Friday, June 6, 2014

this is it

It was great to see everyone this morning!  So many sharply dressed success stories, so many proud families.  The bleachers are full of parents, grandparents, and little ones carrying flowers and stuffed animals. People who don't normally wear socks are wearing ties. The opening strains of "Pomp & Circumstance" are calling to those still looking for parking spots.  Time for the last official post to the 2012-2013 course blog.* (*Please feel free to join the fun over at the 2014-2015 course blog or at, which will launch over the summer.) 

I am proud to be a member of this community.  You have all accomplished a great deal this year, in so many different ways, and I hope you're proud too.  Thank you for all your contributions to this learning experience.  I wish each and every single one of you great success, and I look forward to following your adventures online and in person.   

Sapere Aude.
Dr. Preston

class of 2014 grad lounge is open

masterpiece academy day 5

(Derp.  Just realized this was still in Draft.  For posterity... :)

Maria began her Masterpiece by studying language because she's thinking of becoming a translator.  As she dove deeper into the cultures of several languages, she became interested in world religions.

Bobby & Xavier walked us to the other side of the street (wear/art):

Judith and Amparo collaborated around the concept of compassion.

class of 2014 grad lounge is open

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

kudos: final edition

Congratulations to the following students-- and everyone this year!-- on their college admissions, scholarship wins, and amazing accomplishments.  I'm honored to have been a part of this network and I look forward to hearing about your future exploits.

Miranda Nillo (Henry Mayo Scholarship $5k; Marine Honor; Filipino Seniors $250; AVU Scholarship)
Bianca & Ashley (their comic strip is getting fan mail!)
Lesther Valenzuela (Filipino American Scholarship; Filipino Seniors $250; NAACP Scholarship)
Mia Levy (PTSA Scholarship)
Ian Steller (President's Award; SMEEAA Scholarship)
Rachel Shedd (Ian Hassett Memorial Art Scholarship)
Taylor Duguran (Scholar Athlete Award)
Jacob Caldwell (United States Marine Corps)
Bailey Wineman (Y.O.Y.O. Scholarship $500)
Jenna Noce (RHS Booster Scholarship)
Paige Logan (SFSB $3k; Union Scholarship $2500; Cal Soap $1k)
Hannah Savaso (RHS Booster Scholarship; PTSA Scholarship; Henry Mayo Scholarship; Newhall Foundation Scholarship; Ivy Pergosen Scholarship; Ben Paine Scholarship)

If I missed anyone, or if you've done something amazing since I posted this, please let me/us know in class or comment below.

learning without a ceiling

Over Memorial Day weekend my wife, my daughter and I joined the (1st Annual?) Steller Family Science Expedition in Yosemite National Park.  Melissa, Melissa's dad Mark, family friend Josh, 26 RHS seniors, and a talented, dedicated team of NatureBridge educators created an experience I'll never forget.  Since the trip was Melissa's masterpiece I didn't want to post about it before she presented in class.  Now that she has, here are a few images and observations as we close the year. 

We aim high.

But sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees.

Especially when you're stuck in a box.

 [Photo courtesy of Camillia Lanham/Santa Maria Sun]

When she proposed her Masterpiece Project I saw Melissa differently.  Yosemite has been her passion since her dad Mark started taking her there when she was about my daughter's age.  Mark and I share some important values-- Sunday morning pancakes are rituals in both our kitchens-- and we both said yes to Melissa without hesitating.

That was the last major decision Mark and I made.  Melissa handled every aspect of fundraising, logistics, communication, budgeting, and paperwork--she did everything except carry our bags.  Her enthusiasm and professionalism made an immediate impression on NatureBridge, the organization she contracted with to provide accommodations and our education/activity program.

The trip was so unusual that Central Coast NBC affiliate KSBY-TV carried a story about it.

Melissa's Masterpiece began with Yosemite and engineering, but the value she wanted to share through the expedition was that simply spending time in Yosemite can transform a person.  She went to great lengths to prove the point.  Even though she is saving for college, Melissa and her father trusted our community enough to pay the contract in full and up front.  This inspired everyone to reciprocate.  We contributed our fair shares, followed Melissa's instructions, and eventually followed her into the woods.


