Build Weeks provide opportunity for extended projects, mini courses, field trips, and fun.

During the December build week, students each dove into two projects or areas of study. Some of these provided extended lab or field trip time for students’ core classes, while others allowed students to explore a new area. To offer a sense of the week, these activities are briefly described here.

Physics Lab, with Kaushik Basu

Take two rubber bands. Tie them end to end. Does the combination become looser or stiffer? Now tie them side by side. What do you expect?

This build week, the high school physics students tested many of the Newtonian mechanics topics they have been studying. The experimented with springs, stretching them to see if they really did obey Hooke’s law, and more interestingly, when they didn’t. One group found that that the force versus tension graph was linear but didn’t pass through the origin. They experienced what it was like to analyze data, recheck the accuracy of their measurements, refine it, and then check again. In the process, they figured out how springs are actually constructed!

Students also tested their theoretical findings about inclined planes. They launched sensor-based carts up these ramps, measured acceleration, and from the very fine difference in acceleration from their upward and downward motion, measured the coefficient of friction. Some students tried to suspend a weight from a spring scale and set it oscillating. What they observed will lead us into discussing simple harmonic motion and the pendulum next block; students have just defined the direction of their own curriculum!

World History, with Eve Simister

During Build Week, the ninth graders extended conversations from the World History classroom into new contexts. Students went on two field trips that built on our study of the Holocaust and memory. First, they visited an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum that was organized around the theme of inherited memory. It featured artists’ interpretations of stories that had been passed down to them through their families or communities. Much of the artwork responded to traumatic pasts, including the Holocaust. After analyzing works in the galleries, students created artistic representations of their own inherited memories.

Outside the CJM

Outside the CJM

Students also visited the JCFS Holocaust Center to meet with a Holocaust survivor. AnneMarie, who was born into a Jewish family in Germany, reminded students that the Holocaust was much more than a grim set of statistics. She shared a vivid memory of hearing glass shatter and watching smoke rise as anti-semitic Germans smashed the windows of the Jewish-owned business downstairs and burned the local synagogue. Students had learned about this night of violence, which became known as Kristallnacht, through photographs and online articles; hearing AnneMarie’s testimony added a powerful personal element to their understanding.

At the Holocaust Center with AnneMarie

At the Holocaust Center with AnneMarie

Back on campus, students designed Holocaust memorials that responded to the scholarship they had read over the course of the block. In small groups, they brainstormed and built prototypes of memorials, which they then presented to the class. Overall, the Build Week experiences helped students synthesize their learning by thinking on their feet and with their hands.

Music Exploration, with Susan Durst

Our group engaged in a variety of activities exploring the world of music.  We talked about medieval musical notation and theory, and used our new-found knowledge to write chant melodies based on our mornings. We could be heard throughout the school singing in unison: "I had tacos for breakfast," or "I woke up and then I checked my email." Students gave presentations on different kinds of musical instruments, playing examples of music in which strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion played a major role. Later in the week, we listened to and discussed some of the students' favorite pieces of music. These ranged from classical pieces like Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," to musical theater pieces like "Defying Gravity" from Wicked and popular music like "Back in the USSR" by the Beatles.

Radio Drama, with Austin Shapiro

My Build Week group explored the world of radio drama through listening, performing, and skill workshops. To practice conveying emotion through the voice alone, we played anti-charades, in which students tried to get their teammates to recognize their emotional state with their eyes closed—using dialogue consisting only of the words “ham sandwich”! We learned about comic timing by listening to the masters: Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Bob and Ray. Taking a cue from Orson Welles, we also created our own foley art (sound effects) using everyday objects found around the school, then wrote and performed skits inspired by these effects. Students even included their own “commercial breaks” paying tribute to the verbose and hyperbolic ads of old-time radio. We wrapped up the week by adopting roles and reading through a 1945 Sherlock Holmes script, which gave students the opportunity to ham it up with outrageous French accents and more than a few ad-libbed lines: “You have convicted yourself, you chocolate croissant!”

Chemistry Labs, with Emily Eames

Chemistry students used Build Week to do four experiments introducing chemical equilibrium, our topic for Block 3. In addition to collecting data we’ll analyze later, students learned to use several important tools: burets, conductivity and pH probes, and UV-vis spectrometers. On Monday, students prepared several dilutions of strong and weak electrolyte solutions and measured their conductivity, observing that it isn’t always a linear function of concentration. On Tuesday, they observed complexation reactions that changed colors dramatically to illustrate Le Chatelier’s Principle, and also observed that a carbonic acid/bicarbonate buffer solution resists change in pH much better than water does. On Wednesday and Thursday they took turns doing a pH titration of a polyprotic acid, and measuring concentrations of an iron thiocyanate complex using UV-vis. When we get back in January, we’ll take a closer look at the data.

