Every year I 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 bring home a few things to think about.
This week I had the opportunity to play host to Angela Fasick, the Director of Studies at Laurel School, a 117-year-old independent day school for girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio. She wanted to tour Wildwood’s middle/upper campus to see what was going on at a school nationally considered to be a leading innovator, with particular interest in our science and humanities programs. Pat Bassett, the outgoing President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) had included Wildwood on a short list of innovative West Coast schools when Angela’s boss, Anne Klotz, the Head of School at Laurel, asked for suggestions.
We spent the afternoon in middle school science and team-taught humanities classes. Before Angela left, I asked her for some feedback: What were her impressions, and, what was most impressive about what she saw? Her takeaways: She found Wildwood students genuinely engaged in a wide variety of work, and their teachers fine-tuning their instruction to meet students’ varying needs.
In Alexis Lessans and Becca Hedgepath’s Division One (6th grade) humanities, Angela and I find students are deep into The Goldsmith’s Daughter, by Tanya Landman. This young adult novel is set in Mexico during the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. Angela comments on the sharpness of the students’ skills: she notices the post-it notes that students have used to annotate their reading, as well as the animated discussions that the book elicits. These are all signs of meaningful, engaged learning.
Later in the visit, in a Division Two (7th & 8th grade) humanities classroom we see students demonstrating their knowledge of Taoism through written answers, images, or even physical movements. It’s part of an elaborate simulation, designed to have students play up strengths as they learn about the ancient Chinese belief system. The teaching team in action—Sara Kaviar and Megen O’Keefe, know how to set up their classes flexibily and encourage students to make thoughtful choices about how to show what they know. Angela notes how team teaching at Wildwood promotes these opportunities.
Angela’s interest in Wildwood’s science classes is steeped in her school’s interdisciplinary approach to the sciences. She finds Katie Boye’s 6th grade and Deborah Orlik’s 7th grade sciences classes provide strong examples to take back to Ohio.
In Katie’s class, we slip in just as her students are playing a game that incorporates the scientific principle of natural selection with mathematical probability. Each student has chosen the role of a plant or animal species for the game, with the goal of successfully adapting to various changes in the ecosystem. Katie rolls a die, simulating random events that each student’s species either adapts to or not, based on the species’ characteristics. Every time Katie calls out the numbers rolled, I sneak a peak at Angela—she’s smiling in response to the students’ shouts of joy or groans of anguish as the die determines their species’ fates, lost in the moment of a game that entertains while they learn.
Angela is especially impressed by the cross-disciplinary student engagement at our final stop for the day, Deborah Orlik’s 7th grade life-sciences class. Here we see students absorbed in one of three projects—working with various animal skulls to study their diets; studying fish anatomy as part of a project that integrates ceramics; or training classroom rats to perform various tasks on wooden apparatuses the students are constructing for them (Check out the video below! Pretty cool.). Deborah explains to us that the variety today reflects the fact that students work at different paces, and that she differentiates the classroom experience to meet each student’s needs. Angela tells me later that she is impressed by both the class’s ability to work on a variety of projects at once, and that the students’ engagement speaks volumes about the interest and joy with which they approach their learning.
When she left, Angela said that Wildwood had certainly lived up to its billing. Her positive feedback, I’m happy to report, is fairly typical of visitors to Wildwood’s two campuses. Knowing what the takeaways are for our visitors is a great reflection on our program, teachers, and students, and provides valuable feedback to help our teachers know what works so well here—from a visitor’s point of view.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning