Things are really coming together over here in the Beehive. And also coming apart a bit.
At the end of last school year, as the faculty and staff brainstormed arc topics for the coming year, we were sure about one thing: we intended to spend the 2016-17 schoolyear working hard to weave math skill building work into our explorations. Plus, a few weeks before school started, the lower school team (Mackenzie, Melissa, Nicole, Lisa and myself) spent a week at a workshop at UCDS in Seattle learning about how this progressive, project-based school integrates math in theme-driven provocations. In these first few weeks of By Land, it feels like these intentions are becoming reality over in the Yellow Band.
A few of the important take-aways from this workshop included techniques for incorporating manipulatives into a math practice, ways to encourage skill-sharing and cross-pollination among budding mathematicians, and seeing mathematical reasoning in a wide range of activities–not just computation and arithmetic. So, in the reading I’ve been doing about the history of the Pony Express, I’ve also been taking notes on details that would make great morning vitamins. AKA, Pony Express Math.
We start with a story: “You were riding across the prairie, your mochila loaded up with 20 pounds of mail, when a strong gust of wind blew open the pockets holding all of the letters! Some mail flew out, and scattered in the tall grasses. You had to stop, and discovered that you only had 13 pounds of mail left in your mochila. How much mail was lost?” Each student models the problem with an equation (or number sentence) in their journal, then uses a manipulative to solve the problem. And don’t forget, you’re not done until you’ve shown your work in order to prove to me that your answer is true! In other words, you must BUILD, DRAW, RECORD.
So far, I’m liking the rhythm of this practice. We start one morning with a story and one problem to practice a targeted skill. The next day, the kiddos practice the skill more, often on a worksheet I make with several similar problems. Each day, we wrap up our exploration by sharing our strategies and insights at Morning Meeting. This is a part of the practice that is really important to me, and that our schedule allows us to prioritize. Not only do these nascent scientists need a chance to verbalize and explain their own thinking, but they need to hear the different and divergent opinions of their peers. Because there are many different ways to solve one problem, and by listening deeply to these varied approaches, we enrich our own understanding.
Finally, this blog post wouldn’t be complete without sharing one bit of bittersweet news: a member of our Yellow family is moving on to a different school. Our friend Rebecca will still be an important part of the Brightworks community, we just won’t get to see her every day like we’re used to. We got to send her off today with a sweet letter that the rest of us wrote together, and we’re looking forward to seeing her at community Friday clubs and Expo Nights.
Oh, and families, there’s a surprise in the mail for you! Literally!
These last two weeks have been quite an adventure for the Teal Band and the US. To start out, the Teal Band took a look at the results of their “Getting to School” questionnaire they had received so far. It was exciting to look at the data collected about the parents’ journeys to school, as well as where they were living at their child’s age. They noticed how many more parents traveled to school on their own or with friends, compared to the students of Brightworks, where the majority of the kids are arriving by car. They also began brainstorming new ways to use the data, such as planning car and walkpools to minimize the carbon footprint of getting to Brightworks.
We saw the official launch of NaNoWriMo on November 1st and celebrated this by walking to Maxfield’s Cafe to write among the other adults there on their computers. While being incredibly productive, everyone enjoyed the treats they bought to eat and were excited when they saw a woman in there wearing her “2015 NaNoWriMo Winner” t-shirt.
As part of our exploration around the movement of education by land, we began looking into the busing that swept the US in the 60s and 70s, attempting to desegregate schools. Teal Band listed why they like being in Teal Band and why they are comfortable being where they are. Soon the band was being “bused” off to new schools, the Amber and Indigo Bands. Their initial reactions were largely that of excitement and wonder. Once they returned to the Teal Band, their reactions had flipped and many said they felt a lack of belonging and confusion. We discussed how something that was intended to “make things better” could have such a different outcome.
With Election Day on November 8th, we spent a full day reviewing 13 of the California propositions. They asked all the hard questions to get to the heart of each proposition. Where is this money coming from? What other group(s) will be losing out as a result? Who is backing this? Who is opposing it? It was amazing to hear from all the families how much their child helped them look deeper at their vote as a result of our conversations.
They were tasked with finding our way around the city to our field trip destinations. Many wanted to jump right onto Google Maps, but quickly found out that they were going to start by using a Muni map and schedule. After coming up with a few different routes, we did use Google Maps to compare our results. We did a fairly good job planning our route using the map and schedule, but we also learned a number of tricks using Google Maps and reflected on what was most important to us regarding our travels, such as cost, time, and method of travel. As a result of all this work, we spent the next morning working on NaNoWriMo back at Maxfield’s and the afternoon at Little Skillet, where we also enjoyed some chicken, waffles and grits (because we have GRIT!)
After listening to a podcast entitled, “Why Busing Didn’t End Segregation,” on the Boston busing program, we also watched a video on why we live where we live in an attempt to see how urban geography creates segregation. We saw how particular groups of people end up in certain areas as the result of transportation and the layout of cities and suburbs. We discussed how it was this sort of “natural segregation” that led to busing programs in parts of the country where segregation was not originally law.
