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!


Orange Band: Seed, Week 5

As I look through the pictures from this week, I see projects coming to completion, and the sprouts of new projects emerging.

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Gita helps Sadie drill holes in her door handle/hook. Then, they mounted it, and now they’ll work together on mounting Gita’s hook.


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Meanwhile, Tesla and Isaac cut foam to make our presentation board. Come check it out!

While older students will work on individual projects as we shift to expression, we will have a couple of group projects. We brainstormed a laundry list of project ideas, and then narrowed down and combined ideas where we could. We will work on 2-3 projects at a time, so that kiddos can choose which project they want to work on on different days. Our projects are creative, involve building and physical manifestations, represent a deeper understanding and larger scope than explorative projects, and are chosen by the students. I’m pumped.


One project idea: printmaking with the Blue Band. We tried it out this week, and may continue, but probably not as one of our larger projects. Here Gita and Sadie are making their first prints on cardboard. After carving out their drawings, they seal the cardboard with glue, so that they can make many prints without the cardboard getting limp from the paint.

A few other highlights from this week: our first trip to the Treat Commons Garden! I arranged for us to contribute to this garden over the summer, and now that we’re finished with our storage unit, we have time to go every week. This garden focuses mostly on growing food. There is a mix of private and communal plots, and much of the food grown in the communal plots supports a program that provides free boxes of fresh produce for members of the community. We’ll spend our Class Meeting time, each Wednesday morning, in the garden. We’ll learn some chores and ways we can contribute to the communal plots, do some community building, social, and emotional learning activities. Based on what is needed by the group at the time, our focus will shift from communication, tenacity, peer pressure, friendship, and advocacy for yourself and others–just to name a few topics.

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Don’t worry, we’ll keep baking bread!


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Tea break on chilly bread baking morning!


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Just like Elsa in Bullet #4, BE THOROUGH. 1. Get ready to do your task. 2. Do your task. 3. Clean up after your task. Here, Oscar and Ramses clean up the table we used for mixing our bread dough.

We’ve also talked a lot this week about how we work. We watched a bit of this video (bullets 2, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10; not all of the video is kid friendly) which outlines some guidelines for studio assistants from the artist Tom Sachs’ studio. I highly recommend! Ask your kiddo about sacred spaces, and Elsa–she’s very thorough. As we get ready to declare our project ideas, it’s important for us to establish how we will do this work: we will treat our workspaces as if they were sacred, we will be thorough, we will work from a plan, we will own our mistakes in order to learn from them, and we will be persistent.

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Signing off.

Violet: December Updates

In addition to our whole-group work on genetics, genetically-modified organisms, the social repercussions of science, and building and sharing independent websites (most are published! Ask your kids for their website links!), each individual band member is also working on…
Max: After building two computers in one week, Max and Jack are finally ready to digitally prototype the first designs for their Ultralight plane. Using a flight simulation program, they are able to build and create within the laws of physics, testing to see if models fly successfully before they even hit the shop! At this point in time, their shop work is reserved for welding the frame for Frankencart, iteration 2. Recently, Automatic offered to help sponsor Max and Jack’s engineering projects – both giving them help and feedback and potentially featuring their work!
Grace: Grace finished her ROCK mosaic! If you haven’t been into the school, stop by and see it. It is beautiful – framed and fitted and perfectly hanging outside the main office. And, while spending so much time in the art studio, she realized that we could better use the space. She’s currently working on a design project to both organize and readjust the art studio, making it more accessible for the school and more efficient for the space. It’s a collaborative project with all the staff and students that she is coordinating and organizing herself.
Jack: Jack and Max are deep underway in their Ultralight project. After redesigning the upstairs of the bandspace to be an electronics workshop / plane headquarters, he’s been focused on a first iteration of “something that flies” in the design-and-flight simulation program, X-Plane. Similarly, he and Max are ready to tackle the first welding for their Frankencart, iteration 2. Jack is working with Max and Gever and I to coordinate the perfect flight program – both designing a plane, flying a plane, and the mathematics of flight in general, including looking for outside radio classes and flight groups to join.
Zada: Zada is currently leading group class – a physical education class focused on both flexibility and form. For Zada, the class will help her bandmates stretch, strengthen, and (hopefully) learn to enjoy engaging with various forms of exercise. Outside from group class, Zada is deeply engaged in her circus practice and jewelry-making. A new vegetarian, she recently started researching potential correlations between mental health and diet, with the hopes to write a paper on what she finds.
Harry: Harry recently completed multiple levels of his video game script – a huge first step in the marketing and design for his entire concept game. The script – surpassing thirty pages of dialogue and gameplay and content for maps and game development – summarizes the basis for his work Heroes of the Sky. He has also been volunteering weekly at Glide food kitchen with Josh, and he’s taken on a design project for the Red Band – building a “seed”-shaped jungle gym.
Laurel: Laurel recently finished her writing portfolio, sharing multiple poems, essays, and stories with the band for feedbacks and edits. The stories are deep, powerful, beautiful. After a lot of reflection – both with her bandmates and on her own – she is ready to submit her portfolio to the outside world. Laurel also planned and executed the entire “Vegan Week” for the Violet band. And she was finally able to finish the 3D printed bulbasaur planter – a baby succulence is now growing from its back in the bandspace.
Cyrus: After spending hours monitoring and updating the code for some of his favorite online games, Cyrus decided to take the next step – learning various coding languages through the translation and adaption of these games, as well as embarking on a journey to create his own. He has practiced multiple levels and demos of intro C++ and C Sharp, and is currently working with both the program and with Gever to learn (and create) in Lua. He also just heard back from the SPCA on a potential apprenticeship program!
Cassandra: After our classroom conversations and readings on genetically modified organisms and the evolution of food systems, Cassandra really caught onto the history and practice of breeding and genetically engineering plants. She is currently researching and writing a paper on the spread of new foods – and better foods – through this science. Over break, she borrowed my copies of books from the band to continue her research.
Josh: Josh is now coordinating weekly volunteer sessions at Glide for multiple members of the band, and he has a recurring position at KitTea cafe. He is spending part of BWX time creating a cat-safe Jenga set for the organization – making prototypes of huge boxes out of things like cardboard and styrofoam so the visitors can play Jenga safely around the cats. Josh is also working with the red band to design a “seed” jungle-gym.
Sayuri: While we’re only mid-way through seed arc at Brightworks, Sayuri is concurrently wrapping up her semester of college-level Japanese. She’s balancing all of the arc work as well as college coursework and exams! She was finally able to add tomatoes to her tomato planter. Eventually, the recycled bucket planter will hang upside down with the tomatoes growing out, but – for now, until they sprout – they’re cozy in the back of the band space.
Apollo: Apollo is enjoying his time in the group, though the cold weather is making him a bit grumpy. It is the most fashionable time of the year for him – lots of new sweaters, always.


