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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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!

Let the Novel Writing Begin

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National Novel Writing Month or “Nanowrimo” is a time when students get to lock up their inner editor and let their imaginations run wild.  The month of November is given over to writing.  Focusing on quantity over quality, students write to reach a word goal and win bound copies of their story.  During December and January the students revise their work into a publishable form.  The delight on students faces when they receive their bound copies is a wonderful thing to behold.

The past two weeks the Green band has been reflecting on what they love about stories and analyzing the structure of the novels they admire.  They have been inventing main characters, figuring out the driving motivations of those characters and the inventing obstacles those characters will face over the course of their journeys.  They are mapping out the rising and falling action of their plots so they are prepared to get writing on the first day of November!  Next Tuesday we will begin our week with an Nanowrimo writing party.

Green Band: Back to School and Better Than Ever

What a wonderful group of kids!  What an exhilarating start to the year!

This first week was a deep centering breath before we dive into this new year.  We took time to get to know each other as the quirky wonderful creatures we are and create a thoughtful list of group agreements.

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To give us something to chew on as we formulated these agreements, the group played a game that required them them to work as a team to solve a problem.  They had to listen to each other to negotiate strategies.  Our debrief of this game fed our brainstorm on how we want to treat each other.

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Here are the five group agreements that we distilled from dozens of postit notes and much insightful conversation:

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It’s one thing to talk about group agreements and another thing to really embody them.  I left some things in our band space unfinished so that the group could have a mini project in which they could practice problem solving and good communication.

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This started in the shop with a lesson from Sean on how to ask for and offer help.  His nugget of wisdom was to take a moment to ask what a person is doing and if they would like help before jumping in with your suggestion.  

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The kids practiced asking for and offering help in a mini challenge.  This challenge required them to become familiar with the shop and some of the tools they will encounte there.

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The band also read an article from a wonderful book, “Problem Solving 101” by Ken Watanabe that described different approaches to problem solving.  The kids reflected on how they approach problems and what makes a good problem solver.

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As the group worked together to make our band space more functional and beautiful there were opportunities to learn from each other, practice resilience in the face of setbacks and think through some challenging logistics.

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I am so excited about this group of kids and the new year we have in front of us! 

Trudy teaching the boys how to sew!