Violet Band: Human Arc

VIOLET BAND – HUMAN ARC. changes // updates


q: what does it mean to be “human” ?

… and why do we care?


key components:

brave new world

now – march

we’ve already started this (woo!), but how does this book define humanity? how is it depicted in this dystopian society? what is limited, changed? what is present?
race theory

all term

we’ve already started this (woo!), but what is the state of social human interaction, evolution, life today? how does critical race theory play a part in our everyday life? how can we be socially responsible, conscious members of society? how can we use our privilege to help solve problems?


robots and artificial intelligence are a window into our own brains, needs, and design capacity. in a godlike fashion, most robots are created in our own image – whether literally (think about robots through pop culture) or figuratively (they don’t look like us, but they behave like us). in order to gain another perspective on humanity, all of us will view humanity through the lens of robotics – playing with, building, exploring different levels of robots


all the sex ed. you guys knew this was happening.
guided exploration

now – june

small group classes. once a week we’ll meet for math and writing. for some of you, it’ll be mandatory. for others, you can opt-in to enhance your skillset. all of you should plan to explore at least ONE outside option using guided resources. think about it this way: what outside class are you taking to enhance your own humanity?
band shuffle


since not only are we studying views and components on humanity, we’re also studying humans, starting next week you’ll be in a collaborator rotation wheel. every week you’ll spend mornings with a different collaborator, studying a different topic interesting and essential to the idea of human. over the course of the month, you’ll explore different arenas of humanity and collect, compile a working portfolio of your experience, complete with mini projects at the end of each week. your rotation schedule is below:

  • week of feb 29: simons – civil rights (social history, movements)
  • week of mar 7: phillip – early civilizations (expansion, evolution, culture)
  • week of mar 14: willow – human body (system and maintenance)
  • week of mar 21: mandress – psychology (development, experiments, drugs)


a: formal end-of-arc paper on your answer, findings

✨✨✨ should be really good, you guys. ✨✨✨

Violet Band: Brave New World

Jumping into our exploration while still in project mode (Laurel is currently putting the finishing touches on her self-watering arduino planter. Max finished the school’s program of “RotorEd” to train middle and upper-elementary students on how to fly the quad. Grace is painting her reflections of plants. Sayuri is currently re-stringing a violin. Harry is creating a video trailer for his game. Cyrus is writing his project presentation. Jack put the finishing touches on his baby plane. Josh is building a planter to hold young oat plants to feed the cats. Cassandra is culturing algae.) 

The Violet Band started reading Brave New World. As we spent so much time on organic food and genetically modified foods in the seed arc, it was easy to extend into genetics in general, and the transition into modifying human genetics was seamless. We are six chapters into Brave New World.

The initial responses from the group – especially after the early chapters describing the setting – produced some beautiful, analytical, counter-intuitive responses.

Before we jumped into the novel, we tried to define what it means to be “human” as a group. The band settled on three buckets:

– biological factors (opposable thumbs, large brains, bipedal, etc.)

– emotional factors (having and understanding emotions)

– social factors (engaging with others)

Brave New World has brought about very distinct conversations on various elements of humanity, as the humans in their civilized society are decanted in a factory, conditioned to live and love and work in their caste, and satisfied through heavy extrinsic drug use and sex.

I want to make sure they have enough time to dive deeply into the concept of what it means to be human, exploring other areas in this realm as well.

In Brave New World, the characters are about to venture to a reservation to meet the “uncivilized” population, which – as the band hypothesizes – are people who are more like us, whose normal corresponds to our own normal.

The band is keeping a communication journal with me on their reading experience, as well as participating in a weekly literature circle. So far, they’ve mapped out the Central London Hatchery and made predictions about the world, as well as analyzing each of the main characters. Notes from some of their work:

— This society is different from ours, but so far, I don’t see why this ‘dystopia’ is so bad. It certainly is ethically wrong- training babies since conception to fill a certain position. But to the person, it makes no difference. Unless there is a defect in the system and a baby comes out wrong (which there certainly will be, otherwise the story has no plot), the person is perfectly happy doing their job.

— In our world, we are fully grown and matured in about 16-24 years. And while we are growing up, we learn mostly by making mistakes. When you break something, when you lose something, when you hurt someone. All these things teach us while in BNW, they don’t really have those learning experiences.  

