Water Quality Monitoring – County Farm Creek

As a continuation of our water studies, we recently journeyed across the street to County Farm Creek to work with Catie Wytychak, an Environmental Specialist for the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office. Our task was to monitor the quality of water measuring turbidity, phosphates, and nitrates. Afterwards, we discussed possible contributors as well as solutions.

Catie visited our class the following week to discuss our results and play a game that helped demonstrate how water travels in our community and the ways in which contaminants can spread.


Genius Hour

The students have chosen individual projects and skills they want to develop and will have dedicated time each week to pursue these. Groups have coalesced around different themes including illustration, architecture, baking, sewing and programming.


Nufonia Must Fall

This week we were fortunate to attend a production of Nufonia Must Fall, a story of a soon to be obsolete, headphone wearing robot who falls in love with a girl in his office. The production was unique in that it was filmed in real-time, with puppets being manipulated on miniature stages and projected for the audience to see. The score was done by the creator, Kid Koala and the Cecilia Quartet, incorporating piano, strings and turntables into the action. Many of the students commented on how much they enjoyed seeing the film from the different perspectives and making connections between the individual scenes and how the artists manipulated objects to create movement.


Visit with Chickens

We were lucky to visit Andrew’s house this week to learn more about caring for chickens. The hands-on experience provided the students with an opportunity to observe and interact with the chickens and their space. We will take what we have learned and draft our presentation for city council next week.

Many thanks to Andrew, Miriam and their parents for welcoming us and sharing their knowledge. I also want to thank Clara for her work as our photographer.






One aspect of understanding systems is understanding the emergent properties that result from the interactions between the parts. This can be summed up by the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What makes emergent properties so fascinating is that the effect is often undetectable by simply observing the individual components.

Our exploration of this concept began with an episode of Radiolab and a couple of stories of emergence in the insect world including the synchronized flashes of certain populations of fireflies and the sophistication of ant colonies.

We also observed murmurations of starlings and read Mary Oliver’s, Starlings in Winter with an initial focus on the feelings the poem elicited in us. We will return to the poem next week to take note of the way she uses imagery, metaphor and repetition.

Starlings in Winter

by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.


Principles of Living Systems – Interdependence . Flint Water Crisis

We continued our systems work by learning about some of the principles that are involved, specifically Interdependence. The principle was highlighted in the Balinese story, Gecko’s Complaint. The kids also watched a video about how the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park had a larger impact on the ecosystem.

How Wolves Change Rivers from Sustainable Human on Vimeo.

We also began our investigation of the Flint Water Crisis. Students were split into groups focusing on the stories and science behind the situation. Some wrote accounts of residents that suffered and became citizen scientists and advocates. Others described the role different government agencies played. In order to help make sense of how things unfolded, one group made a timeline and another worked on two maps, one of which showed where high concentrations of lead could be found in the city. The last group focused on the science behind why the Flint River was more corrosive than the Detroit River and the relationship between chlorine, iron corrosion and microorganisms.

Problem Solving . Systems Thinking . Sim City . Space Stations . Commonplace Books


We’ve been digging more deeply into our exploration of systems and cities with the help of SimCityEdu, a simulation game where the students have to solve civic problems related to access to education, the economy, and pollution. They began by exploring the city, learning more about the different zones and what happened there.

While there are specific challenges assigned, a tour of the city revealed smaller problems in the city related to density, health care and other issues. We will begin to make connections between these problems and the various systems involved.

The first assigned challenge was to improve student enrollment by placing additional bus stops around the city. The students learned more about zoning and had to be strategic with where they placed the signs. Noting residential areas with low enrollment, the students focused on placing stops here.

Systems Thinking

We’ve also been learning more about systems and their components using the work of Linda Booth Sweeney. This week we are focusing on what makes systems unique and dynamic, as well as causal connections and feedback loops.

