Orange Band: Human, Week 4

One of Gever’s foundational principles for Brightworks is to cultivate memorable learning experiences with children. Remember when we practiced letter formation using shaving cream? Or when we drew that hopscotch on the sidewalk? Or when we gathered rocks from all over the school to make our labyrinth? Or our first glimpse of roots growing from the potato cuttings in our flower boxes? Not to boast, but I feel like we’ve had so many of those this year, and lots happened this week.

We’re working on making these mummies/casts/sculptures of our body parts. They’re 3D, pretty sturdy, see-through, and begging to get filled up with something…

Sadie holds up her first arm. This one took a few tries: at first, kiddos were wrapping the tape a little too tight, and Sadie didn't have sleeves on. But, we could already tell that the results would be super cool, so we stuck with it.

Sadie holds up her first arm. This one took a few tries: at first, kiddos were wrapping the tape a little too tight, and Sadie didn’t have sleeves on. But, we could already tell that the results would be super cool, so we stuck with it.

Tesla helps Oscar mummify his arm. Wrap sticky-side-up for the first layer, so the tape doesn't stick to their sleeve or skin. Then, do a layer that is sticky-side down. Make sure that your finger can fit between the tape and the body to make sure the tape isn't too tight. And don't worry about making mistakes--a bit more tape makes the limb stronger!

Tesla helps Oscar mummify his arm. Wrap sticky-side-up for the first layer, so the tape doesn’t stick to their sleeve or skin. Make sure that your finger can fit between the tape and the body to make sure the tape isn’t too tight. Then, do a layer that is sticky-side down. And don’t worry about making mistakes–a bit more tape makes the sculpture stronger!

Pi Day at the Exploratorium!

We spent the afternoon at the Exploratorium for Pi Day on Monday!

We spent the afternoon at the Exploratorium for Pi Day on Monday!

We’ve been talking about our brains as muscles, the persistence of identity, and the theories and experiments of Carol Dweck and Jean Piaget in particular. So has Amanda Oberski in her weekly class on developmental psychology! This week, she’s been hanging out with the Teal Band. So, they got to to try out running Piaget’s tasks on some actual children. We tried a few conservation tasks–number, length, volume, mass–and the mountain task which examines visual perception and empathy. It was awesome to have experiments done on our own brains! Plus, we had a really interesting conversation with our scientists about their results and what these results about the development of our brains. It was an awesome reminder that we are all different, growing and changing.

Oscar considers which cat would get more fish in this conservation task.

Oscar considers which cat would get more fish in this conservation task.

We’re working on reading biographies, and discussing them in book clubs that include all students in the lower school. These discussions are always so memorable; this week we talked about similarities and differences between the people we are reading about. One thing we learned: MLK Jr. and James Baldwin both fought for civil rights, but one encouraged non-violent discourse, while the other thought that perhaps the time had come for more forceful action.

Isaac wrote on our venn diagram about King's argument for using words to fight for civil rights.

Isaac wrote on our venn diagram about King’s argument for using words to fight for civil rights.

And then we went to the Cal Academy on Thursday morning! We focused on the ‘Becoming Human’ exhibit, and also had some choice time to wander around the rainforest, aquarium and earthquake displays. Building on our exploration of human evolution for the past few weeks, we had an AWESOME discussion of which species we think can first be called Human. Some said Lucy, an australopithecus afarensis, was Human because, despite her smaller brain, she walked upright. Others argued that Homo Erectus like Turkana Boy were the first Humans because not only did they walk upright, they ran, made tools, and cooked using fire.

This museum worked happened to pass us with us this cart of hominin skulls right as we entered the museum! Henri was so generous with his time, explaining to us which skull was which. Thank you!

This museum worker happened to pass us with us this cart of hominin skulls right as we entered the museum! Henri was so generous with his time, explaining to us which skull was which. Thank you!

On Friday, Nathan helped the Orange Banders work on their pinhole cameras. Here, Sakira helps Gita carefully use a box cutter to cut the hole for her tracing paper. We’re approaching these as a metaphor for our eyes. Kiddos needed to finish sealing their boxes with gaffer tape, then install tracing paper (the ‘brain’), then think about how to improve on this basic design. Some painted the inside of their box black, others thought about creating a hood like some of the first photographers used.

