Orange Band: Seed, Week 11

This week, I got the kiddos to do a little bit of my job for me! Since the beginning of the school year, we’ve been writing in reflection journals. During this arc, we tried to focus our journalling on our expression project work. In order to understand why we did this, one day we visited an upper school band to see how they reflect. One thing the Blue Band does as a part of their reflection practice is write blog posts. This blew the Orange Banders’ minds! I realized that they had never seen the blog I write, so I took a few minutes to show them the Orange Band blog, and almost immediately kiddos asked me if they could write a blog post for the band. Answer: YES.

What you’ll read below is each kiddo’s journal entry from last week, plus a picture they chose to reflect the journal entry and a caption the kiddo and I wrote together to describe the picture, and connect it to their reflection journal entry.

Oscar:

I don’t feel like I have any trouble with compromising because I like participating with the group. But it’s hard to compromise when I’m supposed to write.

The other bands had a caulk gun and we had to wait, so we compromised made our own out of a clamp and a caulk container. After we waited, we got the caul gun. In this picture, I am using the caulk gun on the planter because it was leaking.

The other bands had a caulk gun and we had to wait, so we compromised made our own out of a clamp and a caulk container. After we waited, we got the caulk gun. In this picture, I am using the caulk gun on the planter because it was leaking.

Isaac:

I like compromising because it is a win-win situation, like when me and a friend are arguing. We often needed to compromise when people were begging for turns to plant in our planter boxes, or go on the swing, or use the chopsaw!

In this picture, we are cutting the potatoes to put in our planter boxes. We had to take turns cutting because we just had one knife and cutting board. Because we compromised, everyone got a turn who wanted one.

In this picture, we are cutting the potatoes to put in our planter boxes. We had to take turns cutting because we just had one knife and cutting board. Because we compromised, everyone got a turn who wanted one.

Emilio:

It’s hard for me to stay with the group when people are arguing. I can use my headphones or work in a different space. When people are shouting, I need to work in a different space. Sometimes, I leave the group in order to work in a different space where I can focus.

In this photo, I'm working on the planter boxes. I'm putting in the plexi-glass.

In this photo, I’m working on the planter boxes. I’m putting in the plexi-glass.

Ramses:

I’m working on listening. It was hard for me to listen when we were working on the plant play when I was hungry. In order to listen better I need to eat more snack during snack time. Sometimes I miss some of snack time because I am playing on my computer or reading or playing on the cork floor or hiding in the closet.

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In this picture, the Orange Band is working on the plant play. The cloth was for the setting. I am just watching my bandmates attach the cloth to the stage for the plant play. Instead of just watching, I can ask, “How can I help?”

Gita:

I am working on compromising because people only want their way and don’t listen to me. When we were working on our play costumes, when I asked people, “how can I help?” sometimes they said, “I don’t need help.”

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In this picture, I’m helping Tesla sew her wings. It was fun because once when we were switching jobs on the sewing machine, Tesla decided she wanted to change right back to her original job! It was fun because I liked steering, and she liked using the pedal.

Sadie:

It was hard when we were working on our planter boxes. It was hard to focus when we were putting on the plexi-glass. Putting in the screws was hard because sometimes the plexi-glass cracked when the screws went in. Working with a partner helps me get more done when I’m working in the shop.

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Gita helped me put in the screws for the plexi-glass. I chose this picture because it shows a time when working on the planter boxes in the shop was better with a partner.

Tesla:

Sometimes when I’m not focused, I need to take a lap on the cork floor. Sometimes, I felt really silly when we were working on our planter boxes in the workshop.

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Piper and I are talking about how I need to use a finish washer so the plexi-glass won’t break when we install it onto the planter box using screws.

Thank you for reading our blog post!

Love,

Emilio, Gita, Isaac, Oscar, Piper, Ramses, Sadie and Tesla

Chartreuse Band: Meeting Deadlines

We are meeting deadlines left and right.
NaNoWriMo…Check!
Personal projects…Check!
Group projects…Check (for the most part)!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks as the Chartreuse Band has been pushing themselves to complete both there personal and group projects for the Seed Arc, as well as completing their NaNoWriMo stories.

On Thursday and Friday, the Chartreuse Band formatted their NaNoWriMo stories and finished up their covers. We can’t wait to share them once they are published!

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The research team has really pushed themselves to complete their projects. They have learned to take notes, organize those notes in multiple ways, create outlines, and turn all that into informative research papers. They searched for meaningful images, charts, and graphs to incorporate. They learned the importance of citing their sources. Oh, and the bamboo crew has continued to blow torch and build. Now they will find ways to present their information in engaging and informative ways.

