“Mistakes are actually the main reason to use this system in the first place”

“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”

“Every year, when you’re a child, you become a different person.  Generally it’s in the fall, when you re-enter school, take your place in a higher grade, leave behind the muddle and lethargy of the summer vacation.  That’s when you register the change most sharply.”

– Alice Munro, “Child’s Play”

I would love to live
As a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

John O’Donohue

And so, the Great Adventure begins.  My first question – to myself, and to you twenty-four humans who have the appearance of children – is, what it would be like to enter into our class with no expectations, no presuppositions, no clinging to past experiences and opinions and ways of being; but instead, to use that process that Alice Munro describes above as a stepping stone into an unfolding river of risk-taking, observation, and equanimity?

To that end, one of our guides this year will be the Goddess of All Things, AKA singer/songwriter/painter superstar Canadian Joni Mitchell.  Your indoctrination into worship gentle guidance towards an appreciation of her talents begins here.

One of the many many many (many) ways in which Joni Mitchell changed the frequency of music and culture is her use of what are called “open tunings” for her guitar.

Standard tuning for the strings on a six-string guitar works like this: “EADGBE—three intervals of a fourth (low E to A, A to D and D to G), followed by a major third (G to B), followed by one more fourth (B to the high E)” [I’ve never played a guitar in my life and have only a vague sense of what that last quote means – but enough to get a rough idea of it and so move on, so thank you, Jeff Owens on fender.com].

Joni Mitchell threw that idea out the window and created a whole new soundscape of alternative tunings.  Take a slow read of this (from “The Guitar Tuning Odyssey of Joni Mitchell,” by Jeffrey Pepper Rogers) (how’s that for a name?) and consider how what she has to say might serve as a metaphor for your life in class and your life in general:

So how does Mitchell discover the tunings and fingerings that create these expansive harmonies? Here’s how she described the process: “You’re twiddling and you find the tuning. Now the left hand has to learn where the chords are, because it’s a whole new ballpark, right? So you’re groping around, looking for where the chords are, using very simple shapes. Put it in a tuning and you’ve got four chords immediately—open, barre five, barre seven, and your higher octave, like half fingering on the 12th. Then you’ve got to find where the interesting colors are—that’s the exciting part.

“Sometimes I’ll tune to some piece of music and find [an open tuning] that way, sometimes I just find one going from one to another, and sometimes I’ll tune to the environment. Like ‘The Magdalene Laundries’ [from Turbulent Indigo; the tuning is B F# B E A E]: I tuned to the day in a certain place, taking the pitch of birdsongs and the general frequency sitting on a rock in that landscape.”

Mitchell likens her use of continually changing tunings to sitting down at a typewriter on which the letters are rearranged each day. It’s inevitable that you get lost and type some gibberish, and those mistakes are actually the main reason to use this system in the first place. “If you’re only working off what you know, then you can’t grow,” she said. “It’s only through error that discovery is made, and in order to discover you have to set up some sort of situation with a random element—a strange attractor, using contemporary physics terms. The more I can surprise myself, the more I’ll stay in this business, and the twiddling of the notes is one way to keep the pilgrimage going. You’re constantly pulling the rug out from under yourself, so you don’t get a chance to settle into any kind of formula.”

Joni Mitchell’s use of open tuning arose partially as compensation for a childhood bout of polio, which left the left side of her body (including her left hand, which forms the chords on a guitar) weakened, and partially, it seems to me, as a result of an innate deep restlessness and a natural tendency to question standards and norms and move toward the new.

In 2015, Joni Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm that took away her ability to speak and walk.  She had to teach her brain how to do these things again.  And then she did something not even her doctors expected her to be able to do: she relearned how to play the guitar (by watching old videos of herself to see where her fingers went).  Her doctors attributed her ability to do this to her natural will and grit, which are two words that it might be a good idea for us to investigate this year and find where they live within each of us.