On Friday, Nathan helped the Orange Banders work on their pinhole cameras. We're approaching these as a metaphor for our eyes. Kiddos needed to finish sealing their boxes with gaffer tape, then install tracing paper (the 'brain'), then think about how to improve on this basic design. Some painted the inside of their box black, others thought about creating a hood like some of the first photographers used.

Here, Sakira helps Gita carefully use a box cutter to cut the hole for her tracing paper.

Till next week!

Blue+Teal: Upper School Band Swap Week 2

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As the Upper School Band Swap of 2016 continues, and I got to hang out with the Teal Band last week.

Same Curriculum: Civil Rights.
Different Kids: From the oldest kids of Upper School to the youngest.

It’s funny to reflect on this past week. I teach at this school that is revolutionary in its curriculum development and freedom. As teachers, we can change and shift and grow in experimental, unconventional ways. But in this great experiment, here we are, doing something pretty conventional: each collaborator is teaching the same mini-course 4 weeks in a row but to different groups of kids.

For me, what’s been truly extraordinary about this process so far is seeing how (roughly) the same content is received in vastly different ways by different students. Each group finds a different entry into the content, and then each group explores that content and finds connections to it in very different ways.

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For me, this illuminates the content and provides a fuller picture of how learning occurs, what the content itself actually means, and also gives me deeper insight into how to better teach/communicate/facilitate it.

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My biggest take away from this week with the Teal Band has to do with two things:

  1. Context and background information is sometimes so important. We can’t actually talk about marriage rights if the difference between a having a wedding and entering into the legal agreement is not clear. We can’t fully understand the racial discrimination revolution of the 1960s, if we don’t understand why the racial divide occurred in the first place. We can’t talk about women’s rights without understanding that birth control hasn’t always been an option. And with that foundation, the concrete information breeds abstraction and allows us to critically examine the thing. We can’t be equally critical if we’re not equally all on the same page.
  2. By taking inventory of and reflecting on the nitty-gritty details and concrete historical events that have birthed civil rights movements, this week I’ve created a clearer picture (for myself) of the material, and have also developed a stronger foundation upon which to base my critical conversation. Way to go, Teal. You did that.

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Meanwhile, the Blue Band got to hang out with Amanda Oberski for a week and learn the ins and outs of psychology. They learned about social experiments, the ethics of human and animal testing, and also learned a lot about themselves and their own growth and development. So far, they have been most jazzed about this: something about learning about themselves through engaging subject matter and really traumatic-seeming articles, research, and videos.

I caught this great sequence of shocked and appalled faces during our afternoon work time:

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Shock and appauledness aside, Blue has really dove into psychology last week. The afternoons were filled with critical conversation about the whole morning and about the homework. They begged to continue working when we had to shift gears, and many of them even applied the concepts and terms that they learned to our critical conversation around Lord of the Flies. To see them draw lines and weave together concepts from the morning session and then apply them to the close reading of a novel was amazing, well timed, and such an asset to my time with the Band.

So, I’ll end with some shout outs:

  • Thank you, Teal. You made me a better instructor by giving me new perspective on my material.
  • Thank you, Amanda Oberski for creating such a rich foundation for Blue to critically discuss literature.

What a great week!

Orange Band: Human, Week 3

At the end of last week, a student expressed some frustration to me that we hadn’t gotten to cover any of the topics related to the arc that he was most interested in. Alas,  this is a struggle with interest driven learning: how to address the varied interests of 7 different humans? And, isn’t there an expectation for flexibility and engagement with a wide variety of topics? Everything is interesting, right?

As we tug at the self-centered nature of young children, urging them to build awareness of and attribute thoughts and feelings to the humans around them, we also want them to advocate for their interests, develop an identity of their own. This is definitely a delicate balance.

In the interest of positively reinforcing self-advocacy, and also science, we dove into an exploration of evolution and ancient humans this week. We watched a few documentaries, thought specifically about our eyes and how they slowly evolved from the eyes of underwater creatures, started to work on functional, physical representations of our eyes, designed creatures adapted for different environments and climates, and thought about adaptations we might like to add to our own bodies. All of this while keeping up with skills-based routines! Oh, and our literacy and math workshops have been LOADED with human explorations too–wow!

Tesla, Gita, Sadie and Isaac examine a skull as a part of an anthropological study led by Mackenzie and Melissa.