On Friday, we spent some time looking at how we can use outlines to help us organize our thoughts before writing and used these skills to reflect on the discussion we had the day before on busing and segregation. We will continue to work on outlining to organize our thoughts, notes and writing.
These past two weeks have been jam packed! Between field trips, projects, and assessment meetings, we’ve been so busy.
After we finished moving Gever’s rock, we started to study the US Postal Service, because they move massive numbers of things every day. I had this crazy idea that after moving something massive, we should move a massive number of things–like I said, crank the scale WAY UP.
So, I asked Karen–Jack’s mom, and Tinkering School Manager–if she could pick us up 1,000 takeout boxes.
“Piper, this is ridculous!” proclaimed the Yellow Banders, as they gleefully folded box after box, taking on the jobs of folder, tosser, double and pile pusher. I know it’s ridiculous, that’s part of what made it work!
We started by watching a bit of a short documentary on the Postal Service, then got to work folding the boxes. As we folded more and more, I heard many kiddos discussing possible strategies for moving them. Maybe we could fill up the wagon, and bring the wagon all the way back and forth between the Beehive and the Orchard. Maybe each of us should carry armfuls to the Orchard, then come back to the Beehive for more. But, as the days passed and the pile grew, it became clear that this was not a viable plan. When we got to the part in the documentary about the Pony Express, the light switch flipped.
It became clear that we needed to break up the distance with relays, just like the riders on the Pony Express. One person would pick up some boxes and take them a certain distance, then pass them on to the next ‘rider.’ This ‘rider’ would take the boxes a bit farther, then pass them off to the last ‘rider,’ who would run the last few feet and drop the box off on the deck. Donezo Washington!
I can’t believe how much fun we had doing this! Plus, we’ve started to dive deep into the brief but captivating history of the Pony Express, with lots of interesting morning math vitamins along the way.
Oh, and our afternoon projects have been awesome too! With a small group of Red and Yellow banders, I’m helping build what is basically a block and tackle (sshh, don’t tell them that!). It helps that I’ve never made one before, so we get to research, tinker, and discover our way through the process together. As you may remember from our last post, we started by building a frame, then mounting the pulleys to the frame. Then, we started to experiment, trying to balance a drill on one side with something lighter on the other end of the rope.
There was something we were missing though, so we went back and did a bit more research, learning that the mistake we made was to attach all of the pulleys to the frame. Armed with this knowledge, we went back to our design and made some changes, tinkering as we went. We’d need to fix the rope to the frame so that it would act almost like an extra person to help carry the weight. Then, figure out how to use the pulleys if not all of them are fixed in place, but rather have some that are movable so that the weight gets distributed among many lengths of rope.
Next week, we’ll figure out how to add a harness (and maybe need to build a bigger frame too) so that a Beehive kiddo can lift another Beehive kiddo! Using wheels!
At Brightworks we have certain traditions in the beginning of a new arc. Gever always gives a presentation that covers the scope of the arc topic and the bands always have some sort of brainstorm where they map out their interests. Given that the Arc is By Land, I was expecting that my students would want to make some sort of vehicle, but no! When we sat down to brainstorm the Blue Band expressed an overwhelming interest in studying how early people migrated across continents and how the First Peoples in North America lived.
In the past weeks, the Blue Banders have explored the most basic of by land transportation: Walking! What circumstances and mutations led to humans’ ability to walk? We uncovered some answers in the documentary The Origin of Us by Dr. Alice Roberts and in the copious books we brought back from the library. We learned that walking upright also freed early human hands to create tools.
We were visited by three experts in the evolutionary relevance of flint knapping! Last year Selina, Huxley and Freddie made a documentary about this very topic. In the process of making this documentary, they learned how to make stone tools.
After establishing safety guidelines and explaining how obsidian shatters in what is called a Hertzian cone. Huxley, Selina and Freddie showed the blue banders how to make their own obsidian and chert flakes.
The Blue Band got to use their creations to slice through cordage and cut an apple. Giving them some insight into what it may have been like to rely on stone tools of their own creation.
The Blue Band has started a new novel study to accompany our study of First Peoples. Sees Behind Trees, by Michael Dorris, is a coming of age story about a nearly blind boy who learns to use his other senses to find his place in the tribe.
This beautifully written book has been a great resource to us as the band writes their novels. We’ve been savoring the rich language, noticing how the author builds suspense, and keeping track of all the different ways to say, “said”.
So much about reading a novel is about empathizing with another person’s experience. To connect with the main character in our story’s experience we’ve been playing games and taking on challenges that put us in our own senses. At Potrero Hill community garden the Blue Band lead each other on blindfolded sense walks. Ramses gives Ronan sprig of mint to taste and Isaac leads Sadie down the trail.