Problem Solving

A bit back we learned more about attitudes and approaches that hindered our ability to solve problems. This week we are focusing more on the steps involved in problem-solving including understanding the situation, finding the root cause, developing an action plan and executing and modifying the plan until the problem is solved. While students have been solving problems their whole lives, it’s helpful to have a framework to name and describe what they have been doing intuitively and maybe identify the parts of the process that they find difficult.

Space Stations

Last Friday, we helped the Kindergartens problem solve as they built their space station. It was great to see the two classes together, sharing ideas and resources to bring their designs to life. The students couldn’t wait to do it again and future collaborations are in the works.


Commonplace Books

2016-02-08 14.06.07 2016-02-08 14.10.02

As and creators and thinkers, we find inspiration in the many worlds we inhabit, be it nature, stories, poems, visual arts, music or any of the other ways humans express themselves. Taking note of what resonates lays the foundation for future creative work. Thinkers, writers, and artists all have ways of recording inspiration. We will be following in the footsteps of those that use Commonplace Books.

Commonplace Books are a place for students to capture the things that inspire them during their daily travels. They will be using them to record quotes, ideas, phrases, character profiles, images and illustrations and big questions – anything that resonates with them. Putting these to paper and then reflecting on connections, patterns, and the truths within these works will help students grow as thinkers and creators.

Problem Solving 101

This week we started reading Problem Solving 101 by Ken Watanabe with illustrations by Alan Sanders. The book begins by introducing characters that struggle with problem-solving due to their approach. As we described the characters, we took notice of the times when we felt like could identify with the characters.

Miss Sigh is easily overwhelmed by challenges and often gives up before really trying assuming she will never succeed and everyone will think she is a failure.

Mr. Critic is quick to point out the flaws in other people’s ideas but fails to offer any constructive ideas of his own.

Miss Dreamer has grand ideas but never makes a plan and never follows through so her dreams stay dreams.

Mr. Go-Getter believes that all problems can be solved by just working harder without considering root causes of problems or how well his current strategy is working and whether or not an alternative approach would be more beneficial.

Providing ways for students to name self-defeating approaches or tendencies is a valuable way for students to distance themselves from these negative characteristics and see them not as inherent qualities but habits of the mind that can be changed.

Next week, we will read more about what separates these characters from problem solvers.

As we continue the book, we will learn specific tools for problem-solving including logic trees, yes/no trees and hypothesis pyramids. When students have specific tools they can use to approach familiar and unfamiliar problems, they are able to think more clearly in the face of a challenge and are able to build confidence in their ability to creatively solve problems.



OOEL Footsteps . Stories and Games


This week we continued our work with the Out of Eden Project where many students began thinking about journeys they would like to take that would help them to learn more about themselves and places that interest them. Some have chosen to research places that reflect their ethnic backgrounds while others are choosing places they have always wanted to go. Students will share maps, itineraries and reflections about these places and what interests them.

Others are choosing to dig deeper into Paul Salopek’s current location and make suggestions for places he might visit. After these are submitted, the students have the opportunity to have their suggested destinations incorporated into Paul’s journey.

Stories and Games

We also welcomed a new student, Asher, to our classroom. Passionate about writing and storytelling, Asher shared the first chapter of a story he wrote with the class. As the chapter finished, the class hurried to check out his other works from the classroom library.

Niccolo, one of our resident game designers, also shared a demo of a game he created during a previous elective.

Sound and Voice

This week as we continued our study of sound, we learned more about how the human voice works. We looked at diagrams of the parts of the body involved and watched a video of vocal cords at work as four people sang.

As we discussed resonance, we gathered in different spaces, including the bathroom, the classroom and outside and noted how the sound differed in each space.

We also welcomed a close friend of mine, Caitlin Lynch, who is a professional opera singer, to our Science class to share with us the ways she cares for and uses her voice.

2015-12-09 13.00.37 from Chris Swinko on Vimeo.

Caitlin – Class Visit – 1 from Chris Swinko on Vimeo.


Lisa then discussed resonant frequency with us using wine glasses and showed how one can use that understanding to break glass with sound alone.

2015-12-09 13.13.53 from Chris Swinko on Vimeo.


SK – 3rd / 4th Grade

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