Systems, Systems, Everywhere!

 

Welcome To Our Museum

Welcome To Our Museum!

Question: Beyond “b”, what do bees, boats, and barns all have in common?

If you’re stumped, you might want to ask a Wildwood 2nd grader for help. She or he will tell you that all are key components of different systems—the pollinator, transportation, and farm systems respectively—and are integral to the world we inhabit.

2nd graders Jude S. (center right) and Hope H. (lower right) explain the transportation system

2nd graders in Sarah Simon’s class explain the transportation system

This past week, with assistance from 2nd grade docents, I joined the ranks of all Wildwood elementary students and teachers to learn more about the systems that surround us. The 2nd graders are able guides leading us through their inaugural systems ‘museum’— a collection of exhibits demonstrating student learning about the variety of systems at work in the natural and human world.

The Transportation SystemWe museum visitors walk through each of the three 2nd grade classrooms to interact with student presenters who talk us through various systems maps, explain 3D models, and answer our questions, and even delve even deeper—into an examination of our society’s broken and unfair systems. Our guides are good explainers, while continually reinforcing their own learning by teaching us what they’ve discovered.

The systems museum culminates a year’s learning guided by head teachers Stefanie Grutman, Monique Marshall, and Sarah Simon, along with associate teachers Jessica Collins and Molly Kirkpatrick.

A Coast Guard Boat, Part of the Transportation System

A Coast Guard boat, part of the transportation system

A visit to the students’ exhibits in each classroom is an excellent reminder that systems are our realities—our families and schools, our communities, even the plumbing in our homes all are systems which intersect and depend upon each other, all operating according to their own rules, yet integrated into broader systems.

Laurel H., Marco R., & Luna S. (l to r) present the pollinator system

Laurel H., Marco R., & Luna S. (l to r) present the pollinator system

We know our Wildwood graduates will pursue a huge range of professional and personal endeavors in the future, and developing a capacity for systems thinking at an early age will be of value to all. Minds trained to see the big picture, appreciate cause-and-effect and the inter-relationship of systems can map those understandings onto myriad experiences. Confronting systems that work, and don’t, is a lifelong challenge.

The smiles on 2nd graders’ faces and the thoughtful reflection on their work reminds me that systems thinking is also a lot of fun.

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

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“Shark Tank” Wildwood Style

The stakes are very high the day I visit Deb Christenson’s Modern U.S. History class. Seven groups of students will present ideas for a start-up to a panel of Wildwood teachers and administrators—including me. Judging each plan based on a presentation, we’ll decide which student-led start-up has the greatest potential for financial success. We’re also here to make money—risking our own wealth as potential investors in the next billion-dollar business idea.

Sounds like Shark Tank, the trending TV reality show. But, it’s really the culminating event in a project, combining a study of U.S. economic history, entrepreneurship, and design thinking. (So, while our wealth isn’t real, we ‘sharks’ are here to lend authenticity to the proceedings.)

Owen L. and Benji M. make their pitch for Pythagoras Computing

Owen L. and Benji M. make their pitch for Pythagoras Computing

Each student group pitches their idea for a novel product or service. Maddy G. and Abby L. unveil Equilibrus—a start-up that synthesizes the ‘buy one, give one’ model of Tom’s Shoes with an online book store, donating books to a local public school for every title purchased through their service. Sunscreen Sprayers is the brainchild of Georgie M. and Anna R. Their business builds and distributes mobile sunscreen application booths that beachgoers or amusement park visitors use for a small fee, paid for through a smartphone app. Other students promote their visions: an environmentally sustainable restaurant; a mobile phone app to book babysitters; and an urban garden design service, are among the contenders.

At Wildwood and in other U.S. History courses, studying American entrepreneurs is pretty much standard fare. But today at Wildwood, there’s also an emphasis on teaching entrepreneurship—an added value of guiding students in developing their own entrepreneurial skills, to help them learn and lead in our complex, evolving world.

Clementine C. and Thomas E. pitch their start-up, Bird Words

Clementine C. and Thomas E. pitch their start-up, Bird Words

This year, Deb added design thinking to the equation to create the “Shark Tank” project—something new to her own teaching repertoire. Inspired after hearing Stanford Design School professor Tina Selig speak at a conference, Deb became intrigued by the idea of applying Selig’s approach to her Wildwood classroom. Deb read some of Selig’s books, watched her TEDTalks, and synthesized design thinking into a project for her course’s final unit—on the development of the modern U.S. economy.