Educators/chaperones/teenagers--> human beings--> teammates.  NatureBridge's Deeps and Christina collaborated with us in many of the same ways we have been working together this year.  Instead of a rigid, one-size fits all approach, they offered us choices, they were extremely open to input, and they asked for direct feedback.

I was in the Deeps' Peeps group-- we took until the last day to name ourselves because the name had to be right and none of the earlier suggestions fit.  Deeps is a masterful facilitator, an expert naturalist & squirrel mimic, and a wise storyteller who knows an impressive range of poop jokes and who also: won a buffalo wings eating contest in Montreal; walked the Mount Kailash Kora with his parents, where he underwent a shamanistic treatment that totally confused him but made his back feel better; won a poker tournament in New Zealand; came in second in an NBA Jam video game tournament; and puts Rooster Sauce on everything that isn't a perfectly melted marshmallow.

Deeps' Peeps quickly established a language all our own (I'll never think of "email" or "download" the same way again) and we engaged in semi-spontaneous random acts of kindness like the rainbow tunnel.


("Free Hugs" is Josh, our other chaperone.  He's an old family friend of the Stellers and it was great to meet him.  I got a free hug and it was outstanding.)

Not being in the classroom meant I got to participate and watch in amazement as Deeps' Peeps grew into a closely-knit team that, for a blazing 1.2 seconds of pure Awesome, outperformed any other I've ever seen.

In between shared triumphs we sat quietly with our own thoughts.

We looked at things differently.

We used technology to see and share better.

We learned from each other and we taught each other (whether we knew it at the moment or not).

This is the view from North Dome, where someone asked if we were hungry for lunch and Jacob replied without turning his head: "What do you wanna eat for when you can feast on this delicious view?"

As great as it is, Yosemite--and our world in general-- is even better when we answer the call and begin to see ourselves in it.

So, back to the forest and the trees: it's not really about the forest or the trees.

It's about the people in the forest, and how the people and the forest are connected in a larger ecosystem, and how being mindful of this leads us to become more fulfilled, successful stewards of a home that provides the life we so often take for granted. 


I also ate an ant.

The very first document I shared with you was a memo that attempted to frame this course as a Campbell-esque Hero's Journey.  It's the one thing I've done about the same way every year since I started teaching high school courses 10 years ago.  The reason I'm thinking about it now isn't actually the hero's journey.  It's what Campbell said about the whole point of the hero's journey and our existence in general:

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe to match your nature with Nature.”
Joseph Campbell

To preserve this value in our culture, Deeps ("Deeps! Deeps! Deeps!") reminded Deeps' Peeps that it's not enough for us to experience these elements of the world and our place in it for ourselves.  We must tell our stories.  It's important for employers, policy makers, and the public to know that a teenager can connect a community with our richest natural heritage and teach us all something about ourselves, our learning journeys, and the world in the process.

Mindful action brings dreams into reality.  Melissa dreamed that she could share Yosemite with this community; after initial attempts failed last year she found a way to succeed.  This required risk, determination and resilience.  More than 100 years earlier, on April 23, 1910, Teddy Roosevelt (pictured in Yosemite below with John Muir) gave a speech entitled "Citizenship In A  Republic" at the Sorbonne in Paris, in which he said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Take the risk.  Put your idea out there.  Fail.  Climb a rock.  Remember that there is glory in the attempt.  The Gods will give you chances/Know them, take them.  Ask the question.  Find the edge.  Be in nature.  Make yourself constructively uncomfortable.  Be nice to someone who doesn't know you and can't/won't ever repay you.  Go out into the world and give it your all.

You can always take a nap on the way home.


Thank you for a terrific year.

Dr. Preston

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

masterpiece academy day 7

Nick & Grant are writing their own short stories and gave us a glimpse into their process and product:

Franky showed us that hip hop is deep and powerful, not just as music but as a cultural influence.

Angel helped us see how his career path in emergency medicine is the road rising to meet him.

Gabi proved compassion exists by showing us a use case and explaining how we can amplify & multiply its effects.

Lastly, Matt & Elizabeth followed up their actual Masterpiece (flying me around in a plane and letting me live to tell the tale) with a photography montage: