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Last week we welcomed Eli’s mom and her colleagues to our classroom for an exploration in bioluminescence. This tied in quite well with our studies of light and genes and was a great opportunity for the students to experience the phenomena first hand.

We began with a discussion of how humans and animals communicate and which led to our focus on bioluminescence. The students shared what they knew as well as potential applications they had heard or read about, including glowing trees along highways that would reduce the need for street lights.

After viewing videos of bioluminescent jellyfish, our question was whether or not bacteria would be able to read the genes from the jellyfish and actually glow. The students mixed the solution and placed the tubes in the centrifuge. Then we waited. We found that those injected with the genes that caused a green glow worked. The red ones didn’t, but it was a great opportunity for us to consider possible reasons why.

We Are The Forest

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2015-05-29 12.46.02 from SK.Chris on Vimeo.

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2015-05-29 13.00.34 from SK.Chris on Vimeo.

On Friday, we had the pleasure of welcoming We Are The Forest to our classroom where we explored the connections we have with forests. Nate Ayers showed us similarities in structural patterns (fractal properties) and explained the symbiotic relationship that exists between trees and humans with an emphasis on how the health of the former contributes to that of the latter. But the connections went beyond concerns about the environment.

Music and storytelling help define us and the forest has played a fundamental role in shaping these aspects of our shared human culture. Various cultures across the world have utilized the forest to make instruments which enable us to share stories through music. Nick Ayers (Nate’s brother) shared stories and songs with these instruments and it was amazing to hear how the sounds produced mimicked the sounds of air, water, and earth.

We ended our session with the installation of a “tree library” comprised of native trees that we will use for study, propagation, soil building, and a step towards creating resilient and regenerative systems at our school. The trees planted will help provide shelter and food for animals, and over time, food and fiber for our school (as well as more places to hide and climb.)

Our day ended with gratitude for the experience and hope for our shared future.


Digging in the Dirt is Good for You

There was much to do this week outdoors now that spring has finally sprung. We spent time in both electives and homeroom tending to the grounds and preparing different gardens. During our elective, we sowed seeds which we will transplant when ready. They are currently cozy in the greenhouse. We also planted a cover crop and ground cover on “the pit” to stop the erosion and rebuild the soil.  Some of the students also planted potatoes thanks to a generous donation of cured starters from Kaz and Aviana’s parents.

A new red maple and white pine were planted on the playground in honor of Earth Day and as an initial step toward adding new trees to the playground area in the place of those that were taken down.

Our class also worked with Shan and the 1/2s preparing both a rain garden and a butterfly garden. We mapped out the planting spaces to ensure that the plants would have enough room and helped the 1/2s dig and plant the native plants that will help us catch and store water on our property and attract pollinators.

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DNA and RNA – The Story of Us

When mapping out his walking path, Paul Salopek (The Out of Eden Walk) relied on both fossil evidence and the nascent field of Genography, where mutations found in our DNA provide a map of our lineage across space and time. In order to make sense of what this means, the students have been working on learning more about DNA and RNA. They have done this by reading articles, building models, watching videos and playing games where they can build virtual DNA molecules.

While many of the students were familiar with DNA, its cousin, RNA, was less well known. Debates about which molecule was more important spontaneously erupted. What excited them most was the opportunity to become, “Citizen Scientists,” by playing in the RNA VirtuaLab, where students learned about how RNA folds and were challenged to solve various folding problems by making adjustments to base pairs based on the strength of the connections. Along the way, they were shown how the RNA they created performed a function in the cell. After solving enough problems, the students are invited to join Eterna where they can design RNA molecules online with the chance to have their designs created in a lab and possibly used in RNA-based medical treatments.

About the RNA VirtuaLab

Students were asked to use the DSRP Model  to make meaning of the content they were working with. The model focuses on the following:

  • Distinctions
  • Systems
  • Relationships
  • Perspectives

Some of the class also extracted their own DNA today using a special solution of sports drink, pineapple juice, dish soap and rubbing alcohol. We weren’t able to get any to wrap around our skewers, but we were able to see it floating in the solution. Here is the link for anyone interested in trying at home:

Extract your own DNA

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Light Bulbs

We made a light bulb! A small group of students assembled a light bulb this week. Despite the repeated failures of my model, the students were able to get theirs to work for over a minute. After their initial success, they began experimenting with the amount of filament (graphite) to determine whether or not that would prolong the glow. Next week, they will teach the rest of the class.

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Genius Hour

“What might happen if schools made room for students to build at least part of their programs of study around their own interests or questions–every year they are in school starting in first grade, create a steady connection between their curiosity and what goes on in school?”

This week, we dedicated an hour towards independent student projects. Each student selected a skill that they were passionate about and wanted to develop. Some chose to work individually while others took a more collaborative approach. They couldn’t wait to begin building model planes, designing imaginary buildings or new games, making jewelry from recycled materials, knitting a scarf or baking.

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Out of Eden – Following Our Ancestors Out of Africa

Paul Salopek is a journalist for National Geographic who has embarked on a 7-year trek around the world where he will trace our ancestors journey out of Africa. He will be completing much of this journey on foot as he encourages readers to slow down and notice the hidden connections between local and global stories. Our class has joined a “walking party” where we will be learning more about Paul’s journey and sharing our ideas with other classrooms across the country and globe. Not only will we be learning through Paul’s travels, but we will be asked to think about the connections we can make between local and global stories, as well as the past and its effect on the present.

Part of this exploration has involved examining some of the various milestones of our species both before and after they embarked on their journey out of Africa, including mastery of fire, the introduction of agriculture and cave paintings in Lascaux. We are working on stop-motion animation videos highlighting some of these milestones. These will be incorporated into an interactive map that will hang outside of our classroom using the Aurasma app.


From the Page to the Stage

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The 3rd / 4th grade classrooms have decided to adapt Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children into a stage performance. Today, our class had an introduction to screenwriting (via Skype) with Greg Wands, a fiction and screenwriter (and very good friend) based in New York City. While currently developing a feature film, animated series, collection of short stories and a children’s book, he took time to share his insights on the process in which we are about to embark. We read through a scene from the book and they began to act it out, keeping in mind the challenges that come from realizing the various ways that you can (and can’t) convey information to an audience while on stage. Brave actors and insightful audience members offered several possibilities for how the scene could be performed. All seem eager to continue. More to come….

The Oakwood – A Newspaper of Imagination and Peace by Juna


Good People!

This post is about some of the amazing work that our very own, Juna, has been doing. Juna has been publishing a personal blog where she shares some of her passions and creative work. This work includes zines and a newspaper that she publishes (Issue 3 is in the works.) A skilled storyteller and artist, Juna uses her pieces to raise awareness about issues that matter to her, including civil rights and animal welfare. Her story, “Freedom for the Wolves” from her second issue of The Oakwood was recently published on Absurdist, a website that focuses on “submerged narratives.”

Please visit Juna’s blog to see this story and more of her incredible work.

Here is a link to her blog –

Playing with Perception

Last Friday, we visited the University of Michigan 3D Lab. The students observed 3D printers at work and were introduced to the potential applications including the construction of building materials, life-saving medical devices and even, human tissue. We also explored (virtually) an archaeological site and proteins using the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset. It was amazing to see these tools at work. 

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2015-01-16 12.52.57 from SK.Chris on Vimeo.

2015-01-16 13.11.16 from SK.Chris on Vimeo.

2015-01-16 13.25.11 from SK.Chris on Vimeo.

2015-01-16 13.26.13 from SK.Chris on Vimeo.


SK – 3rd / 4th Grade

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