Planting a Seed

As we continued to explore seeds, the Red Band began their first attempt at growing seeds. We were fortunate enough to receive a wonderful variety of plants and vegetables seeds. We got straight to work categorizing by seed type, then by planting requirements. We learned that some seeds start better indoors rather than outdoors. We each began our seed journal with our first entry of our choice of seed: sunflower or collard greens. We read How a Seed Grows by Helene Jordan and entered page two: What a seed needs. During our first day of planting and observation the kids added details to their observations, remembering how they first added soil to their pots, made small holes for their seeds, covered the holes and added more dirt, and that they watered their seeds. After one week we noticed some growth in a few pots and are still waiting to see if all of the seeds will sprout.


Seed has allowed us to continue exploring our community and continue to search for ways to participate in our community. With the help of one of our families, we are now active members of The Benches Community Garden. Our first visit to the garden was intended to meet our resident expert and overall amazing human, Joe. Joe first told us the story of the garden which we learned is only as old as most of us, six years. He then helped us sort seeds by sharing his expertise on San Francisco’s climate and soil conditions. On this first visit, Joe gave us our first piece of land to tend and helped us plant California poppies, rainbow lettuces, and two varieties of peas. Just like our sunflowers and collards at school, these seeds are under their first exploration as we enter late fall, cooler temperatures and steady rain. During our second visit we added our garden stakes and saw tiny sprouts, but are still waiting to see if in fact these are our sprouts or native or invasive plants.


We launched a study of foods with seeds and created collages based on the book Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. We created our own chart for recording the types of foods we eat. We even stumbled upon the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo and worked to create our own food faces. The kids studied their own faces and created a shopping list to buy pieces they thought would help us create our own portraits. The kids first assembled and photographed their portraits using our grocery store finds before the final step of painting the portrait.



We have started honing in our first project for seed: a giant seed. We’ve had whole group brainstorming, small group design, and finally presented our ideas to Gever, who helped us enlist the guidance of two experts in the Violet Band. More on that to come. As we continue with collaborations, we have had two sessions of NaNoWriMo co-working and mentoring with the Green Band. Games like Uno and Dominoes are also becoming great sources for reinforcing collaboration and numeracy, while helping us learn about being gracious winners and supporters for one another.



During these past two weeks we also introduced a new personality into the Red Band: Cubetto. Cubetto is a friendly little robot who is introducing us to the world of coding and robotics. Cubetto’s charming smile is helping us solidify our grasp of spatial awareness and directionality while helping us expand our ideas of problem-solving and story-telling. Our last visit with Cubetto was an introduction to Cubetto’s world and map. After choosing the castle as Cubetto’s home, the kids got to work designing 3-D pieces to add to the map.  To learn more about Cubetto, visit


Blue: Asking Great Questions and Practicing Self Direction


Blue drove in head first with two pretty important lessons this week:

  • What’s a great question?
  • What do I need to do in order to keep myself on task?


Our Great Questions lesson took many iterative forms.

We talked about the criteria for a Great Question: yes/no verses how/why, knowing the answer verses knowing where to find the answer, knowing where to find the answer verses knowing roughly where you might start to look for the answer. We talked about how forming a really Great Questions can lead to sustaining a multi-week investigation, and how taking the time to start researching now (4 weeks before we start to transition out of the Exploration phase of the Arc), might help to sustain your self-directed project later.

