Welcome to the class of 2020's evolving synthesis blog! This blog is a portal for those in our community to see more of our daily learning, interaction and activities, to share stories, and draw connections between what we are learning in all of our core classes--as well as the triumphs and pitfalls that accompany high school.

What is synthesis, you ask? Thanks for asking! Synthesis is the bringing together of many different elements to create a more rich and complex whole. Marin SEL teachers are in constant communication to create aligned curriculum, which means there will be ongoing, evolving connections between all core classes. Though traditional schools tend to separate subjects for simplicity's sake, the reality is that many concepts, ideas and patterns tend to repeat in many areas of life. For example, we might associate the term "evolution" with science, but it's also true that cultures evolve, that people evolve, and that even our academy itself will evolve over time. And while you may associate writing with English class, truthfully, writing as a skill and method of communication serves us in all academic areas. Ideally, education should be about the synthesis of various elements (subjects, themes, skills and ideas) that create a powerful whole. This blog is the space where, one by one throughout the year, our 9th graders will become the eyes, ears and voice for the class, connecting the dots, and sharing it with you! Thank you for reading, and please leave comments and questions! --Ms. Leonhart, 9th grade Marin SEL English teacher

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May 31, 2017

By: Jessica Brown

When I used to think about school, I would imagine sitting in a desk, reading textbooks, and filling out worksheets all day long. Now, the thought of school paints a whole new picture, filled with so much more. The MarinSEL program allows its students to go out into the world and have experiences, rather than imagining what they would be like from the inside of a classroom. I have grown so much as a student in MarinSEL due to the real-life applications of what we learn.

As students in an environmental program, we need to understand how the rest of the world views the climate and Earth. MarinSEL teachers had accomplished just that by arranging a meeting with students from Japan and organizing a skype call with high schoolers living in Greenland. In March this year, we were all excitedly awaiting the arrival of students from Japan that would be visiting our classrooms. Sitting in biology, all eyes looked to the door as a sea of friendly faces flowed into the room. We organized ourselves into small groups and invited the Japanese students to join us. We spent around twenty minutes exchanging ideas, talking about daily activities, and discussing views on politics and global warming. I learned that although our cultural differences may be vast, we still shared a lot of similar views on politics and global issues with the students. The students stayed for a few more days, the goodbyes were lighthearted, and none of us will ever forget that experience.

Later in April, our second encounter with international students occurred in the form of a Skype call. Two days earlier, we had prepared questions about climate change and global warming to ask the students over the Skype call. When the time to talk came, we all sat in our seats, one by one exchanging questions and answers with the foreign high schoolers. We discovered that Greenland also found benefits to climate change because they will have more agricultural land and oil. Fortunately, they also saw the negatives for the rest of the world and the environment, but we never would have thoughts that one of the countries affected most by climate change viewed it somewhat positively. We have to remember that people have differing opinions than us under different circumstances.

These opportunities were unlike anything I have ever experienced before and I never would have been able to participate
 in them without the MarinSEL program. Although, talking with international students hasn’t been the only amazing thing we’ve done.
In both Geography, English, and Health class, we have been studying a food unit for weeks, learning about GMOs, organics, and
 local produce. Recently, we were able to apply our learnings to our everyday lives. We were told about a project where we would be going to the farmers’ market, interviewing farmers, and cooking a dish made completely from food we bought from the market. Excited, we did not know where to begin. We all brainstormed recipe ideas and thought about what foods would have the lowest carbon footprint. Finally, the day of the trip arrived and we were ecstatic. The class piled into cars and off we drove to the market. We were taught about how the farmers produced their food sustainably and asked them questions about their farming techniques. After we finished our shopping, we got back into our cars and put our ingredients in the refrigerator at school, but the project wasn't over. We also were required to calculate the carbon footprint of our dishes. I never realized the amount of emissions that food produces and the importance of buying local produce to reduce the carbon dioxide. The next day, we had a cook off during Seminar and lunch. We used the four Cs in order to work cooperatively to make a creative and delicious dish. It was an amazing project with many aspects that we could apply to our lives.

MarinSEL has a different approach to learning than conventional schools. The program goes above and beyond by allowing students
 to apply our learning to real life situations. School is no longer just sitting and reading textbooks because the MarinSEL program has turned it into an unforgettable learning adventure.