Tesla, Gita, Sadie and Isaac examine a skull as a part of an anthropological study led by Mackenzie and Melissa.

Last week, Mackenzie and Melissa were kind enough to lead us through a comparative study of skulls–specifically comparing the teeth of carnivores, herbivores and omnivores (like ourselves). This set us up really well to think about adaptations, and the way that random genetic mutations sometimes give a creature an evolutionary advantage over others. We watched episode 2 of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos, then built beasts of our own thinking, using some chance to create an environment and climate.

Tesla rolled the di to figure out where her creature would live, what the weather would be like, what her creature would eat, and what would eat her creature in 'Build-a-Beast.'

Tesla rolled the di to figure out where her creature would live, what the weather would be like, what her creature would eat, and what would eat her creature in ‘Build-a-Beast.’

Sadie's creature is well adapted to its environment, with lots of teeth and lots of eyes.

Sadie’s creature is well adapted to its environment, with lots of teeth and lots of eyes.

Cosmos also turned us onto eyes. These complex organs have an interesting history, and Tyson walked us through the theoretical steps in their evolution. From light sensitive cells, to recessed dimples that allowed light to be focused, to lenses that enhanced detail, to the system now in use in our own bodies. We decided to model this system by making pinhole cameras: the pinhole represents our own pupil, the box represents the eye socket or round structure of the eye, and the tracing paper where our images will be projected represents our brain, which assembles images based on what our perceives and transmits. Plus, there are so many different ways to make a simple camera, I think we’ll definitely try a couple of iterations to refine our product.

Tesla seals the seams of her box with gaffer tape. We tried duct tape first, because it's what we had at school, but it didn't seal out light.

Tesla seals the seams of her box with gaffer tape. We tried duct tape first, because it’s what we had at school, but it didn’t seal out light.

As a part of our literacy workshop, we’re reading biographies and news articles. The kiddos of the lower school are meeting weekly in book clubs to discuss biographies they are reading. In order to give kiddos more choice regarding who they could read about, we divided into clubs by topic: scientists, inventors, change-makers and artists. These book clubs have met twice so far, and it’s been great! I get to hang out with the kiddos reading about change-makers, including Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Genghis Khan, Martin Luther King Jr., and a few others. I notice that the discussion really tugs at the comprehension abilities of the Red and Orange Band members, which I think is great: it gets them listening and noticing the level at which kids just 2 or 3 years older than them are reading and thinking.

Lola really thought deeply about our prompt for this week's discussion: Think about a turning point in your person's life. She explained that the death of Lincoln's children was a turning point in his life because after one death, a friend encouraged him to try his hand as a lawyer. Lincoln turned out to be such a great lawyer, that it ultimately led to his political career.

Lola really thought deeply about our prompt for this week’s discussion: Think about a turning point in your person’s life. She explained that the death of Lincoln’s children was a turning point in his life because after one death, a friend encouraged him to try his hand as a lawyer. Lincoln turned out to be such a great lawyer, that it ultimately led to his political career.

During Math Workshop the last few weeks, we’ve started a deep exploration of patterns. One of our strengths as humans is our ability to recognize and extend patterns, so we’ve been noticing patterns in nature, drawing designs and turning our drawing into wallpaper, describing patterns using variables, and thinking about how we can model patterns with equations so that we can predict the future. I notice that this exploration has taken a bit of the pressure off of numbers. In this mixed aged group, some kiddos are more comfortable working with numbers than other. Numbers represent a level of abstract thinking that some of these Orange Banders aren’t quite comfortable with YET. But, as we weave in numbers with our study of patterns, predicting and organizing, they have been super engaged.

Ramses and Nathan play Set.

Ramses and Nathan play Set.

Wallpaper making station!

Wallpaper making station!

Brains!

The Brain: Mysterious organ of the mind!  This week the Chartreuse Band studied that lumpy stuff between our ears. We looked at the brain as anthropologists, biologists and psychologists.

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We started the week with a look at the evolutionary advantages and impacts of the human brain.  In Alice Robert’s Origins of Us: Brains,  we saw how having to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape could’ve made a larger brain advantages.   We saw how this larger brain made it possible to make better use of stone tools and work in a group.  And we saw how a bigger brain allowed for the transmission of culture to our children through learning.  

