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.




Researchers and Window Farmers

Harry Potter Herbology, catnip, wolves in Yellowstone, lending libraries, and bamboo in the morning. Window farming in the afternoon. The last few weeks have been filled with researching, experimenting and building.

Each morning during our personal project time, our Chartreuse Band research team has been spending its time taking notes while reading up on a variety of topics. Looking to bolster their collections of online resources, we travelled to the library to check out books. We’ve had mini lessons on note taking and organization, considering their audience, and writing outlines. They are beginning to see that taking these steps will help them write a stronger, more organized and thorough research paper.

To support their research, they have been working on various projects. Our bamboo researchers, Selina and Aurora, are looking forward to building small items such as cups and cat bowls out of bamboo they were gifted by the All In Common Community Garden. Luckily for them, they have bamboo (bike) expert Piper in the building who has shown them how to blow torch their bamboo as the first step to heat treating it.

Drying out bamboo. #chartreuseband #seed #bamboo #blowtorches #sfbrightworks

A video posted by Brightworks Chartreuse Band (@bwxmelissa) on

Drying out bamboo. #chartreuseband #seed #bamboo #blowtorches #sfbrightworks

A video posted by Brightworks Chartreuse Band (@bwxmelissa) on


Clementine is focused on designing and building lending libraries for local community gardens. She’s learning Google SketchUp to assist her in the design and planning of her libraries. Her design includes a planter on top to help incorporate the library into the surrounding garden. Her next steps include conducting a book drive to collect books to supply the libraries with.

Cutting boards for community garden lending libraries. #chartreuseband #seed #lendinglibraries #sfbrightworks

A video posted by Brightworks Chartreuse Band (@bwxmelissa) on

This past weekend, Nora sent home bundles of fresh catnip with a number of cat owning students at Brightworks, along with a link to a questionnaire to complete once they have given their cats the catnip. She’s very excited to compare the Brightworks’ cat population results to those of research she’s read about.

catnip questionnaire

Justin and Quinn have been improving their Prezi skills as a way to present their research on the impact the return of the grey wolf to Yellowstone Park had on its native plants. Trudy is looking forward to creating a few models based on her Harry Potter Herbology and magical plant research.

Our afternoons switch to group project time, and my team has been working hard at building a window farm. After researching the necessary supplies and creating a spreadsheet organizing them, we took a trip to Lowe’s to purchase the last remaining items we couldn’t find online. They’ve drank lots of bottled water (thanks Blue Band for helping us out) in order to empty the plastic bottles needed to house the growing plants, before applying a coat of white spray paint needed to protect the plants’ roots. They planted seeds in rock wool growcubes. They carved out and drilled out holes to create openings, for plants to grow and plumbing to go. They strung them up with paracord and learned how to straighten out our curled up vinyl tubing (hot water is a lifesaver). This coming week we must tackle the trickiest part: the plumbing system.

window farming project

window farming project

window farming project

window farming project

window farming project

window farming project

window farming project

Window farming

In the end, the BWX Window Farmers hope to grow enough food to share with their band and hopefully the entire school community.

Yellow + Green = Chartreuse

…and Yellow Band + Green Band = Chartreuse Band

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


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

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

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


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