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April 25, 2017

By Jocelyn Tsai

She drifts over to the funeral podium and clears her throat. She prepares to give her eulogy about her great aunt. Her heart beats out of her chest uncontrollably. She inhales a deep breath as an attempt to calm her down. It fails to work though. Public speaking poses as her worst fear ever. It surpasses flying on planes, spiders, and even death. She can't even bear to think about talking in front of an audience. Why does the fear of giving a speech outweigh the fear of being the one in the casket? According to WashingtonPost.com, public speaking poses as the number one fear in Americans. People fear talking in front of crowds more than heights, clowns, and drowning. For some reason, speaking in front of others inspires fear in people. Perhaps the possibility of endless judgments the audience might have sparks the fear, or the fact that all eyes focus in on the speaker. Whatever seems scary about public speaking, I can definitely relate. During elementary and middle school, I was most certainly a diffident, soft spoken student. I barely had any experience giving speeches and would never have even given thought to talking in front of large crowds. As a result of participating in the MarinSEL program, I evolved to appreciate public speaking and grew more confident. This metamorphosis occurred because of all the practice speeches and presentations I had done in my MarinSEL classes.

Recently, in English, we started crafting a Pecha Kucha, a style of presentation that originated in Japan. Pecha Kuchas have twenty slides with images and very little text. The presenter can only spend twenty seconds on each slide, challenging them to say the most crucial information as clear and concise as they can. In English, we were split into partner groups and assigned to create a Pecha Kucha regarding an intercalary chapter from Grapes of Wrath. Pecha Kuchas require a lot of practice beforehand in order for the timing of the slides to flow correctly. Therefore, being prepared for the Pecha Kucha presentation prove to be necessary. In addition, in our Biology class, we devote class time to prep for a huge presentation for our Mutant Academy assignment, where we created a superhero who positively impacts the environment. At the end of our project, we will present our superhero to a panel of teachers and explain how the complicated processes of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis worked together to result in our superhero. Then, in World Geography, we recently finished our zero net energy home presentations. My group exerted all our brainpower into calculating our home energy usage and how to conserve it. After we constructed our zero net energy house model, we presented to our classmates about our process behind it. Through constant exposure to public speaking in the MarinSEL program, I have improved greatly on it and grown more comfortable in front of an audience.

While giving the many speeches and presentations I have done this year, I received critical feedback on how to advance my speaking skills even more. In Seminar, every time a classmate would give a presentation, the class would provide suggestions for improvement. Through this process, I learned that I speak way too fast and need to slow down in order to deliver an understandable, clear message. Improving on public speaking relies on finding weaknesses and building on them. What better way to do this than through the accepting and kind MarinSEL community? When I'm speaking in front of my MarinSEL classmates, I know that if I mess up, they will give me constructive, never negative, advice to improve it. Our Seminar teacher, Ms. Frack, also made it a huge point to count our filler words every presentation. After a presentation, Ms. Frack would tell me how many filler words I had muttered without even thinking about it. I tend to use filler words mindlessly, but little but little, I learned to be more aware of words such as "like" and "um." All of this constructive feedback allowed me to grow into a better, more confident public speaker. 

The MarinSEL program improved my speaking skills and let me partake in numerous opportunities to practice it. Recently, MarinSEL hosted their annual Business Mixer, where companies mingle with MarinSEL students and faculty to learn why they should support this program. This event showed me how much I had grown on my public speaking. At the Business Mixer, I gave a speech about my experiences as a MarinSEL student. I had practiced endlessly before, remembering to speak slowly and concisely and limit my filler words, all skills I had learned through MarinSEL. As I stood up on the podium, looming over my audience of mostly adults, I realized that I wasn't scared. My heart wasn't pounding out of my chest and I wasn't all jittery. Public speaking no longer frightened me as much as it used to. As result of constant presentation and speeches during freshman year, I had become accustomed to talking in front of audiences. I, Jocelyn Tsai, had overcome my huge fear of public speaking, and happiness radiated from me because of it. I would no longer allow my fear to keep me from missing out on speaking opportunities. I transformed from a shy girl to a student who just delivered a speech in front of countless business officials.