On July 24, Joni made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Music Festival, and, among other wonders and delights, treated the audience to a guitar solo, the first time she had played guitar in front of an audience in 8660 days.

What are you willing to learn how to do over again this year?  What are you will to risk “failing” at, being an infant again with, like Joni had to do with her guitar, in order to put it back together again in a new, different, deeper, more complex way?

Are you willing to evolve?

Hopefully you are beginning to get a sense of why Joni Mitchell, along with Bob Dylan, is widely considered the most influential singer-songwriter of all time (and she really considers herself to be a painter, first and foremost, and we haven’t even touched on that yet!).  My secret plan hope is that by the end of this year you will understand why this is so, and that whenever anyone anywhere says the words “Joni Mitchell,” you will stop whenever it is that you are doing and reflexively do this:

In the meanwhile:

(Lynda Barry, Down the Street, Harpercollins, 1988)

As per usual, I 100% promise that there will be no throwing of chalk; and I 0% promise that there will be no forced modern dance outside the library windows.  Start practicing your angry trees.

A Wizard of Earthsea Graphic Novel of Awesomeness

It was a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
ooooooooong journey, but we finally made it back to Iffish.

The link to the evidence of the trip we took together can be found by clicking here.

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.

—The Creation of Éa

You Didn’t Actually Think…

…that you’d have a whole week off with nothing to do, did you?  (If you did, you haven’t been paying attention!)

Your response to this delayed start to the new year may have been somewhere on the continuum between


But, I have to be in school, so you know the drill…

You are about to receive some instructions.  Remember that in order to read instructions with clarity, we need to prepare ourselves: remove distractions, external and internal, so that you can read in a calm, friendly, and curious way.  Read all the way through, to get a general sense of things, and then reread each part as you do the work.

In truth, there are only two things I’d like you to do in these days leading up to January 10 – I leave the amount of time you put into these two things entirely up to you:

1.  Warm up your hand.  We are heading into graphic novel work, and you’ll want to get your drawing hand in shape.  This can be done in any number of ways, including:

    • drawing circles without a compass and not getting uptight when they don’t look perfect
    • drawing straight lines without a ruler
    • drawing a rectangle and then halving the rectangle (no rulers!) and then halving that space and halving that space, and so on, until you cannot go any further
    • drawing the alphabet, slowly and precisely, all upper case and then all lower case, over and over and over, maintaining a sense of relaxed awareness
    • copying images from Dazzler and/or Dazzler covers
    • copying anything from Lynda Barry’s tumblr page
    • copying faces from old high school year books
    • copying this photo of Prof. Pai Mei as an adorable Halloween robot:
    • copying any- and everything!

Also, spend at least 45 minutes coloring your House on Fire drawing, preferably with pencil crayons (if you have some at home – they don’t have to be the same colors you were using).   Remember Lynda Barry’s instructions: spend time on it; try overlapping colors; use this as an exploration of color – what are you learning while you do it?  You will use this learning in our graphic novel.  See below for some ideas of what you do while you color.

2.  Personal inquiry into MINDSET in general and CLARITY in particular. We’ve done a lot of work here already, and you’ve had a lot of warning that “we will be doing something with this!”  We will start that “something on Monday.  I’d like you to be ready for it.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

~ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Consider the exploration we have already engaged in:

  • the notes you took on all the videos in the Mindset pages on this blog, and the discussions we’ve have about them in class
  • notes taken while watching The Mind of a Chef, particularly the one’s that we related to mindset, such as “Get close to your opponent and dig the feeling” and the whole concept of ugly-beautiful and the perfectly imperfect, the perfectly “bent”
  • your personal exploration into Taoism and the group work you did translating one of the verses from the Tao Te Ching
  • discussions during our reading of A Wizard of Earthsea and the brainstorming you did in your comp book (if you were an obedient child) about the relevance of its content (how what we read matters to you and your life, how it might be useful to you, how it might have changed the way you think about yourself and others and the world)
  • notes taken while reading Jeff Warren’s “Core Skills of Meditation and Practice
  • notes taken after meditations
  • other things I can’t think of right now because I am old and tired – look in your comp book!

