Identity and the Brain . Homemade Halloween

This week, we began to explore the relationship between the brain and our identity, through the work of neuroscientist, David Eagleman and his PBS special on the brain. We noticed distinctions between the brains of humans and other animals. As a species, we are born helpless and remain so for a significant amount of time compared to other animals which are far more capable of thriving in their environment at an early age. Despite what seems like a disadvantage, the fact that our brains are “wired up” through our experience enables us to be far more adaptable to a variety of environments.

The idea that experience physically alters the brain is also important as it relates to learning. Really grasping the concept that learning involves a physical change in the brain helps foster a growth mindset in learners as difficulties become easier to view as part of the learning process instead of proof of an inability.

We also began work on our Identity Box stories. The students have a shared premise that they are working off of. They wake up in a room with no memory of whom they are or how they got there. They notice a box under the bed and examine it. The box contains a letter from a mysterious stranger and a small number of items. (The students had previously brought in and shared boxes with these identity-related items.) They are now using these items as jumping off points for a story that will blend elements of fact and fiction. Per one of the student’s request, they are also allowed (and encouraged) to bring in additional items to incorporate into their stories with the idea being that these artifacts help shape our identity and reveal aspects of ourselves that we may not have considered.

Homemade Halloween

2015-10-30 09.04.57-1 2015-10-30 09.13.53 2015-10-30 09.13.54 2015-10-30 09.14.00 2015-10-30 09.14.14 2015-10-30 09.14.24 2015-10-30 09.17.23 2015-10-30 09.17.28

Our school celebrates Halloween by dressing up in homemade or recycled costumes and then, with musical instruments and parents in tow, and parading nearby. The venue for today’s celebration was County Farm Park. The costumes were creative and the kids reveled in the experience of seeing their friends and marching about.



Tree Library . Out of Eden Learn – Footstep 2 . The Little Prince

2015-10-21 14.40.06 2015-10-21 14.21.03  2015-10-21 15.00.34 2015-10-21 15.00.42 2015-10-21 15.08.17

This week we added trees to our native tree library, a small group of trees planted in order to help with the reforestation of our natural playground.

We learned more about Paul Salopek’s journey by exploring his “milestones” which are short digital records of his experiences that he shares along the way.

These pieces include captured images and sounds, short interviews with people he meets as well as his written reflections on the place where he is. The students are choosing milestones that interest them, describing what they notice related to the images, words or sounds used and extending their thinking by making personal connections with what they see and asking questions related to what exists outside of the frame.

2015-10-23 14.25.24 2015-10-23 14.25.53

We’ve also begun our neighborhood maps, exploring the identity of place and how these spaces inform our own identities.

Our class also continued reading The Little Prince. In this week’s reading, the Little Prince described his interaction with his flower, before he left her. He also relayed stories of his brief time spent on other planets with the king who commands absolute obedience to his very reasonable commands, the vain man for whom “other people are admirers” and the drunkard who drinks to forget the shame he feels for drinking – all of whom confirmed the Little Prince’s belief that grown-ups are “very strange.”

Deliciousness . Six Sentence Stories . Out of Eden Learn . We are the Forest . Food Forest


This week we prepared the handful of tomatoes harvested from the garden this fall. We quartered them, sprinkled with sea salt and Aleppo pepper, drizzled with olive oil and then let them sit comfortably in the oven (225 degrees) for a few hours. We think you should try it sometime.

2015-10-14 08.43.22 2015-10-14 08.52.09 2015-10-14 12.20.18 2015-10-14 12.32.10 2015-10-14 12.33.01

Six Sentence Stories

While working on our own short stories, we identified major plot points found in stories and practiced telling stories in six sentences. Our purpose is to recognize the framework that forms the skeleton of stories and then use it to shape our own. This helps foster intentionality in our storytelling and encourages us to consider the purpose that each sentence has in the story. Is it advancing the action? Is it revealing character?

Students worked on retelling favorite stories of theirs (or the one they just had to pick because they couldn’t decide) in six sentences, paying attention to the Exposition, Hook, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution (which we refer to as Denouement because it sounds better.)

Out of Eden Learn

We connected with our learning partners in different parts of the country and globe this week by reading their posts about themselves and posting questions and comments, naming what we noticed and extending our thoughts by sharing connections or asking some follow-up questions. We also shared a little about ourselves and how we connect to the Out of Eden Walk. Next week we will begin working on mapping our neighborhoods, sharing both how these places inform our identities as well as exploring how places themselves have identities.

We are the Forest

This week, we welcomed back brothers Nate and Nick Ayers (We are the Forest) to our elective to share their passion and wisdom with us. We explored the importance of forests through music, history and ecology. We also continued to grow our native tree library with a selection of native trees which we started to plant this week and will finish putting in the ground next week.