Everyone undergoes a miraculous metamorphosis at least once in their life. Whether it be learning to appreciate the Earth more or realizing that they can be much more than just a superficial person, character development proves itself as inevitable. I'm so glad and grateful that I conquered the fear of public speaking and became more confident along the way. It was all thanks to the MarinSEL community, from the helpful feedback to simply assigning many oral presentations. With a little encouragement and help from peers and a whole lot of courage and initiative, anything can be accomplished, even overcoming a huge fear.

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April 4, 2017

By Molly Madden

I had just finished a meditation with Mr. Garcia on a hot Saturday afternoon in August and it was time to move on to the next activity. Mr. Baker, the new activity instructor, told me that I had to decide if I was a North, South, East or West based on different types of character traits. I found out that I was a south, meaning that I am a team player, patient, generous, and understanding. This was the first time that I remember thinking critically in MarinSEL. Starting from day one of the MarinSEL retreat we were taught to use critical thinking, and as the year has progressed it has become an even more common tool leading students to success.

Critical thinking means “mode of thinking about any subject, content, or problem in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it” (critical thinking community). This type of thinking originates in the prefrontal cortex or frontal cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for decision making, organization, and thinking skills. The most important reason is that it helps us think more deeply and reflect on what we are doing. It also helps us problem solve and determine alternative ways to work.  MarinSEL uses the 4 C's: Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Communication in its curriculum, but in every lesson of every day, we are using this skill.

In every class period of every day, critical thinking is incorporated. In these past weeks in English, I read the book Bless Me Ultima, a story about a little boy that grows up in New Mexico. While annotating this story I thought critically by pulling apart the dreams and making sense of them. One example: “We must take with us the blood that comes after birth and bury it in the field to renew their fertility and to assure that the baby will follow our ways” (Anaya 26). This quote resembles how after the crops have been harvested they need to be left out in the fields to die and decompose into the soil so that it can help the little sproutlings for the next year survive.   In Geography, I am assigned “Coffee Shops.” This is when I bring in an article and discuss it within a group. I then come up with an intuitive question that will provide lots of response and debate. While debating, my classmates and I have conversations that respond to the question asked, and we do this by expressing our own opinions. One important conversation was about the water crisis. In this particular country, the water wasn’t being dispersed evenly among the agriculture and the big city, and while conversing some people thought that it was a huge problem while others didn’t.  In Seminar class, I often take quizzes or tests telling me what kind of leader I am and also what personality type I am.  After doing the Myers-Briggs test I found that I was an ENFJ (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging). After I received these results, I felt the results matched me perfectly because I am such an extroverted person that also has empathy for others.   Finally in Biology, I participate in labs and fun thinking activities like making models of the functions of DNA and RNA. Not only is critical thinking important in school work, but also in LEAD projects.

In our schoolwork, especially LEAD projects, thought process is crucial. Lots of work is put into these projects and lots of thinking is involved. For example, coming up with creative ideas, making appointments with community partners, thinking of activities that will not only teach kids but entertain them.  In relation to the other 4C’s, I think that critical thinking is one of the most important. It is used in problem solving, organizing dates to go and talk to the students and middle school students, and finally working on the pieces of the puzzle like presentations and creative projects that complete the LEAD project.

Critical thinking is an essential tool that will be needed throughout my life that I will need to use, working with people or for companies. Without the MarinSEL program I would not learn as much as I have about thinking critically. In my future years I will be able to incorporate the skills that I derived from this fashion of thinking while talking with fellow business peers. I can also run a successful campaign and gain different perspectives. Critical thinking is a tool for success and with the path that I am on, and the teachings of MarinSEL I will do just fine in the big world. 

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March 9, 2017

By Eleanor Huang

When considering creativity, we often mistake “art” as the pseudonym it hides behind. Even though the two areas collide in some aspects, they also differ greatly from one another. Creativity refers to the ability to produce original visions or solutions, and being able to plan a reasonable course of action to achieve a goal. Of course, the goal could be an artistic aspiration, in which the line dividing creativity and artistry may become fuzzy. However, it’s easily refocused: artistry denotes the craftsmanship of connecting the thoughts in your mind to a tangible product. While we do use these artistic skills in our classes by building model houses and drawing for stop motion videos, MarinSEL has taught me that creativity isn’t defined by the skill of your hand, but by the imagination of your mind.

