Band Swap – Psychology

The past month, the middle school and high school bands have been rotating between collaborators. Each member of the Upper School team wanted their kids to have access to certain similar elements of “human” – early civilizations, body systems and maintenance, civil rights, and psychology. These four subjects were decided on because, well, they’re important (duh!) but also because the kids have explicitly expressed interest in these areas over the course of the year.

Instead of the traditional single-collaborator dive into each one of these, it made more sense for each teacher to specialize in an area and have the kids cycle through.

We designed a week-long crashcourse in each area, with a small culminating project at the end of each session. The notes, reflections, work, and projects would be physically entered into a portfolio due after the entire wheel. As it’s Spring Break currently, the students are wrapping up each of their projects and getting them ready to submit.

Once submitted, each project earns an individual button!

Check out my button for psychology:

The course questions for psychology were amended for each particular age group, of course, but went as follows:

  • what is psychology? why is it hard to study or learn about?
  • what are “knowns” about psychology? what are trends enough they’re truths? (focused on cognitive development and stages in developmental psychology!)
  • how do we learn these “truths”? is there anything we disagree with about them? what are the ethics of studying them?
  • how do we behave? what do we want to know? can we design a psychological study to figure it out?
The culminating project for the psychology course was to design an independent social study to answer a research question of interest to the student. Ideally, if one of the kids wants to turn it into an arc project, they now have the time to perform their study and analyze the data. But, if not, at least they have practice thinking critically about the ethics and development of a psychological study.
And, because the Exploratorium has an exhibit all about social studies (specifically, not the curricular arena) and sharing right now, we were even able to go and play out several of these experiments!
The other projects were: to create a full-scale ancient civilization with all the key components; to research and then write a civil rights bill that would impact groups of people today; to write a love letter to a system of the body and explain why it’s so remarkable.
We get back to school on Monday! I can’t wait to see their work.
Oh, and then we jump into sex ed. ~~

BlueBlueBlueBlue: Upper School Band Swap Week 4

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I gotta be honest.
I’ve waited three weeks for this.
I’ve waited three long weeks for the Band Swap to cycle through and for Band Band to come back to me.

Welcome home, Friends. I’m so ready to blow your minds.

The Collaborators structured the schedule of the Upper School Band Swap so that during the fourth week of the Swap we would be with our own Band. It would be right before going on spring break, and it would also give us three other weeks to tweak and perfect the curriculum before we dove into the content with the kids we are so familiar with.

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Let’s talk about familiarity for just a second, though — it can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Familiarity can create situations where the content seems boring because the content delivery system (me) has lost its newness and sparkle. Being so familiar with the patterns and habits of such a small group of human can make it harder to pay attention or to stay interested or to continue to be invested. Sometimes newness (the opposite of familiarity) creates an inspiring space where everything is actually interesting.

Everything. Is. Interesting.

That was the idea behind the Band Swap: mix it up, create a new context, introduce a new voice and new content, and create investment at a time in the school year when things might seem routine or unexciting.

So then, it would be understandable that on week four of the Band Swap, when Bands return to their home Collaborator, that the Collaborator might be a little nervous. The flock got a chance to go roam around for three weeks and see what else is out there. Learn new things. From different people. In difference spaces. Now they’re back.

…and what if I’m no longer interesting?

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Okay, I’m going to be so honest right now.

Blue Band, you blew my mind this week!

Familiarity worked to my advantage (and yours, for sure). You were so invested in the content. You thought everything was so interesting. You asked great questions and helped connect the dots with some equally great conclusions. You thought critically and deeply about some really hard subject matter. Our conversations were so intense (so intense, in fact, that our East Bay teacher friend Dana sent us snacks, see protocol (spelling is hard) line item #6).

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This blog post could go on and on about all wonderful, amazing, mind-blowing things that happened this week. There were so many. This was my favorite week of the Band Swap, for sure. I could easily write an individual post about each of the amazing moments. (And I still might, but not now).

In interest of time, let’s recap.

Blue Band, do you…

  • …remember when we talked about gentrification in the Mission for so long that we were almost late to our field trip?
  • …remember when we watched that video about the Sit-In Movement of the 1960s and we couldn’t believe how that women who was saying that allowing African Americans to eat at the same restaurant as her might be a violation of her civil rights?
  • …remember when you were watching that video about Gavin Newsom with Violet Band and you were “Booooo-ing” the television? And then you were cheering at the television?
  • …remember when you suggested that marriage be misspelled “merraje” in order for a state to circumvent the Defense of Marriage Act?
  • …remember when we talked about Lawrence vs. Texas? Remember how confusing and hard and also important that was to talk about?
  • …remember that afternoon when you asked me why I went to talk to the Chartreuse Band about gender identity? Do you remember how supportive you were when I explained why?
  • …remember when we went to the Kadist Foundation to see the Hank Willis Thomas exhibition, and the curator Heidi was so nice, and you all were so curious and attentive, and then you insisted that we watch the entire 29 minute video piece end to end? And then we were late for Park?
  • …remember when you called that crayon image “genius”?

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I do.

I remember all those things.

Thank you for being so invested and creative and curious. It was a pleasure to teach you about civil rights this past week and have it be so well received. I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your Band Swap projects, and I also can’t wait to see how this experiment influences your Human Arc projects.

