment, and learned that she wouldn’t need to make an airlock, just an antechamber.

 

Felix is working on incorporating more visuals into the third iteration of his infographic to show the many effects of walking meditation.

 

Rhone’s second iteration is looking ready for the final design, using large PVC pipes as the wheels for his drift trike.

Yellow Band: By Land, Weeks 10 and 11

“Piper, this is so meta.”

Folks, things are really weaving together over here in the Beehive. And it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.

The Yellow Band participates in a ‘river crossing’ team building activity AND trail simulation.

As you read last week, we’ve been studying the emmigrant trails of the mid-1800s in North America, and working on building a covered wagon during our afternoon project time. The name of the game this week has been TEAMWORK.

First, we wrote ourselves a definition of teamwork at the beginning of an afternoon project work session.

Oscar and Ronin made a great team working on the prairie schooner. One drilled holes, the other followed to drive in screws. And zoom in to read the whole definition the group came up with!

I love the kids’ definition because it is both proactive and attitudinal; it gives them concrete things they can do to help their team, and it tells them how they should do those things. They should ask, “How can I help?” in order to join a team, and they should listen to the type of help the team needs. A team tries to solve a problem together, and they look out for each other, trying to keep each other feeling safe and secure the whole time. Who could ask for more?!

And we had so many different chances to practice working as a team!

Quinn places magazines onto rolled–not folded–paper circles, while Emilio records data in the table.

Hunting for books at the library!

Working on afternoon projects!

But this is where it got meta. I checked the calendar and noticed that the Yellow Band was signed up to lead Friday circle. We’ve also been playing our way across North America in our Emmigrant Trails board game. Back then, those bridges and tunnels we’ve been studying hadn’t been built yet, so pioneers on the trail to California and fugitives on the Underground Railroad had to figure out a different way to get across rivers and over mountains. So, I decided it was time for us to try a simulation.

Playing our board game means rolling the dice and moving your piece in our Monopoly-style game. You’ll either land on a ‘Chance’ or ‘Opportunity’ space. Land on a ‘Chance,’ and you’ll have to roll the dice to find out the outcome to a challenge emmigrants faced on the trail. Land on ‘Opportunity,’ and learn a cool fact about the trail! Then, make sure to update your trail diary to show the progress you’ve made and record everything that’s happened to you along the way.

Devlin’s journal entry reads, “I got blackberries galore!” Runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad often foraged for food, making blackberries a special treat–watch out for thorns though!

Sakira’s opening entry in her journal let’s everyone know who she is–both her slave name and her real name.

Oh no, Emilio’s wagon broke an axle! It’s a good thing they’re almost to Ft. Laramie!

Oscar has been particularly interested in the outbreaks of cholera on the trail. This disease spread in contaminated water at many of the frequented campsites along the trail, killing thousands of pioneers. So, when he drew the cholera card from the ‘Chance’ pile, he wrote extensively about it in his journal, taking on the voice of an emmigrant.

Simulations are great. They can really help us take the facts we’ve been learning out of the book, and feel some empathy for the historical people who actually experience the things we’re learning about–make our learning real and meaningful. I decided to lead the kiddos through a river crossing simulation by playing a game that is a common team building activity. At the garden for Class Meeting, I explained that the sidewalk would be the river. Our purple wiggle cushions would be our supplies. We would need to use our supplies to get across the river, and we needed all of our supplies to make it to the other side. That meant that we couldn’t let go of them while in the middle of the river. After several false starts. the kiddos started to feel a bit of that frustration and tension of something being both challenging and rewarding. And, they started to figure out a system.

Devlin had an extra challenge: he had to carefully place each purple dot, and then step on it right away so that our supplies wouldn’t float away down the river!

At first, the pioneers tended to hop from one purple dot to the next. The problem with this strategy was that it tended to leave a dot–aka some of our supplies–without a Yellow Bander standing on it. We had to start over so many times because of this initial approach! As I explained to the travelers, weaving in the story of our cross-country journey, we lost our flour, our bacon, and even our grandmother’s cuckoo clock before we got the river crossing right! We were frustrated, but that’s OK. Our frustration pushed us to find a better approach to crossing that river.

Nolan, Oscar and Reyahn look back to make sure Sakira has safely made it from the first dot to the second.

We realized that we had to start looking out for each other, but positively. That meant changing something about our own approach, and helping our fellow travelers along the way. The kiddos realized that they couldn’t just hop from one spot to the next. They needed to walk forward, moving just one foot forward at a time, so that the person behind them had a second to catch up. The Yellow Banders needed to be aware of both the person behind them and the person ahead of them. They needed to move at just the right speed–not too fast, and not too slow–so that the folks behind them could get across, and so that no supplies ahead of them would be left to float away down the river.

2017-01-25 10.42.09

When we made it across, we all agreed: we had an activity to share with the school on Friday at morning circle.

We were able to get the whole school across the river with us!

And that’s how we took one thread, and made it meta.