— Alphas are given normal levels of oxygen to ensure full physical maturity and full mental capacity, the oxygen supply is reduced the farther down the social construct you go to the point of having epsilons being stupid dwarfs. my question is is it wrong to be forced to do one kind of work when you are sort of genetically inclined towards those working conditions?

— In the Brave New World setting we have been introduced to, nearly the only thing humans today have in common with the humans in London, 632 A.F. are some biological factors. So far there is nothing in the book to suggest that there are people in this society that don’t have opposable thumbs, and proportionately big brains. However, the mentality of the society seems to be centered around consumerism rather than creativity, each person striving only to fulfill their position as a cog in the great machine, pushing limits only in the endeavor of greater mass production of people. 

— In Human 782’s case, it has not and will never reproduce, has never felt emotion, and most likely does not have the will to survive. So is Human 782 human?

— Even in the first few lines, the atmosphere was set up beautifully, but that atmosphere was strangely sterile and overall a little spooky. The last thing I noticed was how even though it was written decades ago, how much of the impact and relevance still remained. That isn’t a common thing, even with actual classics.

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.

Violet Band: Project Season

Welcome back and happy new year!

The Violet Band is in full project-mode. After the holiday break, everyone was anxious to get back into their work. And rightfully so! Check out what they’re all focused on (taken from their independent project declarations):

Jack: This arc instead of doing a normal seed based arc project, I want to put my time into the ultralight project (UL). This project will teach me many skills I can use later in life.  It will teach construction techniques and basic aerospace design skills. Because this such a long project it will require me to develop long term project management skills. The Ultralight Project will last a couple of years and is a very major project, both because we have large goals to accomplish and because building an airplane is something i have always wanted to do.  I have been working on it since the beginning of the seed arc and would like to make serious progress before the end of the year. I am very passionate about aircraft and air travel, as an added bonus, and this project would look very good on a resume and help me get into the aerospace field of work. for these reasons, doing a seed arc project would not be nearly as beneficial as working full time on the UL. 

Josh: During this arc, I will do research on plants to find which ones might affect cats and why. After talking with experts and gathering information, I will find these plants and add them to KitTea to help new cats adapt to the space. I hope to create cat friendly planters and holders for the cats to enjoy both the aromatic benefits as well as the physical benefits of the plants. Ideally when I put specific plants in the space, it will help them adjust faster and make them happier so they can get adopted.

Harry: Video games have always been a passion of mine, and with this project I’m hoping to make a deeper foray into video game design and development. I’ve created smaller games and demos before, but this is my first time creating a full game. This experience will be invaluable asset for potential game development opportunities later on. 

In short, the project I’m working on is a game, made in Unreal Engine 4, centering around an airship captain attempting to dismantle an oppressive regime run by robots, and all the while trying to find and rescue his kidnapped daughter.

The deeper details of the game are outlined in this document, free for your perusal. 

Cassandra: My long-term project is an entry into the NASA Ames Space Settlement contest.  This is a contest done by NASA where students and sometimes teams design a space settlement and send it in to be judged.  I decided to do this because it will be extremely interesting to design all the systems to keep people alive, indefinitely, in space.  The contest doesn’t call for the settlement working for forever specifically but I would like mine to.  This will be a project that will require research, engineering, math and tons of science.  It’s going to be difficult because I intend to win the contest.

Cyrus: My goal is to create a small, fully-functioning game by the end of the year. The game would demonstrate use of Lua’s basic to advanced functions and be connected to a terminal for debugging purposes. I will be using the game engine MOAI (which is built in Lua) to compile and export everything. MOAI is another widely-used engine in the gaming industry, and is almost identical to vanilla Lua, but with an array of basic programs and optimizations hardcoded into it.

SayuriI have chosen to accomplish several bundles of mini-assignments and in doing so, embracing this otherwise encumbering need for multiplicity… This plan aims to both do away with the traditional single-focus arc project and emphasize the lessons learned in a project-based learning environment. Although I have allowed myself to choose multiple focuses as my project, I will also be fighting against my tendency to do everything at once and instead attempt to finish my projects one at a time. Learning to focus on a short-term goal and knowing not just when and how to keep going but also when to give something up or change an aspect of my expectations is important to me. For me, this arc is all about recognizing bad habits and devising strategies to control them, and nurturing good habits in order to achieve my maximum possible capabilities. 