To delve deeper into what it might be like for our main character we turned to one of my favorite podcasts Invisibilia. This episode tells a story of a blind man who explains how other people’s expectations of him helped him to see. Because his mom expected him from a young age to do all the things a person with sight to do he developed a way to navigate the world just like everyone else.
What a wonderful path these kids chose. I’m excited to continue exploring it with them!
It’s the first week of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the Amber Band is digging in! NaNoWriMo has become a rich tradition at Brightworks. For some of the Amber Band though, myself included, participating in NaNoWriMo is new territory. To help us get into the writing zone, we’ve decided to transform our upstairs band space into a cozy writing nook.
We wanted a creative space for each of us to work on our daily NaNoWriMo goals, and so we brainstormed what we might need to do to transform the space. Teams quickly formed to tackle building a roof to reduce sound, curtains to block out light, furniture to sit on, and a mural to inspire creativity. Students created scale drawings of our band space to map out plans before we jumped right into building.
Then each team had to tackle problems involving volume, and surface area. What’s the surface area of the wood panel for our mural, and how much paint will we need to buy to cover it? How big can we build the chairs, given the volume of our space?
Designing a modular roof was very tricky, and we’re still working on it. The team wanted to use cardboard as our roofing material, but we couldn’t find any panels that were the exact size of our roof area. We worked through this constraint by designing tiles for the roof. To help determine how many tiles, and what size to cut them, the roofing team had to identify factor pairs of the roof size. What’s the largest size tile piece we can cut from the cardboard sheets we bought, and how many cardboard sheets will it take to cover our roof?
Of course, we also took time this week to set our NaNoWriMo goals, analyze stories, and write! Each student set a personal goal for how they’ll be using their time during NaNoWriMo, and we’re working together to help one another through this journey. Some students experimented with using The Most Dangerous Writing App to help with this. The app is designed to encourage writers to just keep writing, and if they don’t, the app deletes their text. We’ll have all of December to edit our work, but for now students are encouraged to turn off their inner editor.
Redesigning our upstairs bandspace into a cozy writing nook got our band thinking about shelter and home. We talked about how people seek out shelter as they move by land. Next week we’ll explore what causes people to move by land, and the effect that movement can have.
After an amazing week in the Mendocino Woodlands, the Teal Band had to come back to the reality that is Brightworks and the start of a new arc and the launch of NaNoWriMo. They began their week with a visit from Piper’s father Evan, who shared his process of writing children’s picture books. The story of writing his first book, shared with the band ways to look to their personal experiences for story ideas, even if the story takes you to a fantastical world where animals talk, drive trucks, and hold down jobs. During the remainder of the week, the band looked at elements of writing, character development, and plot lines. They mapped out the plot of Evan’s Giraffe Rescue Service, seeing it as a rollercoaster, with the climax of the story peaking at the top of the first hill.
On Tuesday afternoon, we had the opportunity to hear from a few members of the Mission District and Bernal Heights’ Hispanic communities. They shared their connection to Alex Nieto and his story in preparation for those attending Loco Bloco’s play, “On the Hill: I am Alex Nieto.” They also shared stories of others in the community, many of whom are greatly affected by the gentrification occurring in San Francisco. This is not always an easy conversation to have, but it is an important one that we will continue throughout the year and for years to come.
On our way to catch BART on Wednesday morning, we took a slight detour down Clarion Alley. This alley sits between Mission Street, a street that still holds on to much of its original Mission District roots, and Valencia Street, one that has seen a lot of change due to gentrification. It is home to numerous murals painted by the Clarion Alley Mural Project. We took the time to stop and look at a few that addressed struggles of San Francisco and the changes its facing as its population continues to grow.
On Thursday, we really began to look at the “movement of education by land,” a concept we will be focusing on this arc. We started our journey into this exploration by watching the documentary “On the Way to School” (trailer is below.) It follows four groups of children around the world on their often dangerous and long journeys to get to school. When asked to reflect on the children’s experiences, Selina wrote:
“I think that a lot of children across the world have to make long journeys like this to get to school because a lot of towns don’t have enough resources to have a school. So they send their children on journeys to other bigger towns that can afford to have schools. I think that the reason that the parents want them to go to school is that they didn’t get a chance to have an education…I think that the reason that these kids want to go to school so much, even though the journey is so treacherous, is because they are all very poor, and this opportunity to learn can not only make them happier but let them get a job that can support them and their families. Even though these journeys are hard, I think that school is something that is so amazing to these children that they would do almost anything to go to school.”
While we are not passing elephants, riding horses or walking upwards of four hours, each of us makes a journey to school everyday and we will be looking into those journeys, how they affect us, and the effects they have on others and the planet.
One of the ways the Teal Band will be looking at these journeys to school is by collecting data using a school wide questionnaire. On Friday morning they brainstormed a number of questions they felt would lead to strong explorations and provocations, and created a Google Form. They are interested in comparing the journeys of the students of Brightworks to those of their parents.
We wrapped up the week with a bit more work on our bridge storage wall. They worked as a team to support one another as they constructed the frame and cut and attached the shelves. Progress is being made.