If you are looking in your comp book and noticing that your notes on these things are, well, a little thin, use these next few days to dive back in and beef things up.  (For reals.)

For everyone, spend some time with those notes and start to look for patterns and connections and “A-ha!” moments.  Write those ideas down.

Consider, too, some of the less explicit learning we have done:

  • Clarity of communication in writing: what tools do we have at our disposal to help the reader get as close as possible to seeing and experiencing things as we have seen and experienced them?  And what gets in the way of clarity when writing?
  • Clarity of visual communication: in areas such as Math and Art and note-taking, what tools do we have at our disposal that can help make our thinking clear?  What gets in the way of visual clarity?
  • Clarity of oral communication: what have you noticed helps make thinking clear when speaking in class discussions, Socratic Circles, partner work, group work, and when delivering political speeches?  What causes you to become less clear when sharing ideas?  What have you noticed about other people and what makes their ideas particularly clear or unclear?
  • What does it mean to listen with clarity?
  • What does it mean to see with clarity?  What is True Seeing?
  • What does clarity look like in PE, as an individual and as a member of a team?
  • Inner clarity – how do you know what you’re feeling?  How do you knowing what you are thinking is true?  How do you know if your experience at any given moment is subjective (true perhaps only from your point of view) or objective (true to an outside observer)?
  • What does clarity look like relationally (between you and other people)?  What does all of this look like in your social life?

These are all things that you can spend some time sitting with and recording thoughts about in your comp book.  Avoid full sentences!  Consider a web, or a mindmap, or sketchnotes (if you have that ability).  Regardless, aim for thoroughness.

There are a few other things I’d like you to do, too.

1.  Get your Burnaby Public Library card (or borrow your parent’s, and if no one has one, see if your parents can help you sign up for one!) and click here.

This will take you to the Oxford English Dictionary, which is the Grandaddy of all dictionaries.

Enter “clarity” in to the search window.

Spend some time with the definitions.

Then, go to the top-ish right of the page and click “Historical Thesaurus,” and then enter “clarity” into that search window.

Spend some time exploring this page – click on the red “clarity” in each result and explore the page that comes up.  Make note of the synonyms (words that have the same or similar meaning to clarity) that appeal to you and/or that help change the way you think about the word “clarity.”

Spend time on this activity.

2.  Explore a couple of the CEC newsletters.  Each one contains an article written by one of the CEC instructors, exploring ideas that are directly related to mindset.  Choose at least two to explore and use as a resource to add to your notes.

Please note that some of these articles may contain mature language and themes (nothing beyond what is covered in your Mature Reads permissions).  Know yourself and know your family’s values: if you find yourself engaging in something that makes you uncomfortable or that you know would go against your family’s wishes, make another choice.

And then there are some optional ways to extend your thinking with this preparation, if you so wish.

Jeff Warren, cofounder of the CEC, talks about clarity here:

And then he leads a meditation (25 minutes!) around the idea, and then, at around the 40:40 mark answers some viewer’s questions.

And then he digs into clarity, in explicit and implicit ways, here:

And then he leads another mediation.

There are different ways of engaging in those videos:

  • just listen to/watch the intro and closing discussions
  • do the whole thing and try doing the mediation
  • do the whole thing while you do your House on Fire coloring and take notes as they occur to you
  • do the whole thing and draw your experience, adding notes (words) to the drawing as you go along

You could also try the same with this.

You might also consider continuing your exploration of the Tao Te Ching.  Find an online source and explore some of the verses.

You could draw/note (or color your House on Fire) while listening to Obi Wan Kinobi read T.S. Eliot’s incredible poem, Four Quartets (warning: it may blow your mind):

Two Other Things:

1. Please make sure you know how to check your Outlook email (your school email account).

2. D&D Club (this is testing to see if you have actually read this entire post!):

If you are interested in possibly being part of the after-school D&D club, please send me an email, letting me know what your availability is on the following days of the week, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  Your email will tell me which days you are available on – please remember email etiquette when composing your message.