This is heavy, heavy stuff for a middle schooler. This flavor of inquiry was something I had to wait until age 28 and year 2 of graduate school to really start to understand. I think that being able to even set up this sort of directed provocation for an 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 year old is a gift, and I treated it as such for the whole week.


The Great Questions that Blue formulated during our first brain dump session were amazing. They ranged from super specific questions about plants and history and animals and each other to things that humanity itself doesn’t have the capacity and/or technology to answer. We talked about all of these. We sorted them. We decided which were too big and which were too small and after establishing a comfortable middle ground, everyone tried again: this time formulating Great Questions about seeds.

We will use these after the Thanksgiving Break to start to narrow curiosities for their Arc projects. In the mean time, just the act of writing out questions has already sparked some research possibilities for a few. I can’t wait to see how this grows.


Blue’s second line of inquiry this week involved practicing self-direction.

We did this for two reasons:

  • As we begin to transition out of the Exploration phase of the Arc, I will become less of a facilitator of awesome (sometimes random) learning experiences, and more of a project management partner. I will start to help folks stay on task, and also push them off tasks if the questions become too easy to answer. I will be both Devil’s Advocate and a support system. I will do this because it’s part of my job, but also because I deeply believe in this method of pedagogy — and this transition will not be easy for any of us.
  • Secondarily, everybody needs different things in order to be productive, stay focused, and accomplish goals. Everyone’s goals are different. And yet, here we are, all in the same space, for something like 30 hours a week. We gotta work together, and we gotta be respectful of the needs of others and the needs of ourselves.

With that said, the week involved a few scenarios in which I had one-on-one meetings, helped folks get going, and then backed off. It was their job to come to me if they got stuck. It was their job to stay on task. And, it also became their job to sit and reflect about what went right and what went wrong and what they could have done differently.

Leaving time and space for reflection helped everyone take the next day to reset, and try again with a newly established perspective.

During an assessment meeting last week, I told a parent that I think my job here is always about two things: establishing learning scenarios that have specific steps that weave in between one another and also run parallel at times, and that I try to be always transparent about the meta curriculum.

“We are doing this because…”
“This process is important because…”
“Reflection helps bookend because…”
“We are practicing this process because…”

I think the constant transparency helps Blue understand what’s happening and invest in their own learning experiences. These things are tools in a toolbox that you’re building as we go. I’m going to always give them blueprints for the toolbox and the tools.

After all, this isn’t actually about me. It’s for them.

Orange Band: Seed, Week 4

Time flies when you’re having fun and working hard!

This week, we started to think about some projects we might be interested in doing as a band as we shift toward expression after break. We returned to an internet research activity, but with some added choice and responsibility on the kiddos’ parts: instead of being given key words to guide their searches, kiddos chose their own key words, guided by the idea of a recipe they could make with a partner. Then, they chose a recipe and put together a list of ingredients, including some estimates for what the recipe would cost to make using Amazon Pantry.

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Tesla and Oscar watch a short clip on making meringue. Do you think eggs are seeds?

We’re so close to being done with our storage unit, we can literally touch it! We had cubbies in our space for the whole week and it’s been amazing! We spent our Class Meeting time this working on problem solving how to attach some of the silly hooks we chose. Our last steps are to attach the last few hooks and the presentation board on the backside, which faces the dining area. Woohoo!

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We had several different tasks to work on this week: attaching the last section of sheathing to the back, attaching hooks, and screwing in the shelves. Emilio practiced self-directed work by working on the sheathing; everywhere I put an ‘X,’ he put a hole and a screw!

We went on an AWESOME field trip to The Mill! At this bakery, they don’t just start with flour, they start with SEEDS. So, before Josey can bake any bread, he has to mill the wheat seeds into flour. This field trip was a few weeks in the making, and I owe everyone at The Mill such a huge THANK YOU. Josey worked with the prior knowledge, interests and development of our group like a pro: we had a great combination of conceptually compelling topics to discuss (like the mill stones that grind the wheat and the cultures that make sourdough bread rise) and super fun silliness (like everyone cramming into the walk-in fridge to SCREAM!). I feel some expression project ideas coming on…


Josey shows us the seeds that go into the mill and get crushed into flour.



Josey reminds us how the first step of the process is to grind the wheat into flour, and we practice the action of the millstones with our hands. Then, the ovens do a surprising thing–ask your kiddo!

Finally, before our weekly pilgrimage up to the park, we did some leavened vs. unleavened experimenting. While some yeast munched on a couple of different snacks, we made some tortillas. I think this is the beginning of a lot more baking; we’re all really enjoying the way we can engage so many senses and intelligences when we work with food.

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Honey won! Any idea why?


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What’s different about the tortilla and the loaf of bread from The Mill? BUBBLES!

Happy Thanksgiving all! I’m so thankful for you all, and like I told the kiddos yesterday on our way back from The Mill, each and everyone are integral to the Orange Band; we just wouldn’t be Orange without any one of them.