Happiness Club! Thanks for Hosting :-)

Hardwiring Happiness PicOur community is about learning. That means opportunities to think and grow are consistently offered for Wildwood students, faculty, and parents. This past week, I enjoyed engaging with over two dozen Wildwood parents who took part in Book Club discussions on both campuses. The seasonal gatherings are sponsored by Wildwood’s Parent Education Committee. This session’s read: Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson.

Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist whose work addresses the brain science of happiness. Too often, peoples’ thinking is clouded by fears and worries, according to Hanson. He believes that our brain’s capacity to establish new neural pathways, called neuroplasticity, can allow for less anxious thinking. His book provides concrete strategies to help people firmly establish new, more productive ways of thinking.

In co-facilitating these discussions with my colleague, Melinda Tsapatsaris, Wildwood’s Assistant Head of School, we opened by asking parents to think of and share a recent positive experience. Most related meaningful interactions with children or a partner—experiences that made them smile, feel appreciated, or loved.

Next we asked the assembled parents to apply some of Hanson’s theory—to extend their thinking: enrich the experience—fill the brain with thoughts of it for at least 10 to 15 seconds and recognize its importance—and absorb it—visualize the experience settling in and soothing the mind and body.

I enjoyed sharing Dr. Hanson’s thesis in Hardwiring Happiness because I found it much more than a simplistic treatise on the power of positive thinking. Rather, he argues—with a wealth of evolutionary and scientific research in support—that taking these additional cognitive steps can help us re-configure our neurons, and actually make us happier.

After enriching and absorbing their positive experiences, as Hanson advises, Melinda and I led the group through a discussion protocol we call “Block Party”. Each parent chooses a card printed with a salient quote from the book. After reading the quote and making a personal connection to it, each person seeks out a partner in the room. The partners share their quotes, describe their significance, and identify connections.

Enhancing Happiness Takeaways: Parents and teachers can help kids’ brains develop a propensity for happiness—much the same way developing a penchant for math or reading. For adults—it’s never too late to change our own, more mature brains for the better.

At Wildwood these practices are exercised daily.  Our students are continually asked to forge and nurture meaningful connections—both to the content they are learning and to one another.  Our seasonal Book Club gives parents that same opportunity to connect with ideas and individuals.  Deep insights and real relationships: the heart and the brain of a Wildwood education.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Prizing Children’s Voices in Literature, and About Literature: The Wildwood Medal

The Wildwood MedalJanuary is traditionally the big month for children’s literature, as the American Library Association awards the Caldecott and Newbery medals for children’s literature—highlighting the best picture and chapter books for young readers.

At Wildwood,  June is the month to watch; that’s when we reveal the winner of The Wildwood Medal— our own children’s literature award chosen by Wildwood 5th graders.

This year’s nominees are:

Fifth graders interested in serving on the selection committee read each nominated book and take part in book group discussions with fellow students, as well as Wildwood faculty and staff.  Once they complete this process, they’re on the committee and attend weekly meetings during lunch and big yard time in March and April to discuss each book and its merits with a small group of their peers.

This year's nominees

This year’s nominees

The Wildwood medal is growing in recognition and makes it clear both on campus and throughout Southern California that at Wildwood, we value children’s literature and student voice very seriously.

“The committee discussions are really sophisticated,” says librarian Lorin Higashi. “The kids have a set of questions that they need to prepare to answer for each book.”  These include:  How did a character in the story solve a problem? What personality traits and Life Skills do you think allowed the character to reach this resolution? and Would you like to read something else by this author?  Why or why not?

“The students need to support all of their answers with evidence from the text,” fellow librarian, Jennifer DuBois, adds—an effective preparation for the rigors of learning at the middle and upper campus.

Jennifer and Lorin know the history and meaning of the award, now in its 16th year.

“Wildwood students knew about the Caldecott and Newberry Medals—both chosen by adults,” Jennifer says. “But they wanted to know why there wasn’t an award for children’s literature chosen by kids.” The elementary librarians at the time, Jeanne Avery and Bobbie Goeden, helped kids brainstorm and organize a process to evaluate and choose a book that resonated most with Wildwood students—and the Wildwood Medal was born.

Since 1999, choosing the Wildwood Medal has been a rite of passage for the oldest students at our elementary campus— allowing their voices to be heard and for them to leave their mark as they move on to middle school.

Each year five books are nominated. Every 5th grader reads at least one of the titles in a book group with Language Arts teacher Sandi Crozier. Ultimately, over half of the 5th graders opt in every year to serve on the selection committee.  Having deeply read each of the five nominated books, committee members take notes and thoughtfully analyzing each according to four criteria: Connection to the Life Skills, broad appeal, literary merit, and originality.

Wildwood Medal Winners: 1999 - 2013

Wildwood Medal Winners: 1999 – 2013

Ryder M., currently a 7th grader at Wildwood’s middle school reminisces on his experience as a Wildwood Medal committee member two years ago. “I remember first hearing about the Wildwood Medal when I was in 2nd grade,” Ryder says. By the time he got to 4th grade, Wildwood had instilled in him a strong passion for reading. “At that point there was never any doubt,” he says, “that I would be part of the committee that next year.”

The Wildwood Medal winner that year was Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea. According to Ryder, the decision wasn’t easy. “The final meeting was intense,” he tells me. “All 35 of us were together and we had to reach consensus on the winner—it wasn’t easy. Because of Mr. Terupt was my top choice and I had to make a strong case to my classmates about why it should win.”

The Wildwood Medal committee chooses the winner in mid-spring and keeps its decision secret until the year’s final All School Meeting in June—no easy task.  “The committee members themselves make the announcement,” Jennifer relates. “They’re extremely proud of their choice and the work, and they want to share them with the entire school.”

Ryder recalls the excitement and pride in his committee’s announcement two years ago:  “I remember being on the stage and thinking—Wow! We did this. Our input really does matter.”

The Wildwood Prize process nurtures a love of reading, and critical analysis that grows with Wildwood students as they move to the middle and upper school campus.

Last year the Wildwood Medal went to Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin, which students cited for its synthesis of wondrous storytelling and Chinese folklore with breathtaking illustrations.

This year’s Wildwood Medal will be awarded on Friday, June 6.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Our Visitors See It: Advisory Is Essential

At Wildwood School we design our programs with our students’ futures in mind—helping them learn the key content, build essential skills, and develop the necessary habits for success in college and life.

Advisory is an essential part of our design.

A recent "chalk talk" discussion in a Division Two  advisory

A recent “chalk talk” discussion in a Division Two advisory

We dedicate much more time to advisory at Wildwood than most other school, public or private (four hours per week in most grades). That’s intentional, and has helped our advisory program gain notoriety—nationally and internationally.

This past week, I had occasion to reflect on how meaningful that commitment to advisory truly is. Every year The Wildwood Outreach Center hosts visiting educators from across the world, curious to see how advisory works at Wildwood, as they consider how their own schools’ advisory programs can develop.

Students in Erin Hansen's Division Two advisory engage in discussion

Students in Erin Hansen’s Division Two advisory engage in discussion

Visits to Wildwood’s middle and upper school advisories in action are a key part of the work.  I believe it is significantly helpful for our visitors to see the consistency of purpose common to all strong advisory programs. Last week at Wildwood, that meant in all four Divisions, one theme—multiculturalism—played out in four different, developmentally appropriate lessons.

Our advisory program’s multicultural theme provides a full scope of work that ensures each student understands and assesses the elements of one’s own multicultural identities (e.g., race, gender, physical ability, etc.) and how they operate in the world around them.

Here are snapshots of what our visitors saw our students working on during one advisory period:

Division One (6th grade) Focus: Choosing ally behavior
Students circulate through four stations, each prompting them to consider the different perspectives of people in conflict: bullies, targets, bystanders, and allies. Using this “four square” model, students discuss, among other topics, the challenges and benefits of choosing ally behavior over being a bystander.

Division Two (7th and 8th grades) Focus: Physical appearance
Through a “four corners” discussion, students grapple with how our society’s obsession with physical appearance can often lead to objectification—treating a person as a thing without considering his or her humanity.

Division Three (9th and 10th grades) Focus: Socio-economic status
Student teams are assigned hypothetical socio-economic profiles (some wealthy, some poor, some in-between) which either help or hinder their abilities to simulate a year in their lives: find housing and transportation, build a budget to meet household needs, etc.

Senior Institute (11th and 12th grades) Focus: Education
Advisory discussions focus on how socio-economic status, race, and gender intersect to create distinct advantages and disadvantages for students taking the SAT and ACT for college entrance.

What our visitors see is that through advisory, we live our school’s mission, daily—providing students the time and space to think, learn, and reflect on the topics relevant to their future success amid the competing priorities of a complex, evolving, and multicultural world.

That’s an advantage Wildwood students will take with them—to college and into life.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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The REAL Common Core: Joyful Learning for All

RelationshipsHere in Los Angeles we’re pretty serious about making sure learning and teaching is a fun, positive, even joyous experience for both students and teachers.

That’s why over 20 public and private school educators from across the region gathered at Wildwood’s elementary campus this past week to begin a much-needed conversation on how to ensure the joy in teaching and learning for all at a time when there’s so much emphasis on assessment.

Our gathering was eclectic by design: Teachers and administrators from Wildwood, like me, and other LA independent schools, plus our public and charter school colleagues. The group included teachers who work with pre-schoolers, up through 12th graders.

