Orange Band: Seed, Week 7

Do we ever not hit the ground running? Answer: NO.

Here we go:

But, WHY these projects? Answer: write an abstract to explain why we chose these particular projects. What is their significance in relation to the theme? How do they relate to our particular band’s seed explorations? How will they show what we have learned as a band?

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Sadie and Gita start to develop characters for a Plant Play.

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Emilio works on a design for our planter boxes. These planter boxes need to have windows for us to peek in on growing plants, but also seal out the light to protect the roots when we’re not looking.

SLINGSHOTS. Need I say more? Design your seed bomb launcher; build your seed launcher; test your seed launcher; make your seed bomb launcher better.

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Oscar makes modifications to the handle of his slingshot.

Keep telling stories! That have to do with math! Solve similar problems lots of different ways, and look how we get the same answer!

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In order to count all, Ramses draws out all of his robot’s laptops and cell phones.

Let’s talk about friendship. A few weeks back, we touched on the idea that if you have a friend, chances are that you’ve had your feelings hurt by a friend. Having a friend is an emotional risk. And it’s a risk we choose to take because we think having friends is better than not having friends. So, let’s spend some time being open and honest about things that friends do that feel good, and other things friends do that make us feel sad or hurt. These kinds of conversations are so important to have in an open and non-judgmental way. It’s crucial for kiddos to feel safe and supported in a learning environment, and that means knowing that their needs, wants, fears and insecurities will be heard and considered without judgement. It means knowing that they will make mistakes, and their mistakes will be met with consequences and without judgement. It means knowing that they are known, loved and supported for the whole–brilliant and flawed–humans that they are.

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Oscar and Sadie examine one of the raised beds at the Treat Commons Garden. We had our work cut out for us–after all of that rain, this bed that was recently planted with kale and parsley was also full of weeds! Some clues that a plant is a weed: it is not in the row, it looks like grass, it is clover.

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This huge earthworm came to visit!

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Nathan helps Ramses dump the baby weeds into the compost.

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Folks, we are in it. And we are not backing down.

Violet: Today we went to the soup kitchen

Josh has been volunteering at Glide almost every week, and he’s been coordinating fellow bandmates to help with him. Glide runs a meal service program for the hungry in downtown SF, and the help is either meal preparation or serving the food. Since it’s the week before the holidays, the Violet Band wanted to go together to help serve.

We all had to wear aprons and hair nets and gloves.

Max and Jack and Zada worked in the back kitchen, helping to prep the food for dinner. They cut lots of bread and vegetables. They wrapped a bunch of turkeys. They helped organize and set up the layout for the evening crew.

Josh and Sayuri and Laurel helped serve the food. In an assembly-line process, they each had an individual role to help what appeared to be multiple hundred lunches today. The lunch today was “chicken pot pie” – a stew and biscuit concoction with oranges and a salad on the side. There was also a vegetarian option!

Cassandra and Grace and I worked the floor – helping to clear empty trays, refill water glasses, and talk with the people eating. Grace walked around chatting and refilling everyone’s water. Cass buzzed about clearing trays. Everyone was really lovely and appreciative.

Cyrus helped the dish team. He cleared the plates and ran them through the dishwasher and then brought out the clean ones.

After lunch was over, we all cleaned the cafe – mopping floors, wiping tables, stacking chairs.

Much of this year has been about driving to solve problems, achieve goals, ask questions. A simple day of giving-back was profoundly meaningful both for us in this context, and for the city of San Francisco.

It was really incredible.

Chartreuse Projects

It’s that time again, when we take all the things we’ve explored during the arc and declare a project.  Melissa and I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to practice autonomy while still getting a chance to create something bigger and more complex than any individual could create.  Following that spirit the Chartreuse band will have an opportunity to choose an independent project as well as a group project.

Independent projects are a tricky thing.  At nine and ten our students are still developing the self management skills they need to be successful at independent project work.  They all still need a good amount of help to create something awesome.  Melissa and I don’t have the resources to be intimately involved in 16 different projects so we decided to give a prompt that would send the students on two different paths of expression.  We asked them to think about either creating a controlled experiment or to researching an area of interest and writing a paper on it.   I will be leading the group that chooses to create a controlled experiment and Melissa will be heading up the researchers.  We will both be giving mini lessons on our respective modes of expression.  Because students will be doing the same types of projects they will also be able to help each other tackle hard problems and stay on track. Already great ideas have surfaced.  Experiments to see how worms in soil, black lights and different fertilizers affect plant growth.  Research projects on bamboo, organic farming and plant defenses.