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The window farmers continued their work on the window farm. These past couple weeks were not just weeks of physical work on the window farm, but it was also time for discussion and understanding. The team began to create Google Slide presentations on the process of building a window farm, reflecting on the work they have done. We watched a short video on vertical farming and shared our thoughts on these changes to traditional farming. They shared in depth their thoughts about all the possible positive negative effects vertical farming can have on the environment, the suppliers, and the consumers.

By Wednesday of last week, they finally had all the necessary pieces in place to hook up the air pump and add water to the reservoir bottle. Fingers were crossed as they waited to see if the water would make into and up the tube to the top bottle. As expected, leaks were found and adjustments had to be made. Each time the water traveled a bit further up the tube, the cheers and excitement grew. The water never did make it up and over into the top bottle that day, but they also never gave up. They knew going into this project that they would run into stumbling blocks such as this and that they would need to troubleshoot the problems, and they were ready for it. The goal is to have at least two of the towers running by presentation day on Thursday. I believe in them, and the best part is, they believe in themselves.

Window farming

Window farming

Orange Band: Seed, Week 10

Seed Arc is  flying by; before we know it, we’ll be onto Human. But first, we need to wrap up these projects, and present to our community. This week, we made a lot of progress on our planter boxes and plant play, here are some highlights!

Potato cuttings work so well for our planter boxes! The flat face of the potato sits right up against the plexi-glass.

Potato cuttings work so well for our planter boxes! The flat face of the potato sits right up against the plexi-glass.

So much great teamwork went into making costumes for our plant play. There are so many things in sewing that really need 2 pairs of hands, so here Gita helps measure Oscar for his spider legs.

So much great teamwork went into making costumes for our plant play. There are so many things in sewing that really need 2 pairs of hands, so here Gita helps measure Oscar for his spider legs.

When we got to the community garden on Wednesday, we discover a container with several baby lettuce plants waiting to be planted. Here, Nathan helps Sadie carefully plant the lettuce without breaking up the roots too much.

When we got to the community garden on Wednesday, we discovered a container with several baby lettuce plants waiting to be planted. Here, Nathan helps Sadie carefully plant the lettuce without breaking up the roots too much.

After trying to water out potato cuttings, we discovered that our planter boxes leak--a lot. So, we spent some time on Thursday troubleshooting solutions. We landed on the idea of stuffing strips of sponges to fill the gap between the plexi-glass and the wood.

After trying to water out potato cuttings, we realized that our planter boxes leak–a lot. So, we spent some time on Thursday troubleshooting solutions. We landed on the idea of stuffing strips of sponges to fill the gap between the plexi-glass and the wood.

Oscar stuck with this problem all day. When we discovered that the sponges worked, but not quite well enough, we brought out the big guns--the big caulk guns that is.

Oscar stuck with this problem all day. When we discovered that the sponges worked, but not quite well enough, we brought out the big guns–the big caulk guns that is.

Oscar's mom, Nora, is a great seamstress and came in to help us sew our costumes Friday morning! We made so much progress with her help, thank you Nora!

Oscar’s mom, Nora, is a great seamstress and came in to help us sew our costumes Friday morning! We made so much progress with her help, thank you Nora! Earlier this year, I taught a few kiddos to partner sew on a machine: one on the pedal just controlling speed and one steering the fabric. Here, Tesla is on gas, Gita is steering, with guidance from Nora.

This week, Sadie drew the pattern for her feathers, cut them out, sewed them together with help from Isaac, and then hand-stitched on the elastic bands to hold her wings in place at her wrist and shoulder. Talk about being thorough!

This week, Sadie drew the pattern for her feathers, cut them out, sewed them together with help from Isaac, and then hand-stitched on the elastic bands to hold her wings in place at her wrist and shoulder. Talk about being thorough!

Blue: Quantifying Experience

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How do you quantify experience?

This question came up several weeks ago as I was consulting with a member of the Violet Band about her project. It’s an interesting question… sometimes you embark on a project that produces a physical thing: a plant, a paper, a mechanism, or sculpture. Other times, the product of a journey is not so quantifiable: research, question asking, iteration, thinking, or practice. Each of the Blue Band’s projects are a combination of these two disparate categories — concrete and abstract — and that combination is so difficult to quantify.

So, what happens when, at the end of the journey, you have to make a presentation to the whole school that justifies how you chose to spend the last five weeks?

The answer? Documentation. And, documentation can look much different for different projects.