(Yes, that’s right — it’s almost project time again!)

Enjoy the rest of your Spring Break and see you next week.

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Orange Band: Human, Week 5

5 days.

Seven 7- and 8-year-olds.

2 field trips.

One collaborator.

Zero voice.

This is what happens when you try to be a teacher who can’t talk:

The curved projection screen of this camera obscura at the Cliff House is a lot like the retina of our eyes! Thank you Robert for being so flexible with scheduling, and for giving us some tips on our own pinhole cameras!

The curved projection screen of this camera obscura at the Cliff House is a lot like the retina of our eyes! Thank you Robert for being so flexible with scheduling, and for giving us some tips on our own pinhole cameras!

After the camera, we had a picnic lunch at the Sutro Baths, duh! Planning some more SF history after break...!

After the camera, we had a picnic lunch at the Sutro Baths, duh! Planning some more SF history after break…!

You know how humans pass on culture from one generation to the next? In this game, we needed to pass on knowledge of a maze from one student to the next, but only if our friend asked for help, in order to get everyone through a maze of stones across a stream.

You know how humans pass on culture from one generation to the next? In this game, we needed to pass on knowledge of a maze from one student to the next, but only if our friend asked for help, in order to get everyone through a maze of stones across a stream.

Tesla and Ramses check out these tide tiles in the Observatory. We had some flashbacks to the Rock Arc too!

Tesla and Ramses check out these tide tiles in the Observatory. We had some flashbacks to the Rock Arc too!

Then Ramses and Nolan explored some of the changing geology of the Bay Area, like shipping routes and the history of the shoreline. They had to do this very quietly, because there was a conference happening in the Observatory!

Then Ramses and Nolan explored some of the changing geology of the Bay Area, like shipping routes and the history of the shoreline. They had to do this very quietly, because there was a conference happening in the Observatory!

Isaac, Sadie and Tesla working on planning the layout for their About Me books! Since these will be carefully written and bound (by US, of course), we need to make a very detailed plan for how we want each page to look. This means we also need to think about what we want to go on each page.

Isaac, Sadie and Tesla working on planning the layout for their About Me books! Since these will be carefully written and bound (by US, of course), we need to make a very detailed plan for how we want each page to look. This means we also need to think about what we want to go on each page.

Ramses, will you be the Waste Wizard at the end of community lunch today? "YES."

Ramses, will you be the Waste Wizard at the end of community lunch today? “YES.”

Blue+Indigo: Upper School Band Swap Week 3

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Oh Hey, Indigo Band!

It was week 3 of Upper School Band Swap, I had a great week hanging out with you. We talked about so many unexpected things and in such deep and productive ways. In fact, Wednesday was the best day ever. For realz. No joke. Seriously.

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Let me tell you why Wednesday was the best day ever.

During the Band Swap, on every Wednesday (#hellagayday) I have been doing a 90 minute crash course in same sex marriage history. Starting in 1962 with the first state to legalize homosexual acts in private, I try to demonstrate how state laws effect federal laws, how federal laws blockade progress and how state in turn find ways around the blockades. Using the lens of same sex marriage is just a tactic to help explain all of these other really complicated  inner workings of the US government and legal system. This content is just a way for us to talk about how laws shape humanity, and how humanity sometimes fights back.

This past #hellagayday started much like the others. I drew my timeline on the board, we watched a video, and chatted. And then something unexpected and magical happened — all of these simple historical provocations sparked all of these other things for the Band. And suddenly, we went from talking about Gavin Newsom’s political stunt in 2004 to talking about polygamy, to talking about trans rights, to talking about gender as a spectrum, to talking about sex as a spectrum, to talking about what happens if a baby is born with both sets of genitals.

Indigo, you had serious, thoughtful, complicated, and beautiful questions about what it means to be human in 2016. We had in depth, critical, and respectful conversation about all of these things (and more). This is what it means to be an educator at this school: having the freedom to productively tangent, explore ideas, be flexible and excited, and above everything, be genuinely interested.

I could have continued this conversation for an additional 90 minutes. I could have been sitting in a college classroom. I could have been chatting with a group of friends on a Saturday night.

So, heartemojis to you, Indigo!


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Meanwhile, the rest of the week was an interesting lesson (for me!) in what it means to be a teen human in 2016:

Did you know that pretty advanced technology is just a simple part of every life for these humans?
No big deal. It’s totally normal to video conference an assessment meeting, or to record yourself doing your homework assignment, upload it to YouTube, and then embed it into a Google Slides presentation for when you’re absent.

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Also, safety has been an interesting topic of conversation this week.

I spent the week wearing safety goggles because in a fit of excitement, a pencil was thrown in during the morning check in. This has sparked all sorts of conversation, including what it means to “consent” to something, how tools can be used inappropriately as weapons, and also the difference between play and fighting and what can happen when the lines are blurred.

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And this happened:

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Also, as uncool as they sometimes might pretend it is, our penpals are on our minds.

Blue is having some pretty interesting conversations with their mystery East Bay friends. Some folks are writing under pseudonyms and presenting them fictional stories, while others are asking some intriguing questions. It’s rumored that our friends in Oakland are interested in having a picnic with Blue, and we are working out the details.

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With that, here’s to another week!

Band Swap rotates me back with Blue this week, so it’ll be interesting to close out this curriculum with some familiar faces.

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!