As we near the middle of the second semester of our high school experience, my peers and I have used creativity in every class multiple times. It seems appropriate to begin my explanation with English, a surprisingly experimental class. Recently, some of our explorations have revolved around word choice, especially verb variety. It’s important to consider how we phrase sentences, as verb choice can give more clarity than adjectives. In verb choice, we can distinguish whether a character ate a pie, or if she devoured it; if she walked or strutted; if she spoke or she muttered. So far, we’ve worked on avoiding “to be” (is, are, was, were) and other bland verbs. This forces us to rethink and rearrange our sentences in creative ways to better reflect our ideas. It may seem
 simple, but this careful combing has been slowly changing our habits to write in a more complex and academic style. Sentence by sentence, we edit out the overused, mechanical sections in exchange for those with flavor and originality. It takes patience to
 create a beautiful writing piece, but the end product validates the painstaking work. However, creativity comes in many other forms, and some of the most satisfying successes happen in group work, building on one another's ideas.

Moving throughout the day in the life of a MarinSEL freshman, we enter the Geography classroom. The exploration of our energy unit leads us to Zero Net Energy Buildings, one of the innovative concepts assisting the fight against climate change. Zero Net Energy, or ZNE, is a combination of energy conservation and efficiency to create buildings that produce as much energy as they consume. Assigned in groups of four to five, we each drew a floorplan for one of the rooms in our house to piece together a small, but non ZNE, living space. With room to improve, we took the opportunity to assess these hypothetical homes and modify them appropriately. Because none of us had worked with ZNE before, we felt unsure of the kinds of problems we would face. Taking it head on, we ended up creating a proposal and a new and improved version of our original home made from cardboard. It took our artistic skill and intuition to build the new version and all its little furniture, but it was creativity that allowed us to arrive there, guiding us through the stresses of the issues with heating, plumbing, and much more in our houses. We did all of this on a small scale, but what if we could create something to change the world?

In Biology, we might be doing exactly that by designing superheroes. At the moment, DNA lessons occupy the class as we familiarize ourselves with genetics. Next, we’ll be addressing an issue in the world that we feel needs solving. Then we’ll imagine a superhero who could fix the problem, and dream up what his or her powers would look like. As a project with hardly any limits, the assignment’s open endedness forces us to think outside the box of reality. In a fantasy world, how would our course of action to combat complications to the human race differ from the innovations we create in this one? It compels us to open our minds to implausible options, but we should also remember that no one would’ve thought smartphones were a possibility before the 20th century, proof that with a bit a creativity and drive, inconceivable ideas transform into achievable possibilities.

Creativity takes many forms, whether it be rearranging words to be more expressive and thoughtful, designing a Zero Net Energy home, or dreaming up fictitious superheros in order to think of new solutions to genuine problems. The MarinSEL curriculum sets us up to develop lifelong skills while covering the subject matter with a fun and engaging approach. Ignoring the standard box of thinking, we continuously internalize an aptitude for creativity so that we can solve pressing issues in innovative ways, now and in the future.

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February 2, 2017

By Braden Bouwman

The traditional school system as we know it today tends to support the separation of subjects. They leave Math to the Math teacher, English to the English teacher, and so on. They teach the students strictly what they need to know, and often nothing more for some reason. Back in elementary school, I had the same teacher for every subject, whereas now I have different teachers for all my classes. One might think the elementary school teacher would have an easy time combining subjects, but this did not seem to be the case. While we were studying one subject in her class the teacher would make references to another, but rarely did we actually have a project or lesson that took place in a variety of subjects. This is where I think MarinSEL differs from the traditional school system. There are multiple teachers, so it proves to be more of a challenge, but that’s how people thrive in this program. And just as the students collaborate, the teachers do the same thing. They work together to provide a curriculum with one central idea and project, which has aspects that touch in every subject.