We will choose one of the above days of the week for the club to meet on, after I get a sense of people’s availability.

Things to note:

  1. The club will be limited to 6 people and priority will go to grade 7s as this is their final year.
  2. Members of the club will serve as DMs when/if we play in Term 3. This is a big responsibility that requires lots of extra work in terms of prep time, on top of regular school work.  Ask yourself if you are ready for that. (We will also need two more students to serve as DMs, so if that is interesting to you but you are not available for the club, don’t worry).
  3. You must have your parents permission to join the club (you will need to be picked up at 5:00 p.m. on session days).  Once we have settled on a day, a permission form will go home.
  4. Being in the club means taking on leadership responsibilities, and if you do not consistently demonstrate taking care of those responsibilities, you might be asked to leave the club.  This means doing your homework.  If you neglect homework during the week, you will be asked to not attend the club the following week.  It this happens more than twice, you will be asked to leave the club and forfeit your right to be a DM in Term 3.

Looking forward to seeing you all soon.  The classroom is very empty, with only Bruce Lee here to keep me company.  He’s so… quiet…

PS: when you see this, please send up some smoke signals on Discord, alerting others as to its presence!

Due to Technical Difficulties, Part 1,357,002…

…tonight’s Homework Sheet™ is posted here:

Seen and Heard Lists: at least one item to each list, every day.  This is part of our training in Clarity: noticing the world around us.  What is actually going on?

Campaign for Mini-Brain: at least 30 minutes on your speech this evening.

Continue to consider:

  • What can you incorporate from the Brené Brown/Obama podcast?
  • Meaningful details—what helps paint the pictures you want us to see in your stories?
  • Transitions from idea to idea – what is the through-line of your speech? What is the Big Idea?  How does that idea thread its way through the speech?
  • Introduction—how are you drawing us in?

Say your speech out loud at least twice in the privacy of your room.

The first time through, listen for and make notes to yourself about:

  • Flow—when do you feel a sense of flow, and when do you hear the flow come to a halt?
  • Opportunities for precise word choice—what verb is the right verb? What adjective is the right adjective? Consider what we are learning from Ursula K. Le Guin

The second time through, try the whole thing as we started today (before everyone reverted to being kindergarteners…): eXaGeRaTiNG eVeRy SiNG-GLe CoN-So-NaNT.

Please have an up-to-date printed copy of your speech with you EVERY DAY from now until you deliver your speech to the class during Election Week.

Goals: for tomorrow, please consider class agreement #7: “Practice kindness with yourself and others.”  Create a goal for yourself for tomorrow.  Write it down in your comp book.  Ask yourself, “Is this S.M.A.R.T.?”

Due to Further Technical Difficulties…

…tonight’s Homework Sheet™ is posted here:

Seen and Heard Lists: at least one item to each list, every day.  This is part of our training in Clarity: noticing the world around us.  What is actually going on?

Campaign for Mini-Brain: 30 minutes tonight on your speech (more if you are behind).

Continue with the work we began exploring today.

  • What can you incorporate from the Brené Brown/Obama podcast? Look through your notes or reread the transcript.
  • What can you incorporate from our discussion about the Clinton DNC speech?
    • Personable, folksy storytelling, as if you are talking to a group of friends
    • Meaningful details
    • Sometimes subtly slipping in your key points and sometimes highlighting them and making them very clear
  • Remember that these stories do not have to be about THE MOST EPIC TIME I DID THIS AND IT CHANGED THE WORLD AND EVERYONE IN IT; they can be stories of tiny moments; they can be stories of times when you did the opposite of the quality you are showcasing and it had a negative impact and your learned why that quality is so important as a result; they can be stories about times you wished you had demonstrated that quality; they can be stories about you witnessing someone else doing that thing and learning from it and now trying to do that yourself—there is no one way of persuading us.
  • At the same time, don’t shy away from owning these qualities—it is 100% okay to have pride in embodying these traits

Socratic Circle tomorrow: please make sure you have your notes ready and your copy of U.C. with you.