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This led into a study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain.  We watched several crash course videos on the central nervous system and filled in anatomy of the brain coloring pages.  

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We reenacted the nervous system and worked together to send sensory input to the brain and relay those messages back to body.  

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Of course the crowning moment of the week was dissecting sheep brains!

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  There is nothing like donning latex gloves and squishing some brains to really stoke curiosity.

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It was really wonderful to see students using scalpels and manuals to discuss and identify structures with their peers.  I saw students drawing on all they had been learning as they poked around and drew on what they saw.  It was a true culmination of all that we have been exploring this week.

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Lola, Nora, Bruno and Clementine continued dissecting and exploring long after everyone left.  They even demonstrated what they had learned to the Orange and Indigo bands who happened to be passing through.

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To round out the week we had Jeremy Mintz, Phd in Psychology and good friend of mine, visit our class.  He opened our time with a question: what is the relationship between brain and mind?  We watched a Ted Talk by Iain Mcgilchrist’s called The Divided Brain.  We discussed and acted out the ways in which the specialties of each side of the brain influence us.
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This exploration of the brain is going to continue into next week as we take a look at child development, intelligence and memory.  

Altruism, Greed and Skulls

What an exhilarating week!  We’ve been detectives, anthropologists, sociologists and philosophers.  All in the pursuit of big questions like, “What sets humans apart from other species?” and “Are we fundamentally motivated by competition or altruism?”

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For the next two weeks we have skulls on loan from the academy of sciences.  We’ve been using these skulls to explore questions of what make us human.  We started by looking at the teeth of several different animals, including us humans.  We ate different food to try and make hypotheses about the functions of our different kinds of teeth. An important observation was made about how canines, which are used for ripping, are pronounced in animals that eat meat.  We have far less pronounced canines than other omnivores.

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Patrick and Lola shared a theory that this is because we use tools to cut our food and fire to cook it.  Perhaps one of the things that distinguishes us as a species is that we cook.  This is an idea that Michael Pollan expands upon in the first episode of his new series Cooked.  We watched and discussed this show as a follow up to our exploration of skulls.  Another theme emerged during this documentary is how much food creates community.

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Some of the most exciting and engaged moments we had this week happened as we explored how cooperation and sharing define us as a species.  We started this exploration with a BBC documentary with anthropologist Alice Roberts called What Makes Us Human.  In this documentary behavioral scientists create a situation in which chimps have to cooperate in order to get a reward.  Each chimp only helps to the extent to which they get a reward and don’t help the other partner if something goes wrong.  However, when they recreated this experiment with human toddlers they found that the young kids would share their reward if they had worked together to achieve it.  This launched an exploration that included two provocative games that modeled social pressures and difficulties that occur around sharing and cooperation.  There are more in depth descriptions of the rules of these games on the Exploratorium website.  These games were responsible for some of the more heated and interesting discussions that we had all week. Fortunately we’ve got more games like these to play and reflect upon in the coming weeks.  Another source of interesting conversation came from the ted talk The Science of Greed.  

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It is always exhilarating and exhausting to visit the Exploratorium and I think it is always best to go with a purpose in mind.  Their science of sharing exhibit fits so perfectly into the themes that we are exploring in this arc.  Students got to play games that modeled the tragedy of the commons, the freeloader phenomenon, the prisoner’s dilemma and other activities that revealed biases and stereotypes that we hold.  They recorded information regarding the decisions they made and their feelings around their decisions and those of the their partner. This coming week, we will be able to reflect upon our experiences with each activity.

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We have enjoyed the feedback we have been receiving from a number of families around the blog posts being written at home and the opportunities it has created to have family discussions around what we are learning and what your child is interested in this arc. We truly look forward to reading their posts over the arc now that they have more freedom around the prompt and direction they choose to take with their blog post each week.

Next week we will be continuing our look into what makes us human by studying some neuroscience.  We will be dissecting sheep brains!

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We kicked off the Human Arc with our first writing prompt, Who are you? Each kid had their own interpretation of an answer to this question, ranging from physical descriptions, to our name, to the things we like. We followed this up with our first brainstorm on “What we know about and Want to know about” humans. Then we wrote in response to the prompt, What do you do? The responses ranged from what we can do, to what we like to do, and ideas about what we could do.

