Democracy in Action; AKA I Respect Your Passions, Now Please Stop

Another in an on-going series of “Things from 5,000 Year Ago,” the creation of our Class Agreement:

A few years back, while enrolled at a field school in Haida Gwaii, I attended an environmental education/place-based learning conference at the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay and had the opportunity of learning from Susan Chung, who, along with its founder, Stanley King, has developed the co-design process (aka The Social Art of Architecture), in which architects, educators, and students work together to visualize, design, and implement the building of school gardens and other multi-use school work spaces.

As someone who lives (and, if I’m not careful, will most likely die) by Oscar Wilde’s adage, “Talent borrows, genius steals,” I have experimented with incorporating their work into the building of class agreements – the basic “rules” which govern a classroom community. (Full disclosure: I’m now even stealing from myself with recycling of texts from old blogs posts… MACC-sters from years past, get over it; you try doing this job)
: )

I didn’t have the wherewithal to take a “before” picture, but the process began with a simple drawing of a bucolic setting on the whiteboard: a river, some grasslands and mountains, and a person in a canoe.  As a class, we imagined that we had come across this beautiful place and decided we wanted to stay.  Taking suggestions from students as to what we would need in order to live here, I drew additions – a cabin, sources of food and fresh water, a bow and arrow to shoot a poor defenceless bunny… – and then passed the pen off to them, to continue to add whatever they desired.


As you can imagine, this becomes a very loud and chaotic process.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the horror of Division Three Town:

…home to not one, not two, but three Trump Towers and some interesting neighbours, like the death-match arena adjacent to the swimming pool and the aptly named Pollution Factory downwind of the Ice Cream/Poop Store.  There also seems to be a lot of money and candy lying around, and needlessly to say, BTS playing on a loop.

Debriefing, everyone was able to comment on the frenetic, distractive, and overwhelming feelings the activity generated.

This led to a discussion about the nature of urban sprawl – what happens when those with money do whatever they like, wherever and whenever they want to do it.  

We looked at Division Three Town…

…and discussed what it would be like to live there.  What would it sound like?  What would it smell like?  How would it feel to actually be there?

From here, we spoke about the need to create a class charter and some basic guidelines that would help us create a workspace conducive to learning.  Primed by earlier brainstorming done in response to the videos we had explored about the lunch program in a Japanese elementary school; Gabrielle Hamilton’s restaurant, Prune; and Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability – as well as their own experience with past class agreements – students then worked in small groups to come up with a list of what they considered essential agreements…


…and we worked as a class to combine those ideas into a list of possibilities.  Armed with stickers, students each chose what they considered the top three choices…

…which we then tidied up…


…and, hands on hearts, pledged allegiance to. 

Some items are already providing to be more challenging than others (ahem *number 10* ahem), but I think you all came up with a list that would do any democratic society proud.  Now, almost three months after the fact, where are you at with this agreement?  Which parts of the agreement do you naturally inhabit?  Which are challenging for you to honor?  What small steps can you make to further embrace and embody the contract that you signed?  How do we reach a more perfect union?

And finally, five Interconnectivity points for the first person who explains to me the in joke about Eric’s Pencil Factory!

Would an Annoying Dog by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

Rumor has it that Cap Hill has bought a replacement laminating machine (and that it then promptly went on the fritz), which means that our first design project of the year (from September!) may finally make its way to your desk, soon-ish.

In celebration:

This is, of course, slightly ironic, as we just this week cast off our given names in favor of names of our choosing.  A formal greeting to the Class of 2019:  

Hello, Jocelyn, Cinnamon Roll, Your Royal Highness, Duck, Know Yoo, Potato, Thing 1, Thing 2, RQ, Maya, Meow, Mr. Gaitens, Napoleon Dynamite, Jordan Ramsay, Sir, Jams, Annoying Dog, Mr. Pi, Datgai, Spicy Cheeetos, E.Z., I LOVE BTS, Crystallized Banana, and your truly, John Faa.

With Hopes that Two Weeks Off has Dulled the Sugar High…

We’ve been practicing communicating visually (and will go further with that this term!), so I will try to let these pictures speak for themselves and only say thank you to Save-On Foods and Safeway and our Div. 3 families for the building supplies, and to Frame Right for the mat boards, and to Ms. Geddes for coming in at 7:30 a.m. to help make seeming endless batches of royal icing…

(Karen L., your pancake record is safe! And that was with chocolate chips, whipped cream, and fruit compote.  These Cap Hill kids are soft!)

