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.


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.  


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.  


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


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


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



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.


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.



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.
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?”


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.


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.


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.  


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.




Blue+Violet: Upper School Band Swap Week 1


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:




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.


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.


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.


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!



Sprouting a Human



The last month was full of challenges and triumph. As the Red Band experienced their first full arc, project cycle, and presented to their peers we realized that our seed project was a task less focused on product but one that hinged on our ability to learn what it means to be a team. Once we realized that our project required each of us to contribute in many ways, we realized this was also a project that would allow each of us to teach others, practice, and learn new skills.


The Red Band learned to advocate for themselves and one another. During our pre-work sessions, we would write our goal for the day and the work necessary to reach it. This included material lists, down to the last screw, and division of work. This was an opportunity to try new things and practice being flexible. After a few sessions we learned that it was not necessary for each of us to have our own drill at all times. We learned who was most comfortable with using tools, who needed help, and what each of us could do to help someone else.

After a particularly rough day, we found ourselves in a discussion with Gever about how we have the power to make others happy and how it lies in the choices we make for ourselves. This theme, along with that of trust, provided opportunities away from our the seed to reflect on the choices we make everyday. We wrote about what it means to be a team, we completed challenges to earn and show trust, and we learned to share our feelings around this with each other.


The Red Band learned to ask for help and push themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of doing. We hit many bumps in our road to a giant seed where we can sell food, climb, and slide on. We were able to move through multiple iterations of design from our own drawings, to Josh’s 3D SketchUp model, and Gever’s “plywood” model. We built our frame, not once, but twice. We built two ladders. And modified our slide.


While we still have work to do and safety tests to pass, we are now able to turn to one another for help and continue towards our goal which we hope to keep and share with our community.



Blue: Human Arc / And Now For Something Different

Hello, Human Arc!
To recap the amazingness that happened this week, I present to you:

6 Images / 6 Haikus


Define what it means.
Brain storming while braiding, “We
are Humans Because:”

Money means nothing.
We made it up and yet we
Place value on it.



Why? The important
thing is being together
When there’s no wifi.



Weird things make us us.
Like drinking water from art.
Or steam in an egg.


Lord of the Flies in
the green morning grass with cheese
puffs, hats, and Bandmates.



Beyonce, race talk,
sometimes unplanned, and hard to
talk about: so now rules.




Orange Band: HUMAN, Week 1!

My friends, we hit the ground running this week: added a reading and writing activity to literacy workshop, mapped our interests sparked by “Human,” started playing with patterns in math workshop, checked out ALL OF THE BOOKS at the library, watched a couple of documentaries about humans, apes and the brain, and started detailed and colorful illustrations of our own bodies.

During our in-service work last week, an idea that came up in both upper and lower school bands was reading current events. We found an awesome website, Newsela, that has loads of articles available at different reading levels on lots of different topics. So, I decided this was a great chance to add some choice reading and writing to literacy workshop. Each week, each kiddo can choose one article. Then, they’ll write a 3-5 sentence response. When the write, they’ll think about what the article tells them about humans from around the world, what problem the article is describing, or if the agree or disagree with anything described in the article and why. Already, kiddos have been reading about emojis and linguistics, the zika virus, gravitational waves, farm workers’ rights and more! Also, your kiddos have been BEGGING to work on this at home too. I’m waiting for the organization to verify an account for BWX, then I’ll be able to set them up with accounts so they can read articles at home.

Tesla and Ramses worked together to read an article about tomato farm workers in Florida fighting for labor rights.

Tesla and Ramses worked together to read an article about tomato farm workers in Florida fighting for labor rights. “The problem is that the farm owners treat the workers badly, so they needed to work together.”

An idea that came out of our Human brainstorm with LOTS of excitement  was to represent our bodies somehow. Now, I have some ideas floating around for expression that I don’t want to give away, but we also have a huge roll of butcher paper, so we measured, unrolled, cut and traced. Boom, your body! Then, while the kiddos caught some Zs, I hung their bodies up on a wall. The next morning, they could look at this ‘reflection’ of themselves. We hadn’t gone to the library yet to start digesting lots of biology, and I wanted to see how they would represent their bodies based on their prior knowledge. Let me tell you, these drawings are incredible. Every one is so different, and so beautiful. They are abstract, concrete, figurative, literal, simple, complex. I noticed kiddos feeling their bones, looking in mirrors, and looking more closely at each other. That was a great morning.

2016-02-24 11.18.06

Oscar working on his rib cage.

2016-02-24 10.49.48

Ramses’ heart!

2016-02-24 10.54.50-1

Sadie and Sadie.

2016-02-24 10.42.20

Sadie’s hand: bones that allow her fingers to bend and move!

2016-02-24 10.45.52

Oh, and then Isaac and a visiting student decided that I needed to be traced. Now that was a long piece of butcher paper!

We also watched this BBC Documentary, narrated by a woman about to have a baby, and (of course!) Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk about her experience having a stroke. So far this arc, I feel I have upped the anty a bit for these kiddos. At the same time, our exploration feels playful. I’m interested in approaching this topic from many different angles, which is so exciting to me–after all, my degree is in ‘Interdisciplinary Studies.’ I’m really looking forward to more biology, local history, global issues, linguistics, psychology–just to name a few!

See you next week humans!