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Parts and More Parts; and excerpts on skin, hair, and nails from The Magic School Bus Presents: The Human Body and From Head to Toe by Barbara Seuling and Edward Miller.

This arc will start with a biography book club with Chartreuse and Orange. To prepare we spent a morning in the library searching through the shelves to find books on people and topics we are interested in. We have artists, change-makers, scientists, and explorers. As a band we have read Frida Kahlo: The Artist Who Painted Herself and excerpts from Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids. We channeled our inner artists to create our own self portraits and put on our scientist spectacles to investigate prisms. We will continue to explore biographies together as the arc continues. This study has spurred our interest in learning about others through interviews.

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We started our interview process by reflecting on the information we learned through our biographies. After sharing a section of Meanwhile in San Francisco, we decided we could visit different places in San Francisco and conduct interviews. We started in our neighborhood and were lucky to have a chocolate tasting at Charles’ Chocolates. We interviewed Chuck and learned about his love of chocolate, his family, and how to make dark, milk, and white chocolates. During the second round of interviews, Nathan and the Red Band took a stroll down 20th Street and dropped into a few local businesses to interview owners, employees, and community members.

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Our exploration is already full of projects including our interviews, a chair rebuild for The Benches Garden, and a human body. Stay tuned to see our progress and follow our investigations of humans at #humansofbwx on Instagram.

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Blue+Violet: Upper School Band Swap Week 1

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The Upper School did something revolutionary this week: 

  • The Blue Band went to Rich.
  • The Teal Band went to Phillip.
  • The Indigo Band went to Oberski.
  • And Violet Band went to Simons.

In the morning, each Collaborator taught a 5-day mini crash course in a particular subject related to the Human Arc. In the afternoon, the Bands got to work on reflections or projects or homework related to that crash course, as well as spend a little bit of quality time with their usual Collaborator. With that said, I can tell you this about Blue: they got to learn about the human anatomy and body systems and health and body maintenance. They ate it up. They were super excited each afternoon, and could tell me all sorts of weird and interesting facts and names for things that I have only surface knowledge of. What a great opportunity for these kids — each of the Upper School Collaborators are experts on divergent topics and this has been a chance for us to nerd out and really shine!

Here’s a really brief visual recap of what Rich and Blue nerded out about:

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Meanwhile, we started reading Lord of the Flies, and Blue has started to run with the idea of recreating the story with each of the Band members as characters in the narrative. Kaia polled the Band and asked about the story line. What would your role in the society be? Would you die in the story and if so, how? And then Clem started designing the island. And everyone, of course, started designing their individual sleeping quarters. We had a pretty productive conversation about the advantages of not separating the girls sleeping area from the boys sleeping area — especially if we are a society that is concerned about safety and protecting one another from predators at night. In the end, we decided we could handle sleeping in the same area.

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And then, Felix started to learn how to design video games using a program called Unreal Engine 4. As of the end of this week, we have a draft of Blue Band Lord of the Flies the Video Game: complete with a patch of grass, lots of rocks, and one sleeping area complete with fire. Whoa! I would have never predicted this.

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And then, in the mornings, I hung out with the Violet Band. (Equally whoa!)

They got to experience a crash course in civil rights from a social/critical, and not always historical perspective. In this really, really, quick introduction, we talked about:

  • How US law gets changed by politicians.
  • How US law gets changed by the people (through sometimes violent protest).
  • The intersections of how women gained rights, how African-American folks gained rights, and how gay folks gained rights.
  • And, I think most importantly, how law defines who we consider fully “human” and who we do not.

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All this chat was heavy, heavy, and sometimes hard. We had to acknowledge our power positions and also try to talk about the issues and not always the people.

The really quick week ended on two important notes:

  • The beginning of individual projects that involved researching laws, digesting them in their as-is state of a bill template, and then writing a law yourself using the template that US lawmakers use for bills on the Senate or House floor.
  • And, we got to visit the Kadist Foundation for a guided tour of a racially charged, really powerful, exhibition of art by Hank Willis Thomas.

Below, Sayuri is interacting with one of the pieces from the show. When the microphone picks up voices, the projected image (which is a South African Nazi symbol) explodes and dances and becomes unrecognizable.

Speaking up allows for change. Thanks for a great week, Violet!

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