Recently, we have been studying watersheds as a central topic between classes. Every person in the class has chosen a body of water, and we were all told to research that particular body. Personally, I chose a watershed that was close by the school and my house, Las Gallinas Creek. However, since most of the water bodies were local, we had somewhat of a difficulty finding information. I could find almost no information about my source besides a few websites. So, we used critical thinking and emailed local organizations for more information, or looked into documents released by our local government. In Geography we were to make a pamphlet that reflected information about how the body of water affected its surroundings geographically. This meant we were to research the social, political, economic, environmental, and historical impacts this body of water had on its surrounding area. In Health, we researched the impacts the body of water had on ourselves. We learned what toxins were in our local watersheds and the arguments for and against them, and then wrote reflections on what we had learned. For English, we wrote a piece of literature that had something to do with our body of water. And, like English class usually does, it allowed us to invoke our creative side. Several people made poetry, while others wrote letters home about their imaginary stay there. Other people wrote made up adventures and other stories that took place there. I fell into this third category, where I wrote a mystery that took place in the body of water. I included the character’s reaction to how poorly parts of the water were treated, which I hope will encourage readers to take action for these issues. Lastly, in Science, I am looking forward to testing the water quality and making an interactive map of our watershed to report our discoveries. I think this will be a really fun activity and will teach us what it is like to acquire first-hand experience.

Other than the water project, the MarinSEL program has made an important effort to encompass all subjects. Seminar is a critical class to the program that really wraps all of the classes into one. In every single MarinSEL class we have had a presentation in some form or another, and Seminar is the class that teaches us how to present. That class is our time to work on our LEAD projects, so there are several aspects of those LEAD projects that breach the line between subjects. For example, we needed to research subtopics for our LEAD projects and write papers on them in order to create a successful paper. These papers are shared with our group members so we collectively create background for our topics and help us really understand what we need to accomplish. But, in order to do that we needed to learn how to write a robust thesis statement. Mrs. Frack taught us the basics of thesis statements, but then in English Ms. Leonhart taught us how to write one that was really effective, and worked on ways that we can implement it. We will use this knowledge to improve our theses in Seminar, and, through cause and effect, create a better paper.

Overall, having projects that involve many classes is a very valuable lesson that will definitely prepare us for the real world. As of right now, the traditional school system separates all subjects, which teaches us to only focus on one subject at once and creates a rather linear mindset. In the future, I hope the school system will evolve to combine subjects, as that would better prepare students for jobs in the real world. MarinSEL is great start to this, and I hope many other schools will follow their efforts. The thing I like the most about MarinSEL is that it teaches us what being an adult will actually be like, and what we need to learn in order to fulfill our obligations, and I think many would agree with my opinion. 

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January 2nd, 2017

By Axel Hsu

With our semester long projects, or LEAD Projects, coming to an end there is a lot going on during "Project Week." Finishing and practicing our presentations, running around to complete tasks, and meeting with our parent and community partners are all part of it. With all of the chaos surrounding "Project Week", we sometimes forget to calm down, and take a second to realize there are a lot of people trying to help us along the way. Whether it be teachers, parent and community partners, or people from SEI - they all want us to succeed. This is very reassuring to me, and to all of my classmates. However, these adults aren't just guiding us through "Project Week", but through the business world. 

When I told my dad, "I wish I had a job and worked just like you," he responded with, "No you don't; work is stressful." I thought about this for a second and said, "but dad, school is stressful: we have homework every night with lots of tests in between." He then intelligently answered, "but do you constantly have people relying on you to complete a task? In school, all you have to worry about is yourself and how you perform, but in business, lots of people are relying on you." This really hit me, I never thought about it that way before. But then I thought how "Project Week" and our LEAD Projects, in general, are related to what my dad said. In all of our LEAD Projects, we all have to work together as well as rely on each other to get out there and affect the community and MarinSEL in a positive way. For example, in my LEAD Project, we sustained the MarinSEL garden as well as sold produce and educated people at our two sales. "Project Week" is almost exactly like every day in an office, except we don't get paid. "Project Week" goes beyond out LEAD Projects, into the business world. 

This chaos happening in "Project Week" may be overlooked as a bad thing. This pandemonium, stress, and anxiety is all preparing us for the real world, where we might not have as much guidance from others, but we will always have a team to rely on. "A group becomes a team when each team member is sure enough of himself and his contribution to praise the skills of the others" - Norman S. Hidle. What this quote means to me is that when a group can stick together and have a positive attitude, they can achieve anything. To conclude, "Project Week" is a great experience for all of us to learn, work together, and build new skills that will be helpful later in life.

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