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For example, it can be a time lapse of 60 minutes of pixel pushing.

 

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It can also mean taking the same photo everyday for several days to measure progress.

 

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Documentation can be a SketchUp design that later manifests into a wooden structure.

 

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Or asking a friend to record some off the wall afternoon testing.

 

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Documentation can take the form of detailed to-do lists.

 

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Or, taking photos of specimens… or photos of the thing you built in order to take consistent photos of specimens.

 

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All the notes that lead up to the final thing can also help to quantify all the abstract time and ideas and brainstorming that go into the manifestation of a final product.

 

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While possibly cliche, it’s important to point out that despite the emphasis on a final project or a final presentation, the emphasis of experiential learning is indeed the experience — the journey and not necessarily the destination.

As we continue to document this week, next week, we will start to map that journey and convert it into a story we share with the rest of the world.

Only 12 days left, Blue!

Blue: Projects / Creating Systems of Accountability

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Start with a 5-week project. Divide its tasks by the number of available school days. Divide those days by 2 sessions: morning and afternoon. From those 2 sessions, subtract the number of routine activities, field trips, and special events (taking into account their approximate duration). To that, add the weekends — maybe. To that, add the evenings — maybe. Take the sum of all available minutes to work, then distribute tasks accordingly by order of importance.

Now begin.

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Blue Banders have embarked on individual projects related to the Seed Arc. Each project is drastically different. Some are writing-based, research-based, design-based, building-based, and some are growing-based. Every student has a different personal and academic investment. Each project seeks to accomplish goals that they (and I) have helped to establish. This is complicated. And exciting. And really, really, hard.

It’s really, really, hard for a few reasons. To begin, I’m no longer directing the curriculum. And, when I’m no longer steering the ship, the inspiration and drive isn’t (necessarily) generated solely by me. Kids declare their interests, and then have to also keep up the energy to continue to keep those interests interesting.

(Whoa, that’s a lot of pressure.)

Also, time management is really hard. I keep a pretty tight schedule during the Exploration phase of the Arc, but will often deviate, sidetrack, and tangent along the way. Blue Band doesn’t necessarily always see this, but it definitely happens. A lot. And now, they are starting to experience that. Sometimes a plan doesn’t go as planned, and you have to readjust your expectations and your schedule to accommodate those learning opportunities.

This is all well and good, but here’s another thought…

In this school where we don’t issue grades, we (the Collaborators) constantly invent and reinvest systems of accountability in our Bands all the time. There isn’t an across-the-board standard or universal approach, and thus there isn’t really a model for students to use when the tables turn and they have to self-direct.

So, how is a middle schooler supposed to effectively establish, stick to, and follow through with a procedure that keeps them productive and on task (for WEEKS at a time)?

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This week, we worked really, really hard at verbalizing goals and subdividing those goals into smaller tasks. We wrote those tasks down, declared them to the group, and then made sure to publicly announce when tasks were completed. (Sometimes, we also rewarded ourselves along the way!)

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This is a system that works. And the Band is excited about it!

It works because it asks Blue to self direct in manageable chunks. The system also makes accomplishments that might otherwise be publicly invisible visible to a peer group. This visibility is awesome because we can high five and smile and make one another feel good for accomplishing things during the day. Also, it feels really wonderful to check a box in front your friends!

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Also, sometimes you can use the temptation of cake as a reminder to hurry up and check a box!

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Orange Band: Math Workshop

This week, I’m writing based on a special request. My dear friend and co-worker and Lower School Assistant here at BWX, Nathan, asked me to write a bit about math workshop.

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Kiddos walk me through a counting back strategy. They tell me how they would solve the problem, and I translate their strategy into a representation on the chart paper during a strategies seminar.

Math workshopis intentional time dedicated to math skills development. Kids at this early elementary age are very literal thinkers. So, it’s important for us to approach math literally first, and then abstract from there. This means we approach topics in math workshop, then apply them to our arc based work. What’s more, it’s important for us to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

Math workshop consists of 3 basic components: skill introduction, skill practice, and strategies seminar.

Skills are introduced at the beginning of math workshop, or sometimes in the morning message. For example for the past few weeks, we have been talking about subtraction and counting. The conceptual jump from addition to subtraction is a big one for kids of this age, and it’s one that we approach using logic. One Tuesday morning, the kiddos arrived to school with the following problem in the morning message: “Last night I went to the library to pick up 17 books I had put on hold. When I got there, the librarian let me know that 8 of the books I had requested were not ready for me to pick up. On a stickie, write an equation to show how many books I was able to check out.” This problem asks kiddos to consider if I checked our more or less than 17 books, and then translate that into a mathematical sentence, or equation; how will you show taking away from 17 in an equation? Sometimes, we’ll warm our brains up by acting out what is happening in the problem–which also guarantees to be fun and silly!

