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What we did this year

This post is part of the 2015 ALC Everett #debrief

September 3, 2014 our first day

School started in ernest around the first week of september. I had just driven across the US and met the family for the first time just a few days before. Everyone was really excited to get started. We were about to start off on a 20 week long adventure in Agile Learning.

I sat down with the Sterling boys and we decided that we wanted to start school on the 2nd and that we would hold morning meeting at 10am and closing meeting at 5pm.

Read about our first day.

The first draft of the kanban board

The first week had a number of fun activities. One that stands out is Mike’s guided brain storm of entrepreneurial ideas. Here is a sampling of some of the ideas we came up with, the letter to the left is the grade we gave each idea upon reflecting on the list:

– Worm farm (for gardening) A
– Seed Starts A
– D&D hosting B
– Movie Night A+
– Party Hosting / planning A
– Workshops A
– Costume making B+
– Silent auctions C
– buy and sell junk (from estate sales, etc.) A
– Sell old people’s treasures (organize estate sales) A+
– Make stickers B
– Invent stuff (sticky notes x 2.1) A
– Make art and sell it B

I introduced some games from the ALC network like GeoGuessr, WikiTrails, and philosophy.

Dear diary today we did philosophy. Our philosophy subject for today was are robots really sentient. We also talked about if certain forms of lying are ok. These subjects came up form a movie we just watched called Robot and Frank, it was very interesting.

— Tommie’s blog post

Having spent time with other facilitators and learning these kinds of games was invaluable to get us started while the students got comfortable coming up with their own games.

Here’s a list of the things we moved to the done column of our kanban:


  • Geo-Guesser
  • Cook zucchini bread
  • Philosophy
  • Mine craft server – Stevie
  • Taught Ethan SSB
  • Park after Philosophy
  • Intro R&D
  • Became a little more awesome
  • Mind mapped Web development business
  • Money making talk

You can get a sense of how much we were doing each day from another one of Tommie’s blog posts:

Dear diary today I: made quesadilla’s, particpated in philosophy class, got everything together to make duct tape wallets, emailed the afk tavern, played starcraft with everybody. for philosophy class we talked about why laws were made, if we should follow them, if the law is trying to protect us, why you can’t drink alcohol  until you are 21, why aren’t all drugs legal, etc.


The students requested that we play Dungeons and Dragons and asked me to be the Dungeon Master, I started coming up with a world while they started writing blog posts about their Characters. Here’s a sampling of the characters the students made up from themselves:

Tommie was a orphaned billionaire turned flight attendant:

Image Tommie made using GIMP, which his brother Jackie shared with us


Jurr was a Japanese River Otter ninja named Test #56

Jurr’s illustration of his character


Jackie chose to be an atomic powered couch filled with squirrels. Unfortunately he didn’t choose to make an illustration.

Our first maker project

In early September some of the students found that they had a need for a place to keep money, probably after all the talk of enterprise ideas. It’s interesting how one activity will often lead into the next. After identifying this need we started looking at ways to achieve that goal. I put together an idea board with links to different wallet making techniques.

After some discussion we decided that Duct Tape was the way to go. So we gathered the supplies and got to work.

See the full post about making wallets.

Measuring out the tape
Measuring out the tape
Measuring where to cut down the wallet body
Measuring where to cut down the wallet body
Showing off our sweet new wallets!
Showing off our sweet new wallets!

The educational value of an activity like this might seem lacking, however, I found that it left a lasting impression on the kids. Because we were using a knife to cut the tape I was able to teach knife skills (we call this stacking functions in permaculture).

Later on when ever we dealt with knives I would hear Jurr, Tommie, or Nick (those who were present for wallet making) talk about the “blood zone” and how we had to keep it clear.

September 19, First Parent Meeting

20140919-parentmeeting-kanbanAt the end of week three we had a school potluck which lead into our first parent meeting. I ran the meeting using a temporary kanban. We volunteered to take care of action items and listed them in their own column. That night I wrote a blog post outlining what everyone had agreed to do.

The new Kanban

After a few weeks of using the group kanban version 0.1 we upgraded to a new big board with a refined layout. The board was made from some scrap insulation foam that the Sterling parents donated. Jurr bottom lined the painting and priming of the board while I ended up doing the drawing on the board and hanging it.


The board is actually two tools in one. It’s a group kanban and a Community Mastery Board.

Read more about the group kanban

The egg drop

I came up with the offering to do an egg drop which quickly got a lot of support from the students. The students split up into three teams and we got to work.




This was one of the more successful activities we did, and we ended up doing it two more times before the year was out.

You can read more about the egg drop here.

After the first serise of egg drops we did another called “Egg drop limited” where each team could only choose a few materials to work with. I made a video about that story:

While we learned a great deal about how stuff breaks and building techniques, especially within limitations. I think we missed an opportunity to incorporate more math into these projects.