“I’ve always been interested in designing authentic, performance-based projects for my students,” Deb tells me. “And the “Shark Tank” idea seemed to bring together that interest and design thinking.” So when starting this project, Deb’s students follow the design thinking process—defining a problem that needs solving, considering and creating a variety of solutions, and refining them. To execute their start-up each group spells out some essentials— including a mission statement, along with plans to address marketing, finance, and management.

Some of my fellow 'sharks' listen to pitch presentations

Some of my fellow ‘sharks’ listen to pitch presentations

After the final presentation, my fellow ‘sharks’ and I head to the room next door to deliberate and choose the winning idea.

After a lively debate, we ‘sharks’ agree to award $50K in mock seed money to Benji M. and Owen L. Their start-up idea: Pythagoras Computing. It’s a service that allows scientific researchers to purchase computing power from individuals’ idle laptops and other personal electronic devices—power that would otherwise be wasted. In true Wildwood fashion, Benji and Owen’s classmates congratulate them on hearing the news, with applause and high-fives.

Shark Tank, the TV show, is all about innovation, ideas and investment—the principles of entrepreneurship that Wildwood embraces. What’s more, at Wildwood many student projects pass on the additional value of focusing on social and environmental goals. So welcome to the “Shark Tank” Wildwood-style: Collaboration is competitive.

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

 

 

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Two Angles on Sustainable Building

 

8th grader, Henry C.'s, house plan

8th grader, Henry C.’s, house plan

Wildwood 8th graders have launched into a pair of projects this month, one in geometry and the other in environmental science. The discreet but linked projects illuminate the kinds of connections that Wildwood middle school teachers design to enhance their students’ math and science learning.

In Erin Hansen’s 8th grade geometry class this week, students are using their geometric knowledge and reasoning to design a house—using a variety of shapes and geometric elements. The project flows through an obvious mathematical lens: using shapes and elements as a template to construct and argue traditional geometric proofs (remember these?). All expected elements in almost any geometry class.

What I didn’t expect was the other lens through which students would view their work: Urban planning. The home design is for a future world, with limited allowances for space and requirements for energy sustainability. What’s more, students need to be able to describe the reasons and principles behind their design through a TED-type talk given to their classmates.

Matin K.'s initial sketch-up of his city plan

Matin K.’s initial sketch-up of his city plan

In conversation with students, 8th graders Matin K. and Sophie K., I realized that indeed this project is connected to Wildwood’s 8th grade environmental science curriculum.  Matin shows me a rough draft of his design on the computer app, Google Sketch-up. “Mine’s an apartment building,” he says. Looking at his plans, I notice another building—a tall tower, set within what looks like a street grid. “The tower’s part of my sustainable city project,” he tells me, “in [science teacher] Jane Kaufman’s class.” His tablemate Sophie shows me her plan, which she’s drawn on graph paper. Her home’s footprint features circular and rectangular living spaces—with an energy system powered by the sun. Sophie explains that her model home is also part of the sustainable city project unfolding in teacher Deborah Orlik’s science class.

Sophie K.'s House Plan

Sophie K.’s House Plan

Curiousity piqued, I head over to Deborah’s room to learn more about that.

“Erin knows that we’ve been doing a sustainable cities project for a couple years,” Deborah Orlik tells me. “This year, she and I made a conscious decision to put math concepts into our science project so that kids could see how they’re used in real life.”

Asher E. explains an idea to group mate Lucy O.

Asher E. explains an idea to group mate Lucy O.

Looking around Deborah’s science classroom, the scene is similar to Erin’s room. I see Deborah’s 8th graders working together in teams of 3 or 4. Some are sitting together, laptops open. Others are standing at whiteboards, drawing and talking—like Asher E. and Lucy O., who are engaged in a debate over which renewable energy source will most efficiently power their city’s public transportation system. Their classmate, Elijah D., chimes in with an idea he developed for his group—hydro-powered turbines placed in the river running through his city.

Like their project in math class, the sustainable city project will require these 8th graders to determine if their design ideas are realistic, which they’ll need to substantiate in a presentation to peers.

“They can dream big,” Deborah iterates, “but their ideas need to be plausible and supported by scientific research and mathematics.”

These two related projects are intentionally designed to allow Wildwood 8th graders to practice key skills for their academic and professional success: Creative and design thinking, research, and mathematical calculation. This kind of cross-disciplinary connection will help not only these Wildwood students in their future endeavors but will also train them in the kind of thinking that will be necessary as they work to solve the real problems that will face the world in our not-too-distant future.

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

 

 

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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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