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Emilio and I translate our drawing of balloons being lost into equations. Both strategies solve the problem of how many balloons I have left!

The next component of math workshop is skills practice. First, kiddos do some practice of the skill we’re working on, usually individually, and sometimes with a partner. For addition and subtraction, kiddos have been imagining story problems to match equations. They write or draw their story problem, then show their thinking to solve the problem. This means metacognition of the steps it takes to solve a problem, then synthesizing these steps in such a way that they can be illustrated. This could mean drawing your hands to show how you counted on your fingers, drawing a number line and showing which direction you moved to find your answer, or drawing the items described in your story and showing them being removed (crossed out) or added to. Then, kiddos can move into games choices. Each workshop, I’ll choose a few games for kiddos to play as they finish their individual work. Some of these games give kiddos a chance to practice arithmetic to build fluency, others are more oriented to sequential thinking, logic, and spatial reasoning.

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Ramses works on showing his work to solve an addition problem that we wrote a story for involving a robot and all of its laptops and cell phones.

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After doing some work writing a story problem, Gita and Tesla play 21. They need to accurately add up the cards they can see, and reason whether or not they should take another card from the deck based on the total of the cards they can see, knowing that they have one more card hidden.

I think the metacognition of HOW they solved a problem is the most important part! So often a kiddo will respond that they just knew the answer. As we move toward problems they will not be able to solve quickly with mental math, kiddos must be equipped with strategies to solve problems. Much more than repetitive practice, kids showing their work emphasizes problem solving strategies, and asks kids to think about the relationships between numbers and what is actually happening when they are counting.

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Sadie crosses out the balloons that ‘flew away’ in order to answer the question of how many balloons I gave Nathan for his birthday.

But wait, there’s another most important part: the seminar! Seminar usually happens at the end of math workshop, but sometimes we’ll seminar together at the beginning of workshop to remind kiddos of strategies they can use to solve problems when they are working independently. At strategies seminar, kiddos explain to the group how they solved their problem. To get us started, I translate kiddos strategies and draw what they describe on a piece of chart paper. Moving forward, kiddos will start to illustrate and explain for the group.

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Four different ways to solve the same problem–wowee!

This part is so important because it integrates many skills into one practice: not only are they remembering and sequencing their process for solving a problem, they are presenting it to others. They must find a way to explain it in a way that others can understand, and that can be drawn on a piece of paper. Plus, kiddos practice listening to others, and asking for respect from their peers. More than anything else, I’ve seen that kids learn to show each other respect and attention in these moments when they must practice the give and take back to back: when they can immediately see that their friends will show them respect in exchange for their respect.

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Oscar shows the group how he would count back using a numberline.

That’s all there is to it! The order of the parts can be me moved around, broken up, and we don’t necessarily do all 3 parts at every math workshop. The games we play include some dice and card games that practice arithmetic, to build fluency with some basic math facts, some board games that emphasize spatial reasoning and logic, and even some coding for sequential thinking.

We did so much other awesome stuff this week beside math–check out our Instagram feed to see proof!

Violet: Ski Weekend

This weekend, we’re going skiing.

But for now, we’re in the middle of our projects!

Sayuri posted her petition to extend the Alameda library hours earlier this week. You can read and sign it here: Improve West End Library Branch Hours to Seven Days a Week

Max and Jack got their fundraising page up and running! They’re raising money to buy an Ultralight kit – a starter pack in building their airplane. You can read more about (and donate to!) their project here: Send Two Students into the Sky!

Laurel started working at 826 Valencia this week. Cyrus and Harry are both using Unreal Engine 4 to work on their game platforms – Harry is detailing the movement, steering, and shooting of a ship; Cyrus is creating the land. Josh drafted his first iteration of a clay potter for the redesign of KitTea to make it greener and more balanced. Grace finished her survey of BWX students and staff and their interaction with age, and is creating visible boards for their results. Cassandra finished both of her essays – a persuasive paper on GMOs and a research paper on the evolution of human understanding of the universe – and is drafting out an air filtration system for her space community.

In the middle of this, we started reading Brave New World. Chapter 1 done. We’re so excited.

And this weekend, we’ll be in Tahoe for a ski trip. The band wants to play Dungeons & Dragons, so I am frantically training to be a Dungeon Master. So far, I am in way over my head.