2015-10-14 14.06.05 2015-10-14 14.09.24 2015-10-14 14.12.27 2015-10-14 14.47.21 2015-10-14 14.51.17 2015-10-14 15.06.58 2015-10-14 15.16.02

Buhr Park Food Forest

We returned to the food forest today to continue our work there. The students prepared a grass barrier by soaking and arranging cardboard and then covering this with wood chips. Some also planted fennel in the pear guild, which will serve as both a pollinator plant and attract beneficial insects including parasitoid wasps and lacewings to help control pests.

2015-10-16 14.02.26 2015-10-16 14.02.35 2015-10-16 14.24.51 2015-10-16 14.27.05-1 2015-10-16 14.27.27 2015-10-16 14.28.14 2015-10-16 14.48.11 2015-10-16 14.48.13 2015-10-16 14.48.16 2015-10-16 14.48.29 2015-10-16 14.49.40




Aphid Infestation . Green Thumbs – Plant Identification Walk

2015-10-05 09.55.04

This week we discovered that the plants in the grow bed of the aquaponics tank are infested with aphids. Danny and Ishan took on the task of figuring out what to do and directed me to a site that recommended different beneficial insects to take care of the aphids. This way we can avoid introducing anything that might help the plants but hurt the fish, such as neem oil. We now have some lacewings on the way. The aphids were also popular during our time with Lisa this week where the kids were able to explore with field microscopes as the students plucked some of the dead leaves to get a closer look at the culprits.

2015-10-07 15.20.29 2015-10-07 15.17.53 2015-10-07 14.54.30 2015-10-07 14.44.23 2015-10-07 14.24.23 2015-10-07 14.16.27 2015-10-07 14.14.02 2015-10-07 14.13.31 2015-10-07 14.13.09

During our elective, we observed and documented some of the plants that can be found on the school grounds, with the help of C. Milton Dixon of Permaculture Productions. We compared the shapes of leaves and branching patterns (opposite vs. branching.) The students made rubbings of various leaves and sketched others, including the seeds of biennials such as burdock and curly dock. We also found a variety of plants from the mint family, noted by the square shaped stem including mint, basil, and sage. It was amazing to note what we found just outside of the classroom.


Out of Eden Learn . Digital Footprints . Seeds . Reasoning and Justifying

Out of Eden Learn

This week, we began our work with the Out of Eden Learn Project. The project follows National Geographic Fellow and journalist Paul Salopek as he retraces our ancestors steps out of Africa and across the globe. His purpose is to practice “slow journalism” in order to provide greater context to our current news cycle with the hopes that hidden connections between events will be revealed and understood on a more mainstream level. The journey will take seven years to complete and we will follow his journey as he shares dispatches from the field. We will be using some of his dispatches to investigate how journalists share stories in a way that connect with readers.

Our involvement also includes joining a virtual walking party with fellow members in the US as well as Tanzania. As members of the walking party, we will be slowing down to more carefully observe our own communities, reflecting on how local events connect to global ones. We will exchange stories with others in our party about identity and place and make new connections. During these engagements, students will be asked to situate their own lives within broader historical and geographic contexts.

More information about the journey can be found below:

Out of Eden Walk

Digital Citizenship

Understanding digital footprints is an essential skill for students growing up in our increasingly connected environment. To illustrate the permanence of information they share online, I asked students to share something embarrassing on a sticky note, assuring them that no one else would view the note. I then asked them to erase what they wrote. Murmurs of “I can still see it,” or “It’s not erasing,” were heard. I then asked if they would be comfortable passing the note to the person next to them. There were screams of “No!” Notes were torn. Others were stuffed in mouths. After I assured them that no one else would see their notes, we talked about the permanence of our digital footprints and how hard it is to take back something that has been shared online. Some students then began working with Common Sense Media’s Digital Passport, an online suite of games that address critical skills related to digital safety (privacy and cyberbullying) as well as effective searching.


2015-10-01 08.51.27 2015-10-01 08.51.23 2015-09-30 15.28.55 2015-09-30 15.27.05 2015-09-30 15.26.27 2015-09-30 15.25.48 2015-09-30 15.19.35 2015-09-30 15.16.42

In our elective, we harvested buckwheat seeds from the garden this week. Thus began a craving for buckwheat pancakes. Students researched recipes while others harvested the stalks and collected the seeds. Some of the students also started seeds in rock wool. Once strong enough, the starter plants will be transplanted to the aquaponics tank. We are unsure what will do well but are looking forward to a potential harvest of broccoli, lettuces, eggplant and sweet peppers.

We also began to examine the current challenges we face in the areas of Food Production, Water Management, Transportation, and Waste Management. Students discussed the challenges and agreed that the systems in place were not sustainable. We will be exploring potential solutions being worked on in our community over the course of the year.

Math – Reasoning and Justifying

2015-10-01 09.40.092015-10-01 09.42.58  2015-10-01 09.41.13

Take a square of origami paper. Now make a square 1/4th the size of the original square. Now that you have done it, convince someone else that you did. This straightforward exercise requires students to reason and justify their responses, essential practices in mathematics. More folding challenges to come next week.