So, About 3000 Years Ago…

… we met for the first time as the new Division Three.  Here are some souvenirs: 

  • my best guess as to the second languages that might be at play in our room (although I don’t speak them, my ancestors’ languages are represented by the last three – any guesses as to what they are?)

  • We shared our Hopes and Fears for the coming year:

  • A big chunk of our time during the first weeks of school was devoted to developing a capacity for community, team work, and strategic thinking through a series of physical activities like passing balls of various sizes (and a rubber chicken, for levity) down a staggered line, coming up with strategies to improve our time with each subsequent attempt…

…King Pong!

…Cooperative juggling!

…Popcorn Maker!

…and the epic card game Golf (thank you, Uncle Greg and Aunt Bronwen!) in randomly assigned groups!

  • Students indulged my obsession with tennis by watching highlights from the US Open and writing about and discussing notions of good sportspersonship, how things like footwork and recovering from one set down can be used as useful metaphors for life in school, and just what it is about Serena Williams that makes her such a great and compelling champion, whether keeping her emotions in check to dominate her older sister…

…or quickly recovering from a second set loss to find a way to beat a determined and revitalized opponent…

New York Times: “In Test of Time, Serena Williams Proves Hers Isn’t Running Out

The New Yorker: “How Serena Williams Used the Most Beautiful Service Toss in Tennis to Beat Her Sister Venus at the U.S. Open

New York Times: “In the U.S. Open Final, a Comeback Season Meets a Breakthrough Season

  • We also dove head first into the controversy and ethical issues surrounding the women’s final, and the stereotypes at play:

The New Yorker: “Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open Victory Against Serena Williams Nearly Ruined By a Call is Redeemed by Empathy and Grace

Washington Post: “Billie Jean King: Serena is still treated differently than male athletes

New York Times: “Martina Navratilova: What Serena Got Wrong” 

New York Times: “Serena Williams Came In on a High Road. It Made Her Fall More Devastating” How Naomi Osaka Answered Chaos with Calm to Win the U.S. Open Crown

  • We began to train our brains to experience the world in a different way, with careful observation of small details in order to reach a greater understanding of the whole.  This work was guided by the pedagogy of the genius writer/artist/teacher Lynda Barry, aping the work she does with her university students in her Interdisciplinary Creativity courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  At the heart of this work is the use of the Comp Book as a one size fits all container for our class work and students’ self-exploration:(a reminder to students: the more you invest in your comp book, the greater the improvement you will experience in your academics and your life – scientifically proven!)
  • We practiced observing Tiny, Perfect Things
  • We did some research about how to lie and how to spot a lie and then practiced lying to each other and trying to separate lies and truths through careful observation of the speaker…
  • We used Betty Edwards’ seminal text, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, as a guide for tricking our brains into seeing the world in unexpected ways…

  • And we practiced circumventing perfectionism with several rounds of a Drawing Jam! in which students had three minutes to draw a given noun, and then drawings were swapped around the room and students had three minutes to enhance the drawing they received through the use of color…
  • While we completed math diagnostics and pre-assessments, we also woke up our math brains (and purposefully practiced partner work with a randomly assigned partner) in the fiendish Skyscraper challenge…
  • And then we shared ideas about what was learned from the activity…
  • We started our Social Studies unit exploring different systems of government by diving into the murky, intricate, and at times infuriating waters of the U.S. midterm elections.  First we established what we already (think we) know and what immediate questions we had (a certain pattern emerged…):

    And then we used a few different tools to gain a broad understanding of the structure of U.S. governance, like Schoolhouse Rock! (AKA How Mr. Gaitens Learned Everything There is to Know Between Watching Saturday Morning Cartoons)…

  • Using the World Book as a resource, students broke into randomly assigned small groups to become “experts” on one of the levels of government, practicing note-taking techniques by working to distill the essential information from the interesting information…

    …and then one member from each group joined together to form new groups, and each member taught their area of expertise to the others…

  • After that, we watch A LOT of segments from the PBS NewsHour relating to the midterms and practiced using web-making as a note-taking tool, as well as generating questions to fuel further exploration (and learning from my own messy scrawl that 1) a web needs to make sense to you, and 2) sometimes to you need to redo your web for clarity after your first attempt!)…
  • While exploring the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford hearings, we started to look at effective and ineffective ways of speaking, in preparation for our first presentations (and learned that the whiteboard by the outside door tends to get smudged by people entering and exiting – Doh!)…
  • We watched and talked and wrote about a lot of videos exploring Bruce Lee’s notion of Pliable Awareness (being totally relaxed but totally aware of everything around you) and how that kind of mindset can be applied to school.