Max: But only one vehicle project piqued Jack’s interest for flying, and my interest for engines: ultralight aircraft. Ultralights have been around for quite some time. They are popular because they can satisfy one’s need for flying, without breaking the bank, similar to Frankencart, they have a much lower top speed than most aircrafts, and are generally not flown aerobatically; they are just for getting a feel for what flying an airplane really is. And we want to build one.

Laurel: For the seed arc, I plan to create an Arduino-based automatic plant watering system. I have thought about pumps, servos, valves, and gravity, and I finally decided on a tank suspended above one or more flowerpots, with plastic tubing feeding into each pot. At the end of each tube will be a valve, and this is connected to the Arduino. The Arduino will know when to release the valve because of constant feedback from a soil sensor in the flowerpot. So, basically, the Arduino makes sure the soil is the perfect wetness for growing plants. I have some drastically underwatered poinsettias at home that I want to test my project on.

Zada is in India for the next two weeks, but has plans to continue her sewing. Right before break, she finished her first dress. And over break she created another dress – this time the corset even had boning! She wants to adapt her sewing practice to help create costumes for circus.

Grace is exploring the concept of “age” and how people interact with their age. She intends to research and explore how different age groups – both within the school and outside of it – express and think about their age.

Dinosaurs and Martians and Earthquakes

This week, Brightworks High School took all of our varying interests and combined them to facilitate massive amounts of science (which just so happened to be aligned with my interests).

On Tuesday morning, we skyped with the American Museum of Natural History. Paleontologist Zac Calamari connected with us from back in the research catacombs – discussing everything from dinosaurs to prehistoric life to his research on horns and skulls to evolution to energy. It was a question-answer period, and we shared our time with the Indigo band. Questions like, “how real is the science in Jurassic Park?” to “can we clone wooly mammoths?” to “what is your favorite dinosaur?” – Zac was wonderful. We ended up skyping for close to two hours – with the kids leading the discussion and hanging on every word.

On Tuesday night, we went to see The Martian. The BWX upper school met at the theatre for our Mars adventure; about half of the kids have read the book. The other half were equally as blown-away.

We came back to the school for a space night – chatting about the science behind the story and the human ethics in saving a man stranded on Mars while deliberately making and eating freeze-dried astronaut food.

In the morning, the BWX High Schoolers woke up and made breakfast for the school. As the other bands woke up and trickled in, they helped chop the vegetables or make the pancakes. We listened to a space playlist that you can find here.

In the morning, we were all sleepy. We all watched 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Here are morning photos of us making breakfast:

Yesterday, we went to UC Berkeley to visit their seismological lab. They talked to us about early-warning earthquake programs they’re designing (a smartphone sensor that can triangulate the epicenter of an earthquake to warn neighboring communities) and demonstrated the different types of shifts and waves in our tectonic movement.

After the seismo lab, we ate lunch and got a private tour of parts of the campus. The kids left with some Berkeley swag, and we ventured through their paleontology museum. We even saw Zac’s favorite dinosaur!

Next week, they’re off to the Mendocino Woodlands.

See you later.

Upper School 2 Mars

Today, we went to Mars.

Did some basic astronaut training, first.

Debriefed at Mission Control: there’s a station on Mars and a replacement team coming to swap them out, the Mars Control team and the Spacecraft team.

Got into position, and took off.

Our mission was successful!


Yea, space!


Violet: Today

Part of the BWX HS program is to create mindful, global innovators.

This morning we discussed varying sizes of infinity and our linear relationship with time and entropy. This afternoon they had work time – two worked on resumes, two updated their swing iteration (the “swing” is suspended from the rafters in the warehouse), one studied French, one self-taught C++, one added a new section to his novel, one took a “mastery” test in math, and one finally got the motors to move the fully student-designed, student-crafted EPV (electronic-powered vehicle).

Though, in the reflections at the end of the day, we’re apparently at “thirty-eight volts, which is enough to run it, but not enough to make it go ‘choo-choo'” – maybe tomorrow will be a forty-six volt kind of a day.