Because we are Brightworks, the school that always tries it’s best to say, “yes”, we have been open to other independent project ideas as well.  Two students want to write additional chapters in the style of Seed Folks, a book we’ve been studying for the past months.  Another student is putting together a proposal for creating free lending libraries for community gardens around the city.  Stay tuned for a complete list of all of Chartreuse individual projects.  

This brings us to group projects.  Drum roll please…This arc, in small groups, the Chartreuse band will be studying and building vertical gardens, constructing a machine to roll oats and doing a service project for the community garden by building a cat house that doubles as an out house.  Our group project ideas were harvested from a massive Chartreuse band brainstorm.   From this great steaming pot of ideas we chose those that could accommodate several students and had diverse points of engagement.  Because Evan (our new shop teacher and park staffer) agreed to join us for this project phase we were able to give the students three different project options each managed by a different adult.  The students rated each of these three options based on their interest and we were able to sort them into groups based on our knowledge of group dynamics and their preferences.

I’d like to give you all a brief history behind each of these group projects.  


During Exploration the Yellow band built a vertical garden out of gutter material in their bandspace window.  They also did some math explorations of how much square footage it would take to feed different amounts of people.  These explorations of space efficiency and window farming have culminated in this bigger project to create larger vertical garden units in our window.


Melissa is particularly excited about this project and will be leading her team of engineers in using recycled materials to grow plants in windows.  Her group includes: Natasha, Trudy, Patrick, Justin, Lucy and Freddie.


From the very first day of the arc when Gever slashed open a sack of oat groats and let them rain all over the cork floor the Green and Yellow bands were interested in smashing oats.


Both Melissa and I turned this into a math opportunity in which we estimated how long it would take to roll enough oats by hand for everyone in the band to have a bowl of oatmeal.  Though our calculations varied widely, it became apparent that it would take a very long time.  This is when the kids started thinking of creating an oat rolling machine. 


Evan with his interest in primitive machines, ability with sketchup and comfort in the workshop is a perfect fit for this project.  He is really excited to be working with Huxley, Clementine, Zev and Quinn.


Over the past month or so we’ve been visiting 23rd Street Garden on a regular basis.  This community garden is a very special and unusual place.  Tucked behind an unassuming wall and shaded by avocado trees this garden doesn’t have individual plots but is cared for by everyone who comes in.  While we are there we rake leaves, plant potatoes and read Seed Folks.  It has been a wonderful place to discuss how the characters in this novel are transformed by a community garden.


I asked Jeanie, the garden’s guardian, if there were any bigger projects that we could do to contribute to the garden.  She showed us to great big wooden crate told us how they would like to use it as a house for the garden’s resident mouse catching cat.  They would also like this crate to double as a outhouse for pee that can be funneled out into the bamboo for fertilizer.  She asked our young architects to come up with designs and create models of their ideas.


At Brightworks we have a declaration process that ends with Gever and Ellen giving their approval.  What I love about this project is that our declarations will need to be good enough to be approved by the committee that runs the community garden.  It doesn’t get more real than that.  I am so happy to have such a solid team: Lola, Aurora, Nora, Selina, Bruno and Amiya. This project couldn’t be in better hands.


Yellow + Green = Chartreuse

…and Yellow Band + Green Band = Chartreuse Band

A lot of change has taken place in the Yellow and Green bands over the last couple of weeks, and we are so excited to share that we have combined to become Super Band Chartreuse. Since the beginning of the year the Green and Yellow Bands have been sister bands.  We have gone on all our field trips together, worked on our math provocations together and done our projects together. After all, our 16 nine and ten year olds make up a quarter of the entire school.


There have been so many benefits to working together.  As co-teachers we’ve been able to play off both of our individual strengths, pool our resources, create unique lessons, diversify the options available to students and offer more one on one instructional moments. Now each member of the Chartreuse Band has two collaborators supporting them through their journey this year.