Hearts in San Francisco, with Steve Gregg

During Build Week, I took a group of students on four different mini field trips, to explore the "Hearts In San Francisco." Everyone at school knows about the closest heart, which is in Union Square at the intersection of Powell and Post. However, it is less well-known that producing these hearts is an annual fundraising event, sponsored by the San Francisco General Hospital starting in 2004, and that dozens of these hearts are on public display throughout the city.  We visited 15 hearts over the course of the week, and took pictures of the students at each heart to document our visit.

Dakota Access Pipeline, with John DeIonno

In my group, we learned about the Dakota Access Pipeline. After going through a timeline of events surrounding the opposition to the pipeline, I asked the group how they thought they could best tell the story. My idea had been a multimedia timeline or slide presentation, but I wanted to see what they would come up with. They had only one enthusiastic suggestion, with no dissent: “Let’s act it out.” While I knew the play likely would not pan out, I decided to let the students move forward with it as a means for exploring this topic.

The students immediately split themselves up and went to work, with one group making some great props for a yet-to-be-written scene. While researching their scenes, the students discovered that these events were quite complex, both morally and legally, and even determining what really happened was often difficult. When talking about the difficulty of trying to film incidents around the pipeline, a student asked, “Why don’t they use drones?”; the next day we watched footage from a drone being shot at by police, and the drone pilot talking about the criminal charges he was facing for filming. Now the play, despite having a few well-written pieces, was quite the disaster: it failed to tell a cohesive story and did not really demonstrate the understanding that they had showed during discussions. It would have needed a lot more time to pull off. But the project gave them an end product to work towards, and we had fun and learned a lot.

Sex Ed, coordinated by Sydney Cochran

This week, the 7th, 8th, and 10th graders participated in Sex Ed classes led by experienced facilitators. They learned about sexual anatomy, puberty, how to maintain good sexual health and prevent STIs, and unplanned pregnancy. They also discussed topics relating to healthy relationships and identity such as love and friendship, gender expression, and sexual consent. The workshops were age-appropriate: while the middle schoolers distinguished loving from liking, the high schoolers worked to distinguish seven different forms of intimacy. The workshops incorporated writing, discussion, and interactive games that got the students working together and moving around the room. They felt safe enough with the facilitators to ask important questions and to share their opinions and concerns with each other. They even had fun! All the students were encouraged to take their student workbook home and talk to their parents a little bit about what their experience was like taking Sex Ed as a kid. If you’re a Proof School parent, you might consider using this as a way to start a conversation with your child.


In addition to tackling extended projects, students participated in a range of school-wide activities, described here.

Student portfolios, with Zachary Sifuentes

At the end of each block, students revisit a digital portfolio that they use to reflect on the past block, set goals for the upcoming block, and archive exemplary work. This process provides a structured opportunity for all students to routinely pause and consider the bigger picture of their educational experience at Proof School.

Project Studio Mini-Symposium + Community Breakfast, with Zachary Sifuentes and Kathy Lin

This year for the first time, our sophomores and juniors are taking a year-long Project Studio course. This course provides students with structured opportunities to conduct independent projects of their own design. After brainstorming and planning projects, writing proposals, and diligently working on projects in consultation with faculty mentors, students were ready to share their first independent projects with the whole school. Projects ranged from an animatic short to a math research project to an invented civilization with a constructed language. Following the mini-symposium, we celebrated our students’ achievements with a community breakfast!

Games and Trivia, with Sachi Hashimoto

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, kids learned new games and matched their wits against each other at trivia. On Tuesday morning, in a rousing game of "Robot Sock Wars", kids paired up as robots and controllers. Blindfolded robots were led around obstacles through verbal instructions by their controller. Their goal was to hit other robots by throwing socks. We also played "Blindfolded Charades", where teams of three moved the limbs of a blindfolded team-member to mime words from a list.

On Thursday morning, Proofniks gathered for trivia, with themed rounds ranging from pigeon facts to words containing breakfast foods. Can you guess what Proof School teacher has been teaching the longest, and also contains a breakfast food in their name?

2016 Jigga-Jigga Tournament, with Sam Vandervelde

In what is rapidly becoming a Proof School tradition, nearly twenty students, working individually or in pairs, entered AIs to compete in our “Jigga-Jigga” Tournament. This year’s game (concocted by Dr. V) was called Conquest, in which three players simultaneously attempt to gain control of as much of a 13x13 square grid as possible. Nearly the whole school turned out on Thursday to watch as the AIs, implementing the strategies devised and coded by their creators, battled for dominion of the game board projected on the screen. The tournament spurred students to feats of ingenuity, generated interest in coding, and generally contributed to an exciting and festive conclusion to a great build week.