Our meeting space- prepped for conversation

Our meeting space- prepped for conversation

The consensus was pretty clear.  Together we identified some essential qualities necessary for our students’ joyful learning: emphasizing the importance of relationships, authentically engaging in meaningful curricula, and celebrating accomplishments—especially challenging ones. We each also reminisced about how these qualities influenced our own joyful learning experiences as school children.

Our gathering was inspired by the resonance of the theme at the Progressive Education Network national conference in downtown LA last fall:  Play Hard—The Serious Work of Keeping Joy in Learning. All Wildwood faculty attended that conference, and many wanted to continue the conversation with peers.

Our invitation

Our invitation

At the conference I connected with Zeena Pliska, a public school kindergarten teacher at Walgrove Ave. Elementary School in LA’s Mar Vista neighborhood. She was drawn in by the conference theme as well. But as it turns out, among the 800+ conference attendees, Zeena was one of only a handful of LA public school teachers there (and the only one not from a charter school). We knew others would probably like to join this conversation and decided to create a forum together to offer like-minded peers to way to connect. We tapped the talents of Wildwood middle/upper school counselor, Jill Valle, and organized our inaugural event—all three of us facilitating conversations.

We’re already planning the next conversation. The goals: strengthen and expand our connections and explore avenues for action— personally and professionally to ensure joyful learning for all.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching and Learning

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Pitch Fest, Wildwood Style

 

Final Draft LogoYou know, it’s kind of like Meet the Parents meets March of the Penguins.

I bet you figured my elevator pitch was a joke.

But here in LA, the creative work of adapting literature for the screen is no joke, it’s big business.

So the Literature to Film class here at Wildwood upper school is quite popular, and the work is real.

The dilemmas are authentic: the student writers and filmmakers are looking for creative partners whose style and sensibilities match well.

On the day I visit, writers Morgan V. and Brandon B. pitch their script based on Ray Bradbury’s science fiction tale, All Summer in a Day, to a jury of peers who will hear from five teams all hoping to have their script produced by the Digital Film students in arts teacher Laura Forsythe’s class.

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

The filmmakers have a lot of questions about the Bradbury script. Some seem dubious about taking on an adaptation set on the planet Venus. Morgan touts the script’s inherent relatability to viewers. “It’s set in a school, with teenage characters from Earth,” and he adds, “with teenage issues.” The story’s main character, Morgan describes, “faces an internal conflict about getting revenge on peers that have tormented her.” The filmmakers now see the possibilities.

The scripts are a culminating project for Emma Katznelson and Melinda Tsapatsaris’s students, who have been working for several weeks to adapt favorite short stories and books.  For Laura’s film students, the process and project will be a genuine test of their skills and creativity as they connect their own visions with the screenwriters’ creating finished products that will  “premiere” just before Spring Break.

Everett D. (center) and other filmmakers assess their peers' pitches

James D. (center-right) and other filmmakers assess their peers’ pitches

Kaiya K., Georgia P., and Quinn M. pitch their script—an adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman first published in 1892. “Would you be open to a more contemporary setting?” one of the filmmakers asks.  “I think we’re ok with it,” Kaiya responds, “as long as it stays true to the story.”

The filmmakers take in the other pitches, each posing its unique challenges and opportunities.  Mason A. and Clay K. describe their adaptation of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the eponymous short story in a 1982 collection by Raymond Carver, which is dialogue-heavy. “What kind of action do you imagine?” they’re asked. Mason relays their vision of lots of flashbacks and voice-overs, and the filmmakers nod their assent.

xxx, Sarah Bales, xxx, and Benji (l to r) make the case for their script

Lucy A., Sarah B., Sophie L., and Benny L. (l to r) make the case for their script

Other offerings range from the lighthearted, like Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, to dark comedy, with David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Across the genres, this collaborative learning experience is realistic— mirroring the real work and meaningful learning that students will do in college and beyond.

This type of story to screen project prompts students to develop some specific skills in the Habits of Mind: Perspective, which the writers develop through their adaptations and Connection, as the filmmakers seek to merge the writers’ visions with their own, to create something new, and ideally fresh.

Which brings us back to my idea about Meet the Parents.

JK. I don’t have a screenplay….

Yet.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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GRIT: It’s About Relationships

Grit from NYTimes

As the conversation continues among educators about “grit”, that determiner of long-term success for students, I believe we should be hearing more about the role of relationships.

My years in the classroom as a teacher and advisor have made it clear to me that while the perseverance we call grit may be innate or instinctive for some, it can also be learned, cultivated and instilled – with help from caring adults.

Why grit matters is clear: the ability to envision and attain goals and long term achievement can keep a student on course during a dry spell, a downturn, or even a series of disappointments.  Adults as advisors can help build grit by documenting progress and incremental successes along the way.  Those positives are critical in creating grit as a habit.  The data shows that success is not mostly or only about talent, its correlation with grit is very high. But you need to get there.