Computer Science and Web Development

My background is in computers. I grew up playing computer games—much like the students at Everett—which evolved into a need to understand and build video games. Countless hours of my teen years were spent behind a screen, seemingly, endlessly just playing video games. I would stay home “sick” from school and ignore home work to play on the computer.

Turns out simply understanding computers in a deep way is now extremely important. I can point to nothing in my teen years more impactful to my success in life (in a traditional sense) than working, tinkering, playing, and hacking at my computer. It’s what has supported me ever since I dropped out of college, it’s what allowed me to thrive in NYC during the economic melt down of 2007.

The skills I’ve taught myself I wanted to share with the students. I feel that I was mostly successful to introducing them to the key concepts.

For a few weeks we did computer science 101 classes online that focused on building a web crawler in Python. While individually we also used codecademy.com to learn HTML and Javascript.

Together we completed over 900 exercises on codecademy.com.


We also consumed media about computers, like Richard Feynman’s Computer Heuristics Lecture.

I created a dice rolling app which I demoed and took apart with the kids, showing them how it worked.

My code up on the big screen, click the picture to read more.

During my time here I had a few odd freelance coding jobs which, when I could, I would plug my computer into a big TV and just do work in front of anyone who was interested.

The students undertook a number of projects related to web development. They covered nearly all steps of taking an idea from a dream to a reality. From the architectural brainstorming of the school website to the rapid development of the Glacier View Commons website to the deployment of Illuminati Xtremists Alliance (IXA.net)


Before I start any web project I tend to have to do a bunch of research. I sometimes joke that the majority of my job is writing good search queries on the internet.

Because we had chosen web development as a our entrepreneurial focus we defined the different roles and things we needed to research.

paper with marker drawn mind map. Words with idea branches coming off.
Web Development business mind mapping

Tommie wrote about social media.
I wrote about sub contracting.
Ethan wrote about sites to learn code.
Jackie wrote about image formats and image editing software.

These research blog posts were are a great way to practice querying the internet, writing, and presentation skills.

Information Architecture

We sat down together across a few days and mapped out what we thought the Everett website should look like. This is typically called IA in the web dev biz, or Information Architecture.


See more wireframes

Another part of our process was to create a mind map


Jurr wrote up the outline on his blog

Web Design

Our first major project was to build a website for the Glacier View Commons, a potential community center in Everett. Our “client” presented the project to us and we got to work using a project kanban to keep track of our tasks. Each student chose a part of the project to work on based on what they were passionate about.

The QA column stands for Quality Assurance

The design team came up with wireframe below, which was the first website wireframe they had ever done using graphic design tools they were not very familiar with (GIMP). Really amazing work in my humble opinion.

The designers were tasked with making this wireframe based off my design of a tri-fold handout.

I then worked closely with the code team to get the website online and launched.

After the success of the Glacier View website I tasked the “web dev” team with building a website from scratch for the domain IXA.net, which was donated to us by one of the parents.

Illuminati Xtremists Alliance was born. The requirements of the project were simple. The team had to check in with me weekly, keep track of their hours, and have the site live by a specific date.

The students self organized into design, development, and project management roles. They used the project kanban to track tasks, held meetings on their own, and moved the project forward with little input from me.

They learned about project management, email, HTML, CSS, Javascript, GIMP (photo editing), wire framing, development cycles, uploading files to a remote server, and much more. I was very impressed by how quickly they took the technologies and work flows. In a few months time they were able to create a full blow website all on their own.


 3D Printing

One of the fathers brought in a Printeer 3D printer to the school. After a long while of trouble shooting we were able to get it up and running. Because the Printeer company went belly up we had to figure out how to connect with the machine on our own. By hacking together this we learned a bit about how 3D printers work and the software to control them.


We eventually got the darn thing to print

Building the 3D models, something Jackie is really good at
Building the 3D models, something Jackie is really good at
Key chains!
Key chains!

[TODO: more pictures of 3D printed stuff]

Unfortunately the machine broke before we could do much more. It was still a wonderful tool while it lasted. With a little more support from people who know about 3D printing we could have done really great things.

Art and Craft

The 3D printer was only a part of our art and craft adventures.

One point perspective drawing
One point perspective drawing

I taught classes on perspective drawing.


We played a drawing game called Exquisite Corpse (from the french cadavre exquis). Which was a parlor game developed by the surrealists around 1925. It offered a nice little lesson in art history as well as a fun game that flexed the imagination.

Each player draws in a fold of the paper, we did four folds, for the head, body, legs, and feet. The drawer adds just a little bit past the fold line then hands it to the next drawer so that only the current section is visible. The character that develops is never fully seen until the very end. With some funny cool results.




We had so much fun with these that I brought it to the NYC school while visiting last fall, they made some cool one’s too!

These are from Agile NYC. The one on the left is called pork chop! haha

One day we even did a little bit of play with clay.


We were never able to get a dedicated art space created nor did we have access to someone who could hold art classes. So the above work only scratched the surface of what could have been.