  • What do you think was interesting about chapter 9? What questions do you have about it?
  • What techniques do we need to have a good understanding of for our graphic novel?
  • How might be apply certain techniques in specific moments in the story?

Goals: for tomorrow, please reconsider a goal in relation to Division 7: something specific you can do tomorrow to help increase friendly relations between our classes.  Write it down in your comp book.  Ask yourself, “Is this S.M.A.R.T.?”

Late Work: what is your plan?

Due to Technical Difficulties…

…your friendly neighborhood Homeweek Sheet™ is posted here:

Seen and Heard Lists: at least one item to each list, every day.  This is part of our training in Clarity: noticing the world around us.  What is actually going on?

Class Agreement: What kinds of things do you think our class needs to agree to do?  Think do rather than don’t.  Dare to do it for reals – we need this. Spend about 30 minutes on this tonight.

Understanding Comics: our next Socratic Circle, on chapters 3 and 4, will be held Wednesday.  Use the handout to help guide your prep.  Be an active reader and an active note-taker.

Use what you learned last week to help you take a forward step this week, in terms of prep.  Tip: thorough prep can increase confidence in sharing ideas.

Socials: how do you play Civilization V?  Continue with your on-line exploration.

Job Posting


There is a new position opening up in the Capitol Hill MACC 6/7 program: the MACC Mini-Brain.

The Mini-Brain is a job similar to “class president.”  The role of the Mini-Brain is to be the teacher when Prof. Pai Mei isn’t in the room or when he doesn’t feel like being the teacher.  The Mini-Brain is to Prof. Pai Mei as Robin is to Batman.  The Mini-Brain is a natural leader, fair and kind, and helps shape policies that affect the lives of the students of Division 3.

MACC Mini-Brain Job Description


  • Forms government of choice
  • Helps individuals and the class as a whole honor the Class Agreement
  • Holds bi-weekly Town Hall meetings to share policy decisions and hear the concerns of constituents
  • Serves as Prof. Pai Mei’s Butler
  • At the end of each day, writes tomorrow’s date on the board in English, French, and Chinese
  • Helps Prof. Pai Mei make decisions, such as:
    • what activities to do for D.P.A.
    • when to take breaks
    • what movie to watch for the end of term celebration
    • things he doesn’t want to think about
  • Creatively diverts people’s attention when they notice how messy Prof. Pai Mei’s desks are getting
  • Controls the class jobs basket
  • Helps classmates solve minor conflicts
  • Holds the tie-breaking vote in the case of a tie in class votes
  • Reminds people to do their jobs
  • Welcomes guests to the room and helps make TOCs’ lives bearable
  • Politely corrects Prof. Pai Mei’s spelling errors
  • Sighs wearily at the P.A. system when there are too many announcements
  • Other duties as they arise

Term: One month

Mandatory Skills/Assets – some combination of the following:

  • Inspiring
  • Honest
  • Hard-working
  • Organized
  • Inclusive
  • Fair
  • Respectful
  • Anti-racist
  • Responsible
  • Trustworthy
  • Sense of humor
  • Knowledgeable
  • Kind
  • Patient
  • Positive
  • Authoritative
  • Selfless
  • Strong-willed
  • Confident
  • Level-headed
  • Open-minded
  • Charismatic
  • Likable
  • Trusting
  • Optimistic
  • Calm
  • Caring
  • Energetic
  • Unbiased
  • Safe
  • Wise
  • Polite
  • Creative
  • Open awareness
  • Peaceful
  • Encouraging
  • Sees the Big Picture
  • Persuasive
  • Respectable
  • Good intentions
  • Eco-friendly
  • Understanding
  • Brave
  • Bold
  • Ambitious
  • Smart
  • Reasonable

Hello, Leaders of Tomorrow.  Welcome to your first campaign.

For a combination of Social Studies, Career Education, Writing, Math, ADST, and Art, you will each create a project to determine the first MACC Mini-Brain!

Remember that letter and package from President Obama that we explored? For the Campaign for Mini-Brain project, you will each create your own version of that document.  It will contain:

  1. A persuasive essay, explaining why you should be the first MACC Mini-Brain. In this essay, you will try to win our votes by explaining how and why you best fit the Mini-Brain job description.  On Campaign Day, you will deliver this speech to the class.
  2. A campaign poster, done on 8.5 x 11 paper or cardstock. This can be a self-portrait, like the photo of President Obama that was in the package we explored, or an eye-catching and meaningful visual, or some combination of those two representations, with a catchy and persuasive slogan.
  3. Creative choice: remember the bios of the two Obama dogs? What would you use on this third page to humanize yourself, grab our hearts, and tell us more about your values?
  4. A written interview, in which you answer the same questions that President Obama answered, with the idea of being truthful and showing your personality, but also trying to win our votes.

Big Idea: Clarity of Communication—what am I doing, visually and textually, to make my values clear and persuade my public?

First steps:

  1. Choose the three leadership qualities from our class-generated list that you think you most naturally inhabit.
  2. Decide upon your vision: what do you stand for? What is your version of the ideal Room 105?  How will you lead us there?

Remember: all aspects of a political campaign have been extremely well thought out—everything is there for a reason, working to shape the public’s opinion. Even the most casual-seeming of choices have been tested and planned.  With each choice you make, ask, Why? How does this contribute to my message?

Also remember: there is no one way of being an effective leader, and there are not leaders and non-leaders; leadership potential exists inside us all, and there are an infinite variety of ways of expressing it—what’s yours?

Good luck!



Let’s Get Quirks and Quarks-y!

As advertised on your Homework Sheet™, the link to the Quirks and Quarks podcast can be found be clicking here.

1.  Before you begin, prepare the space around you:

  • remove all external distractions (phone, toys, little sisters, etc.)
  • close all open tabs on your computer except this one
  • remind yourself that Discord will still exist when you are done: you don’t need to check it every five seconds
  • let your family know you are engaging in an activity that requires focus

2.  Then prepare your materials:

  • get out your paper and sharpen your pencil
  • clear off your workspace
  • prepare the paper with your containers:

Big Idea (big text and big container): Scientific Advancements

Sub-Topics (medium-sized text and medium-sized containers):

  • Climate Change
  • Human Evolution
  • Expansion of Universe
  • Space Exploration
  • Questions

3.  Draw lines to connect your Sub-Topics to your Big Idea (you can choose to connect the Questions container to the Big Idea, or have it on its own in a corner of the page).

4.  Press play.

A reminder that the first few minutes of the podcast is an introduction–please do listen to it, but no need to take notes.  Listen for when they start to discuss the first Sub-Topic, Climate Change.

Be an active note taker.  Use the Pause and Rewind (back 15 seconds) buttons liberally (a lot).

No full sentences–try to use as few words as possible for each Detail.

You don’t have to write down everything – listen for the key information.

Use “chains” to break down long ideas.

Cluster the Important Details around the Sub-Topic they relate to; connect them to the Sub-Topic with lines.

There will be some complex information in here that you may not understand–how much can you get a rough sense of by context (the words and ideas that surround the tricky idea), and when do you need to press Pause and look something up in order to understand and move on?

Write down questions that occur to you around the Questions container and connect them to the container with lines.


  • Hierarchy of Size: Big Ideas are BIG, Sub-Topics are Medium, Details are small
  • Organization: details are clustered around the Sub-Topic they are related to
  • Use of Key Words: no full sentences, break down long ideas into a chain of related details, if needed
  • Attempt at Thoroughness: do not write down everything they say; do write down enough so that you could use the web to recall the information and explain it to someone else

Good luck!