…to name but a few (as well as getting inside the mind of Gabrielle Hamilton, chef/owner of Prune; and all the Pliable Awareness videos at the bottom of our Bruce Lee page, and Brené Brown’s amazing TED Talk on vulnerability)

We then held our first Socratic Circle, discussing how to apply this kind of mindset to our life in school…

…and then recapped our learning with a whiteboard blitz:

  • Fully disclosure: during this whiteboard blitz, I fell prey to my old nemesis, The “There Is Not Enough Available Storage to Take a Photo” Monster.  So, a few weeks later, we staged a reenactment.  It was gratifying to see how much you all had retained of that work, and fascinating to see how a dialogue emerged on the board, with students building on each others’ ideas and sharing different perspectives about pressure vs. relaxation and talent vs. passion: 


  • And students received their Brain Name Alter Egos for our work in Science…This is, of course, just a fraction of what we have done over the past several weeks, but hopefully this gives you, parents, a little window into our world, and you, students, a little reminder of how far we’ve come already! Oh, and also:


The Question Marks Are Our Symbol, Part III

One day, I may find images and quotes that suit the start of the year better than the below, but today is not that day…

“The question marks are our symbol. They stand for questions unanswered, mysteries unsolved, enigmas of all sorts that we attempt to unravel.”

– Jupiter Jones in “The Three Investigators and the Mystery of the Moaning Cave”

(from Down the Street, by Lynda Barry, Harper and Row Publishers, 1988)

Suncrest Alums from 2017 and 2018: please remember to stop by room 105 at Cap Hill to visit – I need to know the next chapter(s) of your stories.

Suncrest class of 2018-2019: it breaks my heart that I won’t see you on Tuesday, truly, but I’ll be thinking of you and I know you will be in very capable hands.  See above re stopping by. 

Cap Hill!  Fasten your seatbelts!  And make sure you pack your leotards for our modern dance exercises!  Let the great work begin…


As We Enter the Final Stretch…

…consider these words from tennis champ Sloane Stephens, after her French Open semi-final win over compatriot (and good friend) Madison Keys:

“I think once I get going in a tournament, I’m pretty consistent, which is good,” she said. “I just try to keep going through the finals and just compete to the very last match.”

I dare you to bring that kind of attitude all the way through your final projects and all the way until that last hour of school on June 28.

For those of you who are tennis-minded or (if I have done my job correctly) at least tennis-curious, take a look at the contrasts in styles between the paths the two women’s finalists have took in their last matches.

World Number One Simona Halep (of Romania, in the blue) beat former French Open and Wimbledon champ Garbine Muguruza (of Spain, in the black) with a strong helping of self-belief and unrelenting aggression (you may want to turn the volume down on this one):

It wasn’t that Muguruza played badly, it was that Halep did not let her sense of focus and purpose drop for a second. What’s interesting is that this is not Halep’s usual brand of tennis: she’s more of a defender than an attacker, but she knew she had to change her plan in order to take down Muguruza.  Two points in the Interconnectivity Contest to the first person to connect that to project work. 

Tennis writer Steve Tignor has compared Sloane Stephens to a boxer, knowing just when to throw what kind of punch.  Unlike Halep, Stephens seemed almost casual in her dominance:

What kind of Term Three champ are you going to be?

Due to Unforeseen Circumstances (also known as traffic)…

…your homework sheet for the weekend is posted below.  Please keep the three sheets you worked with at the Museum of Biodiversity. Also, remember: no school (for students!) on Monday.  

  1. Socials Games: please make sure you have all the necessary parts of your games here on Tuesday – we will play them!
  2. Final Project: you are encouraged to spend a couple of hours on your final projects on Monday. If you are working with a partner(s), it would be a great idea to get together at someone’s house or at the library and do the work and then do something fun together.  Please make sure you are using your checklists and that you are referring to the project outline and the rubric to ensure you are hitting all the necessary points at the level you are aiming for.
  3. Survivor Reflection: this is due first thing Tuesday morning – you will hand it in as you arrive. Please refer to the criteria sheet (posted under “Projects,” “Subjects,” “Career”) to ensure you haven’t gone off on a tangent.
  4. Body Science: reread the assignment outline (posted under “Projects,” “Subjects,” “Health Education”) and explore the two links (and others of your own finding/choosing).

If you have overdue work, that needs to be a part of your daily routine until it is handed in.