Though it only happened once we were able to visit the Frye Art Museum where we saw Jessika Kenney’s video exhibit Anchor Zero.


Which inspired some improvisational dance from Tommie.


Performance Art

Tommie ran improv games for the school. One of our favorites was “press conference” where one person stands at the front of the room and everyone else asks questions. The catch is that everyone in the audience knows who the person at the front’s character is expect for them!

We also played the video game “Just Dance” which is actually pretty remarkable way to learn some cool pop dance moves.

Digital Art

Art isn’t limited to stuff in the “real” world but also into the computer. Here are some animal mash-ups that Jackie created using the photo editing software GIMP.

Thats a rhino bird wearing boots and a monocle


See more on Jackie’s blog

Jackie also dabbled quite a bit in 3D modeling and, on his own, created the following.

Cloth and cup

Exploding planet


First Nation Studies

One of my favorite projects and most involved art projects was cedar weaving with Sweetwater.

See a step-by-step guide to cedar weaving.

"Jerry Stripping" the cedar bark
“Jerry Stripping” the cedar bark
Had to pull it really hard through to cut it up into strips
Had to pull it really hard through to cut it up into strips
Starting to weave
Starting to weave


Finishing touches
Finishing touches
Everyone with their cedar woven bags


Sweetwater also shared with us some of her work with the Idle No More movement, an indigenous lead, world wide social justice movement. We learned about the real history of settlers and native people in America and the North West region.



After this some of us visited the Hibulb Cultural Center to learn more about the people of this land.

Where we saw some really awesome stuff made from cedar!

See more pictures here.



It was really amazing to have Sweetwater available to share such wonderful and powerful history and skills with us.


I would argue that Minecraft is one of the most important video games ever made. It is probably one of the most creative, mind expanding games people can play.

Check out the Agile Learning Centers Minecraft blog

For some time we were hosting the ALC network’s minecraft server #NOCHEATS on the school’s network. Stevie managed to host the server and configure the network to allow outside people to play with us in the same world. Which is no small task.

Apart from “simply” playing together on a shared server, where we had to work together to keep our little town(s) alive. We also participated in some group projects.

My favorite was the RNGesus the Redeemer statue we built on the #NOCHEATS server.

The statue we built in #NOCHEATS, click to learn more.

A few weeks after completing the Glacier Commons website we were asked to make a model of the site. Stevie came up with the idea to build the whole thing in minecraft. So one afternoon about five of us connected to a “flat world” and with nothing but a satellite picture we recreated a real world building.

Satellite photo
Satellite photo



Read and see more about building Glacier Common in Minecraft

The whole process required quite a bit of team work and problem solving to transmute the real world structure into a world made up of 1 meter cubes.

Selling a Lamp

We had this old pool table lamp sitting around and were asked to sell it on the internet by the owners. We worked together to clear, photograph, and post an ad on craigslist.com.


Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 9.28.08 PM

No one has actually bought it from us (yet), but it was a great real-world lesson.


Being able to cook is a wonderful life skill. We had a few great opportunities to learn about food and food preparation over the course of the year.


From Tommie secret sugar cookies.


To quick pickels


As well as fudge, sweat, sweat fudge…


Here’s us shopping for lunch at the Chinese grocery.



Here’s the zuccinee patty veggie burger we made from that trip.

Along with recipes we also learned knife skills, how to chop, dice, and slice while being safe.



My dear friend Katie volunteered her time to teach about knife skills and quick pickling.


Katie was one of many visitors who shared their experience and knowledge with us. There was also Sweetwater and our parents. Livia came by for a day to talk to the students about making a movie, something they had been getting excited about.

Showing off notes taken from Livias talk
Showing off notes taken from Livia’s talk

One of the larger project offerings came from friend of the school, Tim.

Read more about people’s offerings.


Tim started coming by in January to teach permaculture, a methodology and philosophy of gardening that follows natural patterns to produce abundant systems.

Learn more about Tim’s composting lessons



More photos outside with Tim.

Giving the built bed good energy
Planting Peas

See more pictures of pea planting.

Tim showing off his aquaponic greenhouse.
Handling chickens
Handling chickens


The Outdoors

It’s said that simply by playing outside children gain a better appreciation and affinity for nature. We took every opportunity to get outside when the sun was out. Often times we would just go down to the local park and play disc or simply run around.


Or we would walk the little forest near by.


We also had the opportunity to visit the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island.

See more pictures from Whidbey Institute.

These excursions were not simply fun times in the park it also provided opportunities to plan trip logistics. Packing lunch and gear, ensuring that we have enough money to get where we need to go. The students and I always collaborated on these plans be it just an afternoon picnic or driving out to Whidbey Island.

Done Column

We moved a lot of activities, projects, and tasks across our Kanban board over the last 80 days. I am sure learned a whole lot and I hope that everyone else has picked up a thing or two along the way.



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