We knew that this would be a big change for all the students and a difficult one for some, so we wanted to make sure they felt as involved as possible with decisions being made. We took our need to reconfigure our band spaces to as an opportunity to involve their ideas and integrate a design thinking project. We brainstormed new layouts, everything from using the Yellow Band space as a group meeting space and the Green Band space as personal desk space, to building a bridge from the Yellow Band space to the roof of the office. We took measurements of all our considered spaces and found their area to gather additional data. Knowing that everyone would have their own opinion on what we should do in the end, we chose to take this opportunity to work on our persuasive writing skills. This gave them a chance to share their ideas in a carefully thought out way. It was so wonderful to hear all their ideas and reasons, and most of all to hear them empathize with others whose spaces might be lost in the process. We’ve taken a vote and the ballots will be counted Monday. Hopefully we’ll find some time in this last week before winter break, interspersed among our declaration writing, to create the Chartreuse Band Space(s).20151203_095952

On top of all the practical work of creating a “new” band space, we have also been doing a lot of work around social dynamics. We have been reading a number of Trudy Ludwig’s books, including My Secret Bully, Sorry!, and Trouble Talk. We are learning to empathize with others, appreciate one another for small things we may have not noticed until now, and make thoughtful and honest apologies. We are hopeful that the work we are doing will flow out through the rest of the Brightworks community.


And just in case you find the word chartreuse a bit of a challenge to spell, just remember it is simply chart+reuse.

Blue: An Electrical Tangent


We took a detour this week by learning about electricity. This was definitely not a lesson that was planned, but it comes with a cool story.

The Blue Band has been interested in the process ever since the Violet Band had a welding workshop at the beginning of the year. Having worked in a metal shop before, I’ve been chatting with Blue on and off about the process and possibilities, and they’ve been asking me over and over to schedule some metal time.


Two Thursdays ago, Lindsay and I were supposed to teach Blue how to weld. Welding is a technical process that’s admittedly a little dangerous. You can be sunburned (weird, right?) if your skin is exposed. It can damage your eyes. There’s a slight risk of electrical shock if you don’t take precautions, and because you’re melting metal, there’s definitely a risk of burning yourself.

It was rainy on the day of our welding workshop, and before the Band went to the Park, I looked at all of them and said, “It’s going to rain during Park. I wouldn’t normally say this, but if you want to stay back and work on something instead, that’s totally fine. Just tell me what you’re going to work on.” They all thought about it for a moment, and decided that running around outside was a better idea.


Ten minutes into Park, downpour. Everyone came back early — soaked. The afternoon was a bust. You can’t weld in wet clothes.

Wet, cold, uncomfortable kids who can’t do the thing they’ve been looking forward to are usually not receptive to any sort of filler afternoon lesson plan. So, I went with the flow, and after lunch, Blue Band decided to set up a clothes drying station in the art studio. Their makeshift laundry mat consisted of an iron and a couple of heat guns, as well as an ever-expanding list of clientele (on a first come, first serve basis). Blue helped the rest of the school dry out for the better part of the afternoon.

It was great. Until I noticed that all of their equipment was plugged in to the same extension cord, which was daisy-chained to another extension cord, and stretched way too far across the school. Long story short, we definitely melted some shop equipment and risked an electrical fire.

On Monday, we had an electricity intervention. Yes, we almost burned down the school. No, we couldn’t weld on the rainy Thursday that we were soaked down to our underwear.

But why? Let’s find out.


Rather than lead with a lecture on, “don’t do this again,” I brought in Gever to explain how electricity works. He had a really long but really great metaphor for explaining the concept. A hose, a bucket, water and gravity can explain the way we manipulate the flow of electrons and convert one type of energy into another. We can even see this metaphor at play with a motor and LED. Or, when we get to weld.

And yes, we finally got to weld last week.


Even though we were just laying down some beads and getting familiar with the manipulation of a new tool, Blue had a blast welding. There’s definitely something scary and exhilarating about the process. There are sparks and heat and all the cool clothing, and the process is a thing that conceptually makes sense but in practice is sometimes mindblowing, and it was so great to see these young people experience it for the first time.

This is the thing (making, and the technical skills that go with it) that I get really excited about, and it was also great to share one of my passions with them.


Orange Band: Seed, Week 6

Gardens and robots and sprouts and dough and prints and clay and rubber bands, oh my!

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Making seed bombs!

We had our hands in all of the pots this week, and it felt really really good. We hit the ground running by doing some work writing declarations four the projects we chose: a mill that is also a model of a flower, planter boxes that let us peek at plant growth, and a plant play. We started our declaration writing process by thinking about the what and how of each project; what materials and tools will we need? How will we complete each project? After writing together a declaration for our most complex project, the mill/model flower, kiddos worked in small groups to write declarations for the other two projects. In order to write the beginnings of a plan for how to do each project, kiddos thought about the order they would need to use each tool and material they listed. Next week, we’ll type up these declarations (so they’re super official!) and also think about the why: writing abstracts for each project that explain how these projects connect to our work during exploration.

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Gita and Emilio laying out the WHAT and HOW for our plant play project idea.

A few of the project ideas kiddos proposed were more appropriate for explorative projects–not quite deep enough, other bands have done something similar, don’t quite reflect work that we’ve done–but they were so excited about them that I decided we should do them anyway! Case in point: seed bombs and sling shots. Making the seed bombs was so messy and so fun. Just mix up some clay and some dirt, add some water, and then knead in a spoonful of seeds, and POW! You’ve got a seed bomb. Next, how to launch that bomb? A quick refresh of the design process: draw it, include dimensions and materials. Put it together (remember, be thorough! Just like Elsa!). Test it. Make it better. Then, clean up! One thing I really like about projects like this is that kids can work at their own pace. We don’t all need to be at the same point in the project at the same time.

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Oscar’s first test of his sling shot.

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Sadie works on figuring out how to attach a binder clip to her seed catapult.

Oh, and BREAD. We kept baking bread. I really like this as a practice because we change something small about our process every time; the point is to practice, notice the differences in each loaf, and also to eat delicious bread.

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Gita and Tesla knead loaf #2. Then, we let it rise for about 4 hours. Patience is the name of the game!

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Emilio pulls loaf #2 out of the oven. It looked good enough to eat! So we did!

Last Friday, we joined the Blue Band for the first time in their weekly printmaking practice. It was so awesome! So, we’re going to keep doing it. This is another practice: we don’t all need to be at the same point in the process at all times, we’ll change something about the process with each print, we’ll teach and and learn from each other, and we’ll spend time on it each week.

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Ramses carefully carves out his ‘Super Sprouts’ to make his first print on cardboard.

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Gita carefully lines up the paper and burnishes her first print!


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Tesla and Oscar at the Conservatory of Flowers on Thursday.

Blue: Greenery and the City Grid


Ever since the beginning of the Arc, Blue keeps asking: Are we controlling the seeds? Or Are the seeds controlling us? Great question.

In an attempt to answer it, we started this week by taking a walk.


While on our walk, we mapped out the neighborhood by paying close attention to all the greenery along our path. Where are the trees? How about bushes and flowers? Are there weeds? Did someone decide where these things are allowed to be, or did nature decide it?

We wrote all this down. And then, we asked some more questions.


Like, who decides where the bushes can go? Is this tree in front of a residence or a business? Why are some blocks less beautiful than other blocks? And, why is all this greenery allowed to be next to all the pollution of 280, but not where people can really enjoy being in it?

We came up with more questions than real answers, so we went back to school and began some research.


When I was in the graduate school, we were asked to read the San Francisco General Plan Urban Design Element. Printed, it’s a 71 page document that defines how San Francisco looks. What the neighborhoods look like. Which streets have how many trees. Where parks go. What the tops of hills look like. Where a skyscraper can go. This is the plan that defines how we live and move in the city and where nature (man-made or not) fits in to that bustling of people.

In an attempt to answer all of our lingering questions about the fate of greenery in the city grid, we split into teams and decoded the document together.

The best part about this week was watching all of this complex information unfold as the Blue Band explained urban design to one another. Live-action drawings emerged on the board. Our Scribe took detailed notes. We dove into many deep conversations about the meaning of design jargon, the politics of preserving elements of certain neighborhoods, and the importance of conservation. I was so engaged by the experience, I had to constantly remind myself to document the process! It was too good!


Studying seeds is about more than just the biology of seeds, and as we continue to ramp up to the Expression phase of the Arc, this Band surprises me more and more by the breadth, depth, and thoroughness of their inquiries. We jumped from a video about tulips to a week on urban design, and I look forward to seeing and experiencing the next hop into their individual Arc projects!