Student-advisor relationships are most valuable when the goals are not just about the semester ahead, but take in a broader, big picture scope. Mapping ultimate destinations – in college, career, and life – with consistent guidance from caring adults over a long period of time matters. Kids are not always ready to take the long view, but adults can show them how many short views add up to a long view, and a picture of greater success.

I’m also interested in how thinking about thinking fits in.  Helping students develop what Stanford Professor Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset is another key determiner. In other words, a student’s capacity to see herself as capable of learning ever greater amounts of information and applying new thinking tools influences outcomes.  Advisors remind students of their status as growers – the advantage is with young students in re-setting the brain’s capacity to integrate new data and habits.

Unpacking the conversation about grit is helping to inform our work at Wildwood around how we structure our advisory programs. Grit, like advisory, is essential to students success – both in school and life.  Find out more about how advisory programs can help students develop grit; click to learn more about workshops offered through The Wildwood Outreach Center – Advisory Is Essential 101 and Advisory is Essential 201.

~ Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Through Visitors’ Eyes

Scaling project example from 6th grade pre-algebra

Scaling project example from 6th grade pre-algebra

Every year we get dozens of requests from educators from far and wide, wanting to come see Wildwood’s teachers and students in action. As Wildwood’s Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning, it’s part of my job to help them find the inspiration they are looking for at Wildwood, and take home a few things to think about.

This past week I had the opportunity to play host to two sets of LA-area visitors. Jeff Mercer and Deborah Dowling came from Chadwick School on the Palos Verde Peninsula to check out Wildwood’s Middle School. Jeff is Chadwick’s Middle School Director and Deborah is the Assistant Head of Academic Affairs.

On another visit, Linda Nakagawa and Kim Hayashi came seeking our best practices and split their time between both Wildwood campuses. Linda is an educator in the Rowland Unified School District east of Downtown LA and Kim is an adjunct professor in the education department at Chapman University in Orange County.

Here are some highlights of what our visitors saw in Wildwood classrooms. They speak clearly to Wildwood’s strengths: academic inquiry, project-based learning, collaboration, and technology implementation.

Elementary campus—

  • Fixing Broken Systems. Monique Marshall’s 2nd grade students host their buddies from Central High School, a continuation high school located in the Mar Vista Gardens Housing Project in Culver City. Together, they look at how citizens can build consensus on how to fix the systems in our society that don’t work equitably for everyone.
  • Mathematical Calculations, with a Holiday Twist. Fourth graders in Claudia Hatter’s class take a math challenge: Calculate the total cost of all of the gifts “my true love gave to me” from the song The 12 Days of Festivus, an updated version of the holiday classic.
  • Alphabetic Geography. Jan Stalling’s 5th graders show off their knowledge: Each student comes up with world geographic features and locations based on the last letter of the one that came before it. For example, Jan says “Hong Kong,” and Leslie follows up with “Grand Canyon.”
  • Celebrating Family Systems. Whale Pod head teacher Alli Newell shows off an elaborate systems map that her students created— demonstrating that, although students’ families may celebrate different holidays, there are commonalities that connect them all.

Middle and upper campus—

More models-- scaled up

More models– scaled up

  • Academic Ambassador. Sixth grader Jude M., notices our visitors in the gallery space looking at Arlën Vidal-Castro’s students’ pre-algebra scaling projects. She shows off various examples and explains the math required to complete the project, in which students take a regular household object and either scale it up to create a lager representation, or scale it down to produce a miniature version.
  • Scientists at Work. We stop in to Deborah Orlik’s 7th grade life sciences class to see her students working on laptops. Turns out the students are working with virtual ladybugs, breeding successive generations of the online critters to find out what factors determine the number of spots each ladybug will inherit from its parents.
  • Graph It. Our visitors walk into Cameron Yuen-Shore’s 8th grade algebra class to find students hard at work with another tech tool: A free, online graphing calculator called Desmos. Their assignment is to choose a photograph of a famous building, like the Empire State Building or Big Ben, and plot out a line graph of it on Desmos—showing the algebraic rules that make the graph possible.
  • Film It. Seventh and 8th graders in Megen O’Keefe and Alex Cussen’s Humanities class are in the midst of staging and filming various scenes from their all-class read, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Alex will edit each group’s scene together to create a film that the whole class will watch—further enhancing each students’ knowledge of the novel’s themes, plot, and characters.

Our visitors’ takeaways: “The students here are very self-directed,” Jeff Mercer said, “They sought out the instruction they needed from their teachers and then went ahead and did their work.” Our other visitors echoed this sense of purpose: Wildwood students are consistently engaged in their work.

Student engagement—driven by relevant and interesting content delivered by Wildwood teachers—is central to Wildwood’s program. It spurs our students’ learning and excitement, and will continue to draw visitors to our classrooms—from here in LA and around the world—to see what works in education.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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