On Thursday afternoon, Saklan’s 1st – 8th graders met with their family groups to discuss this month’s SEL topic: self-discipline.

The groups began by discussing what self-discipline means: recognizing or identifying that you need to help yourself to achieve a goal, task, assignment, etc. and being able to get yourself back on track.

Then the students watched this video of a lovable monster using tools to help stay on task! After the video they discussed the strategies the monster used: counting to 4, singing, imagining a cookie was a grandmother. The students then brainstormed additional strategies that could help them stay on task.

Each family group then used their list of strategies to act out self-disciplined ways to handle the following scenarios:

  • Someone cuts you in line.
  • You are having a hard time raising your hand, and keep calling out.
  • You are sad because you forgot your lunch.
  • You and your friend cannot stop giggling!
  • You are nervous/stressed over a test.
  • You are mad because someone grabbed the ball you were playing with and is now using it without asking.

The family groups ended their time together by creating posters showcasing suggestions to help others practice self-discipline in specific circumstances. Check out their posters below!


The Power of a Single Individual

On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with 155 mph winds and 40 inches of rainfall. The small community of Villa Del Rio was impacted like much of the island; houses blown off foundations, roofs torn off, down trees making roads impassable, and no running water or electricity for months. For Villa Del Rio, the worst thing may have been the isolation. For eight months, no one from the U.S. or Puerto Rican Government showed up to help. The community of Villa Del Rio was on its own. That meant rebuilding houses, fixing power lines, clearing roads, and sourcing clean water. It meant putting the community’s needs before the individual’s. 

There are so many things that we want our 8th graders to take away from their service learning field experience in Puerto Rico. The confidence from succeeding in an environment well outside their comfort zone. The reward of doing hard manual work shoulder-to-shoulder with those rebuilding their lives. The understanding that even in a community that has lost so much, generosity, kindness, and warmth are still a key part of the social fabric. 

But the stories from people like Angel created the most significant moments.

Angel and his wife Maria were one of the founders of Villa Del Rio. He and his family had homesteaded in a tent for years until the Puerto Rican government issued land deeds. As a carpenter, he built his house from the ground up and raised his family. On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria ripped the roof off his house and drenched his family’s possessions.

After the hurricane, Angel and his family lived under a flimsy blue tarp that covered what was once a beautifully crafted wooden roof. While Angel could have chosen to repair his roof after the storm, he saw others in his community that had greater need. Over the next four years, Angel used his carpentry skills to help his neighbors pick themselves up and rebuild while still sleeping under a leaky tarp roof. It was only when GlobalWorks insisted that the next project be his home that the tarp was replaced with a concrete roof. 

To work alongside people as selfless as Angel was transformational. It was a masterclass in the power of gratitude, love, and putting others first. Most of all, though, it was a life lesson in the power of a single individual to make the world a better place. 

With gratitude,


If you’d like to learn more about our students’ experience from their perspective, click here.

#HeadsCorner #SaklanFieldExperience

Helping the Food Insecure

Saklan’s seventh-grade class has been learning about food insecurity, both in our local communities as well as throughout the United States. Although the U.S. is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have a staggering 33 million people, including 5 million children, that are food insecure. The term “food insecure” is used to describe someone who does not have access to sufficient food or food of adequate quality to meet one’s basic needs. The primary causes of this issue are poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, low income, chronic health conditions, and lack of access to healthcare. And sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic magnified these issues. Many people who never needed food support before the pandemic found themselves waiting in long lines each week at their local food banks.

So as a way to teach our seventh graders how to make a difference and help get more food to people that need it, we decided to have them volunteer at the Alameda County Food Bank. The middle school teachers are proud to report that our students worked diligently, quickly, and with great motivation. The students understood that the more yams and onions that we bagged, the more meals and people they could help. Between Saklan and another group from Kaiser (roughly 50 people), they processed 15,902 pounds of vegetables and fruit. The students helped provide 13,199 meals, which worked out to each volunteer producing 259 meals. Our students and teachers were honored to help so many in a period of only 2 hours.

Saklan’s Middle School Teachers already have plans to take the other middle school students to volunteer at the Alameda County Food Bank in the new year.

If you are interested in volunteering, please click on this link.

Who Do Art Objects Truly Belong To?

Who do art objects truly belong to? Over the last six weeks, the 6th graders have been seeking to answer this driving question by exploring museum bias, researching significant artifacts, and understanding different present day arguments for and against repatriation of ancient art objects.

The sixth graders in front of the de Young Museum after touring the Ramses Exhibit.

After taking a trip to the de Young Museum to view the Ramses Exhibit, researching the significance of a chosen artifact, and speaking with experts from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Badé Museum, and Stanford University, their final milestone and public product for this unit was to select an aspect through which to answer the driving question. Some students focused on museum bias, others on big ideas around repatriation, still others on power and ethical issues in the worlds of archeology and museum preservation of ancient artifacts. You can read their manuscripts here, which have been submitted to KQED’s Youth Perspectives program for consideration to be published by KQED. 


Exploring Charcoal Drawing

Middle schoolers are currently in the process of exploring the art form of charcoal drawing. They were first introduced to it by learning how to create a wide range of values through the rendering of 3-D forms. Now that they’ve built some familiarity, they’re starting to stretch their understanding of how this art material can be used.

Recently they’ve observed and analyzed the work of Heather Hansen, a performance artist who makes large, symmetrical, gestural charcoal drawings. Trained in both dance and visual art, Hansen is fascinated by using charcoal to document the movement of her body through an almost meditative process. After viewing her work and learning about her background, the students began to experiment working in her drawing style. 

Each student sat on the floor with their paper and a stick of charcoal in each hand and practiced making large, synchronized, gestural movements with their arms while drawing. Next, they teamed up with a classmate to create a second artwork where they repeated the process of the previous drawing, but had to also mirror the movement of their partners.


Fish in the Lake

The 8th graders finished their proportions unit with an activity that extended their work from the R/V Robert G. Brownlee discovery voyage with the Marine Science Institute last year. On the Brownlee, the 8th graders used a drift net to catch and examine different fish in San Francisco Bay. This year they used mathematics to figure out a population in a large body of water by taking a sample.

Their task was to determine the number of “fish” (beans) in their “lake” (a paper bag) as accurately as possible, without actually counting the fish. To do this, the 8th graders used a “net” (a small cup) to take an initial sample. They measured the number of “fish” in their sample and tagged them by replacing the red beans with white ones.

Then, they returned these tagged fish back into their lake. When they took a second sample, they counted how many tagged fish were in their sample, made a ratio, and set it equal to the ratio. Next, students solved for the unknown number of fish in the lake. The 8th graders repeated this process again. If they thought their calculations were close to the actual number of “fish” in the “lake,” they stopped and recorded their work. If they thought another sample would be helpful to get a more accurate total, they repeated the process again. Finally, they counted the total number of beans in the bag and saw how close they were to their calculations. The three groups had varied success-one was within 10% of their total, but all the groups got extra proportion practice in a real-world science application!

#SaklanMath #SaklanHandsOn

Catching Criminals

The seventh graders have been learning about DNA. They explored the traits found on DNA, learned about the human genome project to map those traits, and then studied how technology can be used to isolate traits. The seventh graders now understand how technology is used to determine genetic similarities between parents and evolutionary family lines.

The students conducted an experiment to help them understand how criminals can be caught using DNA found at a crime scene. Through the process of gel electrophoresis, students separated colored dyes and tried to find out which colors were more closely related.

Next the seventh graders will learn about genetic engineering.

#SaklanScience #SaklanHandsOn

Connecting with Experts

An important part of project-based learning is connecting with experts in relevant fields of study. The sixth grade class had two opportunities to be in conversation with experts in order to help them best answer the driving question, “Who does art truly belong to?” 

They have been learning about ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Sumer through a selection of artifacts. After researching these artifacts and their cultural significance, students have been grappling with the modern arguments around repatriation of ancient artifacts. To where do these pieces truly belong?

On October 31st, the sixth graders interviewed Director of School and Family Programs at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Emily Jennings, via Zoom. She helped students understand perspectives, constraints, and considerations of large encyclopedic museums that hold ancient artifacts in their collections.

To follow up that conversation, students met with Dr. Aaron Brody, archeologist, Professor of Bible and Archaeology, and Director of the Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology in Berkeley, on November 2nd. The sixth graders got to hold ancient artifacts and engage him in larger conversations around the laws and ethics of excavations as they seek to understand the circumstances under which the artifacts they have been researching were collected. 

#SaklanGuestExperts #SaklanPBL

Testing Magma

In science, the sixth graders have been studying volcanoes. They are learning about the different types and parts of a volcano, where volcanoes are located, the different types of eruptions that can occur, and how they create different rocks and formations.

As part of their hands-on study, the sixth graders looked at different types of igneous rocks, tested different fluid viscosity to see how different lavas might flow, and then built their own shield volcano and tested different batches of “magma.” The students determined the speed of flow, what minerals make the lava flow slower, and how those different flows cool into different rocks.

The sixth graders are also learning about historic volcanoes and exploring the dangers and advantages of living near active ones. If you have a question about volcanoes, feel free to ask one of our new volcano experts – a sixth grader!


Discovering Musical Theater Characters

The Middle School Choir students are currently working on a project to answer the question: “Which musical theater character am I most like?”

While at first glance this question might seem like a quiz one might find in a teen magazine, upon closer inspection, the Choir students are discovering that characters in much beloved musicals have similar traits to themselves. In watching, researching, and singing music that connects them to these characters, Choir students are exploring stories that are meaningful to our society and history, while also learning about themselves as they become young adults. Within this structure, they are learning rhythms, tones, and dynamic markings, practicing harmony and proper breath technique for singing, and engaging with performing in front of a live audience.

In the coming weeks, the students will meet professional actors, experience live Broadway productions, and perform songs with their ensemble and on their own. This semester-long project will culminate with multiple performances at Fall Follies, CLAS, and the Lower School Musical